Uber

Uber fires up its own traffic estimates to fuel demand beyond cars

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, GreenTech, JUMP, Logistics, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

If the whole map is red and it’s a short ride, maybe you’d prefer taking an Uber JUMP Bike instead of an UberX. Or at least if you do end up stuck bumper-to-bumper, the warning could make you less likely to get mad mid-ride and take it out on the driver’s rating.

This week TechCrunch spotted Uber overlaying blue, yellow, and red traffic condition bars on your route map before you hail. Responding to TechCrunch’s inquiry, Uber confirmed that traffic estimates have been quietly testing for riders on Android over the past few months and the pilot program recently expanded to a subset of iOS users. It’s already live for all drivers.

The congestion indicators are based on Uber’s own traffic information pulled from its historic trip data about 10 billion rides plus real-time data from its drivers’ phones, rather than estimates from Google that already power Uber’s maps.

If traffic estimates do roll out, they could make users more tolerant of longer ETAs and less likely to check a competing app since they’ll know their driver might take longer to pick them up because congestion is to blame rather than Uber’s algorithm. During the ride they might be more patient amidst the clogged streets.

Uber’s research into traffic in India

But most interestingly, seeing traffic conditions could help users choose when it’s time to take one of Uber’s non-car choices. They could sail past traffic in one of Uber’s new electric JUMP Bikes, or buy a public transportation ticket from inside Uber thanks to its new partnership with Masabi for access to New York’s MTA plus buses and trains in other cities. Cheaper and less labor intensive for Uber, these options make more sense to riders the more traffic there is. It’s to the company’s advantage to steer users towards the most satisfying mode of transportation, and traffic info could point them in the right direction.

Through a program called Uber Movement, the company began sharing its traffic data with city governments early last year. The goal was to give urban planners the proof they need to make their streets more efficient. Uber has long claimed that it can help reduce traffic by getting people into shared rides and eliminating circling in search of parking. But a new study showed that for each mile of personal driving Uber and Lyft eliminated, they added 2.8 miles of professional driving for an 180 percent increase in total traffic.

Uber is still learning whether users find traffic estimates helpful before it considers rolling them out permanently to everyone. Right now they only appear on unshared UberX, Black, XL, SUV, and Taxi routes before you hail to a small percentage of users. But Uber’s spokesperson verified that the company’s long-term goal is to be able to tell users that the cheapest way to get there is option X, the quickest is option Y, and the most comfortable is option Z. Traffic estimates are key to that. And now that it’s had so many cars on the road for so long, it has the signals necessary to predict which streets will be smooth and which will be jammed at a given hour.

For years, Uber called itself a logistics company, not a ride sharing company. Most people gave it a knowing wink. Every Silicon Valley company tries to trump up its importance by claiming to conquer a higher level of abstraction. But with advent of personal transportation modes like on-demand bikes and scooters, Uber is poised to earn the title by getting us from point A to point B however we prefer.

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With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion

Posted by | africa, alipay, Android, Bank, bank transfers, california, cellulant, ceo, Column, e-commerce, economy, ethiopia, Finance, kenya, M-Pesa, Mexico, mobile devices, mobile payment, money, Nigeria, Omidyar Network, online payments, p2p, PayPal, Philippines, Safaricom, San Francisco, Spotify, Sweden, Uber, vodafone, western union | No Comments
Jake Bright
Contributor

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

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for an international expansion with $10 million in funding let by the Global Innovation Fund. 

The company is planning to release its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa, according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he  said of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Founded in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally that’s already serving 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses. All of whom can drop into one of Paga’s 17,167 agents or transfer funds from one of Paga’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and Moneytrans and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Paga has also built out considerable scale in home market Nigeria—which boasts the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

That’s no small feat given the country straddles the challenges and opportunities of growing digital payments. Only recently did Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration break 50 percent and 40 percent of the country’s 196 million remain unbanked.

To bring more of Nigeria’s masses onto digital commerce, Paga recently launched a new money transfer-app that further simplifies the P2P payment process from mobile devices.

For nearly a decade, Kenya’s M-Pesa—which has 20 million active users and operates abroad—has dominated discussions of mobile money in Africa.

Paga and a growing field of operators are diversifying the continent’s payment playing field.

Fintech company Cellulant raised $47 million in 2019 on its business of processing $350 million in payment transactions across 33 African countries.

In Nigeria, payment infrastructure company Interswitch has expanded across borders and is pursuing an IPO. And Nigerian payment gateway startups Paystack and Flutterwave have digitized volumes of B2B transactions while gaining global investment.

So why does Paga—a Nigerian payments company—believe it can expand its digital payments business abroad?

“Why not us?,” said CEO Oviosu. “People sit in California and listen to Spotify that was developed in Sweden. And Uber started somewhere before going to different countries and figuring out local markets,” he added.

“The team behind this business has worked globally for some of the top tech names. This platform can stand shoulder to shoulder with any payments company built somewhere else,” he said.

On that platform, Oviosu underscores it has positioned itself as a partner, not a rival, to traditional banks. “Our ecosystem is not built to compete with you, it’s actually complimentary to you,” he said of the company’s positioning to big banks—enabling Paga to partner with seven banks in Nigeria.

Paga also sees potential to adapt its model to other regulatory and consumer environments. “We’ve built an infrastructure that rides across all mobile networks,” said Oviosu. “We’re not trying to be a bank. Paga wants to work with the banks and financial institutions to enable a billion people to access and use money,” he said.

As part of the $10 million round (which brings Paga’s total funding up to $35 million), Global Innovation Partners will take a board seat. Other round participants include Goodwell, Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, and Unreasonable Capital.

Paga will use the Series B2 to grow its core development team of 25 engineers across countries and continents. It will also continue its due diligence on global expansion—though no hard dates have been announced.

On revenues, Paga makes money on merchant payments, bank to bank transfers, and selling airtime and data. “As we roll out other services, we will build a model where we will make money on savings and lending,” said the company’s CEO.

As for profitability, Paga does not release financials, but reached profitability in 2018, according to Oviosu—something that was confirmed in the due diligence process with round investors.

On the possibility of beating Interswitch (or another venerable startup) to become Africa’s first big tech IPO, Oviosu plays that down. “For the next 3-5 years I see us staying private,” he said.

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The top 10 startups from Y Combinator’s Demo Day S18 Day 2

Posted by | 500 startups, accelerator, Android, Ant Financial, Facebook, General Catalyst, george church, instagram, Lyft, Novartis, qvc, Snap, Startups, TC, Uber, Y Combinator | No Comments

Fifty-nine startups took the stage at Y Combinator’s Demo Day 2, and among the highlights were a company that helps developers manage in-app subscriptions; a service that lets you create animojis from real photos; and a surplus medical equipment-reselling platform. Oh… and there was also a company that’s developed an entirely new kind of life form using e coli bacteria. So yeah, that’s happening.

Based on some investor buzz and what caught TechCrunch’s eye, these are our top picks from the second day of Y Combinator’s presentations.

You can find the full list of companies that presented on Day 1 here, and our top picks from Day 1 here. 

64-x

With a founding team including some of the leading luminaries in the field of biologically inspired engineering (including George Church, Pamela Silver and Jeffrey Way from Harvard’s Wyss Institute), 64-x is engineering organisms to function in otherwise inaccessible environments. Chief executive Alexis Rovner, herself a post-doctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, and chief operating officer Ryan Gallagher, a former BCG Consultant, are looking to commercialize research from the Institute around accelerating and expanding the ability to produce functionalized proteins and sequence-defined polymers with diverse chemistries. Basically they’ve engineered a new life form that they want to use for novel kinds of bio-manufacturing.

Why we liked it: These geniuses invented a new life form.

CB Therapeutics

Sher Butt, a former lab directory at Steep Hill, saw that cannabinoids were as close to a miracle cure for pain, epilepsy and other chronic conditions as medicine was going to get. But plant-based cannabinoids were costly and produced inconsistent results. Alongside Jacob Vogan, Butt realized that biosynthesizing cannabinoids would reduce production costs by a factor of 10 and boost production 24 times current yields. With a deep experience commercializing drugs for Novartis and as the founder of the cannabis testing company SB Labs, Butt and his technical co-founder are uniquely positioned to bring this new therapy to market.

Why we liked it: Using manufacturing processes to make industrial quantities of what looks like nature’s best painkiller at scale is not a bad idea.

RevenueCat

RevenueCat founders

RevenueCat helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions. It offers an API that developers can use to support in-app subscriptions on iOS and Android, which means they don’t have to worry about all the nuances, bugs and updates on each platform.

The API also allows developers to bring all the data about their subscription business together in one place. It might be on to something, though it isn’t clear how big that something is quite yet. The nine-month-old company says it’s currently seeing $350,000 in transaction volume every month; it’s making some undisclosed percentage of money off that amount.

Read more about RevenueCat here.

Why we liked it: Write code. Release app. Use RevenueCat. Get paid. That sounds like a good formula for a pretty compelling business.

Ajaib

Indonesia is a country in transition, with a growing class of individuals with assets to invest yet who, financially, don’t meet the bar set by many wealth managers. Enter Ajaib, a newly minted startup with the very bold ambition of becoming the “Ant Financial of wealth management for Indonesia.” Why the comparison? Because China was in the same boat not long ago — a  country whose middle class had little access to wealth management advice. With the founding of Ant Financial nearly four years ago, that changed. In fact, Ant now boasts more than 400 million users.

China is home to nearly 1.4 billion, compared with Indonesia, whose population of 261 million is tiny in comparison. Still, if its plans work out to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar managed, with an estimated $370 billion in savings in the country to chase after, it could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard if it gains some momentum.

Why we liked it: If Ajaib’s wealth management plans (to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar it manages) work out — and with a total market of $370 billion in savings in Indonesia — the company could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard.

Grin

The scooter craze is hitting Latin America and Grin is greasing the wheels. The Mexico City-based company was launched by co-founder Sergio Romo after he and his partner realized they weren’t going to be able to get a cut of the big “birds” on the scooter block in the U.S. (as Axios reported). Romo and his co-founder have already lined up a slew of investors for what may be the hottest new deal in Latin America. Backers include Sinai Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, 500 Startups, Monashees and Base10 Partners.

Why we liked it: Scooters are so 2018. But there’s a lot of money to be made in mobility, and as the challenge from Bird and Lime to Uber and Lyft in hyperlocal transit has revealed, there’s no dominant player that’s taken over the market… yet.

Emojer

Creating animated emojis made from real photos, Emojer just might be the most fun you can have with a camera. The company’s software uses deep learning algorithms to detect body parts and guides users in creating their own avatars with just a simple photo take from a mobile phone. It’s replacing deep Photoshop expertise and animation skills with a super simple interface. The avatars look very similar to Elf Yourself, a popular site that let you paste your friends’ faces on dancing Christmas elves goes viral every year at Christmastime. Founders have PhDs in machine learning and computer vision.

Why we liked it: As the company’s chief executive said, Snap was for sexting, and Facebook was hot or not, so who says the next big consumer platform couldn’t be the Trojan horse of easily generated selfiemojis (akin to Elf Yourself)?

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals is a public benefit corporation connecting doctors and patients with sources of low-cost, compounded pharmaceuticals. The company is looking to decrease barriers to entry for drugs for rare diseases. Three weeks ago the company introduced a drug to treat Wilson’s Disease. There was no access to the drug that treats the disease before in Brazil, India or Canada. It slashes the cost of drugs from $30,000 a month to $120 per month. The company estimates it has a total addressable market of $17 billion. “Generic drug pricing is a crisis, people are dying because they can’t get access to the medicine they need,” says chief executive Alex Oshmyansky. Osh’s might have a solution.

Why we liked it: Selling lower-cost medications for rare diseases in countries that previously hadn’t had access to them is a good business that’s good for the world.

Medinas Health

Tackling a $75 billion problem of healthcare waste, Medinas Health is giving hospitals an easy way to resell their used supplies. The company has already raised $1 million for its marketplace to help healthcare organizations buy and sell equipment. With a seed round led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures fund, the company is also working to lower costs for cash-strapped rural healthcare centers.

Why we liked it: Finding uses for hospital equipment that’s been lying fallow in corners is a big business. A $75 billion business if Medinas’ estimates are correct. Add helping cut costs for rural medical facilities and Medinas is a business we can get behind.

And Comfort

Plus-size women have limited clothing options even at the largest retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s. While a majority of American women fall into the plus-size clothing category, 100 million women are constrained to shopping for a very small percentage of options. And Comfort wants to solve the supply problem. To do this, the founders, two former Harvard classmates, are building a direct-to-consumer fashion brand with stylish, minimalist offerings for plus-size women, including tunic shirts and an apron dress. It’s very early days for the brand, but since launching in recent weeks, they’ve seen $25,000 in sales.

Why we liked it: This direct-to-consumer fashion brand is bringing higher quality, better-designed clothing options to a market that’s underserved and growing quickly. What’s not to like?

ShopWith

Influencers of the world are uniting on mobile app, ShopWith, which allows shoppers to browse virtual storefronts and aisles alongside their favorite fashion and beauty creators and YouTubers. Users can see exactly what products those influencers have featured and can buy them without ever leaving the app. It’s a free download and hours of commercially consumptive fun.

It’s like the QVC model, but for GenZ shoppers whose buying habits are influenced by social video content on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. The company revealed that one beauty influencer made $10,000 within five hours using the ShopWith platform. The founders are former product managers with experience building social commerce products at Facebook and Amazon.

Why we liked it: The QVC for GenZ not only has a nice ring to it, it’s a recipe for making cash registers hum. A mobile-first, influencer-based shopping company is something that we’d definitely not call an impulse purchase.

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New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

Posted by | Apps, bill de blasio, Lyft, Mobile, new york city, Policy, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

The New York City Council has approved legislation that will halt the issuing of new licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The stated goal of the policy is to give the city time to study the industry’s impact. During that time, ride-hailing companies would only be able to add new vehicles if they’re wheelchair accessible. The legislation also allows the city to set a minimum wage for drivers.

There were drivers demonstrating in favor of the bill package outside City Hall today, and the Independent Drivers Guild (which says it represents more than 60,000 drivers for ride-hailing apps in New York City) praised the decision.

“We hope this is the start of a more fair industry not only here in New York City, but all over the world,” said IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. in a statement. “We cannot allow the so-called ‘gig economy’ companies to exploit loopholes in the law in order to strip workers of their rights and protections.”

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, had asked their riders to oppose the legislation, saying that it would result in fewer drivers and less reliable service. They also suggested there were other ways to address the underlying issues, and in fact proposed creating a $100 million “hardship fund” for drivers as an alternative.

NYC drivers

Drivers demonstrating outside City Hall

In response to today’s news, Danielle Filson from Uber’s communications team provided the following statement:

The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion. We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded. In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with city and state leaders, including Speaker [Corey] Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.

The company plans to explore other strategies to keep up with demand. Those include recruiting drivers with licensed vehicles who aren’t currently working with Uber, or finding additional drivers who could drive licensed vehicles at times when they would otherwise be idle.

Lyft, meanwhile, sent this statement from its vice president of public policy Joseph Okpaku:

These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs. We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.

The New York Times reports that the cap will take effect as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the bill.

“Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio tweeted. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it.”

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MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

Posted by | africa, Android, Column, designer, east africa, Emmanuel Macron, France, Ghana, kenya, kobo360, Lagos, Nigeria, Proparco, Rwanda, senegal, sokowatch, Startups, Tanzania, Uber, Village Global, Y Combinator | No Comments
Jake Bright
Contributor

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

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya-based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers — such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble — by digitizing orders, delivery and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said.

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch — which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania — plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — which will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber -like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5,480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever and DHL.

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.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

·         CowryWise micro-savings service opens high-yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians


African Tech Around the Net

·         More Than Half of Sub-Saharan Africa to Be Connected to Mobile by 2025, Finds New GSMA Study
·         Ethiopia’s Gebeya acquires Coders4Africa to accelerate its growth
·         Rwanda, Andela partner to launch pan-African tech hub in Kigali
·         Google’s free public Wi-Fi initiative expanded to Africa
·         Accounteer wins 2018 MEST Entrepreneur challenge
·         SafeBoda completes expansion to Kenya, now live in Nairobi
·         Uganda government sued over social media tax

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Miles gives you reward miles for almost everything

Posted by | Android, Apps, ceo, customer relationship management, fontinalis partners, Gabe Klein, gas station, Gautam Gupta, iOS App Store, Jigar Shah, Keith Teare, loyalty program, Lyft, Marketing, miles, NatureBox, Porsche, Pricing, san jose, Silvercar, starbucks, Startups, TC, Uber, whole foods | No Comments

Reward miles are nice if you fly a lot but what if you bike or take Lyfts or just like to wander around town? A new app called Miles aims to give you rewards for all of those things, bringing the concept of rewards out of the air and onto the ground.

Miles, co-founded by Jigar Shah, Paresh Jain and Parin Shah, is a San Jose-based company that looked at the problem of reward miles outside of airlines as well as the problems associated with city planning and traffic data generation. The app, which is now in the iOS App Store, can see when you walk, ride a bike, take the bus, drive yourself, or even hop in a Lyft or an Uber. It then rewards you on a sliding scale depending on how eco-friendly your trip is. Biking, for example, is worth more than driving or even taking the bus.

“Mobility today is a universal behavior that goes largely unrewarded,” said Jigar Shah. “To date, travel rewards have been siloed and limited to one form of travel – with consumers facing exclusions when comes to earning and redeeming rewards. Miles solves for this gap in market by allowing anyone to earn rewards – simply by traveling and commuting how they do every day.”

What can you get with your miles? Just for signing up you can get 2,000 miles which is enough for a $5 Starbucks, Target, or Whole Foods gift card, among others. There are also “nearby” that bring up deals from merchants in your area but right now most of the deals are online. More miles gets you better deals.

“In contrast to rewards programs in the market today, Miles delivers value for every mile traveled, across every mode of travel, anywhere in the world. Whether by car (as a driver, passenger or rideshare), plane, train, subway, bus, boat, bicycle, or on foot, the Miles app effortlessly awards users’ travel – regardless of where their journey takes them. Miles can be saved or redeemed at any time – with the value increasing every month as more merchants accept them as a form of payment,” said Shah.

Because the app tracks your movement on multiple types of transport the Miles team foresees connecting with city governments to supply traffic and usage data for various forms of transport. Further, because miles can be redeemed locally, they could also increase foot traffic.

The company raised $3 million from Porsche Digital, Scrum Ventures, and others. Former TechCruncher Keith Teare also worked with the team on the raise.

Interestingly, the platform can also work to create predictive recommendations based on your position and past likes and dislikes.

“By leveraging the Miles’ predictive AI platform, business and brands can deliver value to customers by offering to meet their near future needs as they travel, such as when someone needs a meal, a fill-up at the gas station, or a ride,” wrote the team. “Annoying marketing can become true customer service by enabling hyper-targeted rewards related to immediate need. This not only leads to increased customer loyalty and repeat visits, but also increased sales.”

“We saw an opportunity to deliver more value to people as transportation continued to evolve,” said Shah.

Multiple city governments are looking to implement the technology locally and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority will “offer rewards as an incentive to promote alternative and sustainable mode of transportation through the Miles platform.” Seattle is next and maybe some day soon you’ll be earning miles for walking and driving in your home town. At least it will get us out of the house.

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Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Posted by | Apps, Lyft, Mobile, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

Uber is aiming to perfect the art of the pickup with three features it says minimize cancellations. Guaranteed pickup windows boost confidence that you’ll make your flight, and give you a credit of $10 if your scheduled ride is late. Pre-written messages let drivers and riders let each other know they’ll “Be right there” or “I’ve arrived” with a single tap.

And most flashily, three years after I suggested Uber let you hold up a colored screen so your driver could find you amidst a crowd of hailers, it’s introducing Spotlight. Each driver gets assigned a semi-unique color gradient to look for. Hit the Spotlight button, that color takes over your screen, and you can wave it to help your driver locate you. 

These optimizations show the depths Uber is willing to go to shave seconds off of pickups. That can reduce unpaid waiting time for drivers while boosting the number of rides they complete per hour for the startup. And the peace of mind that they’ll be able to hop in right when they’re ready could lure riders away from competitors as Uber dukes it out across the globe. The updates are rolling out on iOS and Android in the U.S. and Canada today.

“Human-to-human interaction is hard. Driver-initiated cancellations after the driver has arrived at the pickup point are particularly stressful,” Uber senior product manager for rider experience Ryan Yu tells me. But in tests of the new quick messages features, he said “We found cancellations on both sides reduced significantly, especially for drivers after they’ve arrived.”   

We can only hope this level of attention to detail will be applied to optimizing its internal company culture — a hope shaken by this month’s resignation of Uber’s head of HR Liane Hornsey after a probe into how she handled racial discrimination at the company, and the NYT’s report of insensitivity complaints about COO Barney Harford.

Uber has been steadily adding little improvements to the pickup process over the years. Here’s a quick, abridged list:

  • Incentivizing drivers to wait instead of cancelling by starting the meter after waiting at the pickup spot for more than 2 minutes
  • Live location sharing so riders can optionally let drivers see where they are as they seek the vehicle
  • Suggested pickup spots nearby where drivers can safely pull over, and avoid them looping around one way streets
  • Sequential pickups so you’re assigned the nearest driver, even if they’re still finishing their previous ride
  • Pickup location changing so you can choose a different spot nearby if you got the address wrong or are on the other side of the building

There are three upgrades in particular that serve as the foundation for today’s updates.

In-app chat between riders and drivers makes it so you don’t have to use SMS. Uber could only anonymize your number in some markets, creating privacy concerns, and SMS could be cost-prohibitive in some parts of the world. Uber messaging launched in mid-2017, and could be read aloud to the driver and replied to with a thumbs-up emoji to reduce the chance of distracted driving. Lyft still uses SMS for comparison.

Now both users and drivers will see the most common messages pre-written and sendable with the touch of a button so they don’t have to type. “Drivers noted that they were more reassured when their rider actually sent them a message,” said Yu, which can keep them from cancelling if the rider needs a little more time to get to the pickup spot. I asked if automatic translation would be available here, so if a driver in Brazil sent an American user “eu cheguei,” it’d show up as “I have arrived.” Yu told me “Translations are on the road map. We’re figuring out how to best pair them alongside voice.”

Uber added scheduled rides in mid-2016 shortly after Lyft did the same. You can plan a ride up to 30 days in advance, but you’re still subject to surge pricing in the moment. At least now you’ll get $10 credit if the driver is late. Unfortunately, the pickup window Uber showed me in the demo was 15 minutes, though Yu said it may very by region. I sometimes only make my flights by 10 minutes, and since my pickup ETA in San Francisco is typically only 3 to 5 minutes, I’m probably better off just booking the ride when I’m ready.

Uber’s Beacon and Lyft’s Amp are color-coded dashboard lights that help riders find their driver

Back in 2015, I suggested that “Uber could offer some signal on the driver or passenger’s phone to help them find each other.” A week later it announced it would start testing Spot, which let users pick a color that would light up on an LED bar installed on driver’s windshields. In November 2016, Lyft launched its Amp dashboard light that assigned a random color riders could look out for. A month later, Uber’s Spot had evolved into the dashboard Beacon light that lets users pick the color and is now available in 14 cities.

Today’s update gives riders a light too, which is great if you’re one of dozens of people waiting outside a concert or sports game trying to find their Uber. Hit the Spotlight button, and you’ll get instructions to wave your colored screen in the air. Drivers are permanently assigned a color that stays constant across trips so they can train themselves to look out for it.

“Spotlight is meant to supplement Beacon. Not all drivers will have a Beacon, and we want to pass that to two-way communication,” says Yu. But since the Beacon dashboard lights are always visible, Uber says that if a driver has one, users won’t see the Spotlight option and will instead just be able to choose the Beacon’s color.

Together, these features should eliminate most pickup problems. We’ll see if Uber’s competitors and international partners like Didi adopt them too. After retreating from markets like China in exchange for a percentage of ownership of the local leader, there’s more pressure on Uber to squash its homeland competitor Lyft, which has been gaining market share. Yet neither has offered an oft-requested feature some users would even be willing to pay an extra dollar for: a “quiet ride” where the driver doesn’t make small talk.

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Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Ola, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, uber india | No Comments

“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t.

The result is Uber Lite.

It’s launching today in India before rolling out to more countries, though there’s still a waitlist form instead of a download link. The Android app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India on sluggish 2G networks. And by streamlining the design and only showing maps by request, it won’t burn much data for users on a budget.

Uber needs to score growth in developing markets after retreating while cutting deals with local winner like Didi in China, Grab in Southeast Asia, and a forthcoming arrangement with Yandex in Russia. India’s Ola rideshare service already has a ‘Lite” app that’s just 1 megabyte and a 45% share of the taxi market, compared to Uber’s 35%. Uber has reported has talked with Ola about a possible merger in India, sources have told TechCrunch and others. With the country making up 10% of Uber’s rides, it’s a market it can’t forfeit.

To reach its full potential, Uber has to start out-competing homegrown competitors. Success with Uber Lite could give it leverage with Ola and path to gaining more of it around the world.

“We know we’re not just a U.S. company, we’re a global company. Not only have we built this for the world, it was built in India” Deng tells me. Deng came to Uber in March 2017 after 10 years at Facebook’s various companies. It was early to the “Lite” idea, with its shrunken app reaching over 200 million users. 

But Deng says Uber Lite didn’t come from stripping down the main app, but building it up from scratch. “The team has traveled to markets around the world to do in home interviews to understand the needs of the customers.”

Compared to the 181 megabyte standard version, Uber Lite is a lot easier for low-storage phones to handle. Uber Lite launches not to a map or a text entry box, but instead a suggested nearby business or landmark based on your GPS. “You have to do less typing and can do more tapping” Deng explains. It also tries to guess your destination based on pre-cached popular city spots. You can input addresses, but Uber Lite won’t load a data-heavy map unless you purposefully grab for it. ‘Tap for map’.

Same goes for your driver’s ETA. After you’ve selected your vehicle type and hailed, you’ll just get a countdown to their arrival unless you tap to see them on their way. Payment for now is cash only. But soon Uber plans to add India’s popular Paytm payment platform and credit card options. It’s also still lacking notifications, which seem worth the data. More languages will come too.

Uber wouldn’t explain how, but it also revealed that it plans to offer offline hailing, possibly through some peer-to-peer Bluetooth mesh network or other technology. One other interesting test its running in India lets users punch in a code found at a bus stop to instantly hail a ride there. Another lets older or less phone savvy users phone in to an accessibility team that can hail a ride for them. It’s already offered web bookings. “The whole charter is to allow everyone around the world to experience Uber” Deng says.

What Uber wouldn’t skip in v1 was the in-app support and a way to share your ETA with loved ones so they can watch out for you. “We knew how important safety was in these markets. I’m really proud we took additional steps to empathize” Deng says.

The company is clearly trying to put the darker moments of its past behind it. While cynics might take the compassion talk as just lip service like the company’s big apology ad campaign, it’s also the reason some tech talent has stayed at or joined Uber. If the company is going to be unavoidable, making it secure and accessible is a pretty good reason to wake up in the morning.

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Uber lets you rate mid-ride before you forget feedback

Posted by | Apps, Health, Mobile, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

“Last year was pretty hard, I’m not gonna lie,” says Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider experience. But as part of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s push to rebrand Uber around safety, Deng says, “we’ve seen the company shift to more listening.”

That focus on hearing users’ concerns prompted today’s change. Have a bad Uber ride when you’re busy and you might neglect to rate the driver or accidentally rush through giving them 5 stars. Forcing users to wait until a ride ends to provide feedback deprives them of a sense of control, while decreasing the number of accurate data points Uber has to optimize its service.

I had just this experience last month, leading me to tweet that Uber should let us rate trips mid-ride:

Uber & Lyft could let us rate drivers mid-ride, but only apply the ratings 5 minutes after a ride ends in case something goes better/worse before the end of the trip.

— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) April 25, 2018

Uber apparently felt similarly, so it’s making an update. Starting today, Uber users can rate their trip mid-ride, providing a star rating with categorized and written feedback, plus a compliment or tip at any time instead of having to wait for the trip to end. “Every day 15 million people take a ride on Uber. If you can capture incrementally more and better feedback . . . we’re going to use that feedback to make the service better,” says Deng. Lyft still won’t let you rate until a ride is over.

Specifically, the data will be used to “recognize top-quality drivers . . . through a new program launching in June,” Uber tells me. “We’re going to be celebrating the drivers that provide really awesome service,” Deng says, though he declined to say whether that celebration will include financial rewards, access to extra driver perks or just a pat on the back.

But Uber will also now use the feedback options that appear when you give a less-than-perfect rating to tune the technology on its back end. So that way, if you say that the pickup was the issue, it might be classified as a “PLE – pickup location error,” and that data gets routed to the team that improves exactly where drivers are told to scoop you up. To ensure there’s no tension between you and the driver, Uber won’t share your feedback with them anonymously until the ride ends.

I asked if reminding users to buckle their seat belts would be in that Safety Center and Uber tells me it’s now planning to add info about buckling up. It’s been a personal quest of mine to dispel the myth that professionally driven vehicles are invulnerable to accidents. That idea, propagated by heavy-duty Ford Crown Victoria yellow cabs piloted by life-long drivers in cities they know doesn’t hold up, given Ubers are often lightweight hybrids often operating in places less familiar to the driver. 

The launch follows the unveiling of Uber’s new in-app Safety Center last month that gives users access to insurance info, riding tips and an emergency 911 button. After a year of culture and legal issues, Uber needs to recruit users who deleted it or check an alternative first when they need transportation.

Enhanced safety and feedback could earn their respect. As competition for ride sharing heats up around the world, all the apps will be seeking ways to differentiate. They’re already battling for faster pick-ups and better routing algorithms. But helping riders feel like their complaints are heard and addressed could start to work some dents out of Uber’s public image.

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Review: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Posted by | Android, Ann Arbor, Apple, applink, automotive, automotive industry, detroit, Disney, Ford, land rover, Lincoln Navigator, michigan, navigator, radio disney, smartphone, TC, Uber, waze | No Comments

Michigan saw a historic amount of snowfall in 2018. And it’s not done. It’s snowing as I write this and it snowed nearly every day since I took delivery of this burgundy 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Excuse the dirty car shown in the photos. That’s life in the Midwest: half the year it’s impossible to keep cars clean of salt and grime and, to me, that’s the best time to review a vehicle. I’m happy to report the new Navigator is a comfortable refuge from the snowy winter.

I spent a week in the 2018 Navigator running from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor to Detroit. I filled up the 23-gallon tank enough to know to take it easy on the lively 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is luxurious and confident — but thirsty.

This is a luxury SUV. It’s not a sport truck and it’s not high-tech paradise, though it can play the part of both. The new Navigator was clearly built to be as comfortable as possible, and along the way Lincoln constructed one of the best luxury SUVs on the market.

Review

Winter hit Michigan hard this year and I found the ditch in my 2012 Dodge Durango R/T several times. It started snowing in December and didn’t stop until halfway through March. I grew up in Michigan and still live in the state. Driving in snow doesn’t bother me, though jumping into an unfamiliar vehicle and navigating snow-covered roads can be challenging. But not in this Navigator. I found it handles snow and slush and ice without an issue.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a full-size SUV. It sits as high as a Ford F-150 and tends to lumber about as such. The ride is confident and stable. There’s little sway on tight expressway ramps and the automatic four-wheel drive quickly activates when a tire starts to spin.

This Navigator isn’t a sport truck, but it gets up and goes thanks to Ford’s fantastic 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This six-cylinder twin-turbo kit has found its way into nearly every full-size platform Ford offers. The Navigator is gifted with an updated version of the engine and it offers ample power across its range. The 3.5L surprises in this massive luxury SUV. It’s lively and powerful and more than enough to make the ride comfortable. During my time with the truck, I never felt at a loss of power, though I tried.

The engine is key to the Navigator’s appeal on several levels. First, 3.5L V6 offers decent fuel economy if driven conservatively while offering a decent bit of excitement if driven with that intent. Second, it allows Lincoln to say the Navigator is able to tow 600 lbs more than the Cadillac Escalade, which features a massive 6.2L V8. While both vehicles can ably pull a pontoon, the Lincoln does so with 510 lb.-ft of torque over Cadillac’s 460 — though without a boat of my own, I’m unable to confirm if the difference is felt in the real world.

The steering is light and responsive, though it’s impossible to forget this is a massive vehicle. It drives like a truck — though not your grandfather’s work truck. The driver sits in a commanding position that makes for good visibility. The vehicle’s suspension lets it cruise over rough roads and most bumps are absorbed. It’s a big SUV and there’s a fair amount of body roll on on-ramps. Parking isn’t an issue. There are plenty of cameras positioned around the vehicle to help maneuver this land yacht.

The interior of the new Navigator stuns. Wood, leather and chrome adorn the surfaces and walks close to the line of bling. It begs the confirmation that it ultimately comes from an American automaker. Take the badging off the interior and it could easily be mistaken as a luxury European SUV — though this Navigator is bigger than anything offered across the pond.

It’s roomy inside. Storage is abundant but cleverly hidden so as not to look like a minivan. There’s plenty of leg room for second-row passengers while the third row is surprisingly roomy.

The seats are something special. Sure, they’re comfortable and supportive like any found in high-end SUVs. It’s their design that sets them apart. The cushions jet out from a large back support making them look more like an Eames lounger than an overstuffed leather recliner. The design is a stark departure from most automotive seats, and I’m a fan.

The back seats are not nearly as comfortable. They’re supportive and offer several seating positions. In this tester, the rear seat is equipped with a center console that sports a small LCD screen that displays the media currently playing. The kids love it and I’m sure Uber passengers would too. As a parent to two kids, I found it annoying to cede control of the radio to the backseat. Thankfully there’s a button above the climate controls that disables the backseat controls, because I can only listen to Radio Disney for so long.

Tech

There’s an LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. It’s large enough to be usable though not distracting. The best part? The screen doesn’t show fingerprints. There’s clearly a coating over the screen that somehow, magically, makes fingerprints invisible. Glare doesn’t seem to be an issue, though, as previously mentioned, it’s been snowing for a week and I haven’t seen the sun at all during my testing.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is equipped with a Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system. The automaker rolled out this system with 2016 models and it’s a massive improvement over previous Sync versions. It’s not the best infotainment system available, but it’s good enough. Vehicle functions and controls are in logical places and Ford’s AppLink system offers support for some third-party apps now, including Waze .

Android Auto and CarPlay are also available when used with compatible devices. I’ve grown to avoid these systems and prefer to stick with most systems developed by automakers. I was initially a fan of CarPlay, but Apple has yet to advance the platform, and now several years after its launch, it feels dated and unusable.

The Navigator’s smartphone app is clever. Need to put in navigation info? With the Lincoln Way app, drivers can input a destination on their smartphone app before they get into the vehicle and send those directions to the Navigator. It’s much easier than entering the destination through the in-vehicle system. The app also lets drivers start the car, order roadside assistance or service and locate the car.

Competition

This new Navigator is in a class of its own. The Cadillac Escalade’s interior is vastly inferior, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is dated and much less roomy. The Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser have better off-road chops, but the platform is over 10 years old and it shows. Land Rover’s SUVs are more expensive and its three-row models are much smaller and less powerful than the Navigator, though new models are coming out soon.

There simply isn’t a more luxurious, roomy six- or seven-passenger vehicle available than the new Navigator.

I’m in the market for a new vehicle and recently test drove several used 2017 Lincoln Navigators. It’s a nice truck, but lacks the wow factor of the 2018 Navigator. Where past models were clearly a rebadged Ford, complete with similar plastic trim and equipment, the new Navigator is a fresh departure from its Ford counterpart, the Expedition. Similarities between the two models still exist, though they’re less pronounced, with the Lincoln clearly getting the nod toward luxury.

The Navigator of today is much better than the Navigator of yesterday. Lincoln improved the Navigator in nearly every way. The ride, the comfort, the technology. Everything is better, and that’s impressive and must be noted.

The Navigator is 25 years old this year. It was one of the first American-made luxury SUVs, but it has nearly always been overshadowed by the Escalade — and for good reason. The Escalade has always offered more everything than the Navigator. But not anymore.

The new Navigator sets the bar. It’s luxurious. It’s powerful. The Navigator is wonderful.

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