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H-E-B acquires Texas-based on-demand company Favor

18:17 | 16 February

H-E-B has acquired Favor, the on-demand delivery service out of Texas.

Favor will continue to operate as an independent wholly-owned subsidiary of the grocery chain.

The company first launched in 2014 at SXSW, bringing a Texas-tailored approach to on-demand delivery. While many on-demand services, such as Postmates, focus on high-density areas like NYC and San Francisco, Favor built a product that serves the sprawling cities of Texas.

Users could order food from a restaurant, or any item from a local store, to be purchased and delivered to wherever they were, all through an app. The idea itself isn’t revolutionary, but Favor claims to be the first on-demand service to become profitable.

Meanwhile, H-E-B is the largest grocery retail chain headquartered in Texas, and one of the top grocery retailers in the country. The acquisition comes at a time when the industry is in flux, preparing for a boom of online grocery shopping on the consumer side.

Amazon bought Whole Foods for a whopping $13.7 billion. Target acquired Alabama-based Shipt for a cool $550 million. Sam’s Club just recently started offering an online membership club with free shipping. And Walmart is working with August smart lock company to test in-home delivery of grocery items and other packages. And is on the hunt for more startups to buy.

H-E-B has already started working on curbside service, which is available at 100 of its stores, and is fulfilling online orders from 73 of its 339 Texas stores. The acquisition of Favor will help accelerate that transition into digital.

Favor will continue operating as an independent brand, so delivery junkies in Texas can rest easy. The company currently serves 50 cities in Texas with more than 50,000 runners and 8 million deliveries fulfilled to date.

Favor has raised a total of $37.9 million, according to Crunchbase. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.



India’s Zoomcar raises $40M led by automotive giant Mahindra & Mahindra

11:13 | 16 February

India’s Zoomcar — which operates an on-demand car rental service — has raised a $40 million Series C round led by Mahindra & Mahindra, the 70-year-old Indian corporation that specializes in automotive.

Ford and other existing investors also took part in the round, Zoomcar confirmed. CEO and co-founder Greg Moran added that the round is still open and may be extended with other investors coming in.

As it stands, the new capital takes Zoomcar to around $100 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. Previous to today, its last round was its $24 million Series C led by Ford in 2016 with an undisclosed investment from China’s Cyber Carrier added later that year.

Other backers include Sequoia Capital, Nokia Growth Partners, FundersClub and a number of angels including former U.S. treasury secretary Larry Summers and ex-Infosys CFO T.V. Mohandas Pai.

Mahindra & Mahindra, for those who are not aware of it, is a $14 billion-valued company that operates a series of businesses focused on automotive, motorcycles, agricultural machines and more. The firm started out as a manufacturer for Jeep, but it has expanded its business considerably. The firm has worked with Zoomcar to distribute its electric vehicles.

Rumors of a potential investment in Zoomcar were first reported by Indian news site Mint in November.

Growing the fleet

Zoomcar was founded in 2013 by Americans Moran and David Back. Back is not directly involved in the business today, having returned to the U.S. for personal reasons in 2015, and Moran serves as CEO.

Plenty has happened in the past 18 months since we last wrote about Zoomcar. The service is currently present in 29 cities while it claims 2.7 million registered users and 3,500 cars. Its customers have completed over 1.1 million trips to date.

Its core business remains Zipcar-style rentals, allowing registered users to find and use cars in a city, but the company shifted its focus with ZAP (Zoomcar Associate Program) which allows new car buyers to lease their vehicles out when they aren’t being used. (India law prevents existing vehicles being used for commercial purposes.) That helps buyers recoup the cost, and it allows Zoomcar to grow its inventory without the high cost of purchase.

That approach helped grow Zoomcar’s fleet but not to the 25,000-car target Moran spoke of last year. Moran told TechCrunch while demand for ZAP purchases reached 25,000-30,000 people, a combination of India’s “byzantine” car financing landscape and state-level red tape, meant interested customers were forced to wait months for their car which most weren’t prepared to do.

In response, Zoomcar modified its package somewhat with a subscription service that effectively allows users to pay up in advance for access to a personal car for a 6-24-month period.

In other words, the process of buying the car is massively simplified with Zoomcar doing most of the work. It simply turns up at your house, in similar to fashion to how Silvercar delivers Audis in the U.S..

Their costs are lowered if car owner leaser, agrees to allow the vehicle to be pooled as part of ZAP. The deal is sweetened by free insurance, maintenance and other perks which Zoomcar hopes make it more attractive than buying.

Only a few months old, Moran said the move has strengthened ZAP which is close to representing one-third of its fleet. The Zoomcar CEO is optimistic that it can reach 15,000 cars by the end of the year and go from there.

“We exceeded [the 25,000 car target] number in terms of demand for ZAP, the challenge was the last mile and that’s where this program can transform it,” Moran said.

Moran said electric vehicles are another key driver, which is where Mahendra & Mahendra comes into the strategic picture. The companies are working together on selected pilots. Right now, just 50 of Zoomcar’s fleet are EVs, but Moran sees that figure growing to 500 in the coming few months ahead of a further push.

“We’re thinking that by 2020, EVs will be over 50 percent of the fleet,” he added.

Pedal power

Beyond electric — which also includes electric scooters — Zoomcar has gone further still.

Last year, the startup expanded into bike-sharing services with its Pedl offering which is rivaled by a new launch from taxi-hailing firm Ola and China’s Ofo, which recently moved into India. Pedl is available in half a dozen cities in India, including Chennai where it partnered with Mahindra World City.

Mr. Vijayan Janardhanan, Business Head (Residential) at Mahindra World City, Chennai, inaugurates a healthy, convenient and eco-friendly cycle sharing service for short trips within the integrated city. MWC Chennai, is proud to partner with PEDL @ZoomCarIndia for a greener future pic.twitter.com/Pw52KsKwdG

— Life At MWC (@LifeAtMWC) February 5, 2018

The core service is 29 cities in India, with perhaps the potential to reach 35 in total, but the scope for Pedl is far more ambitious with the company aiming for 100-plus locations that would include tier-three cities (and beyond) where the car rental business is unlikely to enter.

“Pedl gives us a virtuous flywheel effect,” Moran explained. “It’s a way to give us a massive funnel for Zoomcar.”

That applies to the 30-35 cities where its rental cars as positioned, but in Pedl-only cities, Moran sees the potential to move into complementary services in the future.

Currently in ten cities since its launch three months ago, Pedl is clocking around 500,000 transactions per month, according to the company. Moran thinks that over one million transactions per month can happen before the end of the year if Pedl expands to 75 cities and 200,000-250,000 bikes as is planned.

As for global expansion, Moran said in 2016 than 2018 would be the year for moving overseas but challenging conditions in India and expansion into new verticals have pushed that timeframe back to “two to three years.” The target remains the same, and that is to explore neighboring markets in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Africa, where Moran sees similarities with India, is another region that Moran said Zoomcar is “continuously evaluating.”

At the end of 2017, Zoomcar announced it had turned EBITDA positive but it remains unprofitable overall. According to Mint, which accessed filings, the company lost 100.4 crore ($15.6 million) for the financial year ending March 2017, versus 101.4 crore ($15.8 million) in the previous year. Revenue for the period grew by 35 percent to reach 121.2 crore, or approximately $19 million.

The company’s newest financial results come after March — even private companies file financial returns annually in India. Moran didn’t comment on them, but he did say that if the company can hit its goal of 15,000 cars on the road it is looking at “north of $100 million in annualized revenue.”

“We’re not burning cash for operations,” said Moran. “We want to be the definitive leader within self-drive mobility in India.”



Uber launches a new lower-priced service called Chap Chap in Nairobi

17:06 | 13 February

Uber has launched a new, lower-cost service in Nairobi called Uber Chap Chap. Made possible by using a fleet of fuel-efficient budget sedans, Uber Chap Chap (Swahili slang for “hurry, hurry”) is currently available in several areas of the Kenyan capital, including its central business district.

Uber, which began testing the service at the end of January, may launch it throughout the rest of Nairobi and in the capital cities of Uganda and Tanzania if it proves successful, the company’s East Africa general manager Loic Amado told Reuters.

To make Uber Chap Chap possible, Uber worked out a deal with CMC Motors, a car importer based in Nairobi, to import 300 Suzuki Altos. An unglamorous but inexpensive and fuel-efficient hatchback sedan, the Suzuki Altos were offered to highly-rated Uber drivers with financing by Stanbic, a Kenyan bank, that allows them to own the vehicle in three years.

Since the Suzuki Alto can travel further on less fuel, Uber is able to offer Uber Chap Chap’s lower prices. The minimum cost for a ride on the service is 100 Kenyan shillings (about 99 cents), compared to 150 shillings ($1.48) for UberX.

In Kenya, Uber faces competition from ride-hailing services like Little and Taxify. Uber Chap Chap gives it another way to differentiate, though Uber’s Nairobi drivers have complained that launching lower-priced services undercuts their earnings.

Featured Image: Jacek_Sopotnicki/Getty Images



Toyota invests $69M in Japanese Uber rival backed by the taxi industry

07:56 | 9 February

This week isn’t turning out to be great one for Uber in Japan. Two of its investors — Didi and SoftBank — are teaming up to launch a rival service, while one of its existing competitors has just landed a big cash infusion and highly influential backer after Toyota backed JapanTaxi.

The auto giant said it will invest 7.5 billion JPY ($69 billion) into JapanTaxi, an Uber-like service that is owned by Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation.

Toyota is also an Uber investor and it previously backed JapanTaxi via $4.5 million investment from its Mirai Creation Fund, according to Bloomberg.

These new funds will go towards developing the service further, while Toyota said it plans “cooperation and business collaboration in such areas as connected terminals for taxis, the joint development of vehicle-dispatch support systems, and big-data collection.”

Uber doesn’t provide business information or user numbers for its business Japan or other markets in Asia. However, it is said to account for less than one percent of Tokyo’s taxi market. JapanTaxi, meanwhile, claims four million downloads and 60,000 taxis — or around one-quarter of all taxi drivers in Japan — on its platform.

Messaging app Line is another competitor in Japan, where peer-to-peer rides are banned. Line’s hailing service sits inside its app — which is Japan’s most popular messenger — and it has integrated with taxi operators that include Nihon Kotsu, but it is unclear how popular it is now following its 2015 launch.

Japan’s taxi industry is one of the largest at $15 billion per year. With Didi and SoftBank set to offer yet another competitor, it is no surprise that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has made Japan the first stop of his inaugural trip to Asia as head of the ride-sharing firm.

Featured Image: Getty Images



China’s Didi partners with SoftBank to launch taxi-hailing services in Japan

05:20 | 9 February

China’s Didi Chuxing is preparing yet another market expansion after it inked an agreement with SoftBank, Uber’s largest shareholder, to introduce taxi-hailing services in Japan this year.

Didi dominates the Chinese market — thanks in no small amount to its acquisition of second-placed Uber China — but this year it has expanded to Brazil via an acquisition and Taiwan via a franchise model, and also moved into bike-sharing and vehicle rentals.

Right now, Didi and SoftBank say they are exploring opportunities. The two companies expect to launch a joint venture in Japan soon with plans to start pilot programs in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo and other locations this year.

“Didi and SoftBank will diligently study local market conditions and policies, and will actively engage with industry practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders, with the aim of building an open and inclusive platform that will be available to all of Japan’s taxi operators,” the Chinese firm said in an announcement.

The focus is on taxi drivers and taxi operator firms because peer-to-peer ride services are not legal in Japan. Indeed, Uber works with licensed chauffeurs and licensed taxi drivers in Japan, but the U.S. firm hasn’t cracked the market like it has in other countries.

Line, the messaging app company, has been the most successful new entrant with its Uber-like ride-hailing service, but Japanese taxi companies have adapted to the competition by bringing on-demand features their services, as the Financial Times recently reported.

The link between Uber and Didi brings another wrinkle to the complicated relationship between ride-sharing firms and their investors. SoftBank recently became Uber’s largest shareholder after it completed a drawn-out $7.7 billion investment in Uber, which included a $1.1 billion direct investment, and yet it has also backed Didi via its Delta Fund, a $5 billion sister vehicle to its massive $100 billion Vision Fund.

Complications and conflicts are nothing new. SoftBank has backed Uber rivals Ola and Grab, and it even considered a stake in Lyft. Now, however, those relationships are moving into new levels of complication when SoftBank directly backs a new competitor in a market served by Uber.



UK outs plan to bolster gig economy workers rights

15:57 | 7 February

The UK government has announced a package of labor market reforms to respond to changes in working patterns including those driven by the rise of gig economy platforms and apps like Uber and Deliveroo.

It’s billing the move as an expansion of workers rights — saying “millions” of workers will get new day-one rights, as well as touting tighter enforcement of sick and holiday pay rights.

“We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business,” said prime minister Theresa May in a statement.

“We are proud to have record levels of employment in this country but we must also ensure that workers’ rights are always upheld. Our response to this report will mean tangible progress towards that goal as we build an economy that works for everyone.”

The reforms — which the government has dubbed a ‘Good Work Plan’, saying it will for the first time be “accountable for good quality work as well as quantity of jobs” — follow rising criticism of conditions for workers in the gig economy, and a number of legal challenges including by a group of UK Uber drivers who used an employment tribunal in 2016 to successfully challenge the company’s classification of them as self-employed contractors.

It also follows a government-commissioned independent review of modern working practices, conducted by Matthew Taylor and published last summer. The government says it’s acting on all but one of the Taylor report recommendations.

(The one exception being changes to tax rates which, unsurprisingly given its prior U-turn, is confirmed as entirely off the table. “The employment status consultation makes very clear that changes to the rates of tax or NICs for either employees or the self-employed are not in scope,” it emphasizes on that.)

“The Taylor Review said that the current approach to employment is successful but that we should build on that success, in preparing for future opportunities,” said business secretary Greg Clark in a supporting statement. “We want to embrace new ways of working, and to do so we will be one of the first countries to prepare our employment rules to reflect the new challenges.”

The government claims it’s going further than Taylor’s recommendations — specifically by planning to enforce

  • vulnerable workers’ holiday and sick pay for the first time
  • a list of day-one rights including holiday and sick pay entitlements and a new right to a payslip for all workers, including casual and zero-hour workers
  • a right for all workers, not just zero-hour and agency, to request a more stable contract, providing more financial security for those on flexible contracts

The 2016 employment tribunal judgment that reclassified the group of UK Uber drivers as workers gave them entitlement to benefits such as holiday pay and sick pay.

The ruling also paves the way for other legal challenges to be brought by gig economy workers. And while Uber continues to appeal against it the company has also responded to rising legal risk and political pressure over gig economy working conditions by introducing some subsidized insurance products for workers on its platforms. So, in case law terms, the direction of travel for legal liabilities in this area seems fairly clear.

As well as tightening up the enforcement of workers rights, the government said it will be raising fines for employers that show “malice, spite or gross oversight”, as well as considering raising penalties for employers who have previously lost similar cases.

It will also be introducing a new naming — and, clearly, shaming — scheme for employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards.

While the government is very clearly signaling an intent to bolster gig economy workers rights, plenty of questions about its reform plan remain at this stage — such as, for example, how it intends to define “vulnerable” workers, and how explicitly it will codify the planned changes and/or write them into law.

Responding to its announcement today unions were generally critical, arguing it’s not going far enough.

Some also accused the government of seeking to kick the problem into the long grass. In a response statement, IWGB union general secretary, Dr Jason Moyer-Lee, added: “Similar to the Taylor review itself, the announcement is big on grandiose claims, light on substance.”

The reforms certainly lack detail at this stage — not least because the government has announced no less than four consultations to, as it puts it, “inform what the future of the UK workforce looks like” — so it’s not possible to determine what will be the final shape of employment law in this area. (Nor, therefore, assess impacts on gig economy platforms.)

Among the consultations announced today is one on employment status, and another on measures to increase transparency in the labor market — with the government committing to define ‘working time’ for flexible workers who find jobs through apps or online “so that they know when they should be being paid”.

How to define working time for gig economy workers who may be simultaneously logged onto multiple apps has been a bone of contention in legal challenges in this area. So the government providing clarity would certainly be welcome. Though how exactly it will clear up that issue when platforms and apps can be so variable remains unclear.

Discussing the overall reform plan, Sean Nesbitt, a litigator on employment issues at law firm Taylor Wessing, told us: “The government is looking to make a big statement about their commitment to reforming and making fit for purpose modern work for the 21st century but, although there’s a broad commitment and a big statement, there’s not too much detail as to what they’re proposing.

“I don’t think they are booting it into the long grass… I think there’s still a desire there to make a large correction. I don’t think it’s necessary a big change but a large correction to make sure the market understands how work is to be run in the UK.

“But I also think that, as is characteristic of this government, they’re cautious about rocking the boat and they’re trying to build consensus — so four separate consultations is a way of managing the risk that they take too strong a position and can’t deliver it.”

“Keeping up momentum is good,” he added. “But it’s hard for business to judge when implementation will occur and precisely what.”

Also today the government said it will work with industry “over the coming months” to look at ways to encourage the development of online tools for self-employed people — to “come together and discuss issues that are affecting them”. So more details should emerge soon.

While the full implications of the reform are not yet clear, Nesbitt believes case law gives a strong steer — perhaps especially in the instance of Uber. Given that judges in Europe have pretty consistently ruled against the company’s claims it’s just a tech platform or a dispatching agency in recent years.

“It is hard to see the detail of the shape. What we can see is that the government, like Taylor and like the parliamentary committee that made 11 recommendations recently, all intend to keep the three statuses of employee, worker and dependent contractor. So that shape we can see staying,” he told TechCrunch.

“There is then intended to be clarification as to how you tell the difference. That isn’t clear what that clarification will look like but I believe it will be based on existing case law — including of course, notably, the Uber litigation.”

“I feel there is quite a lot of certainty around the determining features of those three [employment] statuses are already,” he added. “Where I think the really useful piece could come is if the government regulates to define what working time is for platforms. They say they’re going to.”

Nesbitt points out that many platforms don’t accept the view that a worker being logged onto their app and waiting time constitutes ‘working’. So if the government were to legislate on it it could help inject a little more certainty into the gig economy — for players on both sides.

“The government could find a way forward and say well it isn’t necessary being logged on that’s the determining feature — you have to be actively working or at least committed to the exclusion of other opportunities,” Nesbitt suggested. “So they could find a way to do it — but it’s not clear when and how they’re going to do it.”

“The judge in the Uber case said… working time is when the driver for Uber is logged onto the app and is available for a ride. Now lots of other apps — your Deliveroos, your JustEats, your healthcare or beauty services apps, catering apps — will say obviously if they’re logged onto five of us, being logged on or available on its own can’t be working,” he continued.

“If you’re on JustEast or Deliveroo or a restaurant’s own waiting app, you’re not doing anything and you’re not excluding the others — especially if their terms of service don’t punish you for logging out or for not taking a job.

“It’s quite possible the government could legislate to say… it isn’t necessarily being logged on that’s the determining feature. You have to be actively working or at least committed to the exclusion of other opportunities. And I think that would enable both views to be upheld.”

“The judge in Uber basically said the key reason I say that being logged on for Uber counts as working time is essentially that they are so dominant in the market that it makes it very hard to take any other jobs without risk of falling foul of their benching provisions that log you out if you don’t take jobs. And because they are so dominant. Where there is more competition it may be that logging on is not to be considered working time,” he added.

The government’s timeframe for running its four consultations and firming up the shape of the reform isn’t clear. But such consultations rarely take less than three months — if not six.

By which time the next round of Uber’s appeal against the 2016 tribunal ruling will have reached the UK Appeals Court and there will likely be more case law for it to draw on to feed its thinking.

“What I don’t see in the government press release is any attempt to short circuit or override the litigation process,” added Nesbitt. “It’s almost as if this consultation process is designed to run in parallel to the court process — the sort of privatized testing of what the law is that Uber and the unions are engaged in.”

So don’t expect a more finely detailed employment law reform plan to emerge before fall.



Uber’s India rival Ola is expanding to Australia in first overseas move

06:45 | 30 January

2018 is the year for ride-hailing expansions. Fresh from China’s Didi moving into Brazil and Taiwan, Ola in India is taking the first steps to move into the Australian market and expand its rivalry with Uber.

Ola — which counts Didi as an investor — announced today that it has started recruiting drivers in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth in what will be its first expansion outside of India.

Founded in 2011, Ola claims over 125 million registered users and more than one million drivers across 110 cities in India. The company — which has raised over $2.5 billion from investors — said it is working to gain the necessary approvals to launch its service in Australia, initially in those three cities. TechCrunch understands that there will be further information in the coming weeks. Ola’s initial plan is to launch private hire vehicles in Australia.

Media reports in India earlier this month linked the company with launches in Australia and New Zealand, while there have also been suggestions that it will move into Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Ola isn’t commenting on those expansions at this point, but sources close to the company told TechCrunch that there is “an appetite for international expansion.”

Australia itself is dominated by Uber, Ola’s foe in India, which operates in over 20 cities across the country and New Zealand. Ola isn’t the only new arrival, though. Europe’s Taxify — another company backed by Didi — moved into Australia via a Sydney launch in November. It has since expanded to Melbourne.

“We are very excited about launching Ola in Australia and see immense potential for the ride-
sharing ecosystem which embraces new technology and innovation,” said Ola co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal.

“With a strong focus on driver-partners and the community at large, we aim to create a high-quality and affordable travel experience for citizens and look forward to contributing to a healthy mobility ecosystem in Australia,” he added.

Ola and Uber share two investors in common — Didi and SoftBank. The Chinese firm took equity in Uber following the acquisition of its China-based business, while it recently agreed to an investment from SoftBank. Now we can add a new battleground to the tangled relationship between the two companies.

Featured Image: Shutterstock



Google confirms investment in Indonesia’s ride-hailing leader Go-Jek

08:39 | 29 January

Google has confirmed its investment in Go-Jek, the hail-railing service that rivals Uber and Grab in Indonesia.

TechCrunch reported the investment earlier this month, which was made alongside China’s Meituan-Dianping and Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek. The trio were part of a final tranche of a $1.2 billion round that Go-Jek began negotiating on last April, with commitments from the likes of Tencent and JD.com in China. The terms value Go-Jek at around $4 billion.

This deal marks the first direct investment from the U.S. tech giant in Indonesia, coming right after its first such deal in India in December 2017.

Go-Jek offers motorbikes and taxis on demand, as well as local services like grocery delivery and mobile payments. It is widely thought to be ahead of Grab and Uber in Indonesia, which is the largest economy in Southeast Asia, a region with more than 600 million consumers and rising internet adoption. More widely, Grab appears to have taken the lead across Southeast Asia as a whole.

“Go-Jek is led by a strong Indonesian management team and has a proven track record of using technology to make life more convenient for Indonesians across the country. This investment lets us partner with a great local champion in Indonesia’s flourishing startup ecosystem, while also deepening our commitment to Indonesia’s internet economy,” wrote Caesar Sengupta, VP of Google’s Next Billion team which focuses in emerging markets.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said Southeast Asia is unprofitable, but the region is tipped to see huge growth. Ride-hailing in the region is predicted to become a $20.1 billion per year industry by 2025 up from $5.1 billion in 2017, according to a report co-authored by Google. Indonesia is likely to account for the majority of that — a prior 2015 Google-affiliated report pegging its share of revenue at more than 40 percent.

Go-Jek remains active in Indonesia only, but it has previously been public on plans to expand to other markets using its Go-Pay mobile payment service.

Featured Image: Dimas Ardian/Getty Images



Heetch raises another $20 million to compete head-to-head with Uber in Europe

11:01 | 26 January

French startup Heetch has an ambitious goal. The company wants to become the second ride-sharing service in France and in the other European countries where it operates. The startup just raised $20 million from Félix Capital, Via ID, Alven Capital, Idinvest Partners and InnovAllianz. This is the same funding round as last year’s $12 million round, but new investors joined the round.

In order to stay competitive with Uber, Heetch is a bit cheaper than a normal UberX ride. But drivers still get paid more or less as much on Heetch and on Uber as the startup’s cut is only 15 percent.

This round shows that Heetch’s pivot might be working. The startup first operated as a purely peer-to-peer ride-sharing service. Anybody could become a driver, and there was no restriction on cars.

But a court in Paris forced Heetch to shut down the service back in March 2017. Heetch had already attracted a ton of users (and quite a bit of cash based on multiple sources).

That’s why Heetch started over with a more traditional offering. Now, Heetch only works with professional drivers and accepts rides 24/7. The company will be doubling the engineering team and launching in London with today’s funding round.

Heetch is currently available in 10 cities in 5 different countries — France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Morocco. In Casablanca, the company has chosen to partner with 19 taxi syndicates and give them access to Heetch to accept rides from a phone.

“We’re just about to add ‘boosts’ when demand is too high,” co-founder and CEO Teddy Pellerin told me. “But it’s different from Uber’s surge pricing. If the passenger doesn’t want to pay, they’ll have to wait or get a bit lucky. Also, the 15 percent driver commission only applies to base price. Drivers get 100 percent of each boost.”

Heetch isn’t the only Uber challenger in France. Chauffeur-Privé, Le Cab and Taxify are also all trying to take on Uber. But Pellerin told me that it looks like Heetch is currently getting more downloads in the App Store compared to all those challengers based on recent App Annie data. Heetch doesn’t pay for any download ad.

So it’s clear that Heetch wants to fight back and prove that it’s more than a peer-to-peer ride-sharing app that had to shut down. Now let’s see if the company can transform short-term growth into long-term users as the French market seems more crowded than ever.

  1. Heetch Boost

  2. Heetch-Driver

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Tradeshift Frontiers innovation lab hopes to drive blockchain adoption in the global supply chain

22:29 | 23 January

Tradeshift, a procure-to-pay supply chain management platform for SMBs and enterprise, announced Tradeshift Frontiers, an innovation lab and incubator that will focus on transforming supply chains through emerging technologies, such as distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

“The use cases we’re working through Frontiers cover a very wide variety of themes, including supply chain financing, asset liquidity, and supply chain transparency,” said Gert Sylvest, co-founder and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers. “There is so much more potential than just cryptocurrencies.”

In the supply chain, as on Tradeshift’s commerce platform, every interaction is based on questions of trust and transparency, which require strong business and governance models.  

One of the best use cases for blockchain is supply chain innovation. Initial applications include Everledger’s blockchain application for the diamond supply chain to determine provenance, and the Estonia e-residency program powered by decentralized identity management. Blockchain’s shared ledger offers traceability and transparency — the features underpinning the business transactions and trading relationships that comprise our global supply chain.

Tradeshift’s quick ascent from a small Danish startup to a massive player in the global supply chain over the last eight years, on track to process US$500 billion in transaction value this year, could provide both a network adoption effect for technologies like blockchain across the global supply chain and valuable data at scale to transform supply chains.

According to Tradeshift’s CEO, Christian Lanng, Tradeshift already powers 150 out of the 500 Fortune 500 company supply chains. “The trade volume across Tradeshift’s platform is greater than the combined trade volume for Ethereum and Bitcoin combined over the last year, and that’s a huge portion of global GDP that can be made available for developers in the form of open-source data,” said Lanng.

There are hundreds of accelerators, labs and venture studios attached to major corporations, but Frontiers wants to set itself apart through an open-source ethos. Through providing developers with access to their aggregate open-source data, the ability to build third-party applications on their platform and sponsorship for published research, Frontiers can build the ecosystem around supply chain to ultimately benefit the industry and its position within the space.

The accelerator arm will include investments from Tradeshift and their ecosystem partners, joint ventures and licensing models.

Tradeshift is already sponsoring their first PhD in machine learning at Copenhagen Technical University. Initial research indicates that Tradeshift’s data set may even improve parallel decision-making, a current weakness of machine learning.

Of course, Lanng sees Frontiers and the open-source ethos as good business. “By giving our partners access to emerging third-party tech and industry research, we create the next generation technology alignment that creates more loyalty and alignment with our brand.”

Tradeshift’s business model departs from their main competitor SAP in their data-transparency, and ability to build upon their platform. In the supply chain innovation space, current blockchain logistics pilots by companies like IBM or Mercer are closed.

Overall, Frontiers is allowing developers to have access to open-source data with trade volume credibility, and the ability to develop third-party apps on their platform could be transformative for the global supply chain’s conscience and its bottom line.

Analyzing aggregate trade data allows businesses to see where data is being valued and produce greater economic benefit in the supply chain. For example, there is a strong corporate interest in resource management as pressure is placed on carbon outputs and in-demand resources like lithium-ion rise in cost.

A developer could use blockchain to build an app based on this data to extrapolate anyone’s carbon usage, pressuring companies to opt in and report their own to strengthen their brand. Aggregate data could also be used to help companies identify where they are using more resources than necessary, and manage and track them more effectively.

Last October, Tradeshift joined Hyperledger as a governing member, the Linux foundation’s open-source blockchain development initiative aimed to drive the development and adoption of blockchains across industry.

Tradeshift’s alignment with decentralization and open-source development dates back to the founders’ relationships prior to founding Tradeshift. In 2005, they built Easy Trade, the world’s first open-source, peer-to-peer trade platform, where they established some of the world’s first standards for digital trade.

“It’s our DNA and good business karma to make things open-source, so they come back to you,” said Lanng. “We don’t want the next generation of ideas to happen in a vacuum, because the whole industry benefits if the whole industry is lifted.”

“With Frontiers, we aim to bring the transformative potential of these technologies into the hands of every company in the network, no matter their size or role in the supply chain,” Sylvest said. “That also means unlocking greater value for small businesses and their trading partners to bring them on equal footing with the companies that dominate the digital supply chains today.”  

Tradeshift, which launched as an e-invoicing platform in 2010, is now the world’s largest business commerce platform, connecting 1.5 million companies across 190 countries and transacting across 28 millions SKUs. The platform offers solutions for procure to pay, supplier engagement and financial services, and the ability to customize commercial apps on its business commerce platform. To date, Tradeshift has raised $182 million in venture financing, most recently in a $75 million Series D round in June 2016 led by Data Collective.

Frontiers could drive increased adoption of AI, ML and blockchain across global supply chains, and increase industry innovation, while positioning Tradeshift as an increasingly dominant industry leader in global commerce.

Featured Image: Martin von Haller Groenbaek/Flickr


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