Uber to resume autonomous vehicle testing months after fatal accident

Uber has been granted permission by the state of Pennsylvania to reinstate tests of its autonomous vehicles, as first reported by Reuters.

A spokesperson for Uber confirmed to TechCrunch that the ride-hailing giant received a letter of authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and clarified that the company has not yet resumed self-driving operations.

Uber halted testing of its self-driving cars following a fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona this March that left a pedestrian dead. An autonomous Uber SUV accompanied by a safety driver was driving northbound when it struck a woman, who was taken to the hospital where she later died as a result of her injuries.

Investigators later determined the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, had looked down at a phone 204 times during a 43-minute test drive, according to a 318-page police report released by the Tempe Police Department.

In the aftermath of the accident, Uber paused all of its AV testing operations in Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Moving forward, Uber will test its self-driving cars more cautiously, per a recently released Uber safety report. The company will require that two employees are in the front seat of its cars at all times, that an automatic braking system is enabled and that its safety employees are more strictly monitored.

Uber, which first began developing its autonomous vehicle fleet in 2015 and initiated tests the following year, confidentially filed for an initial public offering two weeks ago. The company, currently valued at $72 billion, is expected to debut at a valuation as high as $120 billion early next year.

Lightspeed is raising its largest China fund yet

Lightspeed China Partners, the China-focused affiliate of Silicon Valley-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, has set a $360 million target for its fourth flagship venture fund, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today.

If the target is reached, the fund will be Lightspeed China’s largest yet, per PitchBook. Lightspeed China’s previous two funds each closed on $260 million. The VC raised $168 million for its debut China-focused fund in 2013.

Lightspeed China is led by David Mi (pictured). Mi, an investor in multiple billion-dollar Chinese companies, was previously the director of corporate development at Google, where he helped lead the search giant’s investment in Baidu. He joined Lightspeed in 2008 and established the firm’s China presence in 2011. Yan Han, a long-time Lightspeed investor and co-founder of the Chinese branch, is also listed on the filing.

Lightspeed China has backed e-commerce platform Pingduoduo and loan provider Rong360, a pair of Chinese “unicorns” that both completed U.S. initial public offerings since 2017. Typically, the firm makes early-stage investments in the internet, mobile and enterprise spaces. 

Earlier this year, Lightspeed Venture Partners filed to raise a record $1.8 billion in new capital commitments. This month, it tacked five new partners onto its consumer and enterprise investment teams, including Slack’s former head of growth and Twitter’s former vice president of global business development.

Lightspeed didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A former Ofo exec is launching his own scooter startup

The funding extravaganza may be approaching its end for scooter “unicorns” Lime and Bird, but smaller startups in the micro-mobility space have continued to close venture capital rounds at a consistent pace. See Grin, Tier and Yellow for examples.

The latest is Dott, a European scooter startup founded by Maxim Romain, Ofo’s former head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Romain joined Ofo, a Chinese bike- and scooter-sharing company that raised more than $1 billion in venture capital funding but has struggled to scale overseas, in 2018 to help it expand. He only lasted seven months before realizing he could do it better himself.

“Why work for a Chinese company when we can do it ourselves in Europe where we better understand the market?” Romain told TechCrunch. 

Dott, headquartered in Amsterdam, has raised €20 million in a round co-led by EQT Ventures and Naspers. Axel Springer Digital Ventures, DN Capital, Felix Capital and others also joined. Dott is using the capital to launch in several cities across Europe, beginning with an early 2019 e-scooter pilot at Station F, a startup campus located in Paris. Additional launches are in the pipeline, as are electric bikes.

As a result of its learnings from Ofo, Bird and Lime, all of which have struggled to keep their equipment out of disadvantageous spots, like trees, lakes and garbage cans, Dott says it’s built sturdier scooters. They have 10” wheels, wider decks, a double brake system for safety, a speed cap at 20km/h and apparently are able to hold a charge longer than competing scooters — though we couldn’t independently verify this.

Dott says it’s taking a friendlier approach to launching in new cities, again, unlike some of its predecessors. If you remember, Bird showed up in a number of cities without permission — a move that resulted in it being denied a permit to operate in San Francisco. Dott will hire local teams to collaborate with city officials to develop pilot plans tailored to each market and it won’t rely on gig economy workers to recharge, clean and maintain scooters. Instead, it will hire and train a team of Dott employees dedicated to maintenance in each city.

“I think a lot of the companies grow too fast in the sense that they don’t necessarily have the product that can enable them to be profitable but because they want to win the race,” Romain said. “They want to raise as much money as possible as quick as possible and to deploy scooters as quick as possible. This creates an environment for them where their unit economics are extremely bad.”

“That’s exactly what we saw with bike-sharing in China. In the end, the reality of the unit economics came back to bite them. It’s a risk. Lime and Bird are doing a lot to improve their hardware but it’s a risk for the industry. For us, we are taking the view that we really need to focus on the product so we have the right unit economics and we can be sustainable. If you want to make it happen, you have to make it happen in a sustainable way.”

Distinguished VCs back wholesale marketplace Faire with $100M at a $535M valuation

A slew of venture capitalists known for high-profile exits — Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital and Alex Taussig of Lightspeed Venture Partners — have invested in Faire (formerly known as Indigo Fair), a 2-year-old wholesale marketplace for artisanal products.

A quick glance at Faire suggests it’s a combination of Pinterest and Etsy, complete with trendy, pastel stationery, soap, baby products and more, all made by independent artisans and sold to retailers. Faire has today announced a $100 million fundraise across two financing rounds: a $40 million Series B led by Taussig at Lightspeed and a $60 million Series C led by Y Combinator’s Continuity fund. New investors Founders Fund, the venture firm founded by Peter Thiel, and DST Global also participated. The business has previously brought in a total of $16 million.

The latest financing values Faire at $535 million, according to a source familiar with the deal.

If you’re feeling a little bit of déjà vu, that’s because a similar startup also raised a sizeable round of venture capital funding, announced today. That’s Minted . The 10-year-old company, best known for its wide assortment of wedding invitations and stationery, raised $208 million led by Permira, with participation from T. Rowe Price. Though Minted is first and foremost a consumer-facing marketplace, it plans to double down on its wholesale business with its latest infusion of capital, setting it up to be among Faire’s biggest competitors.

Like Minted, Faire leverages artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to forecast which products will fly off its virtual shelves in order to to source and manage inventory as efficiently as possible. The approach appears to be working; Faire says it has 15,000 retailers actively purchasing from its platform — a 3,140 percent year-over-year increase. It’s garnered $100 million in run rate sales and has expanded its community of artists 445 percent YoY, to 2,000.

The company, headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Ontario and Waterloo, was founded by three former Square employees: chief executive officer Max Rhodes, who was product manager on a variety of strategic initiatives, including Square Capital and Square Cash; chief data officer Daniele Perito, who led risk and security for Square Cash; and chief technology officer Marcelo Cortes, a former engineering lead for Square Cash.

“Our mission at Faire is to empower entrepreneurs to chase their dreams,” Rhodes wrote in a blog post this morning. “We believe entrepreneurship is a calling. Starting a business provides a level of autonomy and fulfillment that’s become difficult to find for many elsewhere in the economy. With this in mind, we built Faire to help entrepreneurs on both sides of our marketplace succeed.”

Instacart and Amazon-owned Whole Foods are parting ways

Instacart has announced this morning it will no longer be doing business with Whole Foods, a U.S. organic grocery chain the company launched a partnership with in 2014. This comes roughly one year after Amazon closed its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods; Amazon, of course, has its own grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh.

Currently, Instacart has 1,415 in-store shoppers, or paid Instacart couriers, at 76 Whole Foods locations. 243 of those couriers exclusively deliver groceries from Whole Foods and, as a result, will no longer be able to make Instacart deliveries beginning February 10, when the company officially winds down its partnership. Instacart says they have already placed 75 percent of those workers to new roles, though 25 percent, or about 60 workers, have been laid off.

Instacart added that 75 percent of the 1,415 total shoppers, or 1,016 people, are also expected to be placed in new stores, meaning layoffs could surpass 350.

A person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that significant developments over the last 18 months forced Instacart to wind down our relationship earlier than planned. Whole Foods didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Whole Foods will fully exit the Instacart marketplace, which allows shoppers to order from more than 300 retailers, including Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club, in 2019.

In a blog post this morning, Instacart founder and chief executive officer Apoorva Mehta (pictured) said the company will be offering transfer bonuses to all current Whole Foods couriers being transitioned to new stores. As for those being laid off as part of the dissolution of the partnership, Instacart will provide a minimum of 3-months separation package based on maximum monthly pay in 2018.

Instacart pays 70,000 people to shop for its costumers. The 1,415 affected by the news may seem like a small fraction, but its bad news for the business, which has likely been bracing for this since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos signed the Whole Foods check in 2017.

VCs, however, seem to be confident in Instacart’s ability to compete with Amazon. The company raised $600 million at a $7.6 billion valuation in October, just six months after it brought in a $150 million round and roughly eight months after a $200 million financing that valued the business at $4.2 billion.

Huawei CFO accused of fraud is granted $7.5M bail

The Canadian government has granted bail to Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, 10 days after her arrest in Vancouver. The decision concludes a three-day court hearing in which the judge and the public prosecutor debated whether Wanzhou would breach her bail conditions.

Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has been accused of fraud with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. She was arrested by Canadian officials at the request of the U.S. government on December 1 while changing planes on her way to Mexico. As part of her bail conditions, the court has ordered her to pay C$10 million — about $7.5 million — and await U.S. extradition from her Vancouver home. According to reports, Wanzhou must relinquish her passport, wear an ankle bracelet and remain at home between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Wanzhou misled American financial institutions and allowed an unofficial Huawei subsidiary, called SkyCom, to do business in Iran despite U.S. sanctions.

Huawei didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

With $15M, The Riveter plans to open 100 new female-focused co-working spaces

In a disappointing year for female-founded startups — at least those looking to raise venture capital — The Riveter not only closed its first institutional funding round, but it’s today announcing a $15 million Series A funding, bringing its total backing to $20.5 million.

The Seattle-based co-working startup, led by co-founder and chief executive Amy Nelson (pictured), has raised the capital from lead investor Alpha Edison, with support from Madrona Venture Group, New America president and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter, fashion designer Liz Lange and TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie .

As of November, startups founded by all-female teams had closed 391 deals worth $2.3 billion, an increase from the $2 billion invested in 2017, though still just 2.2 percent of all VC invested this year.

Nelson, an advocate for female entrepreneurs who’s spoken publicly about women’s struggles in the workplace, the difficulties of launching a business in a man’s world and raising venture dollars as a solo female founder, started The Riveter in 2016 after a decade-long career as a lawyer. Today, the startup operates five locations in the U.S., with ambitious plans to open another 100 female-focused co-working spaces by 2022.

“I want The Riveter to be the place people think of when they think of women and work,” Nelson told TechCrunch.

The Riveter has 2,000 members throughout its locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Wash. and Los Angeles. Its expansion plans include new spots in Texas, Colorado and Portland.

The spaces are built with women in mind but are not exclusive to one gender. Nelson tells us The Riveter’s membership is 25 percent male, setting it apart from spaces like The Wing, which is only available to female-identifying people.

A look inside one of The Riveter’s Seattle co-working spaces

“I don’t think the future is female, I think the future is fluid,” she said. “Gender is becoming an outdated idea but at the same time, it’s important to think of women when we build these spaces … There is a lot of value to women’s only spaces but our take on it is we want to redefine the future of work for women and we want everyone to be part of it.”

The Riveter provides space to work and collaborate; a digital network, currently in beta, for its members to connect; and programming ranging from office hours with venture capitalists to “self-care Saturday.”

Other investors in the startup include Brilliant Ventures, The Helm and X Factor Ventures.

Report: Morgan Stanley lands coveted Uber IPO role

Uber has reportedly picked Morgan Stanley to lead its upcoming initial public offering, news of which became public last week when the ride-hailing giant filed confidentially with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO expected in the first quarter of 2019.

Uber’s choice, first reported by Bloomberg, comes after a months-long bidding war, of sorts, between Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. The pair of investment banks presented IPO plans to Uber this fall, in hopes of landing the top underwriting spot in what will be one of the largest stock market debuts to date. Morgan Stanley, having won the battle, can expect to receive a large portion of the fees that come with an IPO.

We’ve reached out to Uber and Morgan Stanley for comment.

Michael Grimes, managing director of global technology for Morgan Stanley, speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.

Uber’s pick isn’t too surprising; rumors pointing to Morgan Stanley have floated the tech ecosystem for months. Morgan Stanley’s head of technology investment banking Michael Grimes, the lead underwriter on Facebook’s initial public offering, resorted to gimmicks to ensure his spot in Uber’s IPO. According to The Wall Street Journal, Grimes moonlighted as an Uber driver for years to demonstrate his loyalty.

Both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are investors in Uber. Morgan Stanley participated in Uber’s Series G funding in 2016 and Goldman Sachs has been a backer for years, investing in the company as early as 2011.

Uber was most recently valued at $72 billion and is expected to garner a valuation as high as $120 billion upon its stock market debut. Lyft, its key competitor in the U.S., also recently filed to go public. It has picked JPMorgan Chase & Co. as the lead underwriter of its offering, per reports, which is also expected as early as Q1 2019. People familiar with the company’s IPO plans said its valuation will exceed the $15.1 billion it was valued at earlier this year.

Dallas-based TXV Partners targets $50M for its debut fund

Marcus Stroud and Brandon Allen met six years ago as roommates at Princeton University. The pair bonded over a common interest and a shared dream: to be venture capitalists.

“We were at a lecture and there were a couple VCs on campus speaking,” 25-year-old Stroud told TechCrunch. “Being a kid from a small town in Texas, Princeton was already a huge culture shock, but hearing about a world of VC, investment banking and private equity just really intrigued me.”

In 2016, Stroud and Allen graduated. Stroud, a former linebacker on the Princeton football team, went off to Wall Street where he was a fixed income analyst, and then to Austin, where he joined the alternative asset manager Vida Capital to learn the ins and outs of investing. Twenty-four-old Allen, meanwhile, clocked in about two years as a consultant.

It didn’t take long for the aspiring VCs to find their way back to each other to finally start on the project they had discussed in their dorm room. Over the last several months, Allen and Stroud have been quietly building a Dallas-based venture firm called TXV Partners . Their lofty target: $50 million, which would be the largest fund ever for an all-black line-up of general partners, an especially notable feat given Allen and Stroud are located in a market largely ignored by the storied VC firms of Silicon Valley.

TXV co-founder and general partner Marcus Stroud

Building the next great VC hub

Stroud and Allen plan to spend the $50 million on millennials. That is, millennial-friendly startups in the consumer, fintech and blockchain verticals, of which they’ll provide between $500,000 and $3 million in equity funding. So far, they’ve invested in one company, an Austin-based blockchain music platform called Matter Music.

Thanks to Stroud’s time on Princeton’s football team and his father, who is a former NFL player, TXV has tapped some athletic talent to support the fund and its portfolio companies. Former NFL player and Northgate Capital managing director Brent Jones is a mentor, and the firm’s advisors include athletes-turned-investors Torii Hunter and Steve Wisniewski, a former professional baseball player and NFL player, respectively.

A rapid transit train (DART) with the skyline of Dallas, Texas in the background

Allen is leading the firm’s Dallas office and Stroud is scouting full-time for startups in Austin, which is already a well-known source of tech talent.

“We wanted to be part of the next great VC hub,” Allen told TechCrunch. “We felt like it made sense and we felt comfortable in Texas. The thought of moving to San Francisco was out of reach for us. Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like.”

With large universities feeding the talent pool, Texas has the potential but has yet to fully emerge as a force to be reckoned with for technology investors, even with the buzz surrounding Austin’s rising startup ecosystem. So far this year, companies headquartered in Texas have raised roughly $2.5 billion, on par with levels seen in the state in recent years, according to PitchBook. California startups, for context, have raised more than $50 billion this year.

Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like. TXV co-founder Brandon Allen

In Austin this year, startups have pulled in $1.4 billion, just north of the $1.3 billion in total capital commitments in 2017. Dallas startups, for their part, have raised just $600 million across 87 deals. Deal count in Dallas actually looks to be dropping, hitting 173 in 2013, 143 in 2016 and falling down to 106 last year, but localized funds like TXV’s may help push the city’s tech scene forward.

‘For Texans, for African Americans and for millennials’

Stroud and Allen are not only first-time general partners of what may become a multi-million-dollar VC fund, but they’re also two African Americans in a field dominated by white men. For them, it’s high stakes and failure is not an option.

VC is known for its lack of diversity. Indeed, 81 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor, according to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. Roughly 50 percent of black investors in the industry are at the associate level, or the lowest level at a firm, and only 2 percent of VC partners are black.

Base10 Partners’ $137 million fund, announced in September, is the largest black-led VC fund to date, but only one of the two general partners are black. Based in San Francisco, Base10 is run by two veteran investors with a well-established network in the Bay Area. The challenges for TXV are much larger, and the barriers may be much tougher to overcome.

“We’re young, black and in Texas,” Allen added. “We’re trying to do it differently. We wanted to really see if we can redefine the VC model from the bottom up. It’s important for Texans, for African Americans and for millennials.”

Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud want to bring more diversity to venture capital

Allen was raised in New England and Stroud in Prosper, Texas, a small town outside of Dallas. Neither of them comes from wealth, as many Stanford-educated Silicon Valley elite do. They’ll have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into TXV, but if they succeed — and even if they don’t — they’ll have helped paint a new archetype for VCs.

“African Americans aren’t that well represented on either side of the table as an investor or a startup founder,” Stroud said. “I think, if anything, that doesn’t discourage us, it just makes us feel proud and empowered that we have an opportunity to help cultivate a fund that is majority minority-led. It’s something that fires me up.”

Uber files confidentially for IPO

Two days after Lyft submitted paperwork to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an early 2019 initial public offering, Uber has done the same, per The Wall Street Journal.

The company filed confidentially for an IPO on Friday, marking the beginning of a race for the two ride-hailing giants to the stock markets.

Uber’s most recent private market valuation was a whopping $72 billion, though the nearly 10-year-old business reportedly expects Wall Street to value it at as much as $120 billion in what will easily be one of the most highly-anticipated IPOs of the decade.

Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick, Uber has raised a total of nearly $20 billion in a combination of debt and equity funding, according to PitchBook. SoftBank alone has invested billions in the company to become its largest shareholder. Uber’s other key backers are Toyota, which invested $500 million just a few months ago, as well as late-stage investors T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and TPG Growth.

First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital and others stand to earn big from Uber’s exit — all were participants in some of the company’s earliest venture capital rounds.

The filing comes slightly earlier than expected. Uber’s current chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi previously said he expected the company to complete an IPO in mid-2019 but today’s news puts Uber on pace to debut in the first quarter of next year.

“[Uber] has all the disadvantage of being a public company, with the spotlight on us, with none of the advantages,” Khosrowshahi said on stage at the New York Times’ Dealbook conference in 2017.

Uber shared its third quarter financial results recently, with net losses up 32 percent quarter-over-quarter to $939 million on a pro forma basis. On an earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) basis, Uber’s losses were $527 million, up about 21 percent QoQ. The company said revenue was up five percent QoQ at $2.95 billion and up 38 percent increase year-over-year.

It appears Uber’s IPO timeline was pushed forward following reports of Lyft’s confidential IPO paperwork. Lyft, Uber’s largest competitor in the U.S., will likely take the plunge in the first quarter of 2019, too. The company was most recently valued at about $15 billion. Its IPO will be underwritten by JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse Jeffries.

2019 will be a fascinating year for unicorn exits with a separate report out today that Slack is also prepping its IPO and has hired Goldman Sachs to underwrite its offering. Lyft, Uber and Slack alone are worth an aggregate valuation of $94 billion, which means 2019 will undoubtedly bring some much-needed liquidity to a slew of tech investors.