Connect with us

Uncategorized

Transportation on the ballot, Softbank parks its money in REEF and Tesla Tequila arrives

Published

on

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

Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

What.A.Week. Shall we dig in?

Email me anytime 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.

Transportation on the ballot

Joe Biden NAIAS Auto Show 2014

Image Credits: Getty Images

Election Day turned into Election Week as the presidential race tightened and the world waited to see if President Trump would remain in office or if Joe Biden would become the 46th leader of the country.

On Saturday morning, AP, Fox News and every other major news outlets called the race, naming Joe Biden president-elect. The ballot counts will still continue and eventually lead to each state’s Electoral College electors formally casting their votes for president and vice president on December 14, as dictated by our election process.

Assuming Biden is sworn in as the next president of the United States, transportation will likely not be his first area of focus. However, it will be interesting to see how his personal experience of losing his first wife and daughter in a car crash, views on climate change and love for Corvettes as well as Amtrak might shape federal transportation policy. The country has deep infrastructure needs, a rail service in crisis and an emerging tech sector focused on commercializing automated vehicle technology.

Election Day was, of course, about more than Trump and Biden. Ballots throughout the U.S. contained dozens of transportation-related measures, including public transit funding, a car owner’s right to repair and whether gig economy workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. 

Prop 22, the California ballot measure, might have been the most visible campaign thanks to the tens of millions of dollars that Uber, Lyft and other gig worker-reliant companies contributed to help garner support and get it passed. Voters approved Prop 22, which means that gig workers will continue to be classified as independent workers. Companies that use gig workers will be required to provide an earnings guarantee of at least 120% of minimum wage, 30 cents per engaged miles for expenses, a healthcare stipend, occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment and automobile accident and liability insurance.

Fresh off of its success on Election Day, Uber signaled that it will continue to push laws similar to the Prop 22. The ride-hailing company’s ambitions for laws that preserve its business model are global. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday during an earnings call with analysts that the company will “more loudly advocate for laws like Prop 22.” He later added that it will be a priority of the company “to work with governments across the U.S. and the world to make this a reality.”

There were at other transportation-related measures that were decided by voters in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan Oregon and Washington. Of the 19 measures related to public transit, 15 passed, two failed and one in Gwinnett County, Georgia is still “too close to call.” The Center for Transportation Excellence created a handy spreadsheet tracking Election 2020 ballot measures related to public transit.

telematics, concept of smart car technology

Image Credits: Jackie Niam / Getty Images

Finally, another ballot measure, which received a lot of attention and lobbying dollars, was Question 1 in Massachusetts. The ballot measure, which was approved by 75% of voters, amends and broadens a law that gives consumers in Massachusetts the right to repair the vehicles they own.

Automakers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts will now have to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with model year 2022. This standardized open data platform has to give vehicle owners and independent repair facilities direct access and the ability to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application.

Importantly, this measure covers the data that telematics systems collect and wirelessly transmit. And it not only gives access to the mechanical data, it allows owners and independent mechanics to send commands to the vehicle for repair, maintenance and diagnostic testing.

The upshot? While this ballot measure is restricted to Massachusetts, there is precedent that it will expand to the rest of the country. The initial Right to Repair law went into effect in Massachusetts in 2013. By 2014, the industry agreed in a memorandum of understanding to expand that bill and cover the rest of the country.

Deal of the week

money the station

Transportation isn’t just about the movement between places; it’s also about the less active moments like parking. Which brings us to one eye-popping deal this week.

REEF Technology, the Miami-based company that started its life as ParkJockey, raked in $700 million from a group of investors that included Softbank and Mubadala Corp.

REEF provides hardware, software and management services for parking lots. But it more recently added other services such as providing infrastructure for cloud kitchens, healthcare clinics, logistics and last-mile delivery and even brick-and-mortar retail and experiential consumer spaces.

The company said that the money will be used to scale from 4,800 locations to 10,000 new locations around the country and to transform the parking lots into “neighborhood hubs,” according to Ari Ojalvo, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Private equity and financial investment giants Oaktree, UBS Asset Management and the European venture capital firm Target Global also participated in the round.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber noted in his coverage of the REEF round, like WeWork, REEF leases most of the real estate it operates and upgrades it before leasing it to other occupants (or using the spaces itself). Unlike WeWork, the business actually has a fair shot at working out — especially given business trends that have accelerated in response to the health and safety measures implemented to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other deals that got my attention …

ANOTHER LIDAR SPAC! Aeva is the latest company to eschew the traditional IPO path and go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. It’s also the third lidar company, following Velodyne and Luminar, to take this route to the public markets.

Aeva is a Mountain View, California-based lidar company started by two former Apple engineers and backed by Porsche SE. The company announced it was merging with special purpose acquisition company InterPrivate Acquisition Corp., with a post-deal market valuation of $2.1 billion. The deal with InterPrivate is expected to close by early 2021.

Logisly, a Jakarta-based startup that describes itself as a “B2B tech-enabled logistics platform,” announced today it has raised $6 million in Series A funding to help streamline logistics in Indonesia. The round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Marshmallow, a UK startup aiming to take on legacy insurance giants with a new approach to determining risk, raised $30 million in a Series A round. The company has a post-fundraising valuation of $310 million.

Pony.ai, the autonomous vehicle company that operates in California and China, is now valued at $5.3 billion following a fresh injection of $267 million in funding. The round was led by TIP, an innovation fund within the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board that focuses on late-stage venture and growth equity investments in companies that deliver disruptive technology. Existing partners Fidelity China Special Situations PLC, 5Y Capital (formerly Morningside Venture Capital), ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads also participated in the round.

Provizio, which developed a sensory platform it says can perceive, predict and prevent car accidents in real time and beyond the line-of-sight, closed a seed investment round of $6.2 million. Bobby Hambrick, the founder of Autonomous Stuff, the founders of Movidius, the European Innovation Council (EIC) and ACT Venture Capital participated in the round.

Scale AI, a startup that uses software and people to process and label image, lidar and map data for companies building machine learning algorithms such as Toyota and Zoox, is on the brink of becoming a company valued $3 billion, The Information reported. The company founded and led by 230year-old Alexandr Wang reportedly received an offer of investment from Tiger Global Management valuing Scale at $3.2 billion pre-money, or triple its prior valuation.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

All the other stuff you should know about …

Amazon has started operations at its first European Amazon Air hub, based out of the Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. The new facility spans 20,000 square meters and will host two Amazon-branded Boeing 737-800 aircraft, bringing the company’s total operational air fleet to more than 70 aircraft.

Bentley Motors has begun its long farewell to the 12-cylinder combustion engines that have been the cornerstone of the 100-year-old company. The ultra luxury automaker under VW Group said it will only produce plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars starting in 2026 with an aim to drop all combustion engines in the next decade. Its entire lineup will be all-electric by 2030. The British manufacturer said two plug-in hybrid models will come out next year and its first all-electric vehicle will come to market in 2025.

CarGurus’ 2020 Pickup Truck Sentiment Study revealed that COVID-19 pandemic might have helped spur sales, thanks to young buyers. More than 26% of pickup truckers owners surveyed for the study said they had not planned to buy this category of vehicle. Other results, include 34% said they will  probably/definitely own an electric pickup truck in the next 10 years and 23% in the next five years.

Gen Z/millennial truck owners are over two times more likely to expect to own an electric truck in the next five years when compared to older truck owners (30% vs. 12%). The same age cohort of younger consumers are also two times more likely to consider a truck from category-newcomers like Tesla (32% vs. 14%), Rivian (11% vs. 4%) or Hummer (13% vs 6%) when compared to older truck owners, the study found.

GM is starting to hire people for more than 1,100 new jobs for its nearly 3 million-square-foot Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Ultium Cells LLC is a joint venture with LG Chem that will mass-produce Ultium battery cells for electric vehicles. The plant is still under construction, but GM said it will begin actively hiring for “key positions.”

Tesla officially launched Teslaquila, a company-branded liquor that originally co-starred in CEO Elon Musk’s controversial April Fool’s Day joke about the automaker filing for bankruptcy. The Tesla Tequila costs $250 and is already sold out.

Uber reported earnings this week. As Alex Wilhelm and I wrote, the company’s two core segments were a tale of two cities: Uber’s ride-hailing (Mobility) business shrank, but made money, while Uber’s food delivery (Delivery) business grew, but continued to lose money.

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

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M

Published

on

F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Altana raises $7M to protect supply chains from disruptions, child labor

Published

on

Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets, and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.

Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.

In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.

While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?

New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply-chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.

The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz, and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.

That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply-chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers, and create better resilience.

The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”

Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources they have access to.

The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.

The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.

Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.

In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp, and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

Published

on

The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

Continue Reading

Trending