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Main article: Collaborative Consumption

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Union’s human rights challenge to Deliveroo dismissed by UK High Court

14:23 | 5 December

A UK union that has been fighting to win collective bargaining rights for gig economy riders who provide delivery services via Deliveroo’s platform has had its claim for a judicial review of an earlier blocking decision dismissed by the High Court today.

Six months ago the IWGB Union was granted permission to challenge Deliveroo’s opposition to collective bargaining for couriers on human rights grounds.

The union had already lost a challenge to Deliveroo’s employment classification for couriers last year. Then the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) ruled that Deliveroo riders could not be considered workers because they had a genuine right to find a substitute to do their job for them.

The union disputes that finding but so far the courts have accepted Deliveroo’s assertion that riders are independent contractors — an employment classification that does not support forming a collective bargaining unit.

Even so, the union sought to pursue a case for collective bargaining on one ground related to Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of assembly and association.

But the High Court has now dismissed its argument, blocking its claim for a judicial review.

Writing in today’s judgement, Mr Justice Supperstone concludes: “I do not consider that, on the findings made by the CAC, the Riders have the right for which the Union contends under Article 11(1). Neither domestic nor Strasbourg case law supports this contention. Article 11(1) is not engaged in this case.”

Commenting in a statement, IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said: “Today’s judgement is a terrible one, not just in terms of what it means for low paid Deliveroo riders, but also in terms of understanding the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said. “Deliveroo riders should be entitled to basic worker rights as well as to the ability to be represented by trade unions to negotiate pay and terms and conditions.”

The union has vowed to appeal the decision.

Deliveroo, meanwhile, described the ruling as a “victory for riders”. It also argues that the judgement is consistent with previous decisions reached across Europe — including in France and the Netherlands.

“We are pleased that today’s judgment upholds the earlier decisions of the High Court and the CAC that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, providing them the flexibility they want,” said Dan Warne, UK MD, in a statement. “In addition to emphatically confirming this under UK national law, the Court also carefully examined the question under European law and concluded riders are self-employed.

“This a victory for riders who have consistently told us the flexibility to choose when and where they work, which comes with self-employment, is their number one reason for riding with Deliveroo. We will continue to seek to offer riders more security and make the case that Government should end the trade off in Britain between flexibility and security.”

Despite not having collective bargaining rights, in recent years UK gig economy workers have carried out a number of wildcat strikes — often related to changes to pricing policies.

Two years ago Deliveroo couriers in the UK staged a number of protests after the company trialed a new pricing structure.

While, in recent months, UberEats couriers in a number of UK cities have protested over pay.

UK Uber drivers have also organized to protest pay and conditions this year.

The UK government revealed a package of labor market reforms early this year that it said were intended to bolster workers rights, including for those in the gig economy.

Although it also announced it would be carrying out a number of consultations — leaving the full details of the reform tbc.

 


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Cove.Tool wants to solve climate change one efficient building at a time

23:01 | 4 December

As the fight against climate change heats up, Cove.Tool is looking to help tackle carbon emissions one building at a time.

The Atlanta-based startup provides an automated big-data platform that helps architects, engineers and contractors identify the most cost-effective ways to make buildings compliant with energy efficiency requirements. After raising an initial round earlier this year, the company completed the final close of a $750,000 seed round. Since the initial announcement of the round earlier this month, Urban Us, the early-stage fund focused on companies transforming city life, has joined the syndicate comprised of Tech Square Labs and Knoll Ventures.

Helping firms navigate a growing suite of energy standards and options

Cove.Tool software allows building designers and managers to plug in a variety of building conditions, energy options, and zoning specifications to get to the most cost-effective method of hitting building energy efficiency requirements (Cove.Tool Press Image / Cove.Tool / https://covetool.com).

In the US, the buildings we live and work in contribute more carbon emissions than any other sector. Governments across the country are now looking to improve energy consumption habits by implementing new building codes that set higher energy efficiency requirements for buildings. 

However, figuring out the best ways to meet changing energy standards has become an increasingly difficult task for designers. For one, buildings are subject to differing federal, state and city codes that are all frequently updated and overlaid on one another. Therefore, the specific efficiency requirements for a building can be hard to understand, geographically unique and immensely variable from project to project.

Architects, engineers and contractors also have more options for managing energy consumption than ever before – equipped with tools like connected devices, real-time energy-management software and more-affordable renewable energy resources. And the effectiveness and cost of each resource are also impacted by variables distinct to each project and each location, such as local conditions, resource placement, and factors as specific as the amount of shade a building sees.

With designers and contractors facing countless resource combinations and weightings, Cove.Tool looks to make it easier to identify and implement the most cost-effective and efficient resource bundles that can be used to hit a building’s energy efficiency requirements.

Cove.Tool users begin by specifying a variety of project-specific inputs, which can include a vast amount of extremely granular detail around a building’s use, location, dimensions or otherwise. The software runs the inputs through a set of parametric energy models before spitting out the optimal resource combination under the set parameters.

For example, if a project is located on a site with heavy wind flow in a cold city, the platform might tell you to increase window size and spend on energy efficient wall installations, while reducing spending on HVAC systems. Along with its recommendations, Cove.Tool provides in-depth but fairly easy-to-understand graphical analyses that illustrate various aspects of a building’s energy performance under different scenarios and sensitivities.

Cove.Tool users can input granular project-specifics, such as shading from particular beams and facades, to get precise analyses around a building’s energy performance under different scenarios and sensitivities.

Democratizing building energy modeling

Traditionally, the design process for a building’s energy system can be quite painful for architecture and engineering firms.

An architect would send initial building designs to engineers, who then test out a variety of energy system scenarios over the course a few weeks. By the time the engineers are able to come back with an analysis, the architects have often made significant design changes, which then gets sent back to the engineers, forcing the energy plan to constantly be 1-to-3 months behind the rest of the building. This process can not only lead to less-efficient and more-expensive energy infrastructure, but the hectic back-and-forth can lead to longer project timelines, unexpected construction issues, delays and budget overruns.

Cove.Tool effectively looks to automate the process of “energy modeling.” The energy modeling looks to ease the pains of energy design in the same ways Building Information Modeling (BIM) has transformed architectural design and construction. Just as BIM creates predictive digital simulations that test all the design attributes of a project, energy modeling uses building specs, environmental conditions, and various other parameters to simulate a building’s energy efficiency, costs and footprint.

By using energy modeling, developers can optimize the design of the building’s energy system, adjust plans in real-time, and more effectively manage the construction of a building’s energy infrastructure. However, the expertise needed for energy modeling falls outside the comfort zones of many firms, who often have to outsource the task to expensive consultants.

The frustrations of energy system design and the complexities of energy modeling are ones the Cove.Tool team knows well. Patrick Chopson and Sandeep Ajuha, two of the company’s three co-founders, are former architects that worked as energy modeling consultants when they first began building out the Cove.Tool software.

After seeing their clients’ initial excitement over the ability to quickly analyze millions of combinations and instantly identify the ones that produce cost and energy savings, Patrick and Sandeep teamed up with CTO Daniel Chopson and focused full-time on building out a comprehensive automated solution that would allow firms to run energy modeling analysis without costly consultants, more quickly, and through an interface that would be easy enough for an architectural intern to use.

So far there seems to be serious demand for the product, with the company already boasting an impressive roster of customers that includes several of the country’s largest architecture firms, such as HGA, HKS and Cooper Carry. And the platform has delivered compelling results – for example, one residential developer was able to identify energy solutions that cost $2 million less than the building’s original model. With the funds from its seed round, Cove.Tool plans further enhance its sales effort while continuing to develop additional features for the platform.

Changing decision-making and fighting climate change

The value proposition Cove.Tool hopes to offer is clear – the company wants to make it easier, faster and cheaper for firms to use innovative design processes that help identify the most cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions for their buildings, all while reducing the risks of redesign, delay and budget overruns.

Longer-term, the company hopes that it can help the building industry move towards more innovative project processes and more informed decision-making while making a serious dent in the fight against emissions.

“We want to change the way decisions are made. We want decisions to move away from being just intuition to become more data-driven.” The co-founders told TechCrunch.

“Ultimately we want to help stop climate change one building at a time. Stopping climate change is such a huge undertaking but if we can change the behavior of buildings it can be a bit easier. Architects and engineers are working hard but they need help and we need to change.”

 


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Airbnb is using what3words to list stays with Mongolian nomads

18:00 | 19 November

Putting a new spin on the term ‘digital nomad’, UK addressing platform what3words has partnered with Airbnb to list stays with Mongolian nomads.

The startup’s simplified addressing system is being applied to help adventurous travellers ‘home share’ with Dukha reindeer herders at their mountain camp where there aren’t any street names to anchor a trip. 

The partnership is slated as supporting sustainable tourism by helping the tribe tap into a new revenue stream to support its traditional way of life.

Earlier this year, Airbnb signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia to use home sharing as a route for economic empowerment and community development. “The MOU will see both parties provide hospitality training for current hosts, as well as potential hosts in rural and remote areas, to encourage the adoption of new digital technology for tourism,” they note in a press release today.

The Airbnb listing with the Dukha reindeer herders offers the chance to stay in a teepee in the Taiga forest in Northern Mongolia, with guests getting “two wooden beds, sleeping bags and an open-fire stove for heating and cooking, as well as full access to the reindeer tribe’s backyard”.

So definitely not the usual Airbnb fare.

what3word comes into play as a neat tool because guests are asked to meet the nomadic tribe at a previously communicated 3 word address at the edge of the forest.

what3word’s platform chunks the world into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares — each of which has been assigned three words to act as its easier to share pinpoint. Using unique combinations of words for geolocation reduces the risk of confusing two similar sounding street names, for example, and means a location can easily be shared verbally or read at a glance. 

After meeting their hosts at the forest edge, guests ascend with them to the mountain to the camp — located at ///evaluate.video.nails — either on reindeer or by horse.

what3words addressing platform used to pinpoint a nomadic tribe’s Airbnb listing in Mongolia

Travellers can then expect to be “immersed in the day-to-day life of the tribe, from herding and milking reindeer to cooking traditional Mongolian dishes and making handicrafts”, they add.

The tribe uses a co-host in an urban location to manage the process of updating their Airbnb listing with a new 3 word address, as needed (i.e. when they shift the location of their camp).

Commenting on the partnership in a statement, Cameron Sinclair, social innovation lead at Airbnb, said:  “Airbnb is excited to partner with what3words and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia to drive sustainable tourism and economic empowerment, while promoting the unique hospitality and culture so intrinsic to the country.

“In Mongolia, a lack of traditional street addressing and nomadic way of life have prevented locals from welcoming Airbnb guests into their homes. Our partnership delivers an innovative way to provide hosts with an accurate and reliable address while constantly on the move, and creates new livelihood opportunities for nomadic and rural communities in Mongolia and around the world.”

A spokeswoman for what3words confirmed the partnership is limited to Mongolia for now — but added it’s “exploring next steps with Airbnb” in the hopes of expanding the collaboration.

There’s no financial component to the arrangement as yet because what3words is free for individuals to use (so in this case the Dukha reindeer herders). 

But the startup does sell b2b licenses for other products, including its API and SDKs — offering optional extras like very large-scale batch conversion of 3 word addresses to GPS coordinates or vice versa.

So if Airbnb sees enough value in ramping up offers of alternative tourist experiences on its platform — and in what3words’ 3 word address system as the easiest way to grease and thus scale that pipe — it could end up sending something more than a bit of publicity the startup’s way.

That’s clearly what3words’ hope.

“what3words is incredibly useful for guests trying to find their Airbnb — be it in the centre of Madrid, or the on the Mongolian Steppe,” the spokeswoman told us. “We’re already seeing many hosts provide guests with their 3 word address, and we’d love to make the process as seamless as possible.”

One growth headwind for Airbnb’s business could work in what3words’ favor because the home-sharing platform may well need to invest in finding innovative and sustainable routes to grow its business, given a growing backlash against overtourism in popular destination cities that have been saddled with the real-world impacts of homes being repurposed as de facto hotels (and travel generally being more affordable).

In recent years residents in cities where Airbnb is popular have been vocal in complaining that such platforms bring problems — from antisocial impacts such as noise and drunken partying to more structural issues as they contribute to driving up rents by removing housing stock, with the risk of undermining local communities if residents get priced out.

And a growing number of cities have responded to these concerns by tightening regulations on home-sharing — throwing up blockers and sometimes hard caps on Airbnb’s growth.

A requirement that hosts register with the city in San Francisco so it can enforce vacation-rental laws to prevent homes being repurposed as year-round tourist lets led to a dramatic decline in Airbnb listings at the start of this year, for example.

But it looks to be the opposite story in Mongolia where politicians are focused on development and keen to attract outside investment. And where tourists are — at least for now — welcome visitors.

 


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Chinese WeWork rival Ucommune raises $200M to go after international growth

13:20 | 13 November

China’s Ucommune, the country’s largest rival to WeWork, has been on a busy acquisition spree to build out its domestic business and now it is looking at overseas opportunities after it closed a $200 million Series D funding round.

The new round was led by Hong Kong-based All-Stars Investment with participation from Chinese investment bank CEC Capital and other investors. Ucommune said in a statement that the deal gives it a valuation of $3 billion, that represents a significant jump on its Series C in August which valued it at $1.8 billion.

Founded in 2015, Ucommune has emerged as WeWork’s main rival in China since the U.S. firm acquired Naked Hub earlier this year in a deal said to be worth $400 million. Ucommune claims to operate more than 200 co-working spaces, most of those are in China but its overall footprint of 37 cities also includes Singapore, New York, Taipei and Hong Kong. Clients include unicorns ByteDance, Ofo and Mobike, as well as streaming service Kuaishou, according to Ucommune.

Co-working has been a major buzzword in China following the growth of WeWork but as time went on a mixture of competition and China’s slowing economy saw a number of the field struggle. That presented an opportunity for Ucommune, which has aggressively gone after growth in China with a consolidation strategy that has seen it acquire no fewer than seven companies this year.

Its most recent addition was Fountown, which operates 27 spaces in Beijing and Shanghai and was acquired last month, while the others include co-working businesses — Wedo, Workingdom, Woo Space and New Space — an interior design company and a workplace collaboration startup.

Now, Ucommune is looking for ambitious international growth that’s aimed at expanding its reach to 350 cities across 40 countries. The ultimate goal, it explained in an announcement today, is to double its capacity from 100,000 workstations today to 200,000 over the next three years.

Ucommune’s space at Suntec is one of two locations it operates in Singapore

Going global is no easy thing, particularly when WeWork is on the case in many parts of the world with buckets of cash. The U.S. firm is currently making a big push in Southeast Asia — the most logical market for Ucommune to target first — with plans to launch locations in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand in the coming months. That would take WeWork to five countries in Southeast Asia, where it got a head start thanks to its acquisition of Singapore’s SpaceMob.

Ucommune has two locations in Singapore already but next time up is Hong Kong, where it says it is on track to open an inaugural space in December with a second slated for the first quarter of next year.

But WeWork is also strong its U.S. home market, Europe, Japan — where it works with SoftBank — and Korea, where it already has more than a dozen spaces.

Beyond a rivalry in China, Ucommune and WeWork have also engaged in a legal spat. WeWork forced its rival to change its name from UrWork after it took the company to court last year over the similarity.

 


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Grab pulls in $250M from Hyundai as ongoing round reaches $2.7B

03:00 | 7 November

Grab, the Singapore startup that bought Uber’s Southeast Asia business earlier this year, continues to announce strategic investors for its ongoing Series H funding round. The latest edition revealed today is Korean automotive firm Hyundai, which is investing $250 million.

Hyundai first invested in Grab in January, and it joins recently announced investors Microsoft (undisclosed) and Booking Holdings ($200 million) in the round, which is aimed at reaching at least $3 billion before the end of this year. Grab first announced a $1 billion investment from Toyota in June and that was doubled to $2 billion when a range of institutional backers joined. Those include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital, and today Grab disclosed two others: Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and Citi Ventures.

In total, these additions take that Series H round to $2.7 billion so far, Grab said. That means that Grab, which is valued at over $11 billion, has now raised more than $6 billion from investors including SoftBank and China’s Didi. That’s a figure that extends its record for a startup in Southeast Asia. Grab claims 125 million downloads across its eight markets in Southeast Asia and over 2.5 billion rides completed to date, up from two billion in July.

Like Toyota, Microsoft and travel giant Booking — which was formerly known as Priceline — Hyundai’s involvement includes a fairly hefty strategic portion: electric vehicles.

Grab said that it will work with the Korea firm introduce a series of EV pilots in Southeast Asia that’ll feature Hyundai and Hyundai-owned Kia vehicles. The companies began working on the rollout of Hyundai’s IONIQ vehicle in Singapore earlier this year and now they will add Kia EVs and explore opportunities beyond Singapore.

(Right to left) Euisun Chung, Executive Vice Chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, and Anthony Tan, Grab CEO, mark the new $250 million investment deal [Image via Bloomberg New Economy Forum]

Grab has an EV fleet in Singapore — size undisclosed — and it is working with Singapore Power to roll out a network of charging hubs and packages for Grab EV drivers as it expands that EV presence in the country. But this Hyundai partnership would represent its first EV foray into other markets in Southeast Asia, which has a cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers, although it didn’t name which markets or give a timeframe.

As in Singapore, Grab said its EV strategy will include engaging governments and “infrastructure players” to set up the right conditions for EVs, such as charging networks, maintenance packages for drivers and general research into how EVs perform in more humid environments.

Beyond the EV plans, Grab’s Series H is being put aside for a number of ventures which include its push to become an all-in-one ‘super app’ that goes beyond transportation to cover food deliveries, services on-demand, payments and fintech services, and more. There’s also likely an allocation for competition because, although Grab consumed Uber’s local business in the region, Indonesia-based rival Go-Jek is expanding in the region.

Go-Jek, which is aiming to raise $2 billion in its latest funding round according to sources, has entered Vietnam, is in the process of launching in Thailand and has just begun recruiting drivers for a Singapore rollout. That means Grab needs to keep a substantial amount of powder dry in case of the (likely) event that its battle with Go-Jek descends into a discount war, as was often the case during its rivalry with Uber.

That explains why it is raising an enormous $3 billion round despite having already removed Uber from the region via the buyout deal, which saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant take a 27.5 percent stake in Grab.

That deal, by the way, didn’t really go as planned. Not only was Grab over ambitious on the logistics, including plans to consume most of Uber’s 500 staff, but it misread the public reaction and incurred the wrath of regulators. Singapore’s consumer watchdog hit Uber and Grab with a total of $9.5 million in fines for the “anti-competitive” merger, while the pair got a lighter reprimand in the Philippines.

 


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Fantasmo pivots to scooter cameras that keep them off sidewalks

20:53 | 6 November

GPS is too inaccurate to tell if a scooter is being driven or parked in off-limits area. But as scooter startups compete for permits from city governments, they need a way to prove their riders play by the rules. That’s where Fantasmo’s new scooter positioning camera comes in.

The augmented reality mapping startup had been building the Camera Positioning Standard to give self-driving cars, robots, and AR games a dynamically updated understanding of the real world around them. But now Fantasmo is focusing on the urgent use case of scooter accountability.

Its camera attaches to personal electric vehicles, captures video, and matches that against Fantasmo’s map to reliably identify if a scooter is being illegally ridden on the sidewalk or parked in the middle of the walkway. Scooter companies could make their vehicles beep and slowly lose acceleration where not allowed, issue fines for parking in the wrong spot, notify redistribution teams to move errant vehicles, or ban riders who consistently break their terms.

The tech could even make maps of available scooters more precise so you’re not wandering around searching. And scooter companies could use Fantasmo’s data to demonstrate that their riders are the most respectful.

“Scooters are under threat unless they find ways to work with cities to prevent sidewalk riding and make sure they’re parked in places the cities deem appropriate. 2D image capture can be leveraged to build out semantic, 3D maps of cities and provide a hyper-accurate position of the scooter” says Fantasmo co-founder Jameson Detweiler. “So-called visual positioning is more precise than GPS and has centimeter level accuracy in dense urban environments — a notoriously bad environment for GPS. Visual positioning is accurate enough that a scooter can know when it is in prohibited zone even if the zone is only as wide as a sidewalk.”

You can see in the video below how GPS can’t tell the difference, while Fantasmo shows green icons when scooter is on the street but red ones when on sidewalks.

Originally founded in 2014 to build AR games, Fantasmo was started by Detweiler who’d previously built startup website builder LaunchRock, and electrical engineering PhD Dr. Ryan Measel. Fantasmo has raised $2.2 million in funding led by TenOneTen Ventures to build decentralized 3D maps of the world. Instead of expensive LIDAR sensors like for autonomous vehicles, a simple 2D camera with the right software is sufficient for positioning.

So why wouldn’t scooter companies just launch their own camera systems? Well, beyond Fantasmo’s specialized expertise from years working on AR positioning, it benefits from network effect. Each client from across industry verticals contributes data they collect to Fantasmo’s collaborative maps. That means if construction or an event changes a street’s layout, the first Fantasmo camera that comes across it updates everyone else’s maps. An individual mobility startup might end up with less accurate maps while wasting resources far outside their core purpose. Developers and personal vehicles companies that want to work with Fantasmo can apply for beta access on its website.

The vision is to build “A next generation Open Street Map that get all the inputs to work together” Detweiler explains. “Eventually you’ll have self driving scooters to do redistribution” he says, rather than having humans load them in trucks and place them where they’ll get rented next. Without super accurate maps, the idea of passenger-less scooters rampaging through cities is terrifying. “There’s definitely a horror movie or three in that concept right there.”

If a more open AR map like Fantasmo’s doesn’t win, we could end up with a tech giant like Google hoarding this data. “I think the crowd of all these devices will be more powerful” Detweiler concludes. “It might take time, but that network effect would be hard to beat.

 


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Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

23:21 | 2 November

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped, or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices, and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate, and with its added markup you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70% repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets, and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckely describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat, and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised  $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

 


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Lime is building its first scooter “lifestyle brand store” in LA

20:58 | 22 October

How can Lime differentiate its scooters and bikes from the piles of Birds and Spins filling Los Angeles sidewalks? Apparently with a physical storefront where it can convince customers of the wonders of on-demand mobility. According to a job listing from Lime seeking a “Retail Store Manager”, the startup plans to open a “lifestyle brand store in Santa Monica” that “will place heavy importance on brand experience and customer engagement.”

It seems Lime will rent vehicles directly from the store given the full-time manager’s role includes “monitoring inventory levels” as well as daily operations, and employee recruiting. They’ll also be throwing live events to build Lime’s hype. Given the company is calling this a lifestyle store, the focus will likely be on showing how Lime’s scooters and bikes can become part of people’s lives and enhance their happiness, rather than on maximizing rental volume.

A rendering of Lime’s new office it’s buidling in San Francisco. The design could hint at what Lime wants to do with its retail store branding.

The listing was first spotted by

, a transportation researcher for consultancy Steer, and later by
. We’ve reached out to Lime and will update if we hear back from the company. Glassdoor shows that the store manager job was posted over 30 days ago, and the site estimates the potential salary at $41,000 to $74,000.

The sheer number of Lime scooters in Santa Monica where the store will arise is already staggering. Supply doesn’t seem to be bottleneck as it is in some other cities. Instead, it’s the fierce competition from hometown startups like local favorite Bird that Lime wants to overcome through brick-and-mortar marketing. Often times you’ll see scooters from Lime and Bird lined up right next to each other. And with similarly cheap pricing, the decision of which to use comes down to brand affinity. According to Apptopia, Bird’s monthly U.S. downloads surpassed Lime’s in July for the first time ever, despite Lime offering bikes as well as scooters.

There are plenty of people who still have never tried an on-demand electric scooter, and going through the process of renting, unlocking, and riding them might be daunting to some. If employees at a physical store can teach people that it’s not too difficult to jump aboard, Lime could become their default scooter. This of course comes with risks too, as electric scooters can be dangerous to the novice or uncoordinated. More aggressive in-person marketing might pull in users who were apprehensive about scooting for the right reason — concerns about safety.

As cities figure out how to best regulate scooters, I hope we see a focus on uptime aka how often the scooters actually function properly. It’s common in LA to rent a scooter, then discover the handlebar is loose or the acceleration is sluggish, end the ride, and rent another scooter from the same brand or a competitor in hopes of getting one that works right. I ditched several Lime scooters like this while in LA last week.

Regulators should inquire about what percentage of scooter company fleets are broken and what percentage of rides end within 90 seconds of starting, which is typically due to a malfunctioning vehicle. Cities could then award permits to companies that keep their fleets running, rather than that litter the streets with massive paper weights, or worse, vehicles that could crash and hurt people. Scooters are fun, cheap and therefore accessible to more people than Ubers, and reduce traffic. But unless startups like Lime put a bigger focus on helments and safe riding behavior, we could trade congestion on the roads for congestion in the emergency room.

 


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Embracing multimodality, Uber pioneers ride recommendations

19:05 | 18 October

For the first time, Uber will make contextual, personalized suggestions about the best way to get from point A to point B. The startup offers more than just cars now, and it’s starting to understand the tradeoffs between price, speed, convenience, and comfort amidst its multi-modal fleet. Most noticeably, you’ll now see JUMP bikes get premier billing right alongside Uber’s other vehicles. Going a short distance and there’s a charged up bike nearby? Uber will suggest you pedal. Might need extra room for luggage on your way to the airport? UberXL and SUV will appear. Always take cheap Pools? It won’t show you a pricier Black car.

Uber is finally getting smart. It has to if it’s going to make sense of its growing patchwork of ride types without overwhelming passengers with too many options. Uber’s algorithm can help them choose. “We think there’s a lot to be gained by being a one-stop shop to get somewhere” says Uber director of product Nundu Janakiram.

Uber now dynamically recommends different ride types

In particular, Uber could block disruption by scooter-specific startups like Spin, Bird, or Skip. If those apps have no vehicles nearby or you’re going to far, they’ve got nothing to offer. But Uber can provide a competitively priced Express Pool when there’s no open-air ride available, while convincing its existing UberX riders to try a bike or scooter for quick trips when congestion is thick thanks to its new in-house traffic estimates.

Uber Director Of Product Nundu Janakiram

Previously, you’d get a static set of three ride options from the price class you booked from last, regardless of your destination. Meanwhile, bikes and scooters were buried in Uber’s hamburger menu sidebar or an awkward toggle at the top of the screen. The company hans’t done a good job of communicating the definition of Select (nicer normal-sized cars) or Express Pool (walk and wait for a discount) either.

Now Uber’s homescreen can cherry pick the most relevant ride suggestions from across all price classes and vehicle types based on your trip length, destination type, and your personal ride history. Along with better explanations of the different options, this could get users experimenting with modes they’d never tried before.

To make room for more recommendations, the Uber Pool option will unfold to offer both Pools and Express Pools. Uber will even point you to nicer vehicles like Black cars or XLs if UberX is surging to the point that their prices are similar. If you want to compare all the options manually, you can tap to see a list with all the specs and prices lined up.

Beyond ride recommendations, Uber is moving the address bar to the bottom of the screen so its closer to your thumbs (which is great as phones keep getting bigger). Finally, in the coming weeks Uber will add a dynamic message bar to the center of the homescreen. Here depending on your pickup and drop off, it could show instructions for hailing from an airport, a discount offer, a birthday message, or just a friendly “Good Morning”. 

Eventually, Uber hopes to integrate public transportation ticketing like through its partner Masabi, car rentals, and even multi-leg trips into its recommendations. Maybe a JUMP bike to the train, then an UberPool that’s waiting to take you to your final destination is quicker and cheaper than any one mode alone. If you’re looking at an hour-plus Uber, it might cost less to just rent a car through its partner GetAround and drive yourself. And if a scooter is by far the best ride for you but all of Ubers are rented out, it could recommend one from its partner Lime.

A new communication box is coming to the center of Uber’s homescreen

Uber’s data shows users are rapidly embracing the multi-modal future. A study found the introduction of JUMP bikes to one city led to a 15 percent increase in total Uber + JUMP trips, even though Uber use dropped 10 to 15 percent.

Even if Uber sometimes cannibalizes itself by recommending cheaper options, it’s a smart long-term strategy. Janakiram laughs that “If we wanted to optimize for revenue, we wouldn’t have shown UberX, Pool, and Express Pool first for every user for the last few years.” The lifetime value of ridesharing users is so high that’s worth losing a couple of bucks here or there to keep users from straying to multi-modal competitors like Lyft. Retention will be a key metric under scrutiny as it eyes a 2019 IPO at a potential $120 billion valuation.

“The big picture is that we want your phone to replace your personal car” Janakiram concludes. “If we want to be a true transportation platform, we need to be everywhere our riders need to be as well. The right ride for the right context, and what’s the right ride for you.”

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment 5 years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

 


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Go-Jek is close to launching a ride-hailing service in Singapore

11:56 | 3 October

Indonesia’s ride-sharing startup Go-Jek plans to land in Singapore, its arch-rival Grab’s HQ, as soon as this month as its regional expansion program gains speed, TechCrunch has come to understand.

Go-Jek has grown to become a $5 billion that’s backed by the likes of Google and Tencent without venturing out of Indonesia, where it original motorbike taxi-hailing app has fanned out to cover cars, on-demand services, payments and more. But it decided to expand in Southeast Asia following Uber’s exit from the region in March, landing first in Vietnam and then Thailand, where it has recruited drivers and is close to commencing its service.

Singapore — a far smaller market but one that’s hugely symbolic — is on its radar and Go-Jek plans to introduce a service in the country before the end of October, a source with knowledge of the plans told TechCrunch.

Exactly what that’ll look like isn’t clear. Unlike Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, Singapore doesn’t allow motorbike taxis so the company will be launching cars right off the bat. Go-Jek remains in discussions with ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi operator which previously had an agreement with Uber, but it may also launch its own private car service to rival Grab directly.

Go-Jek is currently in discussions with investors with a view to raising $2 billion to finance the next stage of its expansion.

Grab was founded in Malaysia but it has since moved its headquarters to Singapore where it is registered as a business. The company was recently valued at $11 billion following the completion of a $2 billion financing round. Consumers have complained about a lack of options following Uber’s exit and Singapore’s regulators fined Uber and Grab over the “monopolistic” deal, Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan has maintained there’s plenty of competition. Certainly, that argument will ring truer when Go-Jek lands on Grab’s own turf.

 


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