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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Cabify returns to Barcelona with a workaround for ride-hailing wait limits

Well that didn’t take long. Despite warning loudly and publicly that incoming changes to private hire vehicle (VTC) rules in Catalonia would drive it out of Barcelona for good, and force it to fire thousands of drivers, Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify has announced it’s back operating in the city from today — a month after it left.

The Spanish ride-hailing firm claims to have adapted its business model to comply with regulations, brought in by the local government by decree last month, which impose a waiting time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up.

The Catalan Generalitat has said it wants to make sure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, and says it’s committed to a full restructuring of the law to ensure the sectors don’t overlap and come into conflict — following a series of taxi strikes which included scenes of violence

The new rules also prohibit private hire companies from displaying the real-time geolocation of vehicles in their apps prior to a booking. Only once a booking has been made can the location be displayed.

The decree also bans VTCs from plying for trade by freely circulating in the streets — requiring they return to a base, such as a parking lot or a garage, to wait for the next booking.

In a tweet confirming its return to Barcelona yesterday Cabify writes that from today it’s back on the streets of the Catalan capital, having adapted its business model to comply with the new regulations, though it does not specify exactly what changes it has made.

At the time of writing the ride-hailing firm could not be reached for comment. Cabify also did not responded to our email asking about its adapted model.

But local press is reporting its workaround for imposed wait limits before passengers can be picked up is to switch its business model for the region from being an intermediate platform to a transport company — working with a VTC firm with a local fleet of 300 cars.

According to El Pais, Cabify users are required to accept a renewable year-long contract (via new in-app T&Cs), at no additional cost — and then it will apply the wait time only once per customer, offering on-demand rides thereafter, i.e. once the ‘contract’ is in force.

In a follow up tweet to its users about its return to Barcelona, Cabify warns they need to accept its new T&Cs before being able to resume using the app in the city — highlighting its method for circumventing the wait-time restriction. (The Spanish have a phrase — hecho la ley, hecho la trampa — which does seem rather appropriate here.)

In a statement to El Pais the company avoided commenting on how it’s flouting the regional government’s decree — but described the adapted business model as “burdensome”, adding that it’s assumed “a series of costs” in order to return to Barcelona.

The company is reportedly banking on the Generalitat’s decree being struck down as unconstitutional by Spanish courts. So it’s intending the trick as a stopgap to keep serving the circa one million registered users it says it has in Catalonia.

We’ve reached out to the Generalitat for comment on Cabify’s return to Barcelona.

Elite Taxi BCN, one of the main local taxi associations that has been pushing for regulation of ride-hailing apps said Cabify’s actions demonstrate, without doubt, that it does not want to run a VTC service — but a taxi service.

Taxis argue their sector is more heavily regulated so ride-hailing companies acting like taxis constitute unfair competition.

The Elite association has also warned it has not ruled out further strike action to protest how Cabify is flouting the regional government’s rules.

Uber also left Barcelona last month ahead of the new rules coming into force — saying the regulation leaves it “no choice but to suspend UberX while we assess our future in Barcelona”.

We’ve asked the company whether it has any plans to relaunch a service in the city.

Source: TechCrunch

Playfair Capital, the U.K.-based seed firm, announces $32M second fund

Playfair Capital, the U.K. seed investor, has raised a new $32 million fund to continue investing in promising early-stage tech startups.

The VC firm, founded in 2013 by Federico Pirzio-Biroli, who is fund II’s sole LP, is an early investor in the likes of Stripe, Ravelin, Thought Machine, CryptoFacilities and Mapillary.

Pirzio-Biroli recently re-located to Kenya, but will still act as Chairman of Playfair Capital . Day-to-day, the fund will be managed by Chris Smith, who recently joined as a Partner. He’s been an active angel investor for over ten years, and is taking over management duties from Georgia Taylor Foster, who is said to have resigned after five years with the fund for health reasons.

Smith previously worked for fast growing B2B telecommunications company Plan.com, where he held senior roles including Sales Director, Head of Tech/BI and Head of Product Development. He has made 14 angel investments across the U.K. and U.S., and counts three exits to date: Nearbuy Systems (acquired by RetailNext), along with publicly listed MoPowered and Bidstack. Prior to that, he worked in the City in various roles.

To date, Playfair Capital says it has backed over 50 founding teams, and plans to invest the new $32 million fund over the next three to five years. The firm is targeting early-stage companies across all sectors, with a particular focus on deep tech — e.g. artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision — and B2B SaaS and marketplaces, which have traditionally been areas of strength for Playfair.

Its initial cheque size is typically $500,000, although I’m told that the Playfair team like to engage with founders at the earliest stages of a startup’s journey, including occasionally investing smaller amounts at the pre-seed stage. I expect that approach is reflected in a number of household names backed out of the firm’s first smaller fund.

Adds Pirzio-Biroli in a statement: “I’m delighted to be announcing Chris’s hire and the launch of Playfair’s Fund II. Our new investment team has great hands-on experience with startups and a track record of backing founders early and enthusiastically. The U.K. has proved a rich hunting ground for Playfair Capital, providing 80 percent of our current portfolio. With the new fund we will seek out startups that use deep tech and data to create a defensible proposition that has longevity. We are hugely excited about opportunities in the deep tech, SaaS and marketplace segments where we have already demonstrated success”.

Meanwhile, Smith will work with Joe Thornton, who has been with Playfair Capital for almost four years, and Henrik Wetter-Sanchez, who joins as an associate from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Thornton joined Playfair in early 2015, having worked at Google and Facebook. For the last three years, he has been Playfair’s Head of Talent. He’s continuing to support portfolio companies with recruitment but will also be sourcing and leading Playfair investments.

Source: TechCrunch

The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Money talks in the startup community, especially when SoftBank comes knocking with the megabucks of its Vision Fund.

Despite the public outcry around the firm’s dependence on money from Saudi Arabia in the wake of that country’s assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, deal flow for Softbank’s Vision Fund appears to be back to normal.

The $100 billion megafund has done 21 deals over the last two quarters, that’s as more than in the other quarters of the previous year combined, according to data from Crunchbase, thanks to an uptick from Asia. Since the October 2 murder, there have been 11 investments in U.S. companies, seven in Asia, two in Europe and one in Latin America. Just this week, the fund completed a near $1.5 billion investment in Southeast Asia-based ride-hailing company Grab.

While U.S. and European firms have more options, and therefore, perhaps deserve more scrutiny, Softbank’s cash is increasingly the only game in town for startups in Asia, where there are fewer alternatives for later stage capital outside of large Chinese private equity firms or tech giants — which come with their own risks.

The Vision Fund is seen by some critics as tainted money for its links to the Saudi Royal family. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the fund’s anchor investor and it is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been strongly linked with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered on October 2 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His visit was part of an effort to obtain divorce documents in order to marry his fiancée, but it ended with his apparently gruesome death. Audio clips suggest he was beheaded, dismembered, and had his fingers severed before his body was dissolved in acid, although new reports suggest it may have been burned.

Jamal Khashoggi — pictured in 2014 — was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year [Photographer: Ohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is designed to finance ‘global winners’ which, like all investment funds, is set up to provide ‘unfair advantages’ to help its companies grow into hugely important businesses. On the financial end, as is the norm, it is built to provide handsome returns to the LPs, thus directly boosting the coffers of the PIF, the Saudi kingdom, and by extension the Saudi prince himself.

An investigation is going, but there’s already plenty of evidence to suggest that the murder happened at the request of the prince.

Sources within the U.S. State Department have reportedly said it is “blindingly obvious” that the Crown Prince ordered the killing — he reportedly threatened to shoot Khashoggi one year before. But, now that the apparent period of outrage is over, SoftBank has reverted back to writing checks and companies are taking them in spite of the links to Saudi Arabia.

For startups, the money flow means that a major source of capital for growth or subsidies for customers comes from the Saudi royal family’s pockets — a regime that would reportedly not hesitate to murder a critical voice.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund has ramped up its deals over the past six months, according to data from Crunchbase

What are the companies saying?

SoftBank itself said it has a commitment to “the people” of Saudi Arabia that will see it deploy its capital unchanged, although Chairman Masayoshi Son did concede that he will wait on the findings of the investigation into the murder before deciding on whether PIF will be involved in a second Vision Fund.

The founders taking the capital have been more cautious. When questioned, executives talk about the specifics of their deal and their growth plans, most defer issues on the management of LPs, like PIF, to SoftBank. While offering words in support of the ongoing murder investigation, they manage to say little about the ethics of taking money from the Saudi regime.

Bom Kim, CEO of Korean e-commerce company Coupang — which raised $2 billion from the Vision Fund — told TechCrunch in November that the allegations around the murder “don’t represent us and don’t represent [Vision Fund] companies.”

“We are deeply concerned by the reported events and alongside SoftBank are monitoring the situation closely until the full facts are known,” Tokopedia CEO William Tanuwijaya told TechCrunch in December after the Vision Fund co-led a $1.1 billion round.

William Tanuwijaya is the co-founder and CEO of Tokopedia [Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg]

OYO, the budget hotel network based out of India, did not respond to a request comment sent the day before this story was published. The startup raised $1 billion led by the Vision Fund in September.

TechCrunch was also unable to get a response to questions sent to Chehaoduo, the Vision Fund’s first China-based startup which raised $1.5 billion in February. The company is notable for being the only one of this group that didn’t count SoftBank as an existing investor prior to its Vision Fund deal.

The latest addition to the collection is Grab, the ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia that’s led by CEO Anthony Tan, who is very publicly a devout Christian. In a statement sent to TechCrunch this week, Grab defended its relationship with SoftBank, which first invested in Grab back in 2014:

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi was obviously horrible. We hope whoever is responsible is held accountable. We are not in a position to comment on behalf of SoftBank but from our perspective Son-san and the entire SoftBank team have brought so much value to the table for Grab – beyond just financing. They have brought advice, mentorship and potential business opportunities. The Vision Fund is about investing for the next 100 or 200 years and investing in trends that will move the needle for humanity in positive ways. This is a lofty and ultimately positive goal.

Anthony Tan is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Grab [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is just getting started in Asia, however, with rumors suggesting it is planning to open offices in China and India. Singapore is presumably on that list, too, while the fund has been busy hiring a general team that will operate globally out of the U.S.

To date, the fund’s focus in Asia has been on some of the region’s largest (highest-valued) companies, but as it develops a local presence it is likely to seek out less obvious deals to grow its portfolio. That’s going to mean this question of ethics and conscience around the Vision Fund’s capital will present itself to more founders in Asia. Going on what we’ve seen so far, most will have no problem taking the money and issuing platitudinous statements.

Privately, VCs in the region who I have canvassed have told me that founders have little choice but to take the Vision Fund’s money. They explain that nobody else can offer billion-dollar-sized checks, while SoftBank is an existing investor in many of them already which gives it additional leverage. The fund also takes the aggressive approach of threatening to back rival companies if it doesn’t get the deals it wants, as we saw when Son said he’d consider a deal with Lyft when its Uber investment was uncertain.

That reality may be true — finding an alternative to a hypothetical $1 billion Vision Fund check is a daunting challenge — but we’ve reached a very sad time and place when the sheer size of an investment overrides important concerns about where that money came from.

Source: TechCrunch

Tesla’s new Supercharger slashes charging times

Tesla is rolling out a third generation Supercharger that is designed to dramatically cut charging times for its electric vehicles as it seeks to keep its edge over new competitors.

The V3 Supercharger, which was unveiled Wednesday at the company’s Fremont, California factory, supports a peak rate of up 250 kilowatts on the long range version of the Model 3. At this rate, the V3 can add up to 75 miles of range in 5 minutes, Tesla said.

Improvements to charging times are critical for the company as it sells more Model 3 vehicles, its highest volume car. Wait times at some popular Supercharger stations can be lengthy. Early adopters might have been content to wait, but as new Tesla customers come online that patience could dwindle.

Tesla says its improvements will allow the Supercharger network to serve more than twice as many vehicles per day at the end of 2019 compared with today.

The V3 is not a retrofit of the company’s previous generations. It’s an architecture shift that includes a new 1 MW power cabinet, similar to the company’s utility-scale products, and a liquid-cooled cable design, that enables charge rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla uses air-cooled cable on V2 Superchargers.

The new power cabinet will provide a dedicated 250 kW to four Superchargers. This means that vehicles will no longer power share when charging.

Tesla announced other improvements in a blog post, including ones aimed at improving charging rates for its Model S and Model vehicles. When combined with the V3 Supercharger, the time spent charging is slashed by an average of 50 percent, Tesla said.

A new software feature called “On Route Battery Warmup” will also be released for all vehicles. This update prepares the battery pack to accept that vehicle’s peak power for the longest possible time, reducing average charge time by 25 percent, the company said.

Tesla plans to open thousands of V2 and V3 Superchargers in 2019. The V3 stations, which Tesla will begin installing in April, will be placed where there’s the highest use. Tesla has more than 12,000 Superchargers across North America, Europe, and Asia, according to the company.

Tesla plans to update its V2 Superchargers as well to provide a new peak charge rate of 145kW for single-vehicle charging.

Tesla will roll out V3 Supercharging to the wider fleet of vehicles — meaning beyond the long range Model 3s — to all owners in the second quarter. The company plans to ramp up V3 installations in North America in the second and third quarters. The V3 installations will begin in Europe and Asia-Pacific in the fourth quarter.

Source: TechCrunch

Raisin, the marketplace for savings and investment products, acquires German banking provider MHB Bank

Hot on the heels of raising $114 million in Series D funding, Raisin, the pan-European fintech marketplace for savings and investment products, has acquired MHB Bank of Frankfurt, its main provider of banking services in Germany. Terms of the acquisition remain undisclosed and the deal is still subject to regulatory approval. However, the moves signals a stepping on the gas for Raisin’s geographical and product expansion ambitions.

In a call, Raisin CEO and founder Tamaz Georgadze explained that MHB Bank provides Raisin’s banking services in its largest market Germany. This sees the bank provide Raisin with account management and customer identification, as well as powering transactions — services that require an underlying banking license.

By purchasing the bank, Raisin can bring a key part of its infrastructure in-house and also utilise the full bank license to “passport” its various financial services, including its deposits marketplace and ETF-based investment product, to other European Economic Area (EEA) countries, faster.

Georgadze says that not having a banking license has been a bottleneck to Raisin launching in more countries across Europe. Although available to customers across the EU from the get-go, Raisin has dedicated local market offerings in the Netherlands, U.K., and of course Germany.

In addition, Georgadze says the acquisition will enable Raisin to streamline the on-boarding process for deposit banks as well as distribution partnerships, such as the ones it has with O2 Banking of Telefónica Germany and challenger bank N26.

“With the changes this takeover makes possible, we will be able to offer better services more sustainably to our customers and partners,” says Georgadze. “We want to grow ‘deposits as a service’ into a widely accepted market standard for banks across Europe”. As part of this, Raisin will invest heavily in the underlying technology powering MHB Bank’s banking service, which should also benefit the bank’s other customers, which includes CreditShelf and Exporo.

Originally founded in 2013, Raisin set out to open up the savings deposit market in Europe by taking advantage of EU-wide banking regulation, which goes some way to creating a financial services single market. Specifically, the problem the startup solves is that saving deposit rates differ not only from one local bank offer to another but more noticeably across Europe as a whole.

The Raisin marketplace lets you shop around and compare different rates European-wide. However, the key difference to a comparison site is that, via its own bank partner, the company offers consumers a single interface that includes account opening and anti-money laundering checks, making it easy to switch and continually ensure you get a competitive interest rate.

For the banks that integrate with the Raisin marketplace, especially smaller and midsize banks, including challengers, they get exposure to customers across Europe that might otherwise never be reached. It also gives them potential access to many more deposits, which helps with their own balance sheet lending and scale.

Notably — and relevant to the announced acquisition of MHB Bank — Georgadze tells me Raisin intends to continue using Starling Bank in the U.K. for its banking services, especially in light of Brexit. MHB Bank will be used to service Raisin accounts in Germany and elsewhere in the EAA.

Meanwhile, Raisin is disclosing that it currently has more than 165,000 customers, who can choose from over 250 products offered by nearly 70 European banks. These are accessible via the fintech’s seven “platforms,” including via Raisin’s direct-to-consumer sites and within the offerings of its distribution partners. The fintech’s investors include Index Ventures, PayPal, Ribbit Capital and Thrive Capital.

Source: TechCrunch

Tesla's new Superchargers add up to 1,000 miles per hour – Roadshow

The 250-kilowatt Supercharger has gone live and, thanks to a liquid-cooled cable and more, will add up to 75 miles of range in 5 minutes flat.
Source: CNET

Apple touts expansion in San Diego amid patent trial with Qualcomm – CNET

Over the next three years, Apple said it will add 1,200 employees in Qualcomm’s hometown.
Source: CNET

Rape Day developer 'might agree' the game doesn't belong on Steam – CNET

After an outcry, Valve won’t distribute a game that lets players rape women during a zombie apocalypse.
Source: CNET

Taxify rebrands as Bolt to expand its transport options beyond private cars

Taxify, the ride-hailing company from Estonia backed by Didi and Daimler and now active in 30 countries, is making a key shift in its business today as it gears up for its next stage of growth. The company is removing “taxi” from its name and rebranding as Bolt, the same name that it has been using for its new electric scooter service, to double down on providing multiple transportation options beyond private cars.

The shift in name and vision comes as the company has started talks for another round of funding, TechCrunch has learned.

Bolt last raised money in May 2018, when it closed a $175 million round at a $1 billion valuation led by Daimler. CEO and co-founder Markus Villig confirmed in an interview in London this week that the next big growth round will be coming in at a higher price tag — he referred to the $1 billion post-money valuation from the last round as a “good start” — in part because Bolt has expanded quite a bit in the interim: it had 10 million users in 25 countries back then; now, it has 25 million users in 30 countries now across Europe, Africa, and other territories.

The rebrand from Taxify to Bolt is serving a few purposes, Villig said. Tapping the basic meanings of “bolt”, the new name implies speed, as well as electricity.

“We are bullish that the future is fully electric and so we wanted a name that moved us away from the combustion engine,” he said.

Putting future engine technology to one side, the move away from using “taxi” in the name also underscores how the startup intends to widen its remit to cover more than just car-based rides. Cars may make up the vast majority of Bolt’s service today, but the plan is to add more scooters, other individual transport modes, and soon public transport links, he said, not unlike CityMapper’s multi-modal approach. “The old name was too restrictive.”

Bolt’s growth — Villig describes it as the solid number-two in the European ride hailing market after Uber in terms of rides and revenues — has not been without its bumps.

Key among those challenges is that the company has yet to launch a full service in the UK, and specifically London, the biggest ride-hailing market in Europe. Its efforts to come to London stretch back to 2017, during what was probably the height of tension between its chief rival Uber and London regulators. Tired of waiting for its operating license to get approved, Taxify tried to circumvent the process by buying a small firm that already had one and launched services that way. But the regulators were in no mood for funny business: after a mere three days of service, it got shut down.

Since then, Taxify (and now Bolt) has been quietly, and patiently, working on getting a license and approval to operate on its own steam.

“We hope to get going in the next couple of months in London,” Villig said.

That could, confusingly, involve yet another brand. At the end of last year, Taxify rebranded its London app as “Hopp” and started to accept driver sign-ups, but no passengers. It’s not clear whether Hopp will also now rebrand as Bolt, or how it will get used, but at the moment I’m seeing Hopp branding across several areas of the new Bolt site.

While London — and other tense markets for ridesharing startups like Spain and Germany — have all remained elusive, Bolt has used its home base of Estonia to edge into a number of other territories where rules have been less stringent and competition less fierce, including “most of the Central and Eastern European markets.” Sweden is the next country on its launch list, he added.

Driving to the beat of a different drum

To the ordinary passenger or driver, Bolt might look a lot like many other ride-hailing apps you might know such as Uber, but behind the scenes, the two have taken very different tracks when it comes to launching and growing services.

While Uber has pursued a strategy of global domination and (over the years) spending and launching aggressively to gain first-mover advantage in a number of markets, Bolt has done nearly the opposite. Villig — a 25 year-old who built the first Taxify app with his brother Martin when he was only 19 (he dropped out of university after six months to build the business) — is a firm believer in the fact that being a late entrant can be to a company’s advantage.

“Uber has burned most of its bridges in Europe by barging into cities and running as long as they could before getting shut down, and now it needs to recover from that.”

Bridges are not the only thing that Uber has burned. Villig believes that being a later entrant has also meant that Bolt has spent significantly less to educate the market and pick up new customers and drivers for its own private ride-hailing services.

“We are doing more than $1 billion (gross) in annual rides, which is more than five times the money we have raised. No one comes close to that, and we’re aiming to keep up that efficiency,” he said. “Right now, investors appreciate that there is a ride hailing company out there that is not burning $1 billion per year.” Bolt has raised around $185 million in total, with backers in addition to Daimler including China’s Didi, TransferWise’s Taavet Hinrikus, Korelya Capital and others.

Given that Bolt has two key strategic investors in the form of Daimler and Didi — both of whom have been making investments and acquisitions to consolidate their positions in the area of on-demand transportation — I asked Villig if he thought either might potentially try to acquire Bolt as part of their own expansion plans.

Didi, he said, has largely been a hands-off investor who was more involved when the company was younger but now is letting Bolt follow its own course in local markets.

“The industry is at the stage now where every market is unique, and you can’t simply transfer knowledge from one to the other. That means less cooperation with Didi,” he said.

Daimler, meanwhile, has amassed a huge number of “mobility” holdings, which last month grew even more when it combined its mobility efforts with BMW’s in a $1.1 billion deal.

Villig acknowledged that there have been multiple acquisition proposals in recent years, but nothing that he would want to entertain seriously for now. Still, he also likened Europe to the US as a market, where realistically there will only be two strong players — just as there is Lyft and Uber in the US.

That means ultimately someone will have to take the lead on consolidation, even if it doesn’t happen immediately.

“Many still the believe that ride hailing is a winner take all model, but now it’s clear that’s not the case. Every geography will have one or two winners. That’s been the big shift.”

Source: TechCrunch

NASA teams with Google to create huge, stunning visual universe – CNET

The “Once Upon A Try” project celebrates the inventions of humankind and explores NASA’s extensive image archives.
Source: CNET