If 12% is the new 30%, 4% is the new 12%

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

The whole team was aboard for this recording, with Grace and Chris behind the scenes, and Danny, Alex, and Natasha on the mics. We had to cut more than we included this week, which should give you a good idea of how busy the startup and VC worlds are of late.

Make sure that you are following the podcast on Twitter, where we post all sorts of memes and cuts and, perhaps, the occasional video here and there. That aside, here’s the rundown:

  • Investing legend David Swenson passed away.
  • Twitter is buying Scroll (neat, very cool) as part of its subscription push, but also killing Nuzzel in the process (bad, very uncool). Natasha and Danny fill us in on why Nuzzel will be missed. Alex has thoughts on why Twitter-Scroll is good.
  • Epic bought ArtStation and cut its marketplace take rate. This is the future, says Danny, who throws his own estimates in, too.
  • Sony and Discord are tying up after the Microsoft-Discord deal fell apart.
  • Edtech is doing the edtech thing in which it raises money and consolidates, as shown by Kahoot’s latest scoop.
  • A friend of the pod, Jomayra Herrera, is joining Reach Capital as its first ever outside-partner hire.
  • Uber is teaming up with Arrival for ride-hailing designed electric vehicles. We’re pretty bullish on the idea. Also Alex likes to say “microfactories.”
  • IVF startups are raising venture capital, and this time its Alife Health that we’re talking about. 
  • WorkBoard raised again. Alex once again made us talk about OKR-focused startups. He needs to get a life, and so does the rest of the Equity team which fought to do the transition into this segment.
  • To end, we spoke about Leda Health, a new startup focused on at-home rape kits for sexual assault survivors. It’s a controversial company, and we discuss critiques and opportunities,

And that’s our show! No private equity deal can slow the Equity team down, so we’ll see you Monday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Figure raises $7.5M to help startup employees better understand their compensation

The topic of compensation has historically been a delicate one that has left many people — especially startup employees — wondering just what drives what can feel like random decisions around pay and equity.

Last June, software engineers (and housemates) Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand set about trying to solve the problem for companies by developing a data-driven platform that aims to help companies structure their compensation plans and transparently communicate them to candidates.

Now today, the startup behind that platform, Figure, announced it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding led by CRV. Bling Capital, Better Tomorrow Ventures and Garage Capital also participated in the financing, along with angel investors such as AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant, Jason Calacanis, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and other executives based in Silicon Valley.

The startup has amassed a client list that includes other startups such as fintechs Brex and NerdWallet and AI-powered fitness company Tempo. 

Put simply, Hobby and Tisserand’s mission is to improve workflows and transparency around pay, particularly equity. The pair had both worked at startups themselves (Uber and Instacart, respectively) and ended up leaving money on the table when they left those companies because no one had properly explained to them what their equity, which changed at every valuation, meant.  

Image Credits: Figure co-founders and co-CEOs Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand. Image Credits: Figure

So, one of their goals was to create a solution that would provide a user-friendly explanation of what a person’s equity stake really means, from tax implications to whether or not they have to buy the stock and/or hold onto it.

“I’ve gone through the job search process many times before and there’s all these complex legal documents to understand why you’re getting 10,000 stock options, but obviously we knew the vast majority of people have no idea how that works,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We saw an opportunity there to help companies actually convey the value to their candidates while also making them aware of the potential risks of owning something that’s so illiquid.”

Image Credits: Figure

Another goal of Figure’s is to help create a more fair and balanced process about decisions around pay and equity so that there’s less inequality out there. Pointedly, it aims to remove some of the biases that exist around those decisions by systematizing the process.

“We saw a void in this kind of context around equity…and knew that there had to be a better way for companies to structure, manage and explain their compensation plans,” Hobby said.

To Hobby and Tisserand, Figure is designed to help stop instances of implicit bias.

“Compensation should be based on the work that you’re doing, and not gender or ethnic background,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We’re trying to give that context and remove biases. So, we’re trying to help at two different stages –– to surface inequities that already exist and make sure there are no anomalies, and then to help stop them before they can exist.”

Figure also aims to give companies the tools to educate candidates and employees on their total compensation — including equity, salary, benefits and bonuses — in a “straightforward and user-friendly” way. For example, it can create custom offer letters that interactively detail a candidate’s compensation.

“Our goal is for Figure to become an operating system for compensation, where a company can encode their compensation philosophy into our system, and we help them determine their job architecture, compensation bands and offer numbers while monitoring their compensation health to provide adjustment suggestions when needed,” Hobby said.

Post-hire, Figure’s compensation management system “helps keep everything running smoothly.”

Anna Khan, general partner of enterprise software at CRV, is joining Figure’s board as part of the funding. The decision to back the startup was in part personal, she said.

“I’d been investing in software for eight years and was alarmed that no one was building anything around pay equity when it comes to how we’re paid, why we’re paid what we’re paid and on how to build equity long term,” Khan told TechCrunch. “Unfortunately, discussions around compensation and equity still happen behind closed doors and this extends into workflow around compensation — equally broken — with manual leveling, old data and large pay inequities.”

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its product offerings and scale its organization.

Investors cheer as Lyft’s Q1 revenue didn’t fall as much as expected

Investors gave Lyft’s value a small bump Tuesday after the American ride-hailing company reported results that weren’t quite as bad as the company, and Wall Street had expected. Shares of the Uber competitor rose as much as 4.5% in after-hours trading following the disclosure of its financial performance from the first three months of the year. As of the time of writing those gains have fallen to a smaller 2.5% gain.

Turning to its results, Lyft’s revenue fell 36% to $609 million in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy, and, more specifically the ride-hailing industry. That disparity in revenue can be directly tied to fewer active riders using its app. The company said it had 13.49 million active riders in the first quarter, down more 36.4% from the 21.2 million riders on its network in the same period last year.

But while the company’s ride base and revenues did fall, the drops were not as extreme as the company, or its backers feared. As Lyft trumpeted at the top of its quarterly results deck, its revenue in the period was $59 million greater than the midpoint of its guidance. That’s investor speak for overshooting the mean, which apparently is an A+ in today’s market. Lyft also stuck by its previous forecast that it can achieve adjusted EBITDA profitability in the third quarter.

The company reported an adjusted EBITDA loss totaling $73 million in the first quarter, which was far better than anticipated. The company had expected a sharper $135 million adjusted EBITDA deficit for the period.

In addition to beating its own Q1 2021 goals to some degree, Lyft posted 7% percent revenue growth over what it recorded in Q4 2020, a detail that Lyft pointed to as a sign that the company was on the road to recovery. Lyft said ridership also improved some 8% from the previous quarter.

The company remains deeply unprofitable, despite its partial recovery. Lyft reported a net loss of $427.3 million in the first quarter, a 7.3% worsening from the $398.1 million net loss it recorded during the same period last year. Those losses included $180.7 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses and $128.0 million related to changes to the liabilities for insurance required by regulatory agencies attributable to historical periods.

Despite the losses, Lyft executives said they were buoyed by stronger rider demand, which has picked up in recent months.

The company also emphasized the sale of its self-driving unit called Level 5, which was announced last week. Lyft sold the autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million, the latest in a string of acquisitions spurred by the cost and lengthy timelines to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology. Uber also sold its self-driving tech, work that was once seen as existential to the ride-hailing game.

Lyft’s so-called Level 5 division will be folded into Woven Planet Holdings once the transaction closes in the third quarter of 2021. Lyft will receive $550 million in cash, with $200 million paid upfront. The remaining $350 million will be made in payments over five years. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

Lyft reported $2.2 billion of unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Considering the company’s quarter in aggregate it’s easy to make the bearish and bullish case regarding its performance. On the bearish side of things, Lyft is smaller, and losing even more money than it did in the year-ago period. And the road to recovery for its operations will prove winding as COVID-19 declines to fuck off, even in the face of rising global vaccination levels.

On the bullish side of things, the following chart from the Lyft earnings deck is perhaps the best single-image argument that could be made for Lyft’s recovery being deeply underway:

Lyft Q1 2021

Image Credits: Screenshot/Lyft

More when Uber reports its own Q1 2021 performance tomorrow.

Uber and Arrival partner to create an EV for ride-hail drivers

Arrival, the electric vehicle manufacturer that’s attempting to do away with the assembly line in favor of highly automated microfactories, is partnering with Uber to create an EV for ride-hail drivers. 

Arrival expects to reveal the final vehicle design before the end of the year and to begin production in the third quarter of 2023. Uber drivers have been invited to contribute to the design process to ensure the vehicles are built to suit their needs.

Uber is trying to make good on a promise it made last year to become a fully electric mobility platform by 2025 in London, 2030 in North America and Europe and platform-wide by 2040. The company recently launched Uber Green which gives passengers the opportunity to select an EV at no extra cost and drivers a chance to pay a lower service fee, part of an $800 million initiative to get more drivers in EVs

To reach its aims of doubling the number of EV drivers by the end of 2021, Uber is kicking its incentives for drivers into gear by helping them purchase or finance new vehicles. The Arrival Cars might be among those recommended to Uber drivers who want to make the switch to electric, especially drivers in London who are eligible for “EV Assistance” via the company’s Clean Air Plan, which launched in 2018, but an Uber spokesperson declined to confirm how the Arrival Cars will be made available to ride. Last September, Uber partnered with General Motors in a similar deal to provide drivers in the United States and Canada discounted prices for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt. 

“Uber is committed to helping every driver in London upgrade to an EV by 2025, and thanks to our Clean Air Plan more than £135m has been raised to support this ambition,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe said in a statement. “Our focus is now on encouraging drivers to use this money to help them upgrade to an electric vehicle, and our partnership with Arrival will help us achieve this goal.” 

London, where Arrival is based, aims for its entire transport system to be zero emission by 2050, and will create zero emissions zones in central London and town center from 2025, expanding outward to inner London by 2040 and city-wide by 2050. If Uber drivers want to be able to work in the hottest parts of the city, they’ll have no choice but to go electric. 

The partnership with Uber marks Arrival’s first foray into electric car development. Because Arrival focuses on the commercial space rather than commercial sales, its existing vehicle models are vans and buses. The British EV company already has an order for 10,000 purpose-built vehicles from UPS.

Arrival wants to change the way commercial electric vehicles are designed and manufactured. By designing its own batteries and other components in-house and building vehicles through multiple microfactories, which are much smaller than traditional manufacturing facilities, Arrival says it produces vehicles quicker, cheaper and with far fewer environmental costs.

The company began publicly trading in March following a SPAC merger with CIIG, one of many EV companies to hit the markets via the SPAC route as opposed to the traditional, and slower, IPO route.

The Station: Lyft sells its self-driving unit, Uber makes a big product push and Revel jumps into ride-hailing

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.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

We took a week off and now we’re back. Whoop. Let’s catch up on all things transportation.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

JOCO, a new docked e-bike service in New York City, has launched and is already facing some headwinds. The service started with 300 e-bikes at 300 stations in private parking garages and plans to expan to about 1,000 e-bikes at 100 stations by June. That is, unless the NYC Department of Transportation has anything to say about it.

The city has exclusive rights with Citi Bike for docked bikeshares, which has somewhat stunted NYC’s shared micromobility growth. The city has sent JOCO a cease and desist letter. Assistant commissioner of the DOT, Michelle Craven, wrote:

It has been brought to our attention that [JOCO] commenced bicycle share operations in the City of New York. Please be advised that you do not have the authorization or permission, pursuant to a concession, franchise, permit, contract or otherwise, required for such operations. Additionally, the City of New York will actively enforce all laws and its police powers, including but not limited to those that protect its rights of way and ensure the safety and service provided by the city’s rights of way.

Accordingly, you are hereby directed immediately to cease and desist from any such bicycle share operations.

JOCO’s lawyers maintain that the company is doing nothing illegal because it parks the bikes on private property, not city streets, like Citi Bike. The city did not respond to requests for more information about whether or not the DOT’s power extends to private property.

A turning point for micromobility at scale?

Within the past month, there’s been the e-scooter pilot in the Bronx, JOCO’s e-bike launch and now Lime’s decision to compete with Revel for the e-moped market. These moves suggest that New York is finally opening the doors to electric micromobility.

Lime announced the release of 100 electric mopeds in Brooklyn, with planned expansions in Queens and lower Manhattan. A little competition will hopefully do the micromobility industry good, and that needs to happen if NYC is going to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Let’s not forget, making e-mobility the norm is absolutely essential to reducing carbon emissions in cities.

Another company is working on making it easier to scale up micromobility. Wunder Mobility, a company that sells software to shared mobility startups, has launched a new subsidiary called Wunder Capital, which will help micromobility operators finance fleet. On top of that, the company has partnered with consumer micromobility vehicle manufacturer Yadea to refit its e-mopeds for sharing purposes. German shared e-moped company emmy is the first to publicly take advantage of all three Wunder Mobility offerings — the software, the loans and the Yadeas.

Meanwhile in the U.K., Wind has reported success in its e-scooter trial in Nottingham. Since the launch of the trial last October, city residents have taken more than 240,000 rides. According to Wind’s city manager in Nottingham, more than 100 users in the city download the Wind app every day, and there are rates of five to six daily rides on each scooter.

Vaccine efforts

Superpedestrian has announced it will offer one million free rides on its LINK e-scooters to help citizens get to vaccination centers in communities in Italy and Spain. The company is giving away up to €10 million in free rides. The company said these rides will be made available in all European cities served by LINK scooters, including Rome, Madrid, Turin, Palermo, Málaga and Alcalá de Henares.

Ready to outdoor e-bikes

Retrospec, the brand that makes fun toys like paddle boards, skateboards and bikes is now adding electric bikes to the mix. There’s the Beaumont Rev City ($1,999.00) for swift city rides, the Beaumont Rev Step Through for an easy-to-mount swooped frame ($1,999.00) and the Jax Rev Folding e-bike ($1,399.99) with fat tires and good suspension so you can take it off road.

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of consolidation continued this week with ride-hailing company Lyft agreeing to sell its autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million. The agreement shakes out with Woven Planet forking over $200 million in cash upfront, and then paying off the remaining $350 million over a five-year period. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, officially ends Lyft’s nearly four-year effort to develop its own self-driving system.

In the 24 hours or so after this deal was reported I received a number of texts and DMs from folks in the industry — investors and AV developers — all who said something like “wow, Lyft is giving this away,” or “this is a steal.” It reminded me of comments I received after Uber sold off its own self-driving subsidiary to Aurora.

Lyft is also making some structural organizational changes to reflect this renewed focus. The company said it will retain its team of engineers, product managers, data scientists and UX designers that have been working on the consumer experience of hailing and then riding in an autonomous vehicle, which will be headed up by Jody Kelman. This team, now known as Lyft Autonomous, will be folded into the company’s fleet division that manages more than 10,000 vehicles via its rental and express drive programs. Lyft Fleet, which was founded in 2019 and is led by Cal Lankton, is also the group spearheading the company’s transition to 100% electric vehicles on the network by 2030. The idea is to bring all of these efforts — shared, electric and self-driving — under one roof.

So, who is left in the AV developer industry? Not many. There are the big well-capitalized players like Aurora, Argo AI, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox, then a smattering of other startups and companies pursuing self-driving trucks, logistics and delivery. Who do you think is going to get gobbled up next?

On a side note: The Autonocast, that is the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, just taped an episode discussing the sale. We brought on Lyft co-founder and CEO John Zimmer to learn more on the why? and what’s next? Stay tuned for the episode to drop this week.

Other deals that got my attention …

EasyMile, a Toulouse, France-based autonomous vehicle company that builds shuttles for transporting both people and goods, closed a Series B of €55 million ($66 million) round led by Searchlight Capital Partners. McWin and NextStage AM along with previous investors rail industry heavyweight Alstom, Bpifrance and auto giant Continental also participated.

Hello, the Ant Financial-backed Chinese ebike-sharing company, filed for an IPO. The company, which has raised more than $3 billion, plans to list on the Nasdaq. A few interesting items from its S-1, the company reported $926.3 million in revenue in 2020, a 25% increase from the previous year. Hello is not yet profitable, however. The company reported a net loss of $173.7 million in 2020.

IRP Systems, a maker of powertrains for electric vehicles, raised a $31 million Series C funding round, bringing its total funding to $57 million. The financing was led by Clal Insurance and Altshuler Shaham, which are Israeli institutional investors. Also participating was Samsung Ventures, Renault-Nissan importer Carasso Motors and Shlomo Group, as well as existing investors such as Entrée Capital, Fosun RZ Capital and JAL Ventures.

Manna, the Irish drone startup planning to launch delivery services in the UK and US, raised $25 million Draper Esprit, Team Europe, the venture capital firm of Delivery Hero founder Lukasz Gadowski, and DST Global. The founders of online payments group Stripe also backed the group as private investors, the Financial Times reported.

Plus, the self-driving truck startup, is in talks to merge with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter. The deal would reportedly put the valuation of Plus at more than $3 billion.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, filed for an initial public offering. The company, which counts Info Edge and Ant Group among its largest investors, plans to raise $1.1 billion from the IPO (about $1 billion from issuing new shares), according to the filing. The startup intends to list on Indian stock exchanges NSE and BSE. Zomato has been on a tear and now operating in 24 markets. It’s also raised more than $2.2 billion (according to research firm Tracxn), and was valued at $5.4 billion in its most recent fundraise round. The company said it may consider raising an additional $200 million ahead of public listing.

Policy corner!

the-station-delivery

It was a busy week in Washington. First up: Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) introduced legislation that calls for earmarking more than $7 billion each year in grants and rebates to scale up America’s electric vehicle charging network and accelerate domestic manufacturing of EVs. Rep. Rush introduced a similar bill last year that didn’t end up going anywhere, but with President Biden’s recent push for big spending on green infrastructure, we may see a different result this time around.

Meanwhile, a Senate Democrat sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency calling for stricter policies on greenhouse gas emissions that exceed those outlined in Biden’s climate plan. The letter, which was obtained by the Associated Press, says the EPA should introduce incrementally tighter fuel economy standards until 2035, at which point there would be a ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars.

“If the U.S. does not establish a robust policy that leads to zero emission vehicle deployment, combined with appropriate incentives, we will be at risk of losing our automotive jobs and industry leadership to other nations, as well as enduring unnecessary public health impacts from pollution,” the AP reported Carper wrote in the letter.

Notice Carper’s invocation of jobs? He’s not the only one that’s arguing for (or against) a speedy transition on the basis of how it will affect workers. At a recent hearing at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation, a representative from the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association told lawmakers that a fully electric vehicle fleet could put at risk up to 30% of the auto supplier industry’s workforce.

Biden, of course, has said that the shift to EVs will not cost Americans jobs — but that’s hard to see how that’s the case without his plan passing. Bosch executives told me recently that only one employee is needed to manufacture an electric powertrain system, versus 10 for a diesel powertrain. Although Bosch is referring to operations in Europe, it’s an instructive example.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Welp, lots happened. Shall we attempt to squeeze it all in? OK, let’s proceed.

Electric vehicles

GM revealed a four-part plan meant to handle all the steps of charging an electric vehicle, including finding a public charger and paying for the power, as the automaker seeks ways to attract customers to the 30 EVs it plans to launch by 2025. The Ultium Charge 360 plan — named after the underlying electric vehicle platform and batteries of its upcoming EVs — aims to handle the access, payment and customer service components of charging an electric vehicle at home and on the road. Importantly, GM has signed agreements with seven third-party charging network providers, including Blink Charging, ChargePoint, EV Connect, EVgo, FLO, Greenlots and SemaConnect.

This is more than just locking up partnerships though. If GM hopes to convert drivers to EVs it has to think about how to integrate real-time information about EV charging stations into the vehicle’s infotainment system. It appears the company is making an attempt at that through. Using their GM vehicle brand mobile app, EV drivers will be able to see real-time information, including location and whether a charger is being used, from nearly 60,000 charging plugs throughout the U.S. and Canada, the company said.

Tesla reported first quarter earnings. Tesla generated revenues of $10.389 billion, gross profit of $2.215 billion and net income of $438 million. The upshot: regulatory credits and bitcoin combined with volume growth and some gross margin improvement buoyed results and helped offset additional supply chain costs, R&D investments, the costs associated with changing over Model S and Model X and lower ASP (average selling price). Revenue jumped some 75% from the same period last year — certainly notable growth. Regulatory credits brought in $518 million and bitcoin made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter, according to Tesla CFO and “master of coin” Zach Kirkhorn.

Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%. The company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility, Kirkhorn said during an earnings call. He noted that Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.

One more piece of Tesla news … CEO Elon Musk wants to turn every home into a distributed power plant that would generate, store and even deliver energy back into the electricity grid, all using the company’s products, according to comments he made during last week’s earnings call.

While the company has been selling solar and energy storage products for years, a new company policy will only sell customers solar coupled with the energy storage products. In short: it’s a package deal only. Musk’s pitch is that the grid would need more power lines, more power plants and larger substations to fully decarbonize using renewables plus storage. Distributed residential systems — of course using Tesla products — would provide a better path, in Musk’s view.

Volkswagen’s “Voltswagen” stunt is being investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Der Spiegel.

Future of flight

Luminar Technologies said it is expanding its lidar business beyond automotive and into aviation through a partnership with Airbus. Until now, Luminar has exclusively focused on applying its light detection and ranging radar to automated vehicles on the ground — not in the skies. The partnership won’t immediately bring lidar into commercial aircraft. Unlike Luminar’s deal with Daimler, Mobileye and Volvo this is not a production contract, although the aim is that it will lead to one. Instead, the partnership is with Airbus’ UpNext subsidiary, which is focused on developing and eventually applying new technological breakthroughs to aviation.

The effort will be folded into Airbus Flightlab, an ecosystem that offers access to flight test platforms across Airbus’ business lines, including commercial aircraft, helicopters, defense and space. Luminar and Airbus will develop and test how lidar can be used to enhance sensing, perception and system-level capabilities to ultimately enable safe, autonomous flight, the companies said.

Wingcopter launched a new autonomous delivery drone designed to remove a technical bottleneck hindering the growth of drone transport services. The Wingcopter 198 is capable of making three separate deliveries per flight, the company said. Wingcopter has couched this multi-stop capability as a critical feature that will allow it to grow a cost-efficient — and hopefully profitable — drone-delivery-as-a-service business.

In-car tech

Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess told Handelsblatt newspaper that the company plans to design and develop its own chips and software for autonomous vehicles. To be clear, VW doesn’t plan to manufacture these chips. Instead, it wants to own the patents and intends to have its software division Cariad develop the chips.

Sharing

Revel, the company that made its name by planting dockless blue e-mopeds in Brooklyn and then expanded swiftly this year into monthly subscription e-bikes and a “Superhub” EV charging station, is now rounding out its strategy to own electrification in cities. Last week, Revel announced it will be launching an all-Tesla, ridehail service in Manhattan below 42nd Street. To add a bit of drama to the launch, NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has come out with a statement saying the company has no right to operate a for-hire taxi service. The TLC has issued a cap on for-hire vehicles because supply exceeds demand, according to TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk. Revel says its actions are perfectly legal because its service falls under the electric battery exemption, which Jarmoszuk says “exists to encourage already-licensed cars to go green, not to flood an already saturated market or to disenfranchise the Yellow Taxi sector in Manhattan.”

Stellantis has a short-term vehicle service called Free2Move that is expanding into the United States. The car on-demand subscription service will first launch in Los Angeles before opening in five other American markets by the end of the year. The service has been deployed in several European countries since 2019.

Uber is launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab, as the company homes in on a business model that will finally deliver profitability. The features fall under what Uber is describing as its “go get” strategy and is meant to mark a return to more “normal” business operations following 14 months of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The numerous features that include vaccine booking, a valet service that will drop off a rental car, reserved rides at airports that offer up to an hour of wait time and options to pick up food during a ride-hailed route are all centered around Uber’s core services of delivery and ride hailing. Side note: Earnings alert! We will be listening in May 5.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, which is scheduled for June 9,  will be virtual again — as I have mentioned before. We released a “mostly” final agenda. There may be a surprise or two more.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

Equity Monday: TechCrunch goes Yahoo while welding robots raise $56M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

This morning was a notable one in the life of TechCrunch the publication, as our parent company’s parent company decided to sell our parent company to a different parent company. And now we’re to have to get new corporate IDs, again, as it appears that our new parent company’s parent company wants to rebrand our parent company. As Yahoo.

Cool.

Anyway, a bunch of other stuff happened as well:

We’re back Wednesday with something special. Chat then!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

The gig is up on 21st-century exploitation

Today’s app-based or “gig” economy is frequently dressed up in talk about “modern innovation” and the “21st century of work.” This facade is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Precarious, contingent work is nothing new — we’ve always had jobs that are low-paying, insecure and dismissed as “unskilled.” Due to systemic racism and a historically exploitative economy, workers of color have always been, and continue to be, heavily concentrated in the most exploitative industries.

The only difference is that today, companies like Uber, DoorDash and Instacart claim they don’t have to play by the rules because they use digital apps to manage their workforce. Even as many of these tech giants remain unprofitable, they have been allowed for far too long to shirk responsibility for providing safe and just working conditions where workers can thrive on and off the job.

Even as many of these tech giants remain unprofitable, they have been allowed for far too long to shirk responsibility for providing safe and just working conditions where workers can thrive on and off the job.

Workers’ rights in the so-called gig economy are often positioned as a modern problem. But when we think about the problems faced by gig and app-based workers, who are predominantly people of color, we must learn from the past in order to move forward to a just economy.

The federal government has long failed to address widespread worker exploitation. Since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, jobs like agricultural and domestic work, which were largely performed by workers of color, were carved out of labor rights and protections. The “independent contractors” of today, who are largely workers of color, fall into this same category of workers who have been excluded from labor laws. Combined, Black and Latinx workers make up less than 29% of the nation’s total workforce, but they comprise almost 42% of workers for app-based companies.

Gig companies argue that the drivers, delivery people, independent contractors and other workers who build their businesses, take direction from them and whose pay they set are millions of tiny businesses that do not need baseline benefits and protections. They do this in order to shield themselves from taking responsibility for their frontline workforce. Corporations then avoid paying basic costs like a minimum wage, healthcare, paid sick leave, compensation coverage and a litany of other essential benefits for their employees. For many workers, these conditions only serve to proliferate inequality nationwide and ultimately uphold a deeply flawed economy built upon worker exploitation and suffering.

App-based companies are the face of a larger, sinister trend. Over the last four decades, federal policies have greatly eroded the bargaining power of workers and concentrated more power in the hands of corporations and those who already have substantial wealth and power. This has perpetuated and worsened the racial wage and wealth gaps and contributed to the ever-increasing degradation of working conditions for too many.

It’s clear that, in order to build an economy that works for all people, “gig” and app-based companies cannot be allowed to exploit their workers under the guise of “innovation.” These companies claim their workers want to remain independent contractors, but what workers want is good pay, job security, flexibility and full rights under federal laws. This is a reasonable and just demand — and necessary to close generational gender and racial wealth gaps.

App-based companies are pouring significant resources into promoting government policies that prop up their worker exploitation model. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash Instacart and other app-based companies are loudly peddling misinformation in state legislatures, city councils and federal offices. Elected leaders at all levels need to recognize these policies for what they are — corporate efforts to rewrite the laws to benefit them — and reject the corporate interests behind the policies that carve out workers from universal protections.

Congress must also reject exclusions that lock people of color out of basic employment protections and pass legislation to extend protections to all workers, including app-based workers. The PRO Act is a great first step, which extends bargaining protections to workers who have been wrongly classified as “independent contractors” by their employers.

Across the country, app-based workers have organized to protect their health and safety and demand that their rights as workers be recognized and protected. Elected leaders cannot keep falling for corporate propaganda claiming a “21st-century” model. Work in the 21st century is still work; work that is organized on an app is still work.

We call on Congress to recognize the labor rights and protections of all workers and act boldly to ensure that app-based companies cannot block workers from equal rights in the name of “flexibility” and “innovation.”

Daily Crunch: Uber adds vaccine booking

Uber unveils half a dozen new features, Samsung announces a new flagship laptop and Zomato files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 28, 2021.

The big story: Uber adds vaccine booking

Uber announced a half dozen new features today, including the ability to make a vaccine appointment at Walgreens and then reserve a ride to get there.

Other additions include a valet service to drop off rental cars, reserved rides at airports and the ability to pick up food during a ride. In an interview, CPO Sundeep Jain suggested that these features are part of the company’s key focus for the past year, namely “helping users ‘go’ and helping users ‘get.’”

The tech giants

Here’s Samsung’s new flagship laptop series, the Galaxy Book Pro — These Windows machines continue the company’s push to blur some of the productivity lines between its Galaxy PC and mobile offerings.

Facebook hides posts calling for PM Modi’s resignation in India — Facebook temporarily hid all posts with the hashtag “ResignModi” in India, although a spokesperson said those posts have now been restored.

Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide — This should make it easier to find something to watch when you can’t make a decision on your own.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’ — The company describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry.

MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension — The acquisition enables MessageBird to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market.

Splitwise raises $20M Series A to help everyone in the world divvy expenses — Splitwise aims to reduce the stress and awkwardness that money puts on relationships of all sorts.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity — Zomato’s debut could lead to a liquidity rush in India.

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights — Apex Group’s Georges Archibald argues that environmental, social and governance insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data.

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

Everything else

CES will return to Las Vegas in 2022 — Per a press release, roughly 1,000 companies have committed to returning.

India’s entrepreneurs and investors are mobilizing to help the nation fight COVID-19, and you can too — For a week straight, India has reported more than 300,000 daily new infections, about half of all the cases across the globe.

Porsche makes its case for an all-electric Taycan wagon — The Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo offers a blend of practicality with a whole lot of power and speed for under $100,000.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Uber adds vaccine booking, car rental delivery in new product push

Uber is launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab, as the company homes in on a business model that will finally deliver profitability.

The features, announced Wednesday, fall under what Uber is describing as its “go get” strategy. It’s also meant to mark a return to more “normal” business operations following 14 months of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The numerous features that include vaccine booking, a valet service that will drop off a rental car, reserved rides at airports that off up a an hour of wait time and options to pick up food during a rideshare route are all centered around Uber’s core services of delivery and ride-hailing.

In early 2020, Uber looked like a different business with a web of pursuits that covered air taxis and self-driving cars, delivery, ridesharing, a freight booking platform and shared ebike and scooter rentals. In the past year, Uber has dumped shared micromobility unit Jump, offloaded its autonomous air taxi business Uber Elevate, sold off its Uber ATG self-driving unit and a stake in its logistics arm, Uber Freight. (Uber has maintained equity in all of these businesses).

This wasn’t just about riding itself of businesses. During this same period, Uber also doubled down on rideshare and delivery — acquiring Postmates and Drizly in the process — in a bet that these two areas would be the best path to profitability. Uner’s Go Get initiative is a continuation of that strategy. Meanwhile, COVID-19 decimated its rideshare — along with competitors — business as delivery exploded.

Uber Valet - Delivery and Pickup

Image Credits: Uber

“Over the last year, the company has evolved into a platform where we’re doing two things with incredible focus and incredible intensity,” Uber CPO Sundeep Jain said in a recent interview. “And those are helping users ‘go’ and helping users ‘get.’ We really have evolved this platform where you can go anywhere, get anything.”

For Uber, this means building products that let people “go” somewhere using a variety of different modes from cars and scooters to buses and other forms of public transit or “get” anything such as prepared food from restaurants and more recently expanding into groceries, prescriptions and alcohol. This “go” and “get” directive is influencing the company’s product development and even acquisition strategy. With Uber’s acquisition of Postmates, the company even deliver iPhones, Jain noted as one example.

Among the new features is Uber Rent with Valet, which lets users in the U.S. rent a car directly in the Uber app. The vehicle is then delivered to the user, whether it’s at their home or airport. The company’s Uber Reserve feature is now being rolled out across the U.S. as well, and includes flight tracking, 60 minutes of wait time and curbside pickup.

On the “get” front of this strategy, Uber has launched “Pick Up and Go” which lets a rideshare user place an order for pickup and add a stop to pick up the order while en route to their final destination. Uber also rolled out a new ‘schedule’ button that includes an option to order from merchants, even when they’re closed. There’s also new capability to add on items from a second merchant at check out for no additional delivery fee.

Uber has also added a savings hub that will highlight every eligible offer, deal and discount available to users, a new feature that gives delivery reminders via in-app notifications and an extension of its Eats Pass membership.

All of this, is of course, aimed at the holy “profitability” grail. And it appears to be closer than it was a year ago. Earlier this month, Uber released a SEC filing that maintained it still expects quarterly Adjusted EBITDA profitability in 2021. Uber also reported its gross bookings in March reached the highest monthly level in the company’s nearly 12-year history. The company’s mobility business posted its best month since March 2020, crossing a $30 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate, with average daily Gross Bookings up 9% month-over-month. The company’s delivery business set another all-time record, crossing a $52 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate in March, growing more than 150% year-over-year, the filing said. 

The upshot: March was Uber’s best in its history in terms of gross sales on its platform. However, as TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm noted recently, while Uber’s delivery business has scaled, it is still less profitable than its main rideshare business. The company has reached a new total platform spend record, but it’s made up of less profitable revenue than before.

This Go Get program appears to be aimed finding new ways to build out its ridehailing business — which in previous quarters generated the superior result, generating positive adjusted EBITDA — while expanding delivery without adding costs. It also reflects a change in consumer behavior prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen users gravitate towards advanced reservation products which wasn’t as popular reuse case before, before it was mostly on demand,” Jain said,  “And so we meaningfully invested to improve the user experience with upfront driver assignment, higher levels of, reliability and assurances, so that is why we’re making a larger announcement around reservations that has really become a more popular use case.”