Arrival unveils prototype of dedicated ride-hail vehicle at TC Sessions: Mobility

Arrival, the U.K.-based commercial electric vehicle company, unveiled the first prototype of its purpose-built electric vehicle for ride-hailing on the TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility stage on Thursday. The company, which is perhaps best known for its potentially revolutionary goal of building multiple automated microfactories to produce vehicles regionally and locally rather than one big production line, is building the vehicles in partnership with Uber in the U.K.

Arrival president Avinash Rugoobur, who joined TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec onstage on Wednesday, also shared that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Breathe, a U.K. car subscription company, to make the its ride-hail cars available to drivers. In addition to selling vehicles through Breathe, Arrival will also sell the vehicle through its own channels, said Rugoobur, noting that the vehicle isn’t limited to ride-hail.

The partnership with Uber was first announced a year ago, and Arrival revealed the final design of the boxy-yet-sleek electric vehicle, which looks like something between a small van and a hatchback, at the end of 2021, although Rugoobur said the design has changed somewhat since then. Arrival has previously said it hopes to begin production in the third quarter of 2023 at its Charlotte, North Carolina facility.

“We’ve partnered with Uber, and we have the Uber drivers coming in and giving us feedback on the type of vehicles that they want to use and really going through the aches and pains,” said Rugoobur on Thursday. “Right now what happens is you have to buy a vehicle that’s not designed for ride-sharing at all, right? So you buy a regular retail vehicle and then use it as your earner. It’s an asset to you as an Uber driver, but it’s not really built around, it’s not easy to clean, not easy to maintain. The way you think about adding new experiences to that, it’s actually quite limited.”

ArrivalCar_TopDownView

Rendering of Arrival’s ride-hail car. Image Credits: Arrival

The vehicle, which Arrival says has over 200 miles of range, was built with feedback from over a hundred Uber drivers, said Rugoobur, and it shows in the design — huge windows and a massive windshield optimize visibility for the driver, as does a short front overhang and angled nose. The materials Arrival used on the interior, as well as the shapes of the interior components, are all designed around being easy to clean as quickly as possible, according to Rugoobur.

In addition, while there is a touchscreen near the steering wheel that plugs into Uber’s back end (or that of any other ride-hail organization), Arrival’s design is all about simplifying the “sheer amount of digital equipment” that drivers said is “distracting and confusing … and wastes a lot of their time,” said Rugoobur.

The passenger experience is also taken highly into account here, with space for luggage, plenty of legroom and a high-ceilinged moonroof that provides a feeling of airiness.

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“Why the shape and size of the vehicle? So the footprint is almost of a Golf but it’s got the seating room of a Maybach,” said Rugoobur. “The reason for that was mobility inside cities where a lot of rides are occurring so having a vehicle that’s a little bit smaller footprint with the right amount of space for the driver and the passenger was critical.”

Rugoobur pointed to the fact that form follows function with the Arrival car. For example, Arrival optimizes for space with design choices like allowing the front passenger seat to fold down and putting all of the components, like the drivetrain, in the center under the fully flat floor of the vehicle.

“We use new composite materials. So we use polypropylene glass fiber instead of metal,” said Rugoobur. “No metal stamping, no paint shops, 100% recyclable material … and then we write all the software, so we get all the data and the code even from the components level.”

Rendering of interior of Arrival's ride-hail car showing steering wheel and touchscreen display for drivers.

Rendering of interior of Arrival’s ride-hail car showing steering wheel and touchscreen display for drivers. Image Credits: Arrival

Being able to collect data from the back end of the vehicle is one of Arrival’s biggest selling points, says Rugoobur, who noted that all information about every component of the vehicle can go to the driver so they can operate their vehicle better and learn how their driver behavior affects things like battery life and total cost of ownership. The data will also be shared with Uber so the ride-hailing company can better optimize its fleet and, of course, back to Arrival so the company can get insights into the performance of things like its battery management system.

Because there’s “two-way communication” between Arrival and the vehicles, the EV startup can use information about how different components are performing and, if necessary, swap in and out damaged hardware or simply upgrade it to keep up with the innovations of tomorrow.

“For the drivers, that reduces the total cost of ownership but also improves the residual value at end of life because you’re refreshing the vehicle,” said Rugoobur. 

“It’s very hard for the traditional players to custom build a vehicle like this, whereas for us, because we’ve essentially created this toolkit of technologies and our factory can produce at different volumes, when typically you would have to produce to 300,000 just for it to make sense from a business perspective, we can do it at a totally different scale and then scale it up as we need,” added the executive.

Arrival’s ride-hail van will be priced somewhere between an internal combustion engine and a competitive electric vehicle, according to Rugoobur. When reminded that most EVs are branded as luxury vehicles and have a steep upfront price, Rugoobur said the target is to make the car “affordable, affordable, not affordable through [total cost of ownership].”

For comparison, General Motors and Honda recently partnered to build an affordable EV, which Honda has said would go for around $30,000.

Earlier this month, Arrival said its planned electric Bus model has achieved certification in the European Union and is conducting closed course trials, with customer models expected to be produced by the second half of this year. The startup also said its Van model is almost through its own certification process and expected to enter production in Q3 of this year.

Arrival expects to produce 400 to 600 Vans plus low-volume production of Buses in the second half of 2022, according to the company’s Q1 2022 earnings report. The report also notes that Arrival has collected a total of 143,000 non-binding letters of intent and orders for its vehicles as of May, including the commitment from UPS to buy up to 10,000 vehicles from the startup in the U.S. and Europe.

Uber, Grocery Outlet partner to pilot on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery

Uber is partnering with Grocery Outlet to pilot on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery, the company announced on Thursday. Starting today, users can shop at 72 Grocery Outlet stores in California, Oregon and Washington state via the Uber or Uber Eats app. The new partnership signifies Uber’s push into on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery.

Oskar Hjertonsson, the head of grocery at Uber, said in a statement that the goal of the new partnership is to “provide a reliable and affordable grocery delivery option that works for everyone, no matter your budget. We see our partnership with Grocery Outlet as an opportunity to do just that by delivering customers the brands they like at the Grocery Outlet prices they love, on-demand, right to their door.”

To mark the new partnership, the company is offering pilot customers free delivery on their first order of $30 or more through June 19. Uber One members can get free delivery on all Grocery Outlet orders with a $15 minimum purchase.

Earlier this month, Uber expanded its partnership with Albertsons to include more than 2,000 of the company’s stores nationwide, including Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Tom Thumb, Randalls and more. The expansion brought nearly 800 new locations to Uber Eats.

Uber initially launched grocery delivery in July 2020 in Latin America and Canada, and has since expanded the service to more than 400 U.S. cities and towns. The company says it’s “uniquely poised” to meet consumers’ desire to get the things they need from grocery stores in an “on-demand fashion.”

Today’s announcement comes as Uber recently unveiled a slew of new features at its global product event earlier this week. The company launched a new “Uber Travel” feature that will help riders book a ride to and from upcoming events, like flights or restaurant reservations, in advance. Uber also announced a new Uber Charter service that allows riders to book party buses, passenger vans and coach buses directly through the Uber app. The company also announced event vouchers, an EV and charging map, new Uber Eats products, new perks for its Uber One membership and more.

Grubhub’s free lunch promo creates a literal ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ for NYC restaurants

Grubhub offered free lunch to everyone in New York City yesterday. What could go wrong?

Between 11 AM and 2 PM, New Yorkers could use a Grubhub promo code to get a $15 discount on lunch. Naturally, restaurants got flooded with an unexpected deluge of orders. According to Buzzfeed, a worker at a Mexican restaurant in Harlem hand-delivered orders herself via Uber, since their in-house delivery driver was too overloaded. An employee at Greenberg’s Bagels in Brooklyn also told Buzzfeed that they received 50 orders in an hour, whereas they typically receive about 10 orders from Grubhub per day.

Across New York City, Grubhub said that it received about 6,000 orders per minute. Within an hour, some users tweeted that the promo code was no longer working, or that restaurants had marked themselves closed to avoid receiving any more orders. All in all, many orders got delayed and/or cancelled, but restaurant workers and delivery drivers were most adversely impacted, struggling to fulfill orders at an impossible rate.

Grubhub said that it modeled this promotion after a previous one, but this time, customers used the promo code six times more, causing unexpectedly high demand.

“To help businesses prepare for yesterday’s promotion, we gave advance notice to all restaurants in our network, which included multiple forms of communications across email and in-platform,” Grubhub said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Even with that preparation, no one could anticipate the level of demand and unfortunately that caused strain on some restaurants. We’ll undoubtedly have a lot of learnings from this that can help us optimize and mitigate issues in the future.”

Evidently, many restaurant workers didn’t get the memo — and even so, taking proactive measures like adding an extra driver to a shift wouldn’t have prepared a restaurant to meet such a dramatic surge in demand.

 

This is not the first time that a Grubhub promotion inadvertently served restaurants the short end of the stick.

In March, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Grubhub for “misleading District residents and taking advantage of local restaurants to boost its own profits.” One incident the lawsuit referenced was Grubhub’s early-pandemic-era “Supper for Support” promotion, which was discontinued. Launched in late March 2020, Grubhub offered restaurants the opportunity to offer a $10 coupon on orders over $30, but the restaurant had to foot the bill for that free food. On the consumer end, Grubhub encouraged customers to “save while supporting the restaurants [they] love,” even though their promotion actually put more strain on restaurants by pressuring them to lower profit margins.

For yesterday’s promotion, Grubhub paid for customers’ $15 coupon, not the restaurants. The company says it fulfilled 400,000 lunch orders, which at $15 a pop, would put the company out $6,000,000 for what was largely a screw up.

Grubhub has also faced scrutiny and legal troubles for false advertising, listing restaurants on their app without the business’ consent. That means that a consumer might place a Grubhub order for a restaurant that doesn’t know they’re even on Grubhub, meaning that the business could pay a fee to Grubhub without knowing it. Or, once a Grubhub courier arrives, the restaurant might not even know that they were expected to prepare that takeout order.

Despite an uptick in delivery orders during the pandemic, food delivery apps have still struggled to turn a profit. But customer acquisition promotions like yesterday’s likely won’t encourage customers to keep coming back to Grubhub.

Daily Crunch: ‘The bitcoin network is not a payments network,’ says FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried

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It’s Monday the 16th of May, and I’m back once again, like a renegade master. I’m fantastically over-caffeinated and at a standing desk today, so for the occasion, it’s a dancing desk. Because, I mean, you try to sit still while listening to this thumpin’ beat.

This week, I’m psyched to head out to TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility in San Mateo to get the full story on which cars will be driving themselves and which companies are driving into our hearts – or off the nearest cliff. Get your tickets now — we still have a few available.

In other news(casts), we particularly enjoyed Lucas and Anita’s Chain Reaction podcast, where they’re taking a look at how crypto VCs can’t rely on spending their way into loyalty.

In other news, I just re-read my TechCrunch contract, which states no superfluous obscenities are allowed, so rest assured that this newsletter only contains strictly necessary swearwords. Much love and sunbeams and such! – Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Ack — moar layoffs: Natasha and Amanda break down the current constriction in startups with a roundup of layoffs over the past week, including an analysis of what happened at Section4, Carvana, Latch, DataRobot, and the hiring freezes at some of the tech stalwarts, including Meta, Twitter and Uber. They did a roundup last week, too, in case you missed that one. Meantime, Alex analyzes overall data from layoff tracker Layoffs.FYI.
  • Trouble in Unicorn Town: Over on TC+, Alex considers how SaaS valuation multiples have taken a further dive, now clocking in at single digits. As he summarizes: “A startup that sold stock last year at a 50x ARR multiple would need to double and then double again before it would have a multiple that is similar to the current public-market standard.“
  • Crypto? More like crypt-no: Anita reports how 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried takes a swipe at Bitcoin, saying it has no future as a payments network.

Startups and VC

Every now and again, startups raise money for missions that make me worry about the current timeline we are on. Today’s installment of that theme comes from the desk of Mr. Butcher, MBE, covering WeAre8’s crowdfunding campaign for a social media app where users are paid to watch apps. Sure, it makes sense to get some cash for your time, but also … just, ugh.

I loved this interview Aria did with high-flying (geddit …) startup Astra. It became the fastest company in history to reach orbit in November, six years after its founding, and its CEO says it’s aiming for daily launches sooner rather than later.

Developers, developers, developers:

5 lessons from ‘Star Wars’ that can transform startup managers’ strategies and tactics

Image Credits: Natalia_80 / Getty Images

The “Star Wars” saga is based on a storytelling structure developed by Joseph Campbell, a writer and literary professor who conceived of “the hero’s journey.”

Consisting of 12 stages, his archetype calls for a protagonist who leaves ordinary life behind after hearing the call to adventure — you can imagine why it’s a popular metaphor among tech investors.

According to Touchdown Ventures President Scott Lenet, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi offered five discrete lessons for founders and investors.

For example, “’I have a bad feeling about this’ is a recurring joke in the franchise — nearly every major character utters the line at one point or another,” writes Lenet.

“These are also words to live by for corporate and startup leaders, because they are an emblem of awareness and proactivity.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

You may not be thinking “games” when you hear Hulu, but its newest partnership with Xbox is changing that – Lauren reported it just inked a new deal that gives U.S. Hulu subscribers three months of a PC Game Pass as its Friends with Benefits initiative. Amazing name aside, perhaps it’s time to brush off my gaming rig (who am I kidding; I ain’t got time to play games. Too busy tweeting about coffee and my slowly-circling-the-drain mental health).

After EU pressure, it looks like Apple might be inching itself closer to introducing Apple iPhone models with a USB-C port. As someone who has USB-C cables strewn around every surface, room, nook, and cranny of my house, that would work beautifully for me – but Apple has long resisted the pressure, so we’ll see what actually happens on that front. I’m sure Darrell will continue to keep us abreast of the shape of iPhone’s crevices.

  • Excuse me, Robot, are you my Uber? Uber Eats is piloting autonomous deliveries with Serve and Motional. I just hope the robots also eat their vitamins, find love, and find some time for walks in the forest.
  • I wrote this, I like this: Twitter is testing a new “Liked by Author” label that appears when the creator of a tweet likes your reply, Aisha reports.
  • Da, da, da, say goodbye to your data: A new report from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties argues that a real-time bidding system is “the biggest data breach ever recorded.”
  • All the things, all the places, all the time, on a street near you: Uber revealed a host of new platforms and features during its global product event. The new products span Uber’s ride-hail and delivery services and aim to increase ridership, open new lines of business, incentivize drivers to go electric and more, Rebecca reports.

Everything Uber announced at its global product event

Uber revealed a host of new platforms and features during its global product event, Go Get 2022, on Monday. The new products span Uber’s ride-hail and delivery services, and aim to increase ridership, open new lines of business, incentivize drivers to go electric and more.

The new features were highlighted during the event in a video starring comedian and co-creator of “Broad City,” Ilana Glazer, who demonstrated a day in the life of using the new Uber products.

Uber’s new ride-hail products

Given Uber’s dependence on its mobility segment to bring in the most meaningful revenue, it makes sense that the company is pursuing new ways to attract, and retain, riders. From rider incentives to easier access to EVs, here are Uber’s new ride-hail related products.

Uber Travel

uber travel itinerary

Uber Travel links with your Gmail to help customers book rides to flights and events. Image Credits: Uber

The Uber Travel feature will help riders book a ride to and from upcoming events, like flights or restaurant reservations, in advance. Interested riders can link their Gmail to their Uber accounts, allowing Uber to get access to any upcoming flight, hotel and restaurant reservations and suggest bookings to get customers there.

This feature is now available in major cities across the U.S., and will launch in Canada in the coming weeks, according to Uber. It’s not unlike another product the company released recently, which allows customers in select cities to book things like events and dinner reservations through the app.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., this feature will look a bit different. Uber will pilot giving users the ability to book trains, buses and car rentals, starting this summer.

Uber Charter

Uber Charter, which is launching across the U.S. this summer, is a partnership with US Coachways, a nationwide bus service, that allows riders to book party buses, passenger vans and coach buses directly through the Uber app. Apparently, the service comes highly requested, according to an Uber spokesperson.

The benefit to users, along with upfront pricing, is that now, the problem of finding a safe way to move around while getting sloshed in wine country during a bachelorette party will require much less research.

Event vouchers

Because Uber is really trying to secure that dough, now users across the U.S. can buy Uber vouchers for their events. Throwing a wedding or hosting a corporate function and want to make it easy to shuttle people around? Now, instead of individually calling your friends and employees an Uber, you can just share a unique code with them that will allow them to determine their own pickup and drop off times and locations. Users of this function will be able to set a limit on the max amount they want to cover, so it’s not an open bar tab all night.

Uber says this product also allows users to treat guests to vouchers for Uber Eats, because, why not?

Uber Comfort Electric

Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs are soooo budget, amiright? Now, the boujee and environmentally friendly rider can request a ride in a premium electric vehicle. Riders in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Dubai can now book Uber Comfort Electric trips with Tesla models S, 3, X and Y, the Polestar 2, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Audi e-Tron.

The price point is something between an Uber Comfort and Uber Black, according to an Uber spokesperson. That hike in price might just go against the company’s Uber Green initiative, which promises no additional costs for booking an EV or hybrid.

This new product comes several months after Uber secured access to 50,000 Teslas in a partnership with Hertz.

EV Hub and Charging Map

This is a little somethin’ for the drivers. Uber has a stated goal of becoming a fully electric mobility platform by 2030 in the U.S. and Canada, and one way to appear to be supporting that goal while still offloading the costs of operations onto drivers is with this new product.

Uber EV Hub

Uber’s EV Hub offers drivers a price comparison tool. Image Credits: Uber

The charging map allows drivers to get information and incentives within the app on where the nearest chargers are located, the charging speeds at those locations and how to get there. The EV Hub gives drivers information about state and federal incentives for switching to EVs, discounts for certain EVs and a cost comparison tool.

The EV Hub will also likely include Uber’s own incentives to get drivers to switch to EVs, such as giving drivers who make the switch $1 more per trip, but only up to $4,000 annually.

The Hub is currently available for drivers in the U.S. and Canada, and will go global this year, says Uber. The charging map is set to launch this summer in the U.S. before expanding globally.

New Uber Eats products

The end of 2021 finally brought Uber out of the red for its delivery segment. While revenue for Uber Eats isn’t exactly bringing the company into profitable territory just yet, it’s a fast-growing segment, especially as Uber expands into new verticals like alcohol and convenience store delivery.

With that in mind, the company is doubling down on ways to drive more profit in the delivery segment, from getting sports fans involved to piloting autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous delivery pilots with Serve Robotics and Motional

Uber is piloting autonomous delivery with sidewalk robot delivery startup Serve Robotics (an Uber spinout) and autonomous vehicle tech company Motional. The initially small pilot will start Monday in West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Voice ordering

As James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” states, in order to make a habit stick, you have to remove the friction that stands in the way of action. If the action is ordering Uber Eats, then the friction is the labor of picking up your phone, opening the Uber Eats app, typing in what you’d like to eat, picking a restaurant and scheduling a delivery.

Now, by integrating Google Assistant into the Uber Eats platform, customers can more easily make a habit of sitting on the couch and ordering in dinner. All they have to do is say, “OK Google,” and ask their phone to order a meal from a restaurant on the app.

This feature is now available in English across the world, with more languages set to roll out this summer, according to Uber.

Uber Eats at Stadiums

Gif of Uber Eats at Yankees Stadium

Uber Eats at Yankees Stadium. Image Credits: Uber

This one we can get behind. One of the main pleasures of going to watch a professional sports game is the junk food and beer, but it’s a bittersweet pleasure when the excessive line-waiting is taken into account. Now, when customers open the Uber Eats app within a participating stadium, they can place concessions orders and skip the line.

Uber Eats at stadiums is available in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium; in New York at Yankee Stadium; in Washington, D.C. at Capital One Arena; in Houston at Minute Maid Park; in San Jose at PayPal Park; and most recently at Roazhon Park in Rennes, France with more to come, says the company.

New perks for Uber One

Uber One, Uber’s membership program, is delivering new perks for members with partners like Marriott Bonvoy, Clear and Obé Fitness. Those who join on Monday get one month free and $30 off their next delivery.

Uber One is also expanding to Mexico, Germany and the U.K., with more countries to follow, said Uber.

Nigeria’s Topship raises $2.5M from Flexport and YC to help merchants with international shipping

African merchants encounter many challenges when it comes to international shipping ranging from logistics and customs to hidden and excessive charges.

Digital freight forwarders on the continent have grown to tackle these supply chain issues. In some way, they are taking after the likeness of an $8 billion company and a market leader in the freight space, Flexport; some have dubbed themselves the “Flexport for Africa.” 

Recent YC graduate Topship is one such startup and it has raised a $2.5 million seed round months after concluding the recent YC winter batch. Flexport is its lead investor. Other backers include Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Starling Ventures, Olive Tree Capital, Capital X and True Capital. The individual investors in the round include Immad Akhund, Mercury CEO and Arash Ferdowsi, co-founder of Dropbox.

Topship was founded in 2020 during the pandemic when co-founder and CEO Moses Enenwali noticed a surge in merchants’ needs for shipping parcels and cargo outside Nigeria. He had built relationships with these merchants following his time with logistics company ACE Logistics and e-commerce fulfilment provider, Sendbox. Though demand was steady during his time with both companies from 2015 to 2020, this was different.

“The world was shutting down, but there was this high demand for stuff and demand for international shipping was going up simultaneously. So I was like, “this is interesting.” It wasn’t a business then as we just helped these people move stuff like a scrappy, little hustle,” Enenwali told TechCrunch over a call.

Globally, about 60% of air cargo is flown in the belly hold of passenger flights which is one reason why to an extent, shipping businesses done via air are more straightforward to start than those done via the sea. For Enenwali, it even made more sense to go through this route because passenger planes flew half empty for most of 2020. After months of iteration, Topship went live in March 2021 with Junaid Babatunde as CTO.

Topship says it wants to create the easiest way for African businesses to export and import parcels and cargo to their customers, suppliers, and distributors worldwide. The company and similar players such as Sote, SEND, and OnePort365 want to improve the overall shipping experience in Africa. However, Topship’s expectations are pretty lofty; it said in a statement that “its mission is to make the shipping experience in Africa as easy and stress-free as booking an Uber ride.” And one factor that might work in its favour is its focus on air cargo even as others explore a mix of air, sea and truck haulage pioneered by Flexport.

CEO Enenwali argues that while African startups, including his, take some cues from Flexport’s playbook, he doesn’t think Africa is ready for the unicorn’s model, which is super-heavy on sea cargo movement.

“The reason why the Flexport model wouldn’t work here is it’s heavily invested in ocean freight and we don’t have enough ports on the continent. For example, in Nigeria, we have one function port, and for ocean freight to work, we need ports, railways, and roads for trucking. But we don’t have the roads, and we don’t have the railways,” said the CEO, giving reasons why Topship doesn’t involve itself with sea cargo.

“It’s difficult to connect the continent with ocean freight. Flexport’s business model makes a lot of sense even with the way they attack problems aggressively, and I love that. But for Africa, we need to tweak it to fit the use case here. So what we’ve seen is the way to connect the continent is via air. Every country and major city on the continent has a functioning airport, and airlines are flying to all those airports daily.”

Topship caters to a wide range of users. From a merchant moving tons of heavy equipment and a solo entrepreneur sending parcels to a student mailing documents to a school abroad and a Gen Z shopping from a foreign store, Topship is a borderline local and international shipping solution between digital freight and e-commerce fulfilment. Flexport has backed several African companies from both categories, such as Trella, Flextock, ShipBlu, Sendbox, and Freeterium.

According to Enewali, Topship allows 1,500 merchants to move cargo and parcels from Nigeria to over 150 countries. Although it can help Nigerian merchants receive parcel deliveries from the other way round, they can only accept cargo deliveries from the U.S., the U.K and China

The company’s revenue comes from two ways: selling shipping insurance and taking a margin on transactions. Enewali said the company is exploring other revenue streams, including trade financing and customs clearance charges. The company has recorded ~50% month-on-month revenue growth since getting into YC this January.

I think what YC does more than anything is just push you to dive as deep as possible in understanding your users,” said the CEO about Topship’s revenue growth after YC. I mean, look into the future, a lot of it’s coming from that ethos of just the user is the most important piece of the puzzle, and we have to be obsessive about it. We’re taking all the learnings and insights that we’ve learned from our users over the past five months or six months and building it into the product in a way that is merchants-focus.”

Late last year, merchant groups from Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya invited Topship to gauge the possibility of launching in their respective markets. Enewali said this new funding provides Topship with the pockets to follow through and start operations there. A portion of the investment will be used to improve its asset-light technology and build out proprietary global shipping infrastructure to make imports/exports significantly faster and easier, the CEO said.

Topship has also set aside fashion design and retail grants worth $3,500 to award new and established fashion brands in Nigeria as a sign of “support for the future of the growing e-commerce sector” in the country.

Uber Eats pilots autonomous delivery with Serve Robotics, Motional

Uber Eats is launching two autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles on Monday with Serve Robotics, a robotic sidewalk delivery startup, and Motional, an autonomous vehicle technology company.

The new programs are a part of a range of new products Uber is launching across its ride-hail and delivery platforms, which are being announced on Monday at the company’s Global Product Event.

The Motional partnership was originally announced in December and marks the first time Uber is partnering with an AV fleet provider, as well as the first time Motional is trying its hand at autonomous delivery. Until this point, Motional has focused on robotaxis, securing partnerships with companies like Lyft and Via.

Serve Robotics is actually an Uber spinout, so seeing the two partner in the delivery space isn’t surprising. But it’s notable that Uber isn’t working with Aurora on this, given the two companies’ partnership in the freight space, their shared history, and the fact that Uber is a major investor in Aurora. Aurora acquired Uber ATG, Uber’s self-driving arm, in 2020, and under the terms of the deal, Uber invested $400 million in the company, giving it a 26% stake.

Uber told TechCrunch the company is looking at partnering with more than one player in the space, and that the public might start to see more partnerships in the future.

Both of the pilots are starting out small and delivering food from only a few unnamed merchants (including, perhaps, an organic cafe and juicery called Kreation, given the above image in this article?). Serve’s program will focus on shorter trips in West Hollywood. Motional’s program will handle longer distance deliveries in Santa Monica, according to an Uber spokesperson.

“We’ll be able to learn from both of those pilots what customers actually want, what merchants actually want and what makes sense for delivery as we start to integrate our platform with AV companies,” said the spokesperson. “The hope is that they’re successful and that we learn over the coming months, and then figure out how to scale.”

serve robot with uber eats branding

Serve Robotics is partnering with Uber Eats on an autonomous delivery pilot in Los Angeles.

Customers will be charged for deliveries with both Serve and Motional, including the cost of food, according to Uber. It’s not entirely clear how Uber and Motional will swing that, though. In California, to be able to charge a fee for autonomous delivery, Motional would need to be granted a deployment permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. So far, it only has a permit to test with a safety driver on board.

In answer to this, Uber said only that “Motional and Uber expect that certain delivery fees which might normally be applicable may not be charged during this initial phase.”

Motional did not respond to a request for comment.

There don’t appear to be any laws restricting companies from charging for deliveries made by sidewalk robots, so Serve is in the clear. Uber said that if a customer decides to tip a Serve robot, they’ll be reimbursed.

Uber Eats and Motional Unlocking on app

Uber Eats customers will be given a passcode to unlock an autonomous vehicle and receive their food delivery.

In addition, per the rules of Motional’s testing permit with the California DMV, a human safety operator will be on board the vehicle during deliveries. This operator will also drive the delivery vehicle manually when near customers’ drop-off locations, as needed, according to an Uber spokesperson.

Serve’s robots are capable of operating under Level 4 autonomy in some scenarios, the company has said. During the Uber pilot, the robots will be monitored by a remote operator who will take over in certain use cases, like crossing the street, Uber said.

Customers residing within one of the two geofenced test zones will see an option at checkout to have their food delivered by an autonomous vehicle. If they opt in, the customer can track the food like they normally would, and when it arrives, they will get a notification to meet the AV outside. Customers will get a passcode on their phone that will allow them to unlock the vehicle and grab the food, whether the meal is in one of Serve’s cooler-like robots or the backseat of one of Motional’s cars.

Everything Uber announced at its global product event

Uber revealed a host of new platforms and features during its global product event, Go Get 2022, on Monday. The new products span across Uber’s ride-hail and delivery services, and aim to increase ridership, open new lines of business, incentivize drivers to go electric and more.

The new features were highlighted during the event in a video starring comedian and co-creator of Broad City, Ilana Glazer, who demonstrated a day in the life of using the new Uber products.

Uber’s new ride-hail products

Given Uber’s dependence on its mobility segment to bring in the most meaningful revenue, it makes sense that the company is pursuing new ways to attract, and retain, riders. From rider incentives to easier access to EVs, here are Uber’s new ride-hail related products:

Uber Travel

uber travel itinerary

Uber Travel links with your Gmail to help customers book rides to flights and events.

The Uber Travel feature will help riders book a ride to and from upcoming events, like flights or restaurant reservations, in advance. Interested riders can link their Gmail to their Uber accounts, allowing Uber to get access to any upcoming flight, hotel and restaurant reservations and suggest bookings to get customers there.

This feature is now available in major cities across the U.S., and will launch in Canada in the coming weeks, according to Uber. It’s not unlike another product the company released recently, which allows customers in select cities to book things like events and dinner reservations through the app.

Meanwhile, in the UK, this feature will look a bit different. Uber will pilot giving users the ability to book trains, buses and car rentals, starting this summer.

Uber Charter

Uber Charter, which is launching across the U.S. this summer, is a partnership with US Coachways, a nationwide bus service, that allows riders to book party buses, passenger vans and coach buses directly through the Uber app. Apparently, the service comes highly requested, according to an Uber spokesperson.

The benefit to users, along with upfront pricing, is that now, the problem of finding a safe way to move around while getting sloshed in wine country during a bachelorette party will require much less research.

Event vouchers

Because Uber is really trying to secure that dough, now users across the U.S. can buy Uber vouchers for their events. Throwing a wedding or hosting a corporate function and want to make it easy to shuttle people around? Now, instead of individually calling your friends and employees an Uber, you can just share a unique code with them that will allow them to determine their own pickup and drop off times and locations. Users of this function will be able to set a limit on the max amount they want to cover, so it’s not an open bar tab all night.

Uber says this product also allows users to treat guests to vouchers for Uber Eats, because, why not?

Uber Comfort Electric

Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs are soooo budget, amiright? Now, the boujee and environmentally friendly rider can request a ride in a premium electric vehicle. Riders in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Dubai can now book Uber Comfort Electric trips with Tesla models S, 3, X and Y, the Polestar 2, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Audi e-Tron.

The price point is something between an Uber Comfort and Uber Black, according to an Uber spokesperson. That hike in price might just go against the company’s Uber Green initiative, which promises no additional costs for booking an EV or hybrid.

This new product comes several months after Uber secured access to 50,000 Teslas in a partnership with Hertz.

EV Hub and Charging Map

This is a little somethin’ for the drivers. Uber has a stated goal of becoming a fully electric mobility platform by 2030 in the U.S. and Canada, and one way to appear to be supporting that goal while still offloading the costs of operations onto drivers is with this new product.

Uber EV Hub

Uber’s EV Hub offers drivers a price comparison tool.

The charging map allows drivers to get information and incentives within the app on where the nearest chargers are located, the charging speeds at those locations and how to get there. The EV Hub gives drivers information about state and federal incentives for switching to EVs, discounts for certain EVs and a cost comparison tool.

The EV Hub will also likely include Uber’s own incentives to get drivers to switch to EVs, such as giving drivers who make the switch $1 more per trip, but only up to $4,000 annually.

The Hub is currently available for drivers in the U.S. and Canada, and will go global this year, says Uber. The charging map is set to launch this summer in the U.S. before expanding globally.

New Uber Eats products

The end of 2021 finally brought Uber out of the red for its delivery segment. While revenue for Uber Eats isn’t exactly bringing the company into profitable territory just yet, it’s a fast-growing segment, especially as Uber expands into new verticals like alcohol and convenience store delivery.

With that in mind, the company is doubling down on ways to drive more profit in the delivery segment, from getting sports fans involved to piloting autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous delivery pilots with Serve Robotics and Motional

Uber is piloting autonomous delivery with sidewalk robot delivery startup Serve Robotics (an Uber spinout) and autonomous vehicle tech company Motional. The initially small pilot will start Monday in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, Los Angeles.

Voice ordering

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, states, in order to make a habit stick, you have to remove the friction that stands in the way of action. If the action is ordering Uber Eats, then the friction is the labor of picking up your phone, opening the Uber Eats app, typing in what you’d like to eat, picking a restaurant and scheduling a delivery.

Now, by integrating Google Assistant into the Uber Eats platform, customers can more easily make a habit of sitting on the couch and ordering in dinner. All they have to do is say, “OK Google,” and ask their phone to order a meal from a restaurant on the app.

This feature is now available in English across the world, with more languages set to roll out this summer, according to Uber.

Uber Eats at Stadiums

Gif of Uber Eats at Yankees Stadium

Uber Eats at Yankees Stadium

This one we can get behind. One of the main pleasures of going to watch a professional sports game is the junk food and beer, but it’s a bitter sweet pleasure when the excessive line-waiting is taken into account. Now, when customers open the Uber Eats app within a participating stadium, they can place concessions orders and skip the line.

Uber Eats at stadiums is available in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium; in New York at Yankee Stadium; in Washington, D.C. at Capital One Arena; in Houston at Minute Maid Park; in San Jose at PayPal Park; and most recently at Roazhon Park in Rennes, France with more to come, says the company.

New perks for Uber One

Uber One, Uber’s membership program, is delivering new perks for members with partners like Marriott Bonvoy, Clear and Obé Fitness. Those who join on Monday get one month free and $30 off their next delivery.

Uber One is also expanding to Mexico, Germany and the UK, with more countries to follow, said Uber.

Postmates founder banks $23 million for his new crypto startup TipTop

Postmates founder Bastian Lehmann’s new crypto startup TipTop was lightly teased out a few weeks ago, but now the stealth startup is sharing some info on its early funding, though there’s not much info on what they’re actually doing with that money.

Lehmann notes that the company has raised a $23 million Series A from a16z with Marc Andreessen himself joining the startup’s board. Other backers in the round include Sam Altman, Naval Ravikant, Andy McLoughlin, Jeff Clavier and Dan Romero, among others.

The startup is keeping things as vague as possible on its website and job listings with redacted graphics promising “consumer finance solutions for a changing web” and that they’re “building protocols and infrastructure,” doing something “at the intersection of fiat and crypto.” It’s all publicly unclear, but investors seem eager to throw some money behind Lehmann after Postmates’ $2.65 billion exit to Uber in mid-2020.

This round’s announcement comes at a rough time for the broader crypto markets after this past week’s crash, which was brutal even by crypto standards.

That hit is leaving plenty of venture firms in a tough spot and likely questioning their commitment to the sector. This lack of volume, specifically from growth firms, could make scaling a crypto business more difficult in the coming years if the sector is indeed on the cusp of a “crypto winter.” For repeat founders like Lehmann and ex-Meta executive David Marcus who also announced venture backing for his new crypto startup yesterday, these issues will obviously be less pronounced.

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Uber shareholders get closer to passing lobbying disclosure proposal

Uber shareholders voted against a proposal that would have required the ride-hailing company to fully disclose its direct and indirect lobbying activities and expenditures, according to a regulatory filing released Thursday.

The measure has been proposed and rejected by shareholders before. But this year’s results shows a growing number of shareholders are keen to require full disclosure. About 45% of shareholders voted in favor of the measure as opposed to around 30% last year. Two-thirds of shareholders need to vote in favor for a proposal to be approved.

The uptick in votes in favor signals a win for advocates in what will surely be a years-long process to encourage companies like Uber to be more forthcoming in their spending.

The proposal, submitted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, argues that Uber’s lack of full disclosure around its lobbying activities represents multiple risks for the company. The most obvious one is the potential reputational risk to the company if it’s revealed that it backs a cause considered unsavory by its users.

The real risk, argues Teamster senior government analyst Michael Pryce-Jones, is to the sustainability of the business itself.

“How much do you have to lobby to grow your markets or defend your markets? Because that goes to the resilience of how you’re earning money,” Pryce-Jones previously told TechCrunch.

The vote comes as Uber, along with other app-based gig companies, continues to lobby hard and support so-called grassroots organizations dedicated to independent worker rights in order to keep gig workers classified as contractors, rather than employees. Uber’s business model depends on not paying drivers and deliver workers as employees, which includes benefits like minimum wage and sick leave, as well as protections like workers’ compensation.

Most infamously, Uber contributed around $30 million to campaign in California to pass Proposition 22 that ended up reaching over $200 million. The company is actively working to pass similar laws in other states around the country, like Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

Other proposals

Three other proposals were submitted and approved Monday, all with recommendations from the board to vote in favor. The first is a proposal to elect 11 directors to serve until the 2023 annual meeting and until their successors are elected. The directors selected are currently serving on Uber’s board.

Uber’s shareholders also voted to approve, on a non-binding advisory basis, the 2021 compensation of Uber’s named executive officers. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s target compensation broke down into 6% in salary, 12% in cash bonus and 82% in long-term equity. In practical terms, that comes out to $1 million in salary, $16 million in stock awards, $2.4 million in non-equity incentive plan compensation (which is essentially just a bonus) and $507,738 in other compensation (mainly for security and personal safety costs), totaling a whopping $20 million in 2021 CEO compensation.

For other executives, the breakdown was 9% salary, 9% cash bonus and 82% longterm equity. Here’s a breakdown of total compensation for the executives:

  • Nelson Chai, chief executive officer: $6.8 million
  • Jill Hazelbaker, SVP of marketing and public affairs: $7.9 million
  • Tony West, SVP, chief legal officer and corporate secretary: $7.4 million
  • Nikki Krishnamurthy, SVP and chief people officer: $10.7 million

Uber has a philosophy for how it compensates executives that backs its objectives to attract and retain talent, align executive incentives with company performance, provide further financial incentives for reaching certain milestones, and “reinforcing cultural norms,” whatever that means.

Here’s a sliver of Uber’s compensation philosophy, pulled from a regulatory filing:

“In order to promote long-term stockholder value creation and link the compensation of our executive officers to these long-term strategic goals and key drivers of our business, the primary focus of our compensation philosophy and program is on the long-term elements of target total compensation.”

Finally, Uber’s shareholders voted to ratify the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as the company’s independent registered accounting firm for 2022. Nothing surprising there, as PwC served as Uber’s accounting firm for the last two financial years, as well.