Uber to shutter most of its service in Belgium tomorrow after court ruling

Uber will halt its ride-hailing service in most of Belgium tomorrow following a court ruling Wednesday that extends a 2015 order banning its p2p UberPop service to also cover professional drivers providing its ride-hailing service.

Uber told us that it is studying the detail of the ruling to decide whether to appeal the decision with the country’s Supreme Court.

The move also follows a temporary suspension of Uber’s service in Brussels in September — an action the tech giant called “exceptional and unprecedented”, saying it was only taking the step to protest the lack of reform of rules which prohibit drivers from using smartphones.

Following the ruling by the Brussels Appeal Court this week, private hire vehicle drivers have also been blocking a major tunnel in the Belgian capital.

In a statement on Friday’s looming shutdown, Uber’s country chief, Laurent Slits, once again attacked the Belgian government for not delivering a reform it’s been lobbying for, writing: “This decision was made based on outdated regulations written in a time before smartphones, which the government has promised and failed to reform for the last seven years.”

Per Bloomberg, which reported on Uber’s shutdown earlier, it will not apply to a small number of drivers who are licensed in a Flemish region of the country — and who will therefore still be allowed to use the app.

Uber confirmed the Appeal Court ruling only affects drivers with Brussels licences.

In the statement, Slits added that the tech giant is “deeply concerned” about the 2,000 holders of LVC licenses (aka rental car with driver licences) who he said will “lose their ability to generate earnings [via Uber’s platform] from Friday”.

That phrasing — “generate earnings” — refers to the fact Uber does not employ drivers directly in Belgium; instead it classifies them as independent contractors. So it cannot claim that 2,000 ‘jobs’ are about to be lost since it does not provide employment contracts to the LVC drivers in question in the first place.

“We urge the government to move quickly to reform the taxi and LVC sector once and for all so that drivers can continue working to provide for their families,” Slits added.

Back in March the local government in Brussels banned Uber drivers from picking up rides via smartphones and geolocation.

Since then Uber drivers in the city have been operating in a legal grey zone — where they risk sanctions by continuing to drive using its app. However the company suggests drivers have been given mixed messages, claiming authorities are sometimes telling drivers — in private — that they can continue driving.

A spokesman for Uber called the government’s March order “mistaken” — pointing out that it had promised a reform of the law before the summer. Per Reuters, a draft law to reform the rules was set out by the Belgian government in September. But, according to Uber, the sector as a whole has yet to see the text.

Uber suggested there is widespread backing in Belgium for reforming the 1995 rules — not just from LVC drivers who serve customers via its platform but also from traditional taxi firms.

However local taxi firms in Brussels have their own reform ideas — and have also said they are keen to poach Uber drivers to plug a shortage of taxi drivers.

A sector spokesman recently told TaxiPro there’s a shortfall of 600+ taxi drivers in the capital which could be filled by LVC holders that have been driving for Uber.

“The big advantage is that we offer a solution to these Uber drivers,” Sam Bouchal told the publication in September [translated to English via Google Translate], saying that the Uber drivers could be offered permanent contracts, and adding: “We’re getting them out of illegality.”

Bouchal also told TaxiPro that the taxi sector wants to avoid what he couched as “a social massacre.”

Concern over gig working conditions has been a fiery topic across Europe for years, leading to scores of legal challenges — and a 2017 ruling by Europe’s top court that Uber is a transport service and so cannot simply dodge local taxi regulations.

In the UK, Uber was also recently been forced to recognize drivers as workers after losing the last of a long line of employment challenges at the country’s Supreme Court.

However, in Belgium — a core centre of power for the European Commission — the ride-hailing giant is continuing to lobby for favorably changes to the law to grease the engines of its platform business.

Uber is also lobbying the Commission to address ride-hailing regulations across the bloc’s single market in an upcoming urban mobility framework — which the EU exec has said it wants to support the development of urban transport systems that are “safe, accessible, inclusive, affordable, smart, resilient and emission-free”. 

Uber’s hope here is that EU lawmakers will seek to apply rules that override city level regulations — setting a pan-EU enabling framework for ride-hailing services which would mean it could just ignore local authority demands.

However the Commission has also said it wants the urban mobility framework to tackle “transport pollution and congestion” — so it’s not clear how removing regulatory barriers to ride-hailing would be anything other than counterproductive on that front.

Cars remain the least efficient way to transport people around dense urban environments given how much space they require and how relatively few people can be moved around in the space occupied by a single car vs a train, bus, cycling, scooting, walking etc. The rise of micromobility has also fuelled the range of available car alternatives — so the arguments in favor of cars in cities are shrinking rapidly.

The coronavirus pandemic has also led to a number of European cities to dial up their focus on transforming street infrastructure to be more pedestrian and locally focused, also leveraging the rise of micromobility to enact policies that deliberately de-emphasize the car. Simply put, cleaner air and more vibrant local streets (and school bike trains) are hard to argue against.

While Brussels has not been at the forefront of those developments the city has been seeking to reduce the number of cars on its infamously congested, pollution-smogged roads in recent years. So Belgium’s government may well have reason to pause and consider the implications of any ride-hailing reforms.

In parallel, the European Commission has been working on another legislation initiative — which it wants to improve conditions for platform workers across the bloc, responding to high levels of concern over factors such as the lack of job security and precarious earnings.

On that front Uber has also been busy lobbying — and stands accused of pushing EU lawmakers to reduce standards for platform workers, with critics saying it’s seeking to replicate its success in overturning a California law that had sought to classify gig workers as employees.

So the street-level battle for Europe’s social contract is very real.

Longtime LinkedIn exec Joann Wu will be joining Uber in January

Joann Wu, a longtime LinkedIn executive who spent over a decade at the company working on user experience and product design, is moving to Uber. She will be joining Uber as VP of product design starting January 3, where she’ll report to Chief Product Officer Sundeep Jain.

Wu told TechCrunch that she’s a longtime user of both Uber and Uber Eats, the company’s food delivery business unit. “I see Uber as a platform that can make it easy to do both — ‘go’ and ‘get,’ and there’s a lot we can do with design around doing those two things really, really well every day and make people’s lives a little bit easier.”

Joann Wu

Joann Wu. Image Credits: Uber

Wu started at LinkedIn as a senior UX designer in content and publishing, and held a variety of roles throughout her tenure, including senior director of product design. In March 2021 she took over as VP of product design, where she headed LinkedIn’s global consumer product design team. She led the redesign of LinkedIn’s website and mobile app, built LinkedIn News and launched the LinkedIn Publishing Platform.

While she was at LinkedIn, the platform grew from around 100 million users to over 800 million.

“Design is the bridge between humans and technology,” she said. “Great experience will transfer users’ intent into action and bring value to their lives.”

Uber is constantly rolling out or piloting new features — like being able to reserve a car at an airport or adding a new mapping function to its Eats business unit — so Wu will surely be busy.

5 critical pitch deck slides most founders get wrong

My team and I go through 250 to 300 investor decks every single month. Even though a small group of founders has started exploring Notion memos to replace pitch decks, the reality is that most investors will still expect a good old slide presentation.

The following are slides that we constantly see founders struggle to solve. The most common reasons why these slides don’t work?

  • Founders haven’t really solved that aspect of their businesses.
  • The founder doesn’t understand what the slide means or what it needs to answer for the investor.

Go-to-market slide

What it needs to answer: How will you triple your revenue year over year?

A good go-to-market slide must show the company understands why it’s growing and what it needs to do to continue.

For most decks and most company stages, the go-to-market slide is the most critical in the presentation. Most companies are pitching investors when they have a bit of traction, so it’s safe to assume most of the capital will go toward accelerating growth.

Also, depending on the company stage, “go-to-market” ought to be considered a section rather than an individual slide. As a general rule, the later stage the company is, the longer and more detailed this section becomes. We worked on the pitch deck that raised UpKeep’s Series B round, and the go-to-market section was about seven slides long.

If you are structuring your pitch deck cohesively, the go-to-market will probably be the first slide investors will encounter that details how the company intends to use its funding. We usually put go-to-market slides after the business model slide but before the market size slide; that way, you can dive into expansion after the investor already understands how you make money (and before touching on the market potential).

One of my favorite go-to-market slides comes from Airbnb’s 2009 pitch deck (the one they used for YC Demo Day):

Airbnb’s go-to-market slide from its original 2009 deck as redesigned by Slidebean. Image Credits: Slidebean

Notice how at this point (seed stage), Airbnb had identified three critical go-to-market tactics:

  • “Targeting festivals and events” shows a good understanding of the audience willing to “experiment” with their offering.
  • “Partnerships with existing booking providers,” a source of growth that is still used today.
  • Its “dual posting feature” on Craigslist. At the time, Airbnb had developed a simple bot that automatically cross-posted all new Airbnb listings to Craigslist. All posts had a link back to their website.

Some of the most common mistakes I see on go-to-market slides:

  • Being too generic about growth tactics: Founders just make a list of five to six growth channels they intend to experiment on without going into detail about what they are doing there and what they are doing differently from their competitors.

The DOJ is suing Uber over claims its ‘wait time’ fee policy discriminates against people with disabilities

The Department of Justice is suing ride-hailing giant Uber over claims that the company discriminates against passengers with disabilities, in violation of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday, alleged that Uber’s practice of imposing “wait time” fees on passengers with disabilities constituted discrimination, as those passengers may need more time to board the vehicle due to that disability. Uber launched its wait time policy in April 2016, charging fees from two minutes after the Uber vehicle arrives at the designated pickup location.

Uber does not give discretion to drivers to waive or otherwise alter wait time fees, which are calculated automatically in the app.

The DOJ said Uber failed to give those passengers adequate boarding time or provide equitable fares, in violation of the ADA. Mobility aids that need to be broken down, like wheelchairs and walkers, or myriad other reasons, could mean that a disabled passenger requires more than two minutes to board a vehicle, the suit says.

The complaint described the experiences of two specific passengers, referred to only as, “Passenger A” and “Passenger B.” Passenger A, a 52-year-old woman who has quadriplegia and uses a manual wheelchair, took at least five minutes on average to board vehicles she booked using Uber. She was charged a wait time fee for each ride she took, but due to limited other transportation options, she continued using Uber each day. She attempted to request a refund and was denied.

Passenger B, a 34-year-old man with cerebral palsy, also uses a manual wheelchair and was also charged a wait time fee for nearly every ride through the app. Uber initially refunded the fees, but later told him that he had reached “the maximum amount of refunds.”

“Similar to Passengers A and B, other individuals with disabilities throughout the country have likewise been discriminated against by Uber by being charged wait time fees because of their disabilities,” the suit says.

The ADA is a landmark piece of legislation enacted by Congress in 1990. While Uber is a private company, the DOJ says the ADA has authority to address discrimination in transportation services provided by private entities.

“As Uber and other similar providers have gained popularity over traditional taxi services as the primary option for on-demand transportation, Uber plays an important role in ensuring independence for countless people with disabilities who choose to – or simply must – rely on its services to travel,” the lawsuit says.

TechCrunch has reached out to Uber for comment and will update the story if the company responds.

The case number is 3:21-cv-08735.

Jackpocket raises $120M to expand its lottery app into mobile gaming

Apps that let people do virtually what they would have previously had to carry out in person have seen a boom in the last 20 months of pandemic living, and one of them today is announcing a big fundraise on the back of its own strong growth. Jackpocket, which currently has 2.5 million active users who use its app to buy tickets to play lotteries in 10 U.S. states, has picked up $120 million in a Series D round, funding that CEO and founder Peter Sullivan said it plans to use to expand from its core business of lottery ticket sales into a wider array of mobile gaming, and to take its business to more markets both in the U.S. and further afield, both on its own and in partnership with others.

“We expect by the end of Q1 to be in at least five other states,” Sullivan said, adding that technology investments are also on the to-do list, by bringing in more “best practices” from the worlds of e-commerce, subscriptions and mobile wallet services, alongside exploring other forms of gaming.

“What a lot of people don’t know about the lottery is that a percentage goes to good causes,” he said. New areas that Jackpocket wants explore include raffles, sweepstakes, bingo, social casino games. “We want to provide more fun game play and chances to win, and more ways to give back.”

This is what Jackpocket’s expansion strategy looks like according to its most recent pitch deck:

Left Lane Capital is leading the investment, with comedian Kevin Hart, Whitney Cummings, Mark Cuban and Manny Machado, among the individuals participating, alongside previous backers Greenspring Associates, The Raine Group, Anchor Capital, Gaingels, Conductive Ventures and Blue Run Ventures; and new backer Santa Barbara Venture Partners. (Jackpocket was founded in New York but also has an operation out of Santa Barbara, CA; that’s where CEO and founder Peter Sullivan is based and was speaking from when I interviewed him for this story.)

Sullivan said the company would not be disclosing its valuation with this round, which brings the total raised by the company to just under $200 million.

For some more context: Jackpocket last raised money only in February of this year, a $50 million Series C round, when it was valued at $160 million post-money, according to PitchBook data. But it has grown since then: its current 2.5 million active user figure is up 300% in the last eight months.

Sullivan said that the idea for Jackpocket came to him in part because of his father, who was, in his words, “a blue collar guy born in Brooklyn who played the state lottery in New York, but was computer illiterate.”

The year was 2012, and one of the big themes in the world of tech at the time was the rise of apps that were bringing previously-offline services into the digital world; another big theme was the surge of interest in mobile gaming. Putting those trends together, Sullivan saw an opportunity to build an app to order lottery tickets — something that typically required people to go into convenience stores that could be done instead from the phone.

“We positioned ourselves as the Uber or Instacart for lottery,” he said.

Jackpocket is part lottery ticket storefront, but also part virtualizer of the whole lottery experience. As Sullivan described it to me, people use the mobile app to order lottery tickets. At the back end, Jackpocket is doing the actual buying in advance, using proprietary software that it built to take “scans” of each ticket that the player buys. Players can see the ticket, which is watermarked by Jackpocket to keep it unique and authentic.

As with all kinds of other real-money online gaming, Jackpocket is built with various levers so that it complies with different regulations around age, geographical location (you have to be a resident of the state where you are playing). This includes using GPS technology to identify users’ locations, but also checks to determine whether people are using VPNs, or are tied to computers via other applications. Players also need to upload identification to verify themselves and their ages.

The company has also made a play for being a more “responsible” player in the gambling world. It monitors user spending and doesn’t let anyone spend more than $100 per day, or whatever limit under that amount they choose to set.

Its business model is based on taking a 9% cut on any transactions it makes itself. That means, if you put money into the app to buy tickets, you’re charged 9%, but if you use your winnings to play, you do not. Nor are you charged to withdraw money.

All the same, and even with a clear market opportunity (its biggest competition at the time was the fragmented convenience store market) the startup found it very hard initially to raise money.

“It was considered taboo to do real money gaming at the time,” Sullivan said of his experience of knocking on doors in Sand Hill Road in the early days, one reason why the company raised relatively little (around $25 million) before this year’s Series C. “Nine years ago investors wouldn’t talk to us, but I knew lottery would hbe the key here,” he said. “It is the largest amount of real money gaming, largest net and lightest touch point and it works well cross-selling it to other formats.”

The investment tide really started to turn on the back of the success of companies like FanDuel and other real-money gaming has changed the tune for lottery, and Jackpocket, too. The company cites figures from industry group North American State and Provincial Lotteries that estimate that the total annual spend from consumers on lotteries is $85.6 billion. This is more than the combined spend in several other leisure categories: print and digital books ($1.8 billion), movie tickets ($11.9 billion), video games ($31.5 billion), concert tickets ($10.4 billion) and sporting events ($17.7 billion).

“I saw my dad buy these tickets, but I never knew how big it was,” Sullivan said. And that’s not considering also the changing demographics of lottery ticket buyers, where some 70% of buyers are under the age of 45 years old. “It’s a more tech-savvy and affluent buyer,” Sullivan said, which also plays well into an app-based experience.

The past two years’ particular set of circumstances, meanwhile, has also given a big fillip to companies like Jackpocket, with the consumers who would have previously visited their corner shops to buy items like lottery tickets spending more time at home to socially distance and avoid the spread of Covid-19, and many of those small stores that remained open switching to delivery services, or making it generally less easy to pop in to buy tickets.

The “cross-selling” other formats, as Sullivan describes it, will be an important area to watch. It could be about selling other kinds of lottery-style experiences, but also potentially partnering with the companies like, say instant grocery delivery startups, which are the digital extensions of the convenience stores that have been lottery’s retail bread and butter up to now, or other gaming companies. That potential is one reason to raise so much right now.

“Mobile gaming and lottery is experiencing an exciting and unprecedented level of growth and expansion.  At Left Lane, it’s clear to us that Jackpocket is spearheading this progress and innovating at a pace never seen before in this industry,” said Harley Miller, founder and managing partner of Left Lane Capital, in a statement. “We were invigorated by the opportunity to take part in this historic moment and look forward to supporting Jackpocket’s role in this landscape.” 

After acquiring Dija and Fancy, instant grocery startup Gopuff launches in the UK en route to European expansion

Instant grocery and essentials delivery is already a very crowded field in Europe; but today competition was turned up another notch: Gopuff — the U.S. leader in the space with a service that delivers food and essentials for a flat fee of $1.95, 24 hours a day — launched officially in the U.K.. It plans to use London as a base to expand further into the region.

The launch is part branding, and part integration exercise: Gopuff, which was valued at $15 billion after raising $1 billion in July earlier this year, has been using its cash to make a stream of acquisitions. Two of those have been snapping up instant delivery players Fancy and most recently Dija in the UK. Now, Gopuff is rebranding those two under its own name, and moving its services over to its main app and platform.

The company is live today in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield and the plan is to be in 33 markets by the middle of next year, led by SVP of Europe, Steven Harman (who had been COO at Revolut); execs poached from Amazon; and Alberto Menolascina, who was co-founder of Dija, as the UK GM. The pricing in the U.K. is £1.79 per order.

“When looking at expanding into Europe, we were extremely attracted to the similar models, infrastructure, loyal customer bases and talent we saw in both Dija and Fancy,” said Rafael IIishayev, co-founder and co-CEO of Gopuff, in a statement. “By combining Gopuff’s technology, scale and deep experience leveraging existing physical infrastructure, with the local market knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit of the Fancy and Dija teams, we can bring a game-changing and unparalleled experience to UK customers.” I’ll be meeting with his co-founder Yakir Gola later today and will see if he says more about those plans.

Indeed, the U.K. is Gopuff’s first international market, but not its last. The company reportedly has its eye on at least one startup out of Berlin, Flink. Germany has proven to be one of the hotter markets for instant grocery delivery. Gorillas, another well-capitalized player in the space — it also raised close to $1 billion earlier this year and is now valued at around $2.1 billion — is also based in the city.

Aside from Flink and Gorillas, another major player in Europe has been Getir out of Turkey. Backed by the likes of Tiger Global and Sequoia, it is valued at $7.5 billion and has also kicked off an acquisition spree in earnest. There are many, many more players in the space, such as Zapp, Glovo, Cajoo, Weezy, Jiffy, Deliveroo, offerings from supermarkets, and much more. All of these have raised or invested collectively hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to carve out market share and grow, capitalizing on a consumer appetite for more on-demand services and — in a climate of the Covid-19 pandemic still very much hanging in the air — less of an inclination to go out physically themselves to get what they need.

As we have seen in other on-demand categories like transportation (hello, Uber) the strategic playbook here for the delivery businesses is to raise huge rounds of funding to make aggressive moves into new markets and to compete against others doing the same by offering deep discounts to win customers and potentially lock them into using your services more regularly. Gopuff, which has been around since 2013, believes that globally, the addressable market for instant food and essentials delivery is potentially worth $10 trillion.

That will inevitably lead to more consolidation of smaller, regional players; but it also spells deep losses due to extremely negative unit economics that are hard to claw back once promotions have been doled out to the masses. In areas like transportation, that has led to major write-downs both for the companies and their investors.

It will be interesting to see whether instant grocery is a mere repeat of that, or if entrepreneurs, startups and their investors have learned a lesson here.

The Station: Nuro scoops up new investors, Rivian gets sued and ride-hailing inches towards profitability

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show, which we know as SEMA, has long been the place to go to see quirky and flashy modifications to vehicles. This year, a major shift occurred that reflects what is happening across the country. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but folks I spoke to said they have never seen so many gas-to-electric conversions of sports cars, vintage hot rods and the like.

Of course, there was also a number of automakers displaying their new electrified vehicles, including the Ford F-100 Eluminator concept truck. We care about this concept because it showcases something that Ford is actually going to sell. The automaker is selling (available online or at a local dealer through Ford Performance Parts) the Eluminator electric crate motor. The motor comes from the Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition and produces 281 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. of torque.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

Lime closed a $523 million round made up of convertible debt and term loan financing, the next step as the company prepares to go public next year, according to CEO Wayne Ting. The largest chunk of the round is convertible note, which means it will convert to shares when Lime goes public, something Ting says the company will do next year, but he didn’t say when or how. About $20M of that total funding will go towards the company’s decarbonization efforts. Among many initiatives that Lime put forth in time for COP26 is the company’s goal to get 80% of its manufacturing and supply chain partners to set their own carbon emissions goals.

Bird, one of Lime’s biggest competitors, went public via the old SPAC route on Friday.  Shares of Bird closed basically flat at $8.40. Bird plans to use the money from the IPO to expand existing operations and launch in new cities. After Bird’s shareholders voted for the merger earlier this week, shares of the SPAC, Switchback II Corporation, sunk more than 20% before recovering.

Singapore-based Neuron Mobility is updating its N3 scooters with a new OS and additional onboard sensors to help it detect and correct dangerous or inconsiderate riding. A lot of companies have come out with some form of tech angled at offering the rider assistance in not driving like a jerk (Spin, Voi, Bird, Superpedestrian and Helbiz to name a few…), but they haven’t all delivered on that promise “at scale,” whatever that means. Neuron will be trialing about 1,500 of these upgraded scooters in Australia, Canada and the UK over the next six months.

European micromobility company Dott became one of the latest operators to integrate with Google Maps. Dott’s e-scooters and e-bikes will show up on the app in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain and the UK.

Helbiz launched a fleet of 250 e-scooters in Sacramento, California after securing a one-year permit.

The UK and Beam launched a partnership in Australia and New Zealand to raise awareness of electric mobility in order to help reduce transport-fueled carbon emissions. They’re offering incentives in the form of ride credits to those who have yet to use a form of electric mobility.

Gojek, Indonesian mobility and on-demand platform, and Gogoro, a Taiwanese micromobility battery swapping platform company, announced a partnership to electrify two-wheel transportation in Indonesia. The two, along with Indonesian national energy company Pertamina, are starting a battery swapping and Gogoro Smartscooter pilot scheme in Jakarta.

PeopleForBike and Call2Recycle have teamed up to create the first industry-wide electric bicycle battery recycling program in the United States. The hope is to unite the sector under one battery recycling solution.

Deal of the week

money the station

I wanted to turn your attention to an autonomous vehicle company that seems to be able to raise abundant amounts of capital and still remain under the radar.

I’m talking about Nuro, the autonomous delivery company founded in 2016. The company raised $600 million in a fundraising round led by new investor Tiger Global Management. Google was another new investor in this round.

The funding has pushed Nuro’s valuation to about $8.6 billion — or some 72% higher than a year ago — according to people who spoke to me on condition on anonymity. A group of mostly existing investors joined the Series D round, including Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, China-based venture firm Gaorong Capital, grocery retailer Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Woven Capital, a venture arm of Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet.

Much of it will be spent on commercializing and scaling the production of its third-generation vehicle at a new facility in Southern Nevada. Construction on its manufacturing facility will begin in December and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Other deals that got my attention …

42dot, a South Korea-based autonomous transportation-as-a-service startup, raised $88.5 million (104 billion WON) in a Series A round of funding that included participation from new investors like Shinhan Financial Group, Lotte Rental, Lotte Ventures, STIC Ventures, We Ventures, DA Value Investment and others.

Autobrains, an Israeli-based company that develops AI technology for assisted and autonomous driving, raised $101 million in Series C funding round led by Temasek. Additional participants in the round include new investors Knorr-Bremse AG, VinFast and existing investor BMW and strategic partner, Continental.

Breadfast, an online grocery delivery company that wants to become a regional leader in the sector, raised $26 million in Series A financing from lead investors Vostok New Ventures and Endure Capital. JAM Fund (led by Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen), YC Continuity Fund, a large unnamed Saudi-based fund, Shorooq Partners, 4DX Ventures and logistics giant Flexport also participated.

Delimobil, Russian car-sharing company, decided to postpone its initial public offering due to market conditions, Reuters reported.

Momenta, an autonomous vehicle developer from China, raised another $500 million that was added to its Series C round. The funding comes two months since it announced a $300 million investment from General Motors. This latest injection of capital brings the total of the startup’s Series C to over $1 billion.

Opibus, a Swedish-Kenyan EV conversion company, raised $7.5 million in pre series A round. The startup raised $5 million in equity and $2.5 million in grants in a round led by Silicon Valley fund At One Ventures, backed by Factor[e] Ventures and pan-African VC firm Ambo Ventures.

Rivian hopes to raise up $8.4 billion in its initial public offering, according to a regulatory filing posted this past week. The Amazon-backed company said in the filing that it plans to offer 135 million shares at a price between $57 and $62. Underwriters also have an option to buy up to 20.25 million additional shares. If underwriters exercise that option, Rivian would raise as much as $9.6 billion.

Based on the number of outstanding shares, that would put its market valuation at about $53 billion. If employee stock options and other restricted shares are considered, Rivian’s valuation could be as high as $60 billion.

Spartan Radar, a biomimetic radar company, closed $15 million in a Series A round led by Prime Movers Lab. Additional investors include 8VC and Mac VC. The round follows a $10 million raise earlier this year.

Scale AI acquired SiaSearch, a spinout of European venture studio Merantix that has built a data management platform that acts as a search engine for petabyte-scale data captured by advanced driving assistance and automated driving systems.

Zepto, a new Indian-based grocery delivery startup, raised $60 million in a round led by Glade Brook Capital. Nexus, Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital, as well as angel investors Lachy Groom, Neeraj Arora and Manik Gupta also participated in the round, which values Zepto at $225 million.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner.

Quick note from Kirsten: After the newsletter was “put to bed,” Congress passed President Biden’s infrastructure bill, mostly along party lines. Expect more details on that next week.

First, let’s talk briefly about the Hertz-Tesla deal. I know, I can hear you groaning already. One of the things that both Tesla played up was that Hertz is paying sticker price for the 100,000 Teslas it ordered (apparently without a contract, though that’s another story).

But they likely didn’t pay full price. In fact, Turo’s VP of government relations, Lou Bertuca, told me he was 100% certain that Hertz didn’t pay sticker price, thanks to a tax loophole that allows rental car companies to avoid paying sales tax. He told me that each year states lose out on around $4 billion in taxes due to this loophole.

The sales tax exemption was designed for car resellers, but car rental companies have also been able to benefit from this ‘sale for resale exemption.’ “They’re buying something tax-free and making lots of money by renting it out,” he said.

‘Anytime a car rental company says they’re paying the same rate as everybody else, the only thing you need to keep in mind is they’re not paying the sales tax that everybody else is paying, whether they’re buying a Tesla or Ford.” (TechCrunch reached out to Hertz for comment.)

Around five or six states are currently reconsidering this loophole, Bertuca said. Of course, Turo, a peer-to-peer marketplace for car rental, has its own dog in this fight. And it’s important to note that state and local governments can levy taxes on rental car companies that peer-to-peer rental companies (like Turo) are exempt from — here’s a good run-down on that battle.


In other news, Canada said it would “respond appropriately” should the U.S. pass the proposed increase for consumer tax incentives for electric vehicles. The country’s Innovation and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told Reuters that the proposal — which would provide an additional $4,500 for EVs made in the U.S. and in union shops and $500 for U.S.-made batteries — would run contrary to the USMCA trade agreement we have with Canada and Mexico.

He joins a growing chorus of foreign auto and auto parts manufacturers, including Toyota and Honda, who are opposing the additional funds.

I listened to a pretty interesting interview with Flavio Volpe, president of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, who made the case that ‘American-made’ is ultimately a nice political slogan that doesn’t accurately reflect dynamics on the ground. He noted that $9 billion worth of auto parts are exported from Michigan for assembly in Ontario — parts that would go into cars that would be excluded from the additional incentive, should it pass.

“Really in our business, we operate as if there’s no border, because there hasn’t been,” he said.

If you have a spare 20 minutes, I encourage you to listen to the entire interview. It definitely made me think about the automotive supply chain in a new way.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

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Just a quick little note that I’ve been meaning to share. Remember Starsky Robotics? This was the self-driving trucks startup that shut down in March 2020 as competition and consolidation in the industry heated up.

Co-founder and former CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher is back with a stealth startup focused on robotics and autonomy, according to his profile in LinkedIn. Next to it, he states “More info soon!”

Notable news and other tidbits

ADAS

Tesla voluntarily recalled nearly 11,704 vehicles after identifying a software error that could cause a false forward-collision warning or unexpected activation of the automatic emergency brake system, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said.

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise was busy this week. The company held an “Under the Hood” event that was meant, besides a recruiting activity, to lay out its technical and development road map. CTO and co-founder Kyle Vogt released a YouTube video of his driverless ride and late Friday the company filed an application for the CPUC Driverless Deployment Permit, as well as the accompanying required Passenger Safety Plan.

“Cruise has hit another important milestone today as the first company to apply for the final state permit required to launch an autonomous ride-hail service in California. Our accompanying Passenger Safety Plan outlines the safety and accessibility measures passengers can expect from start to finish in our AVs —- a critical facet of our overall, holistic approach to safety at Cruise,” Prashanthi Raman, head of global government affairs at Cruise, said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

Embark announced a partnership with Luminar to equip its truck fleet with Luminar’s long-range radar. Embark says this partnership will help the company as it tries to achieve commercial deployment and delivery of its 14,200 non-binding truck reservations in 2024.

Loyola Marymount University and its dining platform have partnered with autonomous robot delivery company Kiwibot to deliver meals across the university campus.

Waymo announced plans to manually drive its vehicles to map areas of New York City and then use all of that data to advance its technology.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor confirmed that reservations for the all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck have surpassed 160,000, less than six months after its debut. But remember, refundable $100 pre-orders are not the same as purchases! Let’s see how many that the leap this coming spring.

Lucid Group has spent the last week delivering its Air electric vehicle to customers. The company also opened up its 11th store (it calls them “studios) in Washington DC.

Nikola Corp., the electric truck developer, is in talks with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission to pay a $125 million civil penalty as part of an ongoing probe by the regulator into whether the company mislead investors.

Rivian, the electric automaker that recently filed for an IPO, was sued by a former sales and marketing vice president for alleged gender discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that Laura Schwab, a former sales and marketing executive who had a long employment history with Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin before joining Rivian in November 2020, was fired after reporting gender discrimination to the company’s human resources department.

In-car tech and sensors

BMW is going to ship some models without touchscreen functionality because of the global chip shortage, according to BMW enthusiast forum Bimmerfest. The infotainment system will still work, but BMW has removed touch functionality from the central display.

Kneron launched its first automotive-grade chip — fueled by funds from Foxconn, Alibaba, Sequoia, Horizons Ventures and Qualcomm — that it says could revolutionize the path to vehicle autonomy.

Velodyne Lidar named Theodore Tewksbury as its new CEO, the most recent in a string of changes to Velodyne’s C-suite since the beginning of this year. Tewksbury was the CEO of Eta Compute, a company that develops edge vision sensors. As you might recall, the company has been without a CEO for several months, after Velodyne announced the departure of Anand Gopalan in July.

Ride-hailing

Uber and Lyft posted earnings this week.

Lyft kicked things off with news that it reached adjusted profitability as riders returned to the U.S. ride-hailing company’s service. Lyft reported revenues of $864.4 million in the third quarter, a 73% pop from the $499.7 million in the same year-ago period.

Meanwhile, Uber squeaked out $8 million worth of adjusted EBITDA — a very modified profit metric — while still posting net losses of more than $2 billion. Uber’s gross bookings (or the value of all goods and services that flowed through its platform) totaled $23.1 billion, up 57% on a year-over-year basis. That figure translated to revenues of $4.8 billion, up 72% compared to the year-ago quarter.

To be clear, while adjusted EBITDA is one metric of profitability it’s not the grown-up GAAP profitability. Still, it’s a noteworthy milestone for these businesses.

Lime raises $523M as it prepares to go public

Shared electric micromobility giant Lime has closed a $523 million raise in convertible debt and term loan financing, money that Lime CEO Wayne Ting says is the next step on the company’s path to going public next year. Lime will use the capital to invest in its decarbonization efforts, refresh a significant portion of its fleet with its Gen4 e-bikes and e-scooters, scale into more cities and develop new technologies that will help win additional city RFPs.

“This was a very oversubscribed round, and I think it really does underscore the renewed interest in micromobility as a sector, and more importantly, the recognition that Lime is the undisputed leader in this space,” Ting told TechCrunch. “Companies typically do a convertible note as the last round before they go IPO and investors are betting that the company is going public, and they want to get in on the round early because they get to come in at a discount. And we certainly think the fact that you know, over $400 million of investment coming in is a real great milestone as we look towards taking Lime public next year.”

Of the total funding amount, $418 million is made up of convertible debt led by Abu Dhabi Growth Fund, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Uber and certain funds managed by Highbridge Capital Management. That debt will convert into shares automatically when Lime goes public. The remaining $105 million comes in as a senior secured term loan facility from the private credit group UBS O’Connor. Lime would not reveal the terms of the loan.

Fidelity and Uber are among Lime’s largest previous investors. In 2019, Fidelity was one of the leading investors in Lime’s $310 million Series D, and last year, Uber led a $170 million down round for Lime as it struggled with pandemic woes, a deal that saw Lime acquire Uber’s micromobility subsidiary Jump.

This announcement, coupled with Lime’s stated intention to go public next year, comes as competitor Bird enters the markets via a SPAC deal with Switchback II Corporation. Ting didn’t specify when next year Lime would file for IPO or whether it would go the traditional route or attempt a SPAC merger, but sources familiar with Lime say it’s unlikely the company will pursue the SPAC route.

“Our goal is to make sure we have enough capital to achieve our mission, which is to build a transportation alternative that is shared, that is affordable, that is green,” said Ting.

Earlier this week, Lime had its carbon targets validated by the Science-Based Targets Initiative, an organization that promotes best practices in emissions reductions in line with climate science, and announced that it is working towards being consistent with the Paris Climate Accord and being net-zero by 2030. The company is dedicating $20 million of its latest round towards decarbonization efforts, such as investing in cleaner hardware and ensuring that 80% of its supply chain sets better emissions goals. Capital goods, which includes the vehicles themselves including all of the extraction of materials and production that goes into them, make up 44.3% of Lime’s total emissions, according to the company’s carbon targets report. Pre-purchased goods and services, which consist of scooter parts and warehouse expenses, make up 25.8%.

“I want to show tangible results through capital investments to change our operations, to pushing our suppliers,” said Ting, who also said Lime would not continue to work with suppliers that don’t have their own carbon targets in the hope that other companies also pressure manufacturing partners to make similar commitments. “We mean business when we talk about decarbonization and transportation. When we do become a public company, I want our investors to know that that’s what this company stands for.”

Lime will primarily use the funds to double down on its existing city permits, deepening its relationships in the markets in which it already resides. That could look like building new vehicle modes or investing in technology “that actually makes us good partners to cities as we expand and scale our business,” said Ting, but he didn’t specify what new modes or technologies Lime is exploring.

However, last month Ting mentioned that Lime is interested in joining the sidewalk detection technology club during a WSJ tech event, at which time the CEO also claimed that Lime is third quarter EBITDA profitable for the second time. Lime was able to reach this level in large part through bottom line growth, meaning the company is running a tight ship. But Covid has continued to affect new ridership and top line growth, despite the fact that the operator launched in 80 contracts this year.

The main use cases for Lime, commute and tourism, are slowly starting to creep back. The United States just announced that it would lift the travel ban for Europeans who have been double vaccinated. Expanding into new cities is also on Lime’s roadmap pre-IPO. Ting said Lime is targeting North American and European expansion, but is also interested in looking towards the Middle East, where the company’s lead investor in this round is based.

“We’ve actually seen that we’ve grown our intercity travel by a ton, and in 2021, our revenue is going to be back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels,” said Ting. “People are looking for a safe, affordable, single passenger way to move, and a lot of people have shifted their ridership onto micromobility platforms like Lime. When I look towards 2022, we have an opportunity to deepen that relationship with riders.”