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Main article: Uber

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The nation-state of the internet

18:50 | 8 December

The internet is a community, but can it be a nation-state? It’s a question that I have been pondering on and off this year, what with the rise of digital nomads and the deeply libertarian ethos baked into parts of the blockchain community. It’s clearly on a lot of other people’s minds as well: when we interviewed Matt Howard of Norwest on Equity a few weeks back, he noted (unprompted) that Uber is one of the few companies that could reach “nation-state” status when it IPOs.

Clearly, the internet is home to many, diverse communities of similar-minded people, but how do those communities transmute from disparate bands into a nation-state?

That question led me to Imagined Communities, a book from 1983 and one of the most lauded (and debated) social science works ever published. Certainly it is among the most heavily cited: Google Scholar pegs it at almost 93,000 citations.

Benedict Anderson, a political scientist and historian, ponders over a simple question: where does nationalism come from? How do we come to form a common bond with others under symbols like a flag, even though we have never — and will almost never — meet all of our comrades-in-arms? Why does every country consider itself “special,” yet for all intents and purposes they all look identical (heads of state, colors and flags, etc.) Also, why is the nation-state invented so late?

Anderson’s answer is his title: people come to form nations when they can imagine their community and the values and people it holds, and thus can demarcate the borders (physical and cognitive) of who is a member of that hypothetical club and who is not.

In order to imagine a community though, there needs to be media that actually links that community together. The printing press is the necessary invention, but Anderson tracks the rise of nation-states to the development of vernacular media — French language as opposed to the Latin of the Catholic Church. Lexicographers researched and published dictionaries and thesauruses, and the printing presses — under pressure from capitalism’s dictates — created rich shelves of books filled with the stories and myths of peoples who just a few decades ago didn’t “exist” in the mind’s eye.

The nation-state itself was developed first in South America in the decline and aftermath of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anderson argues for a sociological perspective on where these states originate from. Intense circulation among local elites — the bureaucrats, lawyers, and professionals of these states — and their lack of mobility back to their empires’ capitals created a community of people who realized they had more in common with each other than the people on the other side of the Atlantic.

As other communities globally start to understand their unique place in the world, they import these early models of nation-states through the rich print culture of books and newspapers. We aren’t looking at convergent evolution, but rather clones of one model for organizing the nation implemented across the world.

That’s effectively the heart of the thesis of this petite book, which numbers just over 200 pages of eminently readable if occasionally turgid writing. There are dozens of other epiphanies and thoughts roaming throughout those pages, and so the best way to get the full flavor is just to pick up a used copy and dive in.

For my purposes though, I was curious to see how well Anderson’s thesis could be applied to the nation-state of the internet. Certainly, the concept that the internet is its own sovereign entity has been with us almost since its invention (just take a look at John Perry Barlow’s original manifesto on the independence of cyberspace if you haven’t).

Isn’t the internet nothing but a series of imagined communities? Aren’t subreddits literally the seeds of nation-states? Every time Anderson mentioned the printing press or “print-capitalism,” I couldn’t help but replace the word “press” with WordPress and print-capitalism with advertising or surveillance capitalism. Aren’t we going through exactly the kind of media revolution that drove the first nation-states a few centuries ago?

Perhaps, but it’s an extraordinarily simplistic comparison, one that misses some of the key originators of these nation-states.

Photo by metamorworks via Getty Images

One of the key challenges is that nation-states weren’t a rupture in time, but rather were continuous with existing power structures. On this point, Anderson is quite absolute. In South America, nation-states were borne out of the colonial administrations, and elites — worried about losing their power — used the burgeoning form of the nation-state to protect their interests (Anderson calls this “official nationalism”). Anderson sees this pattern pretty much everywhere, and if not from colonial governments, then from the feudal arrangements of the late Middle Ages.

If you turn the gaze to the internet then, who are the elites? Perhaps Google or Facebook (or Uber), companies with “nation-state” status that are essentially empires on to themselves. Yet, the analogy to me feels stretched.

There is an even greater problem though. In Anderson’s world, language is the critical vehicle by which the nation-state connects its citizens together into one imagined community. It’s hard to imagine France without French, or England without English. The very symbols by which we imagine our community are symbols of that community, and it is that self-referencing that creates a critical feedback loop back to the community and reinforces its differentiation.

That would seem to knock out the lowly subreddit as a potential nation-state, but it does raise the question of one group: coders.

When I write in Python for instance, I connect with a group of people who share that language, who communicate in that language (not entirely mind you), and who share certain values in common by their choice of that language. In fact, software engineers can tie their choices of language so strongly to their identities that it is entirely possible that “Python developer” or “Go programmer” says more about that person than “American” or “Chinese.”

Where this gets interesting is when you carefully connect it to blockchain, which I take to mean a technology that can autonomously distribute “wealth.” Suddenly, you have an imagined community of software engineers, who speak in their own “language” able to create a bureaucracy that serves their interests, and with media that connects them all together (through the internet). The ingredients — at least as Anderson’s recipe would have them — are all there.

I am not going to push too hard in this direction, but one surprise I had with Anderson is how little he discussed the physical agglomeration of people. The imagining of (physical) borders is crucial for a community, and so the development of maps for each nation is a common pattern in their historical developments. But, the map, fundamentally, is a symbol, a reminder that “this place is our place” and not much more.

Indeed, nation-states bleed across physical borders all the time. Americans are used to the concept of worldwide taxation. France seats representatives from its overseas departments in the National Assembly, allowing French citizens across the former empire to vote and elect representatives to the country’s legislature. And anyone who has followed the Huawei CFO arrest in Canada this week should know that “jurisdiction” these days has few physical borders.

The barrier for the internet or its people to become nation-states is not physical then, but cognitive. One needs to not just imagine a community, but imagine it as the prime community. We will see an internet nation-state when we see people prioritizing fealty to one of these digital communities over the loyalty and patriotism to a meatspace country. There are already early acolytes in these communities who act exactly that way. The question is whether the rest of the adherents will join forces and create their own imagined (cyber)space.

 


0

Lyft’s going public, Uber’s eyeing Bird, Utah’s tech scene and trade tensions

17:05 | 7 December

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

This week we had Connie Loizos in the studio along with Kate Clark, myself and a special guest. The special guest was fitting, as it was a special episode. Why? Because this is our 100th episode, a milestone that would have probably seemed a silly idea back when we started the show.

This week our first guest, SaaStr founder and venture capitalist

came back on the show. When he first showed up, we talked Elon Musk. This time it was ridesharing liquidity, ridesharing M&A and more.

Sadly two of our founding members (

and
) are elsewhere as we reach 100 shows, but a big cheers to them for their work. Hugs and thanks to Chris Gates for producing Equity with a rare mixture of kindness and patience. Material appreciation to TechCrunch’s Henry Pickavet and Yashad Kulkarni for approving and shepherding the project thus far, and a big round of appreciation for Connie Loizos,
and Kate Clark for joining the hosting crew.

Finally, thanks to you for sticking with us. Millions of downloads, live shows successful and not and three-figures of episodes later, we’re still here!

Alright, enough self-congratulation. Let’s talk tech. And money.

This week we had a bit of a laundry list of topics to get through. The first of which was Lyft’s now publicly known, but privately filed IPO document. The company is going public about going public while staying private about the same matter.

Regardless, Lyft’s decision to go public now should mean it’s the first out of the gate. Uber will go public second. Which company that order will assist isn’t super clear. In the past, it was thought that the first of Uber and Lyft to go public would expose itself to pricing pressure from its yet-private competitor. But this deep into the ridesharing saga, and with both companies still so unprofitable, perhaps that isn’t the case.

Uber may be scooter shopping regardless, so perhaps its IPO isn’t in the offing. Yes, reporting indicates that the company may be playing Duck Hunt because it could be taking aim at Bird. With an M&A gun? This analogy isn’t good.

If Uber buys Bird, say, does that mean Lyft buys Lime? Even though Uber is a Lime investor? Place your bets.

Next up we riffed on Utah’s tech scene, the well-known Silicon Slopes . The region’s 2018 has been big. Podium raised and posted big revenue growth figures. Pluralsight and Domo went public. And most recently, Weave raised $37.5 million. It’s a big year for the state. My view is that it is no longer up-and-coming. Our guest agreed.

And finally, Kate took us through the Huawei fiasco. The company’s CFO has been detained in Canada for what MSNBC calls “U.S. extradition.” Oof. This at a time when the American premier is rattling about in his barrel about trade. The stock market is worried. Maybe we should be as well.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

 


0

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 raises $6M, expands in Africa

17:05 | 7 December

Jake Bright Contributor
Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised $6 million to upgrade its platform and expand operations to Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire.

The company — with an Uber -like app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs — gained the equity financing in an IFC led investment. The funding saw participation from others, including TLcom Capital and Y Combinator.

With the investment Kobo360 aims to become more than a trucking transit app.

“We started off as an app, but our goal is to build a global logistics operating system. We’re no longer an app, we’re a platform,” founder Obi Ozor told TechCrunch.

In addition to connecting truckers, producers and distributors, the company is building that platform to offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers.

“Large enterprises are asking us for very specific features related to movement, tracking, and sales of their goods. We either integrate other services, like SAP, into Kobo or we build those solutions into our platform directly,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will start by developing its API and opening it up to large enterprise customers.

“We want clients to be able to use our Kobo dashboard for everything; moving goods, tracking, sales, and accounting…and tackling their challenges,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will also build more physical presence throughout Nigeria to service its business. “We’ll open 100 hubs before the end of 2019…to be able to help operations collect proof of delivery, to monitor trucks on the roads, and have closer access to truck owners for vehicle inspection and training,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will add more warehousing capabilities, “to support our reverse logistics business”—one of the ways the company brings prices down by matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, rather than returning empty, according to Ozor.

Kobo360 will also use its $6 million investment to expand programs and services for its drivers, something Ozor sees as a strategic priority.

“The day you neglect your drivers you are not going to have a company, only issues. If Uber were more driver focused it would be a trillion dollar company today,” he said.

The startup offers drivers training and group programs on insurance, discounted petrol, and vehicle financing (KoboWin). Drivers on the Kobo360 app earn on average approximately $5000 per month, according to Ozor.

Under KoboCare, Kobo360 has also created an HMO for drivers and an incentive based program to pay for education. “We give school fee support, a 5000 Naira bonus per trip for drivers toward educational expenses for their kids,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will complete limited expansion into new markets Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire in 2019. “The expansion will be with existing customers, one in the port operations business, one in FMCG, and another in agriculture,” said Ozor

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he told TechCrunch in a previous interview.

With the latest investment, IFC’s regional head for Africa Wale Ayeni and TLcom senior partner Omobola Johnson will join Kobo360’s board. “There’s a lot of inefficiencies in long-haul freight in Africa…and they’re building a platform that can help a lot of these issues,” said Ayeni of Kobo360’s appeal as an investment.

The company has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote, and DHL.

MarketLine estimated the value of Nigeria’s transportation sector in 2016 at $6 billion, with 99.4 percent comprising road freight.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded 

. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi-based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S.-based Zipline—who launched drone delivery of commercial medical supplies in partnership with the government of Rwanda and support of UPS—and is in “process of expanding to several other countries,” according to a spokesperson.

Kobo360 has plans for broader Africa expansion but would not name additional countries yet.

Ozor said the company is profitable, though the startup does not release financial results. Wale Ayeni also wouldn’t divulge revenue figures, but confirmed IFC’s did full “legal and financial due diligence on Kobo’s stats,” as part of the investment.

Ozor named Lori Systems as Kobo360’s closest African startup competitor.

On the biggest challenge to revenue generation, it’s all about service delivery and execution, according to Ozor.

“We already have volume and demand in the market. The biggest threat to revenues is if Kobo360’s platform doesn’t succeed in solving our client’s problems and bringing reliability to their needs,” he said.

 


0

Grab invests $100M into India’s OYO to expand its budget hotel service in Southeast Asia

15:50 | 7 December

Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab has made its most ambitious investment to date after it backed India-headquartered budget hotel network OYO to the tune of $100 million. The investment was part of a $1 billion Series E round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund that closed back in September.

The deal was first made public via a regulatory filing in India, as Economic Times reported.

“We can confirm the investment into OYO,” a Grab spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Grab has done a handful of strategic deals thus far, including investments in bike-sharing startup oBike and grocery delivery service HappyFresh, but those have been far smaller and local to Southeast Asia. Its highest acquisition to date is around $100 million for Indonesia-based offline payment network Kudo some 18 months ago.

The deal with OYO is not only far higher but also outside of its immediate home turf, which spans eight countries in Southeast Asia. OYO’s business is heavily focused on India and China, but the company is also active in Nepal, Malaysia and, most recently, the UK. That Series E deal was aimed at funding international growth and it looks like Grab will work closely with the company to help expand its presence in Southeast Asia, a region with over 650 million consumers and a fast growing digital economy.

A source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch that Grab was primarily motivated to partner with OYO for its potential to boost its GrabPay service. The core idea here is that GrabPay could become the preferred payment method for OYO in Southeast Asia, thereby boosting Grab’s ambition of dominating the region’s mobile payment space.

OYO claims to have over 10,000 franchised or leased hotels in its network which it says spans 350 cities across five countries, although most of that is concentrated on India and China. In the latter country, OYO says it offers 87,000 rooms in 171 cities after launching in the country in June 2018.

Southeast Asia, where OYO is already present via Malaysia, is an obvious next step and Grab could also give it a helpful boost to reaching customers by including its service on its in-app platform. Months after a deal to buy Uber’s local business in exchange for a 27.5 percent equity stake, Grab unveiled a ‘platform’ designed to aggregate services in the region to give its audience of over 110 million registered users visibility of services that they may like. That, in turn, can help companies tap into the Grab userbase, although some users have complained that Grab’s app is increasingly ‘cluttered’ with additional services and information beyond basic transportation.

Grab has already partnered with travel giant Booking — which recently invested $200 million in its business — to offer deals to its users, and it is quite conceivable that it could do the same with OYO to help the Indian firm’s efforts in Southeast Asia.

The $11 billion-valued ride-hailing firm isn’t short of cash — having raised over $3 billion this year — so it can afford to make the occasional splashy investment. However, it might need a budget reallocation. That’s because Indonesian rival Go-Jek’s continued Southeast Asia expansion is threatening to reignite a subsidiary war that Grab probably thought it had won for good after Uber’s exit. It’ll be interesting to watch how that competition weighs in Grab’s overall effort to go from ride-hailing into the ‘super app’ space, covering payments, local services and more.

 


0

TikTok parent ByteDance said to raise $1.45 billion for AI and content

14:43 | 7 December

ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the immensely popular video app TikTok, is in talks to raise $1.45 billion for a new fund, The Information reported on Friday citing sources.

The fresh vehicle will help power artificial intelligence and media content for the $75 billion startup that has leapfrogged Uber’s valuation, the report said. ByteDance declined to comment on the matter.

The Chinese startup has set off an aggressive global expansion that sees it merge teen video app Musical.ly into TikTok, which has 100 million and 500 million users, respectively. The upstart has compelled Tencent to up the ante in short videos and Facebook to make a clone.

By 2021, ByteDance aims to count at least 50 percent of its total users from overseas, its founder and chief executive officer Zhang Yiming said during a speech in June.

In China, a fold of ByteDance’s media products — ranging from short-video platforms, a news portal to a humor app — have been in hot water with media watchdogs who are tightening control over online content. The harshest punishment arrived when the government shuttered Neihan Duanzi, literally meaning “implied jokes” in Chinese, for charges of propagating “vulgar content”.

The Beijing-based media company is seeking capital from government-led funds and state-owned investment banks for its new venture fund, according to The Information.

The gesture could help six-year-old ByteDance navigate relationships with local authorities. Meanwhile, it has already hired thousands of censors to ensure its content does not deviate from China’s official guidelines, though the startup has long prided itself on its AI prowess to make personalized recommendations to users.

 


0

Lyft files IPO documents with SEC

15:47 | 6 December

Lyft has filed a draft registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for its long-awaited initial public offering, Lyft wrote in a press release today. However, the exact timing of the offering is unclear.

In a confidential filing with the SEC, Lyft did not state the number of shares it expects to offer, nor the price range. But Lyft says it expects to make its initial public offering after the SEC finishes its review process.

Lyft was last valued at about $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion. Uber, of course, is also expected to go public sometime next year. According to Reuters, Lyft’s IPO will happen during the first half of 2019.

Developing…

 


0

And Uber is going with . . . Bird (looks like)

06:30 | 6 December

Five months ago, the Bay Area-based electric scooter rental company Lime joined forces with the ride-hailing giant Uber, which both invested in the company as part of a $335 million round and said it was going to promote Lime in its mobile app.

It’s looking now like that may have been a mistake for Lime. Though Lime presumably shared information with its investor, Uber is now on the cusp of acquiring Lime’s fiercest rival Bird, according to several sources, none of whom quite knows at what price as of this writing.

What we’re hearing at the moment: talk in the neighborhood of $2 billion. That’s the valuation that Bird was assigned in the spring by investors when it raised its most recent round of $300 million, and it’s the same valuation that was being discussed recently by investors who contemplated giving the company an extension of that last round.

It’s also a price tag that could potentially double if the deal is an all-equity offering and Uber, currently valued at roughly $60 billion, is able to go public at a $120 billion valuation. Crazy as it sounds today, bankers have reportedly suggested is possible.

A request to Bird for comment from this afternoon has not been returned as of this writing, though the company has repeatedly said publicly and to employees that it is not for sale.

The Information had reported on Friday that Uber has held talks recently with both Bird and Lime.

Altogether, Bird, founded just 19 months ago, has raised $415 million. Its backers include Goldcrest Capital, Tusk Ventures, Craft Ventures (the investment firm of serial founder David Sacks), Index Ventures, Valor Venture Partners, and Sequoia Capital, which led the company’s most recent round.

If Uber chooses Bird over Lime, few industry observers will be surprised, given that the two have always seemed similar culturally. Before founding Bird, founder Travis VanderZanden worked for Lyft as its COO, and was later sued cby the company for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement after he left to join Uber as its VP of Global Driver Growth.

From the outside, at least, VanderZanden — who later settled with Lyft for undisclosed terms — seemed a man after the heart of Uber’s original and highly hard-charging CEO, Travis Kalanick, whose tenure at the company ended in June of last year over its many cultural missteps. (Kalanick was later replaced by current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.) Even the way that Bird launched was highly reminiscent of Uber, barreling into numerous cities without first securing their explicit approval.

That strategy backfired in some places, including San Francisco, which later forced Bird, Lime, and every other scooter company that dumped its hardware on the city’s streets to remove their many scooters and apply for permits first. The city then gave out permits to just two companies, neither of which was Lime or Bird. Still, by then, Bird had already generated “cool” cred with users that it may still enjoy to a greater extent than Lime, which launched at nearly the same time but began life with electric bikes and only layered in electric scooters after watching Bird’s rise.

A months-old deal with Uber may not have helped Lime as much as the company expected, either. It was back in July that Lime joined forces with the ride-hailing giant, which invested in Lime as part of a $335 million round and planned to promote Lime in its mobile app as part of the deal. According to Bloomberg, Uber also planned to plaster its logo on Lime’s scooters.

The deal looked to potentially be the first step toward a permanent tie-up, based on a particular precedent. To wit, Uber had struck a similar arrangement with the electric bike company JUMP bikes before spending $200 million to acquire the company in the spring. Yet while Uber has been featuring Lime within its own heavily downloaded app, the company hasn’t made a major push to promote Lime — which has raised $467 million altogether — otherwise.

As one source familiar with Uber said about whether its intentions all along were to collect data from Lime or otherwise use its pact as leverage against it, “I could see Travis Kalanick doing that. I don’t think it fit’s Dara’s [modus operandi], but you never know.”

What does clearly fit into Khosrowshahi mandate is finding ways for Uber to thrive, especially as its zooms inexorably toward its IPO. On this front, Bird may be able to scoot the company along faster. Though Bird and Lime compete neck-and-neck, largely using scooters from the same China-based manufacturing company, Bird’s first-mover advantage, plus VanderZanden’s history with the company, appear to be enough to seal the deal in this case — at least as of tonight.

Whether either company can help Uber reach a far richer valuation than it already enjoys is another question altogether.

 


0

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.

 


0

China’s Didi restructures key units to improve safety following passenger deaths

13:24 | 5 December

China’s largest ride-hailing operator Didi Chuxing announced on Wednesday a major restructuring, which trails a series of tweaks to its core businesses following two separate passenger murders that happened in May and September.

The reshuffle will see Didi — which owns Uber’s China business — knit three key platforms into a new overarching Ride-hailing Business Group (RBG). The merger of Express, Premier, and Luxe, its car-hailing offerings in ascending order of quality and rates, comes just a few months after Didi rebranded and upgraded Premium, one of its fastest-growing segments.

Meanwhile, Didi is facing regulatory pressure to enhance safety measures and striving to regain trust from consumers.

“With safety as its top priority, RBG will invest resources to meet compliance standards, continuously create user value and strengthen our ride-hailing ecosystem,” Didi says in a statement.

The plan includes an upgrade in customer services, driver safety, and emergency responses. Defects in the last area have led to one of the passenger incidents, in which a female passenger failed to contact Didi for help.

As part of the change, Didi is appointing a new chief safety executive and chief security executive (in the sense of information security) who will directly report to the company’s chief executive officer Cheng Wei and chief technology officer Zhang Bo, respectively.

Chinese authorities have stepped up scrutiny on the country’s fledgling car-hailing industry following Didi’s passenger murders, including stricter verification processes for drivers and their vehicles. The controls have prompted a sharp decline in the number of rides available, urging Didi to help drivers attain new licenses.

Aside from addressing safety concerns, Didi is adding fresh growth engines through the reshuffle. The Automobile Solutions Platform will launch consisting of Didi’s Asset Management Center and Xiaoju Automobile Solutions. The newly minted group is set to explore retail opportunities and sells a flurry of existing services, including car sales, loans, car maintenance, and refueling, to Didi’s 31 million drivers.

“Didi automobile solutions will continue to develop customized for-share vehicles and incubate new auto-related businesses to become the new engine for Didi’s long-term growth,” the company says of its driver-centric platform.

Didi declined to comment when asked by TechCrunch about the potential impact its restructuring brings to revenues.

Lastly, Didi is upping the ante in cabs and bringing shared bicycles, electric bikes, and other public transportation solutions under one umbrella in a bid to serve China’s mass. The car-hailing titan will also smoothen internal coordination by forming two new units – the Finance and Operations department, and the Legal department.

 


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Birth control delivery startup Nurx now offers an at-home HPV testing kit

21:58 | 4 December

Telemedicine startup Nurx — once dubbed the “Uber for birth control” — has launched a direct-to-consumer Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing kit. The addition means its customers can test for the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and a cause of genital warts and cervical cancer in the comfort of their own homes.

The Y-Combinator graduate is backed with about $42 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Lowercase Capital and others. It launched in 2015 to facilitate women’s access to birth control across the U.S. with a HIPAA-compliant web platform and mobile application that delivers contraceptives directly to customer’s doorsteps. Nurx’s telemedicine platform ensure its users can communicate with doctors and are provided the resources necessary in choosing the correct method of birth control.

The HPV test is free with insurance, aside from the $15 shipping and lab processing fee, and $69 for those without insurance. Beginning today, the kit is available to all current Nurx users and will be fully rolled out to new customers in 2019.

In addition to birth control and the HPV test, the company also ships PrEp, a once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV. Nurx’s expansion beyond birth control is part of the company’s goal of helping people take control of their health, especially the millions in the U.S. who live in “contraceptive deserts,” or areas where there is no reasonable access to a public clinic.

“Our mission here is to leverage telemedicine to change public healthcare,” Nurx co-founder and chief executive officer Hans Gangeskar told TechCrunch. “We are building a full-stack primary care telemedicine platform at an unparalleled cost.”

The HPV testing kit is only approved for women over 30 and is not a replacement for a Pap smear, which collects a sample of cells from the cervix to check for abnormalities. Still, the kit, which requires only a vaginal swab, is able to assess for 14 high-risks of HPV that lead to cervical cancer. The company says the test will be a game-changer for women who are not regularly able to get Pap smears or who have not had access to the HPV vaccine, like women who live in rural areas and those without health insurance.

Nurx raised a $36 million round with support from the Clinton Foundation in July. As part of the deal, Chelsea Clinton joined its board of directors. The company has used that investment to incorporate the HPV testing kit, as well as to expand into several new markets in 2018. 

Nurx is currently available in 22 states, including the District of Columbia.

 


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