It takes a lot more than a good idea and the right timing to build a billion-dollar company. Talent, focus, operational effectiveness and a healthy dose of luck are all components of a successful tech startup. Many of the most successful (or, at least, highest-valued) tech unicorns today didn’t get there alone.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) can be a major growth vector for rapidly scaling, highly valued technology companies. It’s a topic that we’ve covered off and on since the very first post on Crunchbase News in March 2017. Nearly two years later, we wanted to revisit that first post because things move quickly, and there is a new crop of companies in the unicorn spotlight these days. Which ones are the most active in the M&A market these days?
The most acquisitive U.S. unicorns today
Before displaying the U.S. unicorns with the most acquisitions to date, we first have to answer the question, “What is a unicorn?” The term is generally applied to venture-backed technology companies that have earned a valuation of $1 billion or more. Crunchbase tracks these companies in its Unicorns hub. The original definition of the term, first applied in a VC setting by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures back in late 2011, specifies that unicorns were founded in or after 2003, following the first tech bubble. That’s the working definition we’ll be using here.
In the chart below, we display the number of known acquisitions made by U.S.-based unicorns that haven’t gone public or gotten acquired (yet). Keep in mind this is based on a snapshot of Crunchbase data, so the numbers and ranking may have changed by the time you read this. To maintain legibility and a reasonable size, we cut off the chart at companies that made seven or more acquisitions.
As one would expect, these rankings are somewhat different from the one we did two years ago. Several companies counted back in early March 2017 have since graduated to public markets or have been acquired.
Which companies are still in the top ranks? Travel accommodations marketplace giant Airbnb jumped from number four to claim Dropbox’s vacancy as the most acquisitive private U.S. unicorn in the market. Airbnb made six more acquisitions since March 2017, most recently Danish event space and meeting venue marketplace Gaest.com. The still-pending deal was announced in January 2019.
WordPress developer and hosting company Automattic is still ranked number two. Automattic href=”https://www.crunchbase.com/acquisition/automattic-acquires-atavist–912abccd”>acquired one more company — digital publication platform Atavist — since we last profiled unicorn M&A. Open-source software containerization company Docker, photo-sharing and search site Pinterest, enterprise social media management company Sprinklr and venture-backed media company Vox Media remain, as well.
The We Company (the holding entity for WeWork) has made 10 acquisitions over the past two years. Earlier this month, The We Company bought Euclid, a company that analyzes physical space utilization and tracks visitors using Wi-Fi fingerprinting. Other buyouts include Meetup (a story broken by Crunchbase News in November 2017) reportedly for $200 million. Also in late 2017, The We Company acquired coding and design training program Flatiron School, giving the company a permanent tenant in some of its commercial spaces.
In its bid to solidify its position as the dominant consumer cryptocurrency player, Coinbase has been on quite the M&A tear lately. The company recently announced its plans to acquire Neutrino, a blockchain analytics and intelligence platform company based in Italy. As we covered, Coinbase likely made the deal to improve its compliance efforts. In January, Coinbase acquired data analysis company Blockspring, also for an undisclosed sum. The crypto company’s other most notable deal to date was its April 2018 buyout of the bitcoin mining hardware turned cryptocurrency micro-transaction platform Earn.com, which Coinbase acquired for $120 million.
And finally, there’s Lyft, the more exclusively U.S.-focused ride-hailing and transportation service company. Lyft has made 10 known acquisitions since it was founded in 2012. Its latest M&A deal was urban bike service Motivate, which Lyft acquired in June 2018. Lyft’s principal rival, Uber, has acquired six companies at the time of writing. Uber bought a bike company of its own, JUMP Bikes, at a price of $200 million, a couple of months prior to Lyft’s Motivate purchase. Here too, the Lyft-Uber rivalry manifests in structural sameness. Fierce competition drove Uber and Lyft to raise money in lock-step with one another, and drove M&A strategy as well.
What to take away
With long-term business success, it’s often a chicken-and-egg question. Is a company successful because of the startups it bought along the way? Or did it buy companies because it was successful and had an opening to expand? Oftentimes, it’s a little of both.
The unicorn companies that dominate the private funding landscape today (if not in the number of deals, then in dollar volume for sure) continue to raise money in the name of growth. Growth can come the old-fashioned way, by establishing a market position and expanding it. Or, in the name of rapid scaling and ostensibly maximizing investor returns, M&A provides a lateral route into new markets or a way to further entrench the status quo. We’ll see how that strategy pays off when these companies eventually find the exit door .
The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.
The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.
Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.
Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.
Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.
Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.
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Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.
According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.
Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.
Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”
If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.
Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, has closed a $300 million Series D round as it seeks expansion across Asia. In doing so, the company has officially entered the unicorn club.
Founded in 2013 by Stanford graduate Shing Chow, Lalamove provides logistics and delivery services in a similar style to ride-hailing apps like Uber but it is primarily focused on business and corporate customers. That gives it more favorable economics and a more loyal customer base than its consumer-focused peers, who face discount wars to woo fickle consumers.
This new round is split into two, Lalamove said, with Hillhouse Capital leading the ‘D1’ tranche and Sequoia China heading up the ‘D2’ portion. The company didn’t reveal the size of the two pieces of the round. Other investors that took part included new backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital — the firm founded by Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures .
The deal takes Lalamove to over $460 million raised to date, and it follows a $100 million Series C that closed in late 2017. Lalamove isn’t disclosing a valuation but Blake Larson, the company’s head of international, told TechCrunch that it has been “past unicorn mark for quite some time [but] we just don’t talk about it.” That figures given the size of the round and the fact that Lalamove was just shy of the $1 billion mark for that Series C.
The Lalamove business is anchored in China where it covers over 130 cities with a network of over two million drivers covering vans, cars and motorbikes.
“If we do this well, then we are in countries that are more than half the world’s population,” Larsen said in an interview, although he didn’t rule out the potential for Lalamove to expand beyond Asia in the future.
There are also plans to grow the business in mainland China in terms of both geography and new services. Already, Lalamove has begun to offer driver services, starting with financing packages to help drivers with vehicle purchasing, and it is developing dedicated corporate offerings, too.
Lalamove CEO Shing Chow started Lalamove in late 2013, his past roles have included time with Bain & Company, a number of startup ventures — including a Hong Kong-based skin center — and a stint as a professional poker player
Overall, the business claims to have registered 3 million drivers to date and served more than 28 million users across all cities. With its headquarters in Hong Kong, it employs some 4,000 people across its business.
Rival GoGoVan exited through a merger with China-based 58 Suyun in 2017, at a claimed valuation of $1 billion, but Lalamove has remained independent and stuck to its guns. Larson said that already it is profitable in “a significant amount” of cities and typically, he said, the blueprint is to reach profitability within two years of opening a new location.
“The focus has always been on sustainable growth and we’re very strong on the cash flow front,” the former Rocket Internet executive added.
Larson and Lalamove have been very forthcoming in their desire to go public in Hong Kong, noting so publicly as early as 2017 at a TechCrunch China event in Shenzhen. That desire is still evident — “we’re very proud to be from Hong Kong and Hong Kong would be a good place for an IPO,” Larson said this week — but still the company said that it has no particular plan on the cards, despite its consumer-focused peers Uber and Lyft lining up IPOs in the U.S. this year.
“We don’t spend maybe even five minutes a year talking about it,” Larsen told TechCrunch. “The discussion is really ‘Let’s make sure we’re IPO ready’ because sometimes there are macroeconomic conditions you can’t control.”
Clearly, investors are bullish and it is notable that Lalamove’s new round comes at a time when many Chinese companies are downsizing their staff, with the likes of Didi, Meituan and JD.com announcing cuts and refocusing strategies in recent weeks.
“[Lalamove CEO and founder] Shing is a role model for Hong Kong’s new generation of innovative entrepreneurs,” said Sequoia China founder and managing partner Neil Shen. “Raised in Hong Kong and educated at Stanford University, Shing returned and plunged himself in the entrepreneurial wave of ‘Internet Plus,’ becoming a figure of entrepreneurial success.”
Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. This is the second edition and seriously people, what happened this week? Too much. Too much!
Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming).
Off we go … vroom.
There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.
This week, we’ve got some insider info on Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing firm. China-based TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao learned from sources that Didi plans to lay off 15 percent of its employees, or about 2,000 people this year. CEO Cheng Wei made the announcement during an internal meeting Friday morning.
Didi’s troubles with regulators and its backlash from two high-profile passenger murders last year don’t exist in a vacuum. Their struggles are in line with what is happening in the ride-hailing industry, particularly in more mature markets where the novelty has worn off and cities have woken up.
For companies like Didi, Uber, Lyft and other emerging players, this means more resources (capital and people) spent working with cities as well as looking for ways to diversify their businesses. All the while, they must still plug away at the nagging problems of reducing costs and keeping drivers and riders.
Just look at Uber. As Megan Rose Dickey reports, Uber’s stiff losses continued in the fourth quarter. The upshot: Its losses can be attributed to increased competition and significant investment in bigger bets like micro mobility and Elevate. And apparently legal fees. Uber, The Verge reports, sued NYC on Friday to overturn a law that caps drivers.
This week, TechCrunch editor Devin Coldewey digs into the development of a system that can estimate not just where a pedestrian is headed, but their pose and gait too.
The University of Michigan, well known for its efforts in self-driving car tech, has been working on an improved algorithm for predicting the movements of pedestrians.
These algorithms can be as simple as identifying a human and seeing how many pixels move over a few frames, then extrapolating from there. But naturally, human movement is a bit more complex than that. Few companies advertise the exact level of detail with which they resolve human shapes and movement. This level of granularity seems beyond what we’ve seen.
UM’s new system uses LiDar and stereo camera systems to estimate not just the trajectory of a person, but their pose and gait. Pose can indicate whether a person is looking towards or away from the car, or using a cane, or stooped over a phone; gait indicates speed and intention.
Is someone glancing over their shoulder? Maybe they’re going to turn around, or walk into traffic. This additional data helps a system predict motion and makes for a more complete set of navigation plans and contingencies.
Importantly, it performs well with only a handful of frames to work with — perhaps comprising a single step and swing of the arm. That’s enough to make a prediction that beats simpler models handily, a critical measure of performance as one cannot assume that a pedestrian will be visible for any more than a few frames between obstructions.
Not too much can be done with this noisy, little-studied data right now, but perceiving and cataloguing it is the first step to making it an integral part of an AV’s vision system.
— Devin Coldewey
A little bird …
We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.
Every big funding round has an origin story — that magic moment when planets align and a capitally-flush investor gazes across a room at just the right time and spots the perfect company in need of funds and guidance.
One of this week’s biggest deals — see below — was the $940 million that Softbank Vision Fund invested in autonomous delivery robot Nuro. How (and when) Nuro met Softbank is almost as big a story as the funding round itself. OK, well maybe not AS BIG. But interesting, nonetheless.
It turns out that Cruise, the self-driving unit of GM, was in early talks with Nuro, but the parties couldn’t quite meet in the middle, people familiar with the deal told me. Sources wouldn’t elaborate whether Cruise was seeking to acquire Nuro or take a minority stake in the company.
It all worked out in the end, though. The folks at Cruise introduced Nuro to Softbank. That means Cruise and Nuro now share the same investor. Softbank agreed in May 2018 to invest $2.25 billion in GM Cruise Holdings LLC.
Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
First Nuro. Michael Ronen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, and the same person who was a big part of its investment in Cruise, told TechCrunch that the winners in this market will need to address a diverse mix of technological questions. In his view, that’s Nuro.
“Nuro has built a team of brilliant problem solvers whose combined backgrounds in robotics, machine learning, autonomous driving and consumer electronics give them a compelling advantage,” Ronen said.
Amazon’s investment in Rivian is important, particularly when you step back and take a more holistic and historic view. Consider this: The logistics giant stealthily acquired an urban delivery robot startup called Dispatch in 2017 (a discovery Mark Harris made and reported for us last week). Amazon showed off the fruit of that acquisition — its own delivery robot Scout — in January 2018.
Last week, self-driving vehicle startup Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B funding round led by Sequoia and with “significant” investments from Amazon and T. Rowe Price. Now, Amazon is backing Rivian.
Based on the deals that we know about, Amazon’s hands are now deep into autonomous delivery, self-driving vehicle software and electric vehicles. Let that sink in.
WiTricity acquired some IP assets from Qualcomm that gives the company more than 1,500 patents and patent applications related to wireless charging. Qualcomm Inc. is now a minority WiTricity shareholder.
Sure, TechCrunch focuses on startups. Why auto loans? Because auto loan data can be one of the canaries in the coal mine that is the automotive industry and on a larger scale, the economy. And, delinquency rates ripple through the rest of the transportation world, affecting public transit and ride-hailing too.
The New York Federal Reserve this week released a collection of economic data, including auto loans, which have been climbing since 2011. Auto loans increased by $9 billion this year, a figure boosted by historically strong levels of newly originated loans that will put 2018 in the record books. There were $584 billion in new auto loans and leases appearing on credit reports in 2018, the highest level in the 19-year history of the loan origination data.
The flow into 90+ day delinquency for auto loan balances has been slowly trending upward since 2012
Serious delinquency of auto loans held by borrowers under 30 years old between 2014 and 2016 rose (see chart)
Rising overall delinquency rates remain below 2010 peak levels. However, there were more than 7 million Americans with auto loans that were 90 or more days delinquent at the end of 2018
Tiny but mighty micro mobility
It was a bit quiet on the micro-mobility front this week, but here’s what jumped out. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco denied Lime’s appeal to operate electric scooters in the city. This is the same decision the city landed on pertaining to both Uber’s Jump and Ford’s Spin appeals. On the bright side for these companies, there may be hope for them to deploy scooters during phase two of the city’s pilot program, which starts in April.
Also in the SF Bay Area, Lyft donated $700,000 to TransForm, an organization focused on improving access to transportation in underserved areas throughout California. In partnership with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Lyft and TransForm will invest in a free bike library and community “parklets” in Oakland, Calif.
Meanwhile, over in Tel Aviv, Lime deployed its electric scooters, joining electric scooter startup Bird. Lime also reportedly plans to deploy its scooters throughout the country of Israel. Next up will be cities in the Gush Dan region.
We read corporate updates to terms of service in our spare time. And this week, Skip sent out an update that included an interesting nugget. It reads:
We’ve updated specific provisions on camera footage. We’ve updated and made more clear that our scooters may be equipped with video camera equipment which we may use to help ensure that our scooters are used properly and in accordance with laws, rules, regulations and policies, to protect against crimes such as theft and vandalism, to help us determine if scooters are being used properly at speeds, locations and on surfaces that are proper and allowed as well as to improve our Services.
In December, Skip unveiled two new scooters — one with a rear-facing camera. The company tested 200 of these scooter in Washington, D.C. (and later rolled out to San Francisco) to monitor whether people were riding on the sidewalk and generally riding safely. At the time, Skip said it wasn’t sure what it would do with the data collected from the cameras.
In other words, Skip’s cameras are on. How they intend to use that data — whether via a warning to the rider, a message after the ride is complete, or remotely slowing the scooter down, isn’t clear.
One startup that is poised to capture this new market of scooter accountability is Fantasmo. The augmented reality mapping startup has a new scooter positioning camera that captures video and then matches that against a map to reliably identify how the scooter is being used. Fantasmo’s camera system is not being used by Skip.
If you’re waiting for the big autonomous vehicle disengagement hot take story from me, you’ll be waiting for awhile. Let me explain.
This week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released the “disengagement reports” of autonomous vehicle companies with permits to test on public roads in the state. These reports are meant to track each time a self-driving vehicle disengages out of autonomous mode. There are 48 companies that issued reports, which when you combine all the data, drove more than 2 million miles on public roads in autonomous mode between December 2017 and November 2018. That’s a four-fold increase from the year before.
Companies that receive AV testing permits in California, which are issued by the DMV, are required to submit these annually. It’s not that these reports are worthless. They are useful to determine if a company is ramping up its testing on public roads, adding more AVs to its fleet, helpful for spotting trends like ‘why did disengagements suddenly end?’ or to determine if a company is even testing anymore.
And I’ve discovered some interesting information that will become bigger stories or end up as footnotes in the world of AVs. (For instance, Faraday Future says it will begin testing on public roads late this year).
But disengagement reports are not a meaningful way to make comparisons on how companies stack up against each other. Why? Because it’s not an “apples-to-apples” comparison for one, companies report the data in different ways and there is no transparency into the specifics of when and where each disengagement occurred.
Another problem is the miles-per-disengagement figure that we (the media) typically focus on. This data isn’t super useful on its own. This shouldn’t be treated like a report card. As one engineer told me once, you learn only from occasions in which the system does, or wants to do, something different from a good human. The smart AV companies will take the disengagement data and combine it with other information taken from simulation and other forms of offline testing.
The “miles per disengagement” data point doesn’t start to mean anything on its own until a company reaches the validation phase, which is when miles driven are the truest representation of naturalistic driving in the domain and application of interest. How many are at this point? I’m hearing one or two.
Testing and deployments
Much of the talk and marketing materials around flying cars, or eVTOLs, focuses on well-dressed business folks standing on top of skyscrapers, preparing to be whisked away — up and over the terrible traffic below. Other startups have focused on last-mile delivery. But what about long-distance cargo delivery to remote and urban areas?
Elroy Air is one company that is working on this problem. The San Francisco-based startup has been developing an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing cargo transport system that can operate outside of airport infrastructure and carry up to 500 pounds of cargo over 300 miles. Elroy Air just closed a $9.2 million round that included investors Catapult Ventures, Levitate Capital, Lemnos, Precursor Ventures, Haystack, Shasta Ventures, Homebrew, 122West, Amplify Partners, Hemisphere Ventures, the E14 Fund and DiamondStream Partners.
The company said this week it will begin testing its unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing drone for commercial deliveries — called the Chaparral — this year and launch a commercial shipping service in 2020.
These vehicles will be monitored by trained operators at all times during the testing phase, the company said.
On our radar
Let’s not forget that people are using buses and trains everyday. Not in a year. Not in 10. Right now. These transit systems, many of which need expensive upgrades, carry millions of people every day. One of the more interesting examples of the challenges with transit is the L train shutdown in New York.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to repair a subway tunnel under the East River and initially had planned to shut down the entire tunnel for 15 months, starting in late April. The L train carries 275,000 people between Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, the effected section, every day.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intervened and now there’s a new plan, which involves running trains through one tunnel tube while repairs are carried out in the other tube. The NYT has the back story.
There’s an upcoming “L Train Shutdown” event this month in Brooklyn that we’re keeping an eye on. URBAN-X, the startup accelerator backed by automotive brand MINI, is hosting a discussion on the future of the L-train and alternative modes of transport. Some interesting folks will be participating, including Lime’s chief program officer Scott Kubly. The event will be held 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Feb. 19 at A/D/O, 29 Norman Ave, Brooklyn, NY.
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Did you blow enough money on Uber to get Diamond status? A lot of users are finding out tonight as Uber rolls out its rider loyalty Rewards program to San Francisco and a slew of other cities. The feature calculates how much you’ve spent on Uber and Uber Eats in the last six months awards you perks like no-fee cancellations if you rebook, guaranteed prices between your two favorite spots, and free car upgrades. Uber confirms to TechCrunch that Rewards will roll out to the entire US soon but now is available in 25 places across the country.
Uber Rewards is still a bit complicated to be easy enough for everyone to quickly understand, but it does a could job of offering powerful perks and a way for everyone to earn $5 rebates. The program could discourage users from checking other ride hailing apps if their Uber’s ETA or price seems too high.
Meanwhile, Lyft’s loyalty program remains unseen. The competitor tried to steal the spotlight by announcing its own rewards system just two days before Uber, yet it seems like that was vaporware as it still hasn’t launched. Uber was far from first here, as Southeast Asia’s Grab has had rewards since 2016. But Uber could flex its deep pockets and cultural cache here by using slick product design to differentiate itself in a crowded market of lookalikes.
Luckily, almost everything in Uber Rewards happens automatically. All you have to do is look out for the invitation to join at the bottom of the home screen and activate it. You’ll then see your tier and the associated perks that you’ll get to keep for the next six months.
The only non-retroactive perk is the $5 credits you get for each 500 points you earn going forward. You get 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. The one perk you have to configure yourself is if you’re platinum, you’ll have to choose which route to get price protection for. You probably want to pick your home and your most frequent destination or one of reasonable distance that you often travel to or from during rush hour.
Uber Rewards is now available in Boston, Dallas, Orange County, Houston, New Orleans, Kansas City, Indianapolis, LA, SF, Fort Collins, Rockies, Pittsburgh, Lehigh valley, Gettysburg, Erie, and Western Massachusetts. That’s on top of the launch cities of Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, and anywhere in New Jersey. Once Uber has nailed the experience in the US, it plans to roll it out to international locales.
The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.
Gold: Flexible cancellations
Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.
Platinum: Price protection
At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.
Diamond: Premium support & upgrades
At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.