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Human Capital: Uber Eats hit with claims of ‘reverse racism’

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With less than one week left until the election, DoorDash made a late contribution of $3.75 million to try to ensure California’s gig worker ballot measure Prop 22 passes. Meanwhile, Coinbase is looking for a head of diversity and inclusion and Uber was hit with claims of reverse racism.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital, a weekly newsletter where we unpack all-things labor and D&I. To receive this in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT, be sure to sign up here.

Let’s jump in.

Employees at surveillance startup Verkada reportedly used tech to harass co-workers

Oof. Just when we thought we were safe from surveillance, we’ve found yet another reason not to trust people with facial recognition tech. Just to be clear, the first part of that was sarcasm. Anyway, Vice reported earlier this week that some Verkada employees used the startup’s tech to take photos of their female colleagues and then made sexually explicit jokes.

When other employees reported the incident to human resources, Verkada CEO Filip Kaliszan simply gave the offenders a choice of leaving the company or having their share of stock reduced. After the Vice story went out, however, Verkada fired the three employees in question.

Coinbase is looking for a head of D&I

Coinbase is on the hunt for a director of belonging, inclusion and diversity. It’s worth noting Coinbase previously had a head of D&I, Tariq Meyers, but he began focusing on an employee support task force role as a result of COVID-19 in April, according to his LinkedIn page. Meyers later left the company in August, which was before Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong took a stance about not speaking out about social issues.

That stance led to 5% of Coinbase’s employees opting to take a severance package to leave the company. Two of those employees were Coinbase Global Head of Marketing, John Russ and Coinbase VP Dan Yoo.

“We believe that it’s possible to be 100% committed to an inclusive workplace that values diversity where everyone is safe and belongs (and as part of that, working to root out and eliminate any intolerance or bias that exists at the company), and simultaneously maintain laser focus on our mission,” the job posting states. “To this end, we have made a public stance that Coinbase won’t issue external statements on topics beyond the scope of our mission of building a more open financial system and expanding economic freedom, while also redoubling our commitment to making the company an amazing place to work for all employees, regardless of background.”

Precursor VC promotes Sydney Thomas to Principal

Image Credits: Precursor Ventures

Sydney Thomas, who started her career at Precursor Ventures as an intern, was promoted to Principal. That means she’s able to deploy capital to startups on behalf of the fund.

“This is a promotion that has been earned through hard work, aptitude and a clear demonstration that Sydney embodies all of the values we hold dear here at Precursor,” the firm wrote in a blog post. “She has already made a number of investments on behalf of the firm and will continue to do so going forward.”

Indian engineers allege caste bias in tech industry

The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku shed some light on caste-based discrimination in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, 30 female Indian engineers who are part of the Dalit caste and work for companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Cisco, say they have faced caste bias. As Tiku explains, those in the Dalit caste are part of the lowest rank castes within India’s social hierarchy.

PayPal puts money into Black and Latinx-led VC funds

PayPal is investing $50 million in a handful of early-stage funds led by Black and Latinx venture capitalists. The investment is part of PayPal’s $530 million commitment to support Black-owned businesses.

The funds receiving money include Chingona Ventures, Fearless Fund, Harlem Capital, Precursor Ventures, Slauson & Co, VamosVenturs, Zeal Capital Partners and another undisclosed fund.

Reddit elevates its VP of people and culture

Nellie Peshkov, formerly Reddit’s VP of People and Culture, is now Chief People Officer. Her appointment to the C-suite is part of the much-needed, growing trend of tech companies elevating employees focused on diversity and inclusion to the highest leadership ranks.

Uber Eats hit with claims of “reverse racism”

Uber said it has received more than 8,500 demands for arbitration as a result of it ditching delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants via Uber Eats.

Uber Eats made this change in June, following racial justice protests around the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Uber Eats said it wanted to make it easier for customers to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To qualify, the restaurant must be a small or medium-sized business and, therefore, not part of a franchise. In contrast, delivery fees are still in place for other restaurants.

In one of these claims, viewed by TechCrunch, a customer says Uber Eats violates the Unruh civil Rights Act by “charging discriminatory delivery fees based on race (of the business owner).” That claim seeks $12,000 as well as a permanent injunction that would prevent Uber from continuing to offer free delivery from Black-owned restaurants.

Uber driver claims rating system is racially biased
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber is now facing a lawsuit regarding its customer ratings and how the company deactivates drivers whose ratings fall below a certain threshold. The suit alleges the system “constitues race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”

In a statement to NPR, Uber called the suit “flimsy” and said “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.”

Yes on Prop 22 gets another $3.75 million influx of cash
DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Proposition 22 is the California ballot measure that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.

The latest influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions north of $200 million. As of October 14, the campaign had raised $189 million. But thanks to a number of late contributions, the total put toward Yes on 22 comes out to about $202,955,106.38, or, $203 million.

Prop 22 hit the most-funded California ballot measure long ago, but it’s now surpassed the $200 million mark.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is back

I am pleased to announce TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is officially happening again! Save the date for March 3, 2021.

We’ll explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at TC Sessions: Justice.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

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This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of The Exchange. Today we will be brief. But not silent, as there is much to talk about.

Up top, The Exchange noodled on the Slack-Salesforce deal here, so please catch up if you missed that while eating pie for breakfast yesterday. And, sadly, I have no idea why Palantir is seeing its value skyrocket. Normally we’d discuss it, asking ourselves what its gains could mean for the lower tiers of private SaaS companies. But as its public market movement appears to be an artificial bump in value, we’ll just wait.

Here’s what I want to talk about this fine Saturday: Bloomberg reporting that Stripe is in the market for more money, at a price that could value the company at “more than $70 billion or significantly higher, at as much as $100 billion.”

Hot damn. Stripe would become the first or second most valuable startup in the world at those prices, depending on how you count. Startup is a weird word to use for a company worth that much, but as Stripe is still clinging to the private markets like some sort of liferaft, keeps raising external funds, and is presumably more focused on growth than profitability, it retains the hallmark qualities of a tech startup, so, sure, we can call it one.

Which is odd, because Stripe is a huge concern that could be worth twelve-figures, provided that gets that $100 billion price tag. It’s hard to come up with a good reason for why it’s still private, other than the fact that it can get away with it.

Anyhoo, are those reported, possible prices bonkers? Maybe. But there is some logic to them. Recall that Square and PayPal earnings pointed to strong payments volume in recent quarters, which bodes well for Stripe’s own recent growth. Also note that 14 months ago or so, Stripe was already processing “hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions a year.”

You can do fun math at this juncture. Let’s say Stripe’s processing volume was $200 billion last September, and $400 billion today, thinking of the number as an annualized metric. Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 for a transaction, so let’s call it 3% for the sake of simplicity and being conservative. That math shakes out to a run rate of $12 billion.

Now, the company’s actual numbers could be closer to $100 billion, $150 billion and $4.5 billion, right? And Stripe won’t have the same gross margins as Slack .

But you can start to see why Stripe’s new rumored prices aren’t 100% wild. You can make the multiples work if you are a believer in the company’s growth story. And helping the argument are its public comps. Square’s stock has more than tripled this year. PayPal’s value has more than doubled. Adyen’s shares have almost doubled. That’s the sort of public market pull that can really help a super-late-stage startup looking to raise new capital and secure an aggressive price.

To wrap, Stripe’s possible new valuation could make some sense. The fact that it is still a private company does not.

Market Notes

Various and Sundry

And speaking of edtech, Equity’s Natasha Mascarenhas and our intrepid producer Chris Gates put together a special ep on the education technology market. You can listen to it here. It’s good.

Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,

Alex

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How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

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In the past decade, celebrity interest and investment in tech companies has significantly increased. But not all celebrity investments are created equally. Some investors, like Ashton Kutcher, have prioritized the VC pursuits. Some have invested casually without getting overly involved. Others have used their considerable platforms to market their portfolio to varying degrees of success.

It’s been a little over a year since Ryan Reynolds bought a majority stake in Mint Mobile, a deal that has already had a dramatic impact on the the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator).

The four-year-old company has seen a tremendous amount of growth, boosting revenue nearly 50,000% in the past three years. However, the D2C wireless carrier has seen its highest traffic days on the backs of Reynolds’ marketing initiatives and announcements.

There is a long history of celebrities getting involved with brands, either as brand ambassadors or ‘Creative Directors’ without much value other than the initial press wave.

Lenovo famously hired Ashton Kutcher as a product engineer to help develop the Yoga 2 tablet, on which I assume you are all reading this post. Alicia Keys was brought on as BlackBerry’s Global Creative Director, which felt even more convoluted a partnership than Lady Gaga’s stint as Polaroid’s Creative Director. That’s not to say that these publicity stunts necessarily hurt the brands or the products (most of the time), but they probably didn’t help much, and likely cost a fortune.

And then there are the actual financial investments, in areas where celebrities fundamentally understand the industry, that still didn’t get to ‘alpha.’

Even Jay-Z has struggled to make a music streaming service successful. Justin Bieber never really got a selfie app off the ground. Heck, not even Justin Timberlake could breathe life back into MySpace. Reynolds seemingly has an even heavier lift here. It’s hard to imagine a string of words in the English language less sexy than, “mobile virtual network operator.”

Reynolds tells TechCrunch that he viewed celebrity investments as a kind of “handicapping,” prior to the Mint acquisition.

“I’ve just sort of seen how most celebrities are doing very, very well,” he explains. “We’re generally hocking or getting behind or investing in luxury and aspirational items and projects. Then George and I had a conversation about a year-and-a-half ago, maybe longer, about what if we swerved the other way? What if he kind of got into something that was hyper practical and just forget about the sexy aspirational stuff.”

Mint isn’t Reynolds’ first entrepreneurial venture. He bought a majority stake in Portland-based Aviation Gin in 2018, which recently sold for $610 million. He also cofounded marketing agency Maximum Effort alongside George Dewey, which has made its own impact over the past several years.

Maximum Effort was founded to help promote the actor’s first Deadpool film. Reynolds and Dewey had come up with several low-budget spots to get people excited about an R-rated comic book movie. The bid appears to have worked. The film raked in $783.1 million at the box office — a record for an R-rated film that held until the 2019 release of Joker.

Maximum Effort (and Reynolds) was also behind the viral Aviation Gin spot, which poked fun at the manipulative Peloton ad that aired last year around the holidays. The same actress who portrayed a woman seemingly tortured by her holiday gift of a Peloton sits at a bar with her friends, shell-shocked, sipping a Martini.

The original ad on YouTube, not counting recirculation by the media, has more than 7 million hits. Reynolds calls it ‘fast-vertising’.

“We get to react,” he told TechCrunch. “We get to acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape in real time and react to it in real time. There isn’t any red tape to come through, because it’s just a matter of signing off on the approval. So in a way, it’s unfair, in that sense, because most big corporations, they take weeks and weeks or months to get something approved. Our budgets are down and dirty, fast and cheap.”

He explained that this type of real-time marketing is only possible because he’s the owner of Maximum Effort (and in some cases of the client businesses, as well), but because there is no red tape to cut through when a great idea presents itself.

Reynolds has brought this marketing acumen to Mint Mobile in a big way. Last year during the Super Bowl, Reynolds took out a full page ad in The New York Times, explaining that the decision to spend $125,000 on a print ad instead of $5 million+ on a Super Bowl commercial would enable the prepaid carrier to pass the savings on to consumers.

In October, Reynolds spun Mint’s 5G launch into another light-hearted spot. He brought on the head of mobile technology to explain what 5G actually is, and after hearing the technical explanation, happily said “We may never know, so we’ll just give it away for free.”

Mint also released a holiday ad just a couple of weeks ago warning of wireless promo season, wherein large wireless carriers may try to lure customers into expensive contracts using new devices. Standing over a bear trap, Reynolds dryly states: “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you.”

Reynolds enjoys nearly 17 million Twitter followers and more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Moreover, he doesn’t exclusively promote his brands on social media, but weaves in his own funny personal commentary or gives followers a peek into his marriage with Blake Lively, which we can all agree is #relationshipgoals.

Mint Mobile partners exclusively with T-Mobile to provide service, and unlike some other MVNOs, it uses a direct-to-consumer model, foregoing any physical footprint. Plans start at $15/month and top out at $30/month. CMO Aron North says that Reynolds’ ownership and involvement with Mint Mobile is “absolutely critical.”

“Ryan is an A plus plus celebrity, and he’s very funny and entertaining and engaging,” said North. “His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth.”

We asked Reynolds if he has any specific plans for further tech investment, or if there are any trends he’s keeping an eye on. He explained that his motivations are not purely capitalistic.

“I’m really focused on community and bringing people together,” said Reynolds. “We think it’s super cool to bring people together, particularly in a world that is very divisive. Even in our marketing, we try to find ways to have huge cultural moments without polarizing people without dividing people without saying one thing is wrong.”

In one of the company’s more notable recent spots, Reynolds enlisted the help of iconic comedian, Rick Moranis. It was an impressive coup, given the actor’s seeming retreat from the public eye, turning down two separate Ghostbusters film reboots.

“It’s funny what happens when you just ask,” says Reynolds. “I explained that people genuinely miss him and his performances and his energy. And he, for whatever reason, said yes, and the next thing I know, six days later, we were out of there in 15, 20 minutes and we shot our spot.”

Of course, it didn’t escape the internet’s notice that two well-known Canadian actors were standing in a field, selling a U.S.-only wireless service.

“I would love to see [Mint] in Canada,” Reynolds says. “There’s a Big Three here that’s challenging to crack. I don’t pretend to know the telecom business well enough to say why, how or what the path forward would be there. I see basically a tsunami of feedback from Canada, asking ‘why can’t we have this here?’ I think it’s sexy. It’s pragmatic and sexy. That’s why I got involved with it.”

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Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents

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You might think that a new Netflix film called “Holidate” offers holiday-themed romance that’s perfect for a family watch party. You’d be wrong.

The film stars Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey as a pair of strangers who agree (in classic romantic comedy style) to keep each other company on holidays.

And while the movie can’t be completely pigeonholed as a raunchy comedy — it also includes a dash of metatextual commentary, with a healthy dose of undiluted romantic schmaltz — “Holidate” is certainly filled with sexually frank dialogue, and a couple of its biggest set pieces go all-in on gross-out humor. So, and as one of the hosts of the Original Content podcast discovered, watching it with your family can be extremely uncomfortable.

But, assuming you avoid that awkwardness, is it actually funny? Sometimes! A word that comes up repeatedly in our review is “adequate” — Darrell embraced the film’s surprisingly dirty humor, while Anthony and Jordan were at least mildly entertained.

In addition to reviewing “Holidate,” we also discussed the implications of Netflix’s decision to remove “Chappelle’s Show” at Dave Chappelle’s request.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:11 Dave Chappelle discussion
13:50 “Holidate” review
37:39 “Holidate” spoiler discussion

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