Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has since been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since.

An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high quality feedback, putting out diversity and inclusion reports and involving more employees in diversity trainings.

Uber put out its first diversity and inclusion report in March 2017 and in April of this year updated those numbers, which demonstrate some movement in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. In the latest report, the company noted that it had increased the percentage of women in its workforce from 36.1 to 38 percent, which isn’t exactly progress to write home about.

With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is hoping to rewrite its own story, but the company continues to be embroiled in leadership turbulence, like last week’s departure of Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey after an internal investigation into race-based discrimination and last month’s departure of Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John.

It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t being singled out by the EEOC, which has also launched recent investigations into age discrimination at Intel and gendered pay discrepancies at Google. Still, for Uber, no news would be good news — even just for a little while.


Source: Tech Crunch

0x lets any app be the Craigslist of cryptocurrency

Centralized crypto exchanges like Coinbase are easy but expensive because they introduce a middleman. Not-for-profit project 0x allows any developer to quickly build their own decentralized cryptocurrency exchange and decide their own fees. It acts like Craigslist, connecting traders without ever holding the tokens itself. And instead of having to bootstrap their way to enough users trading tokens on their app alone so that there’s liquidity, 0x offers cross-platform liquidity between users on the different projects it powers.

The problem is the user experience of decentralized apps is often crappy compared to the consumer apps we’re used to across the rest of tech. From sign-in to recovering accounts to conducting transactions, it’s a lot more complicated than Facebook Login, PayPal, or Shopify. Bitcoin and Ethereum prices remain well below half their peaks because it’s difficult to do much with cryptocurrency right now. Until the decentralized infrastructure improves, the dreams of how blockchains can improve the world remain distant.

0x is trying to fix that by ensuring developers all don’t have to reinvent the exchange wheel.

It began as a for-profit exchange before the team recognized the massive usability gap. So instead it became a decentralized exchange protocol, and raised $24 million in an ICO for its ZRX token. That’s how relayers — the apps who use it to build exchanges for ERC20 tokens atop the Ethereum blockchain — can charge fees. It also gives those who collect the most a say in the governance of the protocol.

Some of the top projects on 0x like Augur and Dydx are going strong. Last week Coinbase announced it was exploring whether it might list ZRX and several other currencies for trade on its exchange, helping perk the price up after declines since the new year.

 

0x’s ZRX token price, via CoinMarketCap

Now 0x is putting some of its $24 million to work. It just hired former Facebook designer Chris Kalani to help it improve the usability of its APIs and the products built on top of them. His skills helped Facebook embrace mobile around its 2012 IPO. He then built Wake, raising $3.8 million for the design prototype sharing tool that let teams get instant feedback on their works-in-progress. Kalani sold Wake to design platform InVision in April, and after a few months assisting the transition, he’s joined 0x.

“There are very few designers involved the [blockchain] space” Kalani tells me. “There’s not a lot of people who had worked on anything at a large-scale or from the consumer perspective. We’re focused on making crypto more approachable.”

Sustaining A Crypto Not-For-Profit

After talking to four leaders in different parts of the blockchain industry, the consensus was that 0x was an elegant protocol for spawning decentralized exchanges. But the question kept coming up about whether the project will be sustainable. The company doesn’t have to earn enormous amounts of revenue, but concerns about its longevity could scare away developers. One, who asked to remain anonymous, described 0x saying “the best analogy is trying to monetize Linux.”

0x is open source, so it could be forked so developers can sidestep ZRX. 0x hopes that the shared liquidity feature will keep developers in line. It only works with the unforked version, and is now being used by 0x-powered projects including Radar Relay, ERC dEX, Shark Relay, Bamboo Relay, and LedgerDex.

While some centralized exchanges have suffered security troubles and hacks, those with stronger records like Coinbase continue to thrive while banking off high fees. That in turn lets them offer better liquidity and invest more in the user experience, widening the gap versus decentralized apps. “People trust Coinbase with large amounts of capital but they wouldn’t trust themselves” Kalani admits. But he thinks it’s early in the game, and as users become more knowledgable and comfortable with holding their own tokens for use on decentralized exchanges, 0x and ZRX will thrive.

There’s also competition within the decentralized exchange space from Kyber’s liquidity network, and AirSwap’s peer-to-peer exchange marketplace. But for any of these to thrive, the mainstream crypto owner will have to get better educated. That could fall to 0x.

One alternative path for the not-for-profit would be selling developer services and consulting to those building on top of it. Or it could always do another ICO. But for now, there are a lot of projects out there that don’t want to foot the upfront cost to build their own secure and compliant exchange from scratch. Kalani concludes, “The way Stripe allowed developers and businesses to build on top of it, and not have to worry about regulatory issues and all the infrastructure necessary to take payments, I think 0x is going to do something similar with exchanges for crypto.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Lyft outlines bike and scooter plans

On the heels of Lyft’s acquisition of bike-share company Motivate, the company is gearing up to fully integrate bicycle and scooter sharing into the app. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely this will happen soon.

Lyft is also investing $1 million to advance transportation equity to people in underserved communities. As part of its commitment, Lyft will work with non-profit organizations like TransForm to develop programs that support people with low incomes.

“Soon you will be able to get real-time transit information, plan a multi-modal trip, and use Lyft Bikes and Scooters to connect to a local transit stop or shared ride pickup location,” Lyft wrote in a blog post.

In June, Lyft revamped its rider app to encourage shared rides. Currently, 35 percent of Lyft rides are shared, but the goal is to reach 50 percent shared rides by 2020, Lyft VP of Government Relations Joseph Okpaku told TechCrunch last month. With scooters and bikes offered via the app, Lyft envisions being better equipped to “bridge the first and last-mile gap.”

By the end of 2019, Lyft says it aims to take one million cars off the road. Last year, Lyft says 250,000 of its community members gave up their personal cars.

This comes shortly after Uber invested in part of Lime’s $335 million round. Uber’s plan is to put its logo on Lime’s scooters, Bloomberg previously reported. Meanwhile, Uber owns and operates bike-share service JUMP following a ~$200 million acquisition earlier this year. And, then in April, Uber unveiled its multi-modal transportation ambitions, which includes car rentals and public transit integration.

Last month, both Lyft and Uber applied to operate electric scooter programs in San Francisco. The city’s municipal transportation agency, however, has yet to make a decision on which five companies, if any, will receive permits.


Source: Tech Crunch

Prime Down: Amazon’s sale day turns into fail day

  • Update: Here’s how to get around Amazon’s error. Use smile.amazon.com. TechCrunch confirmed this workaround works.

It’s not just you. Amazon Prime Day started 15 minutes ago, and so far, it’s not going well for Amazon. The landing page for Prime Day does not work. When most links are clicked, readers are sent to an error page or to a landing page that sends readers back to the main landing page.

Direct links to the product pages, either from outside links or the single product placement on the landing page, seem to work fine. I just bought this tent two weeks ago for $120. Some users are reporting errors when completing a purchase, too.

This is a huge blow to Amazon and its faux holiday Prime Day. The retailer has been pushing this event for weeks and there are some great deals to be had. It’s not a good look for the world’s largest retailer even though the retailer saw glitches last year, too.

Other retailers jumped on Amazon’s bandwagon and are running big sales around Prime Day. As of this post’s publication, both Walmart and Target are not suffering site outages and probably love Amazon’s outage.

Also, this.

Updating…

3:30pm EDT: It’s 30 minutes past the launch of Prime Day and the landing page and deal navigation page is still down.


Source: Tech Crunch

Nuraphones get active noise cancelling via software update

I like the Nuraphones a lot. In fact, I named the sound-adapting headphones one of my favorite things of 2017. Clearly I’m not alone in that enthusiasm, eithe — the Melbourne-based startup scored $4.7 million to expand its market early last year.

Nura announced this week that it’s making its headphones even better, courtesy of a software update. The company is pushing out a bunch of tweaks to the headphones through a upgrade initiative it’s deemed “G2.” Chief among them is active noise cancelation — something that was conspicuously absent from the products upon release.

Until now, the company has relied on the passive version — using the unique combination of over-ear cups and in-ear buds to muffle out ambient noise. The update, however, will bring the ability to filter out low-frequency sounds like airplane engine rumble, without adding a high-frequency hiss into the mix.

Also new is the addition of Social Mode, which does the opposite, using the four on-board microphones to let sound in, so users can hear their coworkers or carry on a conversation with the headphones on. They’ll also be used to improve the sound of voice calls, filtering out noisy environments during conversations.

Now’s as good a time as any to pick up a new pair, by the way. The company is offering Nuraphones for $260 for Amazon’s Prime Day — that’s a 25-percent discount off their normal price.


Source: Tech Crunch

Sacha Baron Cohen is about to add jet fuel to Showtime’s rise, starting tonight

Netflix has been killing competitors with its original TV shows and movies. A Morgan Stanley survey released back in May had 39 percent of U.S. consumers naming Netflix as offering the “best original programming” among subscription video services, with everyone else eating its dust, including HBO, which nabbed 14 percent, Amazon Prime Video (5 percent) and Showtime Networks, with a measly 3 percent of the votes.

That could well change with a new, seven-part Showtime series by Sacha Baron Cohen, the English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer who has played fictional characters Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, and Bruno, and who is back in brilliant form, including as Israeli anti-terrorist expert Col. Erran Morad.

If you doubt that the series — “Who is America” — is going to be the talk of the internet (and offline word), check out this clip streamed last night ahead of its premiere tonight at 10 p.m. EST.

Among other things, it features former Congressman Trent Lott promoting putting guns in the hands of “law-abiding citizens, good guys, whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children and or highly trained preschoolers. (Lott hardly appears to have an, ahem, gun to his head, either.)

The clip may well leave you speechless at first, especially if you have parented, or even momentarily interacted with, or possibly just seen on TV, a preschooler.


Source: Tech Crunch

Liberty, equality, technology: France is finally poised to become a tech power

Once America had an unassailable advantage, an economic flywheel that spun off innovation and Fortune 500 companies like a perpetual-motion machine. Bring in the best, brightest, and most driven from around the world; educate them or their children at its universities; then watch them start companies, succeed wildly, give back to their alma maters, and recruit new talent as the virtuous cycle began again.

It hardly mattered whether these immigrants came in as students (think Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, and Steve Jobs’ father Abdul Fattah Jandali) or with their families (Sergey Brin and Jerry Yang) or as refugees (eg Alexis Ohanian’s father’s family) or as undocumented immigrants (eg Ohanian’s mother.) Meanwhile, the UK, thanks to its Commonwealth connections and universities like Oxbridge and Imperial College, did much the same on a smaller scale. It was a self-sustaining wealth-generation and nation-strengthening machine of gigantic proportions, and it would take colossal idiocy to want to interfere with it.

Enter Brexit. Enter Donald Trump. Enter their implicit and explicit rejections of immigration, including serious barriers to and discouragement of legal and skilled immigration, such as H-1B visa holders and international students — along with the general sense of “you’re not welcome here” that they’re clearly doing their damnedest to convey.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, that other great immigrant nation, France, has been working overtime for the last four years to open both its economy and its borders to tech startups. I was skeptical of these efforts a couple of years ago, but two days ago I sat down with former Cisco CEO John Chambers and Accel partner Joe Schoendorf to talk tech in France, and they’ve convinced me that under President Macron, “everything has changed.”

It’s not just that Macron’s reforms have made it far easier to hire and fire in France, making labor costs far more understandable and predictable — although this is a huge deal and a major sea-change. It’s not just that France is offering easy-to-access French Tech visas to founders, employees, and investors alike, so that it’s never been easier for techies to live and work in France — which, as a former Paris resident myself, I can tell you is pretty great.

It’s not just access to a sizable pool of relatively inexpensive engineers. It’s not just openness across academia as well as the private sector (41% of France’s 75,000 Ph.D students are not French.) It’s not just Paris beginning to surpass London in investor interest generally, not just in technology.

It’s also the transformation of the French population as well as the government. 50% of French youth aged 18-24, and 70% of students at the École Polytechnique, France’s flagship technical university, want to go work for startups rather than enterprises — and their ambitions are now European and/or global, not merely French. There’s strength in depth there, too; Chambers compares the raw engineering talent at the Polytechnique to that at Stanford, and France is one Fields Medal away from overtaking the USA in total numbers won.

I can aver that all this is a massive change from when I lived in France a decade ago. Schoendorf says he can think of only one comparable example of a major developed democracy changing so much, in such a short time, as France over the last four years: the UK under Thatcher. Regardless of whether you lionize or demonize Thatcher, that gives you an idea of the scale of the transformation. (And it’s nationwide: 75% of France’s members of parliament are new, and there are twice as many women as ever before.)

I don’t want to pretend that Silicon Valley is at risk of being supplanted by the Île-de-France. The Valley is and will remain the sun at the center of tech’s solar system. But France has now graduated from “asteroid” to “planet,” and is well on its way to “gas giant.” Not least because of its spectacular timing: inviting immigrants just as the US and UK are in the midst of the spectacularly stupid process of dissuading them, and just as the Valley has gotten so expensive, courtesy of NIMBY housing paralysis, that leaders there are looking for any way to diversify to other locales.

All this is beginning to have a measurable effect. There were 274 French companies at the latest CES, up from 13 less than a decade ago. There were more than 700 VC investments in French tech companies last year, which rivals the UK, and more than 50 had American VC involvement. Also, I don’t want to put too much weight on anecdotal data, but two serious, impressive tech people I know have, independently, moved from America to Paris in the last few months.

My chief complaint two years ago was that the French government wanted startups to make their big enterprises better and more competitive, rather than wanting startups to become their big enterprises. That has changed. As Schoendorf says, “Macron sees the world’s five most valuable companies, all tech companies on the West Coast of America, and thinks: we need one of those.” Pascal Cagni, chairman of Business France, has a more accessible intermediary goal: a French “NATU”, meaning Netflix / AirBNB / Tesla / Uber.

And he’s right. France’s transformation into Europe’s primary technology power is real and ongoing, among all of government, academia, big business, and startups; but what they really need is a big hit and a cohort of successful entrepreneurs, a French equivalent of what the PayPal Mafia became. (Xavier Niel is having an enormous effect — see Ecole 42 and Station F, “the world’s largest startup facility” in southeast Paris — but he can’t do it alone.) If and when that happens, though, France will lead Europe for the foreseeable future … and help lead the globe, too.


Source: Tech Crunch

EV startups Alta, Energica, and Zero could reboot the motorcycle industry

Three e-mobility startups are accelerating into the U.S. motorcycle market.

Italy’s Energica and California based Alta Motors and Zero Motorcycles have revved up promotion, distribution, and sales.

You may see their machines zip by on American roads before the big two-wheel gas powered companies get EVs to showroom floors.

These startups could reboot U.S. motorcycle sales while shifting the global motorcycle industry toward electric.

The market

Since the recession, America’s motorcycle sector has been in the doldrums. New bike sales have dropped roughly 50 percent since 2008—with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40.

Most of the market is now aging baby-boomers, whose “Live to Ride” days are winding down.

Two bright spots in the space are women and resales. Females are one of the few growing U.S. ownership market segments. And per an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, total motorcycles on the road actually increased from 2008 to 2017, though nearly 75 percent of registrations are for bikes over 7 years old.

So Americans are buying motorcycles, but for some reason not choosing new ones.

On the e-moto front, two-wheel gas manufacturers have mostly stagnated around EV concepts. None of the big names—Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW—offer a production electric street motorcycle in the U.S.

Harley Davidson jolted the industry in February by committing to produce an EV for sale by August 2019.

On U.S. e-motorcycle sales, Global Market Insights (GMI) recently tallied 2017 combined American e-scooter and moto sales at 245K units worth $155M. Following worldwide trends, GMI projects that to grow to 598K and $304M by 2024, with the share of U.S. e-motorcycles to scooters increasing.

The startups and motorcycles

Alta, Energica, and Zero have niche markets for their unique tech and design.

Italy’s Energica is targeting the high performance, higher priced superbike segment. On disrupting existing market leaders such as Ducati or Kawasaki, “Of course we want to do that,” CEO Livia Cevolini told me.

Energica offers three models in the U.S.: the EVA ($26,240), EVA ESSEESSE9 ($24,940) and top line 145 horsepower, 150mph EGO ($26,460).

All three share innovative features, including a patented cooling system to optimize performance of their motors and high energy lithium polymer batteries.

08-01-2017 Torino, calcio campionato serie a Tim, gara Juventus-Bologna, nella foto: .photo damiano fiorntini

Energica’s proprietary Vehicle Control Unit syncs to a digital dash and MYEnergica app. The VCU regulates everything from power output and preset riding modes to ABS and regenerative braking.

As a member of the ChargePoint EV network, Energica integrates the group’s 20 minute DC Fast Charging tech “because if want to ride Saturday with your sport bike friends nobody is going to wait 2 hours for you to charge,” said U.S. CEO Stefano Benatti.

He explained the company is expanding its American dealer network from San Francisco, to Chicago, Florida, and New York. Energica is also entering racing. Its EGO motorcycle was named the class bike for FIM’s 2019 Moto-e World Cup.

Brisbane, California based Alta Motors focuses primarily on producing electric powered off-road machines. Four of Alta’s five models—including the three that are street legal—are specialized for dirt riding. The MX and Redshift MXR motorcycles are full on motocross racers.

The startup has raised $45M and counts Tesla co-founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard among its investors.

From a design perspective Alta’s two-wheelers are distinctly minimalist and produce significant power to weight. “We pioneered a new approach to building 18650 based packs,” Chief Product Officer Marc Fenigstein told TechCrunch—referring to the lithium-ion battery cells used by Tesla.

Alta recently launched its second generation—waterproof, 350 volt, 66 pound—battery. “That pack gives us unique…range per pound­­ for a battery pack and unique economics, not just for the world of electric motorcycles…but pretty much everything smaller than a passenger car,” he said.

Fenigstein estimated “the premium off-road motorcycle market is bigger than people think, at [roughly] $2BN.” He would not divulge Alta Motors revenue or sales figures.

Shortly after their EV commitment, Harley Davidson took an (undisclosed) equity stake in Alta, along with a board seat, and entered into a co-development partnership.

Alta’s CEO revealed Harley’s recent EV announcement “isn’t the program we’re working on”, but confirmed the Alta-HD partnership “should result in a motorcycle.”

Of the three startups, Scotts Valley, California based Zero Motorcycles has the widest market and model breadth. The company has six base models, three with dual sport capabilities, distribution in 30 countries, and had sales of $90M in 2017 (according to GMI—Zero wouldn’t confirm revenue data).

“We’re the number one full sized electric motorcycle manufacturer in the world. We sell more every year than all our competitors combined,” CEO Sam Pascheltold TechCrunch—though Zero did not provide exact figures.

Like Alta, Zero manufactures its EVs in the USA. The startup’s ZForce battery connects to an internal magnet driven motor. Both are governed by a proprietary Main Bike Board (MBB) processor “the brain…that houses all of our algorithms,” said Zero’s VP for Product Development Brian Wisman.

“The specific energy that’s achieved on Zero’s lithium ion batteries is far greater than anything achieved by automotive EVs right now,” he said.

Zero motorcycles connect via Bluetooth to an app that allows riders to monitor and adjust performance from devices. The company’s EV’s can be fast charged from charging stations or by plugging into the same home outlet that powers your toaster.

In addition to citizen motorcyclists, Zero has started specialized fleet sales to the U.S. military and police departments.

The ride

I got a chance to test models from all three companies. The most significant distinctions between their e-motos and gas two-wheelers are power delivery and no shifting.

Zero, Alta, and Energica’s machines are fully automatic—no clutch or gears.

Simply flick the on switch and twist the throttle to go. When you do an immediate and uninterrupted stream of voltage powered torque launches you forward. The wind is louder than the motor—though each e-motorcycle has a distinct sound—and when you stop there’s silence.

Energica’s big battery acceleration is akin to striking a lightning bolt to the pavement. Alta’s lightweight RedShift MXR is quick, nimble, and flight capable on a motocross track. And Zero’s SR feels distinctly balanced across power, performance, and rideability. I didn’t find myself misting gas motorcycles at any point of the tests.

The biz play

Energica, Alta, and Zero face their own steep climbs to profitability—and the e-moto space has already seen two flops in Mission Motorcycles’ collapse and Brammo sputtering out.

“We do have a burn rate. Like any sub-scale EV manufacturer such as Tesla, we are pre-profit,” said Zero CEO Sam Paschel. “The way to win is scale.”

And while these electric startups probably can’t revive new U.S. motorcycles sales to seven-figures annually—that would take 12 years of five percent growth—they could play a role in transforming the global motorcycle industry.

As their models close gaps on price, performance, weight, recharge times, and ride distance—Zero, Alta, and Energica could shift the market from gas to electric.

Their tech appeal and simplicity to ride could bring more first-time and younger riders into motorcycling, including women.

This — and Harley’s EV production commitment — could pressure the likes of Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati to produce electric motorcycles sooner.

These factors (and regulatory tailwinds) could thrust Alta, Zero, and Energica into an active space for partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions. Their compact, lightweight technology has application for other non-auto, non-motorcycle e-mobility solutions.

Growing competitive pressure and a shift in two-wheel consumer preferences could also make Energica, Zero, and Alta acquisition targets for mainline motorcycle manufacturers.

That’s a lot of speculation, but the big gas manufacturers are apparently watching. “Since Harley’s EV announcement, three of the big motorcycle companies bought one of our bikes,” an exec from one of the startups told me on background.

“We’d like to think they’re just curious to ride our e-motos, but more than likely it’s to break them down and study the tech,” the exec said.


Source: Tech Crunch

Why BMW needs to own its customer experience from start to finish

For the last few years now, BMW has wrestled with the question of what it’ll mean to be a luxury car manufacturer in the age of electric cars, autonomous driving and rapidly changing — and increasing — customer expectations. What, after all, makes something the “ultimate driving machine” when the driver eventually stops driving?

For BMW, the answer is a renewed focus on technology and the in-car experience it enables, without forgetting its heritage in performance cars. To discuss the state of the company’s transformation, not just in terms of its cars but also its business model, I sat down with BMW’s outspoken VP of Digital Products and Services Dieter May shortly after the company unveiled the latest version of its in-car operating system.

“We build digital products and services that are meant to help us differentiate our core product, the car and generate revenue,” May said. “But these digital services also provide us with channels and touch points that allow us to now have a direct relationship with the customer on the sales side and talk to the customer directly.”

In the car industry, however, the sales channel has traditionally been the dealership. That’s where you buy the car and that’s where you get it serviced. It’s the dealer who knows (ideally) who you are and what you want. The manufacturer’s role in this model is to build the car, maybe build a bit of a central online presence with a configurator so customers can get some idea of the car’s price — and get out of the way.

That’s not the future that May envisions, though. And neither is it one where the big tech companies like Apple and Google own the driver and the user experience.

“As we’re building the digital products in the car, we are also building out the car as a channel and touchpoint at the same time,” May noted. “We’ll have our app, a personal assistant etc. and with that, we can create a user profile and provide that to our sales teams. Today, virtually every car manufacturer can’t talk directly to the customers because the customer belongs to the dealer, and because the different business units, like after sales, financial services, etc., aren’t unified and all try to talk to the customer separately.”

So for BMW, digital experiences in the car are one thing — and you can expect to hear a bit more about this in the coming weeks and months — but the company is looking beyond this and how it can use this transformation to also create new business opportunities that go beyond maybe selling an in-car Spotify subscription for a few dollars. But what gets May most excited about this is the prospect of being able to talk to the customer throughout the ownership lifecycle. “That’s the cool part, because it allows me to keep the product ‘car’ fresh throughout the lifecycle and manage it like a device,” he said.

The move that May is hinting at here means that BMW wants to not just focus on selling cars but to create a model where it can extract some revenue from users throughout the car’s life. As an example, May noted that BMW may sell you a Mini with a charging package and, in addition, it’ll sell you a flat-rate subscription to charge it. “There are so many opportunities here, but you have to play it smart, both before somebody buys the car and after the sale.

If BMW wants to own the customer, though, that means dealerships have to change. “The dealers will have to grow into a different role over time,” May acknowledged. “We expect and hope that just as we will share data with the dealer, the dealers will share their data with us. A small piece of a larger cake is still better than nothing.”

Customers will still come to the dealer for their service needs, so BMW isn’t cutting them out completely, but the company definitely wants to own a larger part of the relationship with the customer. And at the end of the day, it’s the dealer who represents the manufacturer, whether that’s taking somebody on a test drive or helping the customer take delivery of a car.

“What’s most important for us — and everybody is talking about autonomous driving and electric vehicles and so on — but if we don’t become a customer-centric company, then we are destined to fail. The number of digital elements in our customers’ lives and in the car continues to increase, and if we don’t understand that, we’ve got a problem.”

As for its current in-car systems, May told me that BMW now has more than three million registered users for its ConnectedDrive system, but what’s maybe more important is that the number of user interactions is increasing significantly faster than that. What’s interesting to hear is that the way BMW thinks about these users is pretty much in line with any consumer internet company. The team tracks monthly, weekly and daily active users, for example, and is working to increase those engagement numbers with every update.

One problem car manufacturers have long suffered from is that cars stick around far longer than smartphones, and that the in-car technology can quickly seem out of date. Because it is betting on a connected car that is always connected to the cloud, BMW (and, to be fair, many of its competitors) is now able to update the in-car software. That’s true for new head units, but not necessarily for older ones, and fragmentation remains an issue — though with a standardized model for both BMW and its Mini brand, that’ll likely be less of a problem for newer cars than for those that launched two or three years ago.

“In the car industry, a lot of people think that everything has to be backward-compatible reaching back 20 years, but my take is that we have to be more like smartphone vendors,” said May.

Taking a page from the software industry, the BMW team often launches new features that are akin to minimal viable products. That’s not necessarily something the luxury car buyer is used to, of course, but it does allow the company to test new features and expand on them as they gain traction.

The next concrete step for BMW in this journey is to feature an interactive personal assistant in the car that knows about the customer. May believes this will drive a lot of usage. Although the exact details remain to be seen, the BMW team hinted that we’ll learn more in the fall.


Source: Tech Crunch

In Q2 2018, late-stage deals led the world’s venture capital market

Here is what you should take away from the state of the global venture capital market: late-stage deals dominated Q2.

Using projected data provided by Crunchbase, Crunchbase News reported that Q2 2018 marks new post-dot com highs for both VC deal and dollar volume around the world, the latter of which was propelled by a surge in late-stage deals (Series C and above).

The chart below plots growth in projected late-stage deal and dollar volume over time.

This remarkable growth in dollar volume — more than doubling since the same period in 2017 — has led to the late-stage deal market looming large over the venture landscape. For perspective, late-stage rounds accounted for about 42 percent of dollar volume in Q2 2017, but it made up 64 percent of dollar volume in Q2 2018.

To be clear, this isn’t a rising tide raising all ships. Worldwide, late-stage venture activity is intensifying at a more rapid clip than other venture funding stages, squeezing other stages toward the margins. We can see this happening in the chart below:

Two things are happening at once here: On one side, private equity deals with previously venture-backed companies — what we call “Tech Growth” — account for less of the action; on the other side of the spectrum, angels, seed investors and writers of Series A and Series B checks account for less of the total dollar volume over time.

As it happens, in Q2 seed and early-stage venture — despite reaching post-dot com highs in absolute terms — make up for a smaller percent of total dollar volume than in any quarter since at least Q3 2013, the last records we had readily available.

In the second quarter, seed and early-stage venture lost ground in relative terms, making up a smaller percent of total dollar volume than in any quarter since at least Q3 2013, the last for which records were available.

Private equity, on the other hand, is getting squeezed out because a certain class of venture capital firms are able to invest more capital into late-stage venture deals.

Venture capital shops — especially the well-established — are raising ever-larger funds at an increasing pace. Just as an example, three VC firms recently (Scale Venture PartnersIndex Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners) announced $4 billion in fresh powder across six new funds.

In part, this pivot to larger funds is a strategic countermeasure against SoftBank and its behemoth $100 billion Vision Fund. The fund routinely leads (sometimes as the sole investor) late-stage venture capital rounds sized in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In order to compete with SoftBank for the best deals, many VC firms are raising big new funds. Capital pools earmarked for late-stage deals are growing deeper. Sequoia Capital’s third Global Growth Fund is expected to top out at $8 billion, whereas its second (announced in June 2017) was a comparatively paltry $2 billion.

So is there an end in sight for all this late-stage largesse? For the time being, not really.


Source: Tech Crunch