Uber’s complex relationship with diversity

Since Dara Khosrowshahi came to Uber as CEO about a year ago, there has certainly been less drama, but drama remains. Over the last few months, there were reports of Uber COO Barney Harford making insensitive comments about women and racial minorities, as well as Uber’s now-former Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey making denigrating comments toward Uber’s global diversity and inclusion lead Bernard Coleman and Bozoma Saint John, the chief brand officer who left in June.

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF earlier this month, I sat down with both Khosrowshahi and Uber’s new, first-ever Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee, who joined in March. Believe it or not, there are still bad actors at the company, so Uber still has work to do. What surprised me, however, was Khosrowshahi’s defense of Harford, not only saying that he’s “an incredible person” but that he’s also “one of the good people” as it relates to diversity and inclusion.

“This is an issue that everyone is fighting, and I will tell you Barney takes it personally,” Khosrowshahi told me. “And he is a champion and he will be a champion as it relates to these matters. He’s one of the good people.”

Lee, when I asked her if she agreed with Khosrowshahi, said at Disrupt, “absolutely, 100 percent.” Lee, on a call ahead of Disrupt, described the importance of internal diversity champions who find ways to bake diversity and inclusion into their everyday workflow. Onstage, Lee described how she had been aware of the allegations against Harford and had already been working with him around inclusion. In fact, she said, Harford had reached out to her, admitting that he knew there’s a lot to learn and that he’d like for her to help him.

Harford also wrote, in Khosrowshahi’s words, “a really heartfelt apology letter to the company,” but it’s still hard for me to get on board with the idea that Harford is one of the “good” ones. This is not to say people can’t be imperfect and can’t change — an idea Khosrowshahi made quite clear, and one that I generally believe as well — but I would just hope that there are some better “good” ones out there.

“I don’t think that a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to report by large news organizations should mark a person,” Khosrowshahi said. “I don’t think that’s fair. And I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive and you take that as a learning moment. And the question is, does a person want to change, does a person wants to improve? Does a person understand when they did something wrong, and then change behaviors? And I’ve known Barney for years and that’s why I stand 100 percent behind him.”

Khosrowshahi described how he’s also made mistakes, and how that doesn’t mean he should be marked by those mistakes. He went on to describe how at his last job, Expedia, he would usually grab a beer with “one of the guys and, because I was comfortable because it was you know, a person who looked like me, a person with whom I could be more casual and I could have a conversation.”

He added how these people got “access to me that was not fair, and that could have shown up in a New York Times article and that could have marked me,” he said. “That’s not who I am. You know, I learned, I corrected, I’m aware. And the question is, what do you do?”

A new chief in town

During my conversation with Khosrowshahi, we also chatted about the hiring of Lee as CDO, as opposed to promoting Coleman, and the fact that she doesn’t report directly to the CEO — despite the suggestions of former Attorney General Eric Holder. Though, it’s worth noting those suggestions were directed toward now-former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi said Lee is the right person for the job and he thinks it’ll become clear that she is the right person for the job. Regarding why Lee doesn’t report directly to Khosrowshahi and instead, to a yet-to-be-hired new chief people officer, he said, “diversity and inclusion have to be a core part of everything that the company does, has to be a core part of your people strategy.”

“And I want Bo and my chief people officer working together fundamentally not just on the diversity of the company, but also on the core culture,” he added. “Like, we’re really trying to shift the culture of the company going forward. So Bo is going to report into our chief people officer. And she and I more than monthly, are constantly having exchanges on how things are going. And I think that’s the optimal structure, which is open — open communication with me working directly with the CEO but part of the core strategy of the company because I do think that this is one of the things that we have to execute on.”

In conversation with Lee, she spoke about the task she has at hand, as well as some strategies she has implemented, and plans to implement in order to get Uber to where it needs to be. One of those initiatives involves creating a pipeline around Uber drivers, which consists of a couple million people around the world. Lee described to me how it would be “amazing to create a pipeline to hire some of those driver partners,” whether into customer service, community operations or “maybe there’s great tech talent in there that we don’t even know about.”

That’s an area where Lee is working with recruiters to better identify ways to source that talent. Lee is also working on ensuring Uber’s new cultural norms actually get baked into the company. Last November, Khosrowshahi introduced Uber’s new cultural norms, which include values like “We build globally, we live locally” and “We do the right thing. Period.” Before, Uber’s values were indisputably much more aggressive.

“You can put out new cultural norms, you can put out new cultural values but it’s not until those values are built into our systems, our performance management, our organizational design — the way that we even think about product design, you’re not going to see the full manifestation of it,” Lee said. “And as an organization is going through culture change, that can be very unmooring for people and that can actually make people feel very psychologically unsafe. And what I find at Uber right now is a lot of people who are trying to — within this culture that is shifting, that is changing for the better — trying to find their footing somewhere along those lines.”

Part of what’s hard right now, she said, is getting Uber employees to the point where they “feel like they can trust that the system will work.” Regarding the allegations about Harford, Lee said that she was aware of them and looking into them, but didn’t resolve them by the time the NYT piece came out.

“But I would say that when the news did break in that public way, I was, more than anything, just really sad about this because what it told me was that we still have a culture where people aren’t sure they can trust that things are going to get fixed and things are going to get done,” she said. “And so they felt that they needed to go outside to find remediation for some of that.”

Lee also told me, ahead of Disrupt, that she’s exploring the idea of what fewer levels of hierarchy at the company would look like.

“It’s hard to speculate what the changes would look like,” she said. “I ideally would love to see the number of levels possibly changing. More importantly, what I would love to see beyond levels, is the power distance between those levels decline.”

Twitch hires head of diversity and inclusion

Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming platform, has brought on its first head of diversity and inclusion, as well as a new chief financial officer and chief human resources officer.

Katrina Jones, who will start next month as Twitch’s head of diversity and inclusion, is the former head of diversity at Vimeo. At Vimeo, Jones created the company’s diversity strategy, and worked on disrupting bias and fostering inclusion.

Meanwhile, Michelle Weaver and Sudarshana Rangachary are coming on board as CFO and CHRO, respectively.

From the diversity and inclusion front, Twitch has a history of struggling. The platform itself, for example, was called out in 2015 for being mostly white and male.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Twitch hosted a panel at its annual convention dubbed “Diversify Twitch.” That didn’t turn out very well for Twitch, as its African-American panelists were subjected to racism, insults and slurs. Just last year, Twitch hosted a site-wide “holiday” to celebrate diversity and inclusion on its streams, chats, apps and community.

Nima launches food sensor to detect peanuts

I’m deathly allergic to nuts, so I felt super excited when I heard about the Nima peanut sensor. I’ve ended up in the emergency room numerous times because there were nuts in something I thought did not contain nuts. With Nima, I could’ve tested those specific foods before consumption and probably avoided a trip to the ER.

Nima, a TechCrunch Battlefield alum, is gearing up to launch a peanut sensor, its second product, on September 12. The sensor is able to detect even the tiniest trace (10 parts per million) of peanut protein. To use Nima, you insert the food into a disposable test capsule, which goes into the device to figure out if there’s any peanut protein in the food. In under five minutes, the Nima sensor will tell you if your food is peanut-free.

The device connects to your phone via Bluetooth to enable the app to show your testing history, records of all the packaged foods yo’ve tried and a map of restaurants that Nima has tested for peanuts. To be clear, this sensor is just for peanuts. It does not test for all nuts, but Nima founder Shireen Yates told me the plan is to enable testing for additional nuts in the future.

The idea with Nima is not to suddenly ditch your Epi-Pen, an epinephrine shot designed to treat anaphylactic allergic reactions, but to provide one extra way to be confident about what you’re eating before you eat it. Based on two rounds of internal testing, Nima says there is a 97.6 percent accuracy rate.

Nima retails for $229 while the sensor plus 12 test capsules retails at $289. Nima launched its first product tested for gluten sensitivity. Check out the video at the top to learn more about Nima.

Housing startup Bungalow raises $14 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures

Moving to a new city can be tough for a number of reasons, but what’s arguably hardest about moving is a competitive and expensive housing market, and lack of a pre-existing social support network. That’s the problem startup Bungalow is trying to solve.

Bungalow, which just raised a $14 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with participation from Founders Fund, Atomic VC, Cherubic Ventures and Wing Ventures, offers people relatively affordable places to live with others who have been vetted by Bungalow’s platform. As part of the round, Keith Rabois of Khosla will join Bungalow’s board of directors. Bungalow also raised a $50 million debt facility to fuel its home growth costs. Bungalow had previously raised a $7 million seed round.

Bungalow, which joins the likes of WeLive, OpenDoor, Common, Roam and so many others, aims to be cheaper than getting your own studio or one-bedroom apartment, and offer a better experience than finding a roommate via Craigslist. Bungalow works with homeowners to lease their homes as the master tenant for three years at time. From there, Bungalow rents out the property on a room-by-room basis while guaranteeing occupancy to the homeowners.

“There aren’t as many families that are looking for these four, five, six-bedroom homes and so the incremental additional cost for those additional bedrooms is not commensurate with the individual rate at which we can lease out those individual bedrooms,” Bungalow co-founder and CEO Andrew Collins told me. “And so we were able to therefore basically create value out of that and then with scale that margin that we’re able to create within those given homes in an incredibly profitable and exciting coupling.”

For the renter, Bungalow says it’s about 30-40 percent cheaper than a studio. Depending on the market, of course, the prices can vary. Bungalow also furnishes shared common spaces, provides utilities, Wi-Fi and housekeeping in the monthly rental cost. In addition to what’s provided inside the space, Bungalow hosts monthly events for members in its properties to meet each other within a given market.

Bungalow currently operates 200 properties across seven markets, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. In total, there are 750 people residing in a Bungalow-leased property. All residents first must go through credit and background checks, as well as interviews with any existing residents before moving in. But that process can happen very fast, the company said. Some people have moved in same-day, but on average people look about 10 to 20 days ahead of when they’re trying to move.

While Bungalow’s current model is leasing assets from homeowners, it’s set up to operate any type of asset, Collins said, whether that’s a joint-venture or independently owned by Bungalow. Within the next six to 12 months, Bungalow is looking to launch in up to 12 new markets in the U.S. Next year, Bungalow hopes to expand its offering outside of the U.S.

Tesla whistleblower tweets photos of allegedly damaged batteries

Martin Tripp, the former Tesla employee who was fired from Tesla and then sued by the company, has tweeted a number of photos that allegedly show damaged batteries and flawed practices at Tesla’s battery factory, CNBC first reported.

In an attempt to corroborate some of his claims, Tripp has posted photos of vehicle identification numbers that he says were delivered with faulty, punctured battery cells.

“As we’ve said before, these claims are false and Mr. Tripp does not even have personal knowledge about the safety claims that he is making,” a Tesla spokesperson told TechCrunch via email. “No punctured cells have ever been used in any Model 3 vehicles in any way, and all VINs that have been identified have safe batteries. Notably, there have been zero battery safety issues in any Model 3.”

In one tweet, Tripp shows what he alleges is proof that Tesla stores waste and scraps in open parking lots and trucks at the Gigafactory, instead of properly storing them in temperature-controlled warehouses.

Tesla sued Tripp in June for $1 million alleging he leaked information with the intent to sabotage Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk. Tripp then filed a formal whistleblower tip to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging the company has misled investors and put customers at risk.

Check out TechCrunch’s coverage of the Tripp versus Tesla saga below.

Bird and Lime are protesting Santa Monica’s electric scooter recommendations

Lime and Bird are protesting recommendations in Santa Monica, Calif. that would prevent the electric scooter companies from operating in the Southern California city. We first saw the news over on Curbed LA, which reported both Lime and Bird are temporarily halting their services in Santa Monica.

Last week, Santa Monica’s shared mobility device selection committee recommended the city move forward with Lyft and Uber-owned Jump as the two exclusive scooter operators in the city during the upcoming 16-month pilot program. The committee ranked Lyft and Jump highest due to their experience in the transportation space, staffing strategy, commitments to diversity and equity, fleet maintenance strategies and other elements. Similarly, the committee recommended both Lyft and Jump as bike-share providers in the city.

Now, both Bird and Lime are asking their respective riders to speak out against the recommendations. Bird, which first launched in Santa Monica, has also emailed riders, asking them to tell the city council that they want to Bird to stay.

“In a closed-door meeting, a small city-appointed selection committee decided to recommend banning Bird from your city beginning in September,” Bird wrote in an email. “This group inexplicably scored companies with no experience ever operating shared e-scooters higher than Bird who invented this model right here in Santa Monica.”

Bird goes on to throw shade at Uber and Lyft — neither of which have operated electric scooter services before. That shade is entirely fair, but one could argue both Uber and Lyft already have so much experience operating transportation services within cities and would be better equipped to run an electric scooter service than a newer company.

In addition to asking people to contact their city officials, Bird is hosting a rally later today at Santa Monica City hall. But given that most of these electric scooters are manufactured by the same provider and that the services are essentially the same, I’d be surprised if there’s much brand loyalty. Over in San Francisco, I personally miss having electric scooters but I really don’t give a rat’s pajamas which services receive permits. That’s just to say, we’ll see if these efforts are effective.

I’ve reached out to both Lime and Bird and will update this story if I hear back.

Electric scooters are going worldwide

Despite regulatory hurdles on a city-by-city basis, electric scooter companies and their respective services are continuing to make their way to markets all over the world. Earlier this week, for example, Lime announced its entrance into Madrid, launching hundreds of electric scooters in the Spanish capital. About a week before that, competitor Bird launched in Paris and laid out its intentioned to bring electric scooters to Tel Aviv.

As Bird expands to international markets, it’s worth noting that competitor Lime has operated its bikes and scooters outside of the U.S. for quite some time. Last December, Lime brought its bikes to a number of European cities and in June, Lime brought its scooters to Paris. Lime also recently raised a $335 million round and teamed up with transportation behemoth Uber.

Nationwide, Bird, Lime, Spin, Goat and Skip have collectively deployed scooters in 33 cities. Outside of the U.S., you’ll find scooters from those companies in just three cities.

Bird and Lime are by no means the only companies working in this space, but they’re the two that have raised most the capital. Bird has raised $415 million in funding while Lime has raised $467 million. Bird and Lime are also the only two U.S.-based scooter companies that have gone international.

Over in the U.S., of course, the competitive landscape is an entirely different story. California is the main hot spot for scooters in the U.S., but they have also popped up in Texas, Washington D.C., North Carolina and other states throughout the country.

 

Unsurprisingly, regulation has proved to be an issue for many of these companies. In San Francisco, the Municipal Transportation Agency is currently reviewing permit applications from 12 electric scooter services — including ones from Lyft, Uber and Razor — looking to operate in the city. The permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March. Fast forward to today and electric scooters are nowhere to be found on the streets of San Francisco.

The SFMTA initially said it expected to make a decision about which five, if any, companies would receive permits by the end of June. The SFMTA expects to finalize its recommendations and documentation “in the coming weeks,” the SFMTA wrote in a blog post last month. Once that’s done, the agency says it will work with companies to finalize and clarify the terms and conditions of the permit. The goal, according to the blog post, is to issue permits sometime in August.

As part of the 24-month pilot program, electric scooter companies selected to operate in the city will need to provide user education and insurance, share its detailed trip data with the city, have a privacy policy that protects user data, offer a low-income plan and operate in a to-be-approved service area. The city will allow no more than 2,500 electric scooters on the streets at any one time.

Last month, Bird tried to launch its scooters in Boston but regulators quickly cracked down, saying it would impound any scooters it found. And let’s not forget the drama that unfolded in Santa Monica, where Bird first deployed its scooters.

In Austin, D.C. and Portland, Ore., it’s a slightly different scenario. Over in Austin, dockless electric scooter startup GOAT says it’s working with the city to ensure its service meets the criteria laid out by regulators. Moving forward, GOAT says it’s actively working with other cities to pursue additional operating permits. Skip, which is trying to differentiate itself by being more heavy-duty, worked with city officials and lawmakers to ensure it had the green light before launching. In Portland, both Skip and Bird have received permits to operate electric scooters in the city.

With the sheer volume of capital pouring into these companies, along with interest from ride-hailing giants Lyft and Uber, it’s clear these scooters are here to stay. Whether cities like them or not, scooters are going to roll up. It’s just a matter of when and how many.

Uber and Lyft encourage NYC customers to oppose proposed ride-hail cap legislation

Uber is making calls to some of its customers in New York City, offering to connect them to local council members to express their opposition to the proposed legislation that would cap the number of ride-hailing drivers in the city, Buzzfeed first reported. Meanwhile, Lyft is also reaching out to its NYC-based riders, asking them to contact their local officials.

For context, the NYC city council is currently considering legislation that would limit the number of ride-hail drivers on the road. Specifically, the proposal wants to place a one-year hold on the issuance of new for-hire vehicle licenses, unless the vehicles are wheelchair accessible.

This legislation would affect Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via — all of which operate ride-hailing services in the city. The deadline to submit an amended version of the proposal is tonight at midnight, so the clock is ticking.

Anyway, some people seem to be a bit upset about receiving calls from Uber, but Uber Director of Public Affairs Jason Post told TechCrunch the calls are simply one of its tactics that is consistent with its terms of services.

Uber is not calling every single customer in the city, Post said, but the company is making enough calls to yield a few dozen calls per council member. Though, why people are answering calls from unknown numbers is beyond me.

Uber is also employing an in-app takeover that notifies passengers of the legislative landscape in NYC.

“Uber has launched an App takeover so New Yorkers can read the Council’s bills for themselves,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe New Yorkers will join us in supporting living wages for drivers and opposing a cap that will harm outer borough riders who have come to rely on Uber because of the unreliable, or non-existent subway.”

Lyft’s VP of public policy, Joseph Okpaku, also noted in a Medium post that the cap would have even worse effects on communities of color.

“For communities of color, who, before the arrival of ridesharing, were denied equal transportation options, the impact will be felt even more strongly,” he wrote. “It will return us to the days when African-American and Latino New Yorkers had to worry whether they would get a ride every time they raised their hand to hail a cab.”

Lyft gave DJ Khaled one of its electric scooters for his upcoming tour

Electric scooters are all the rage right now in Silicon Valley and as of late, they’ve made their way into the entertainment industry. Musician DJ Khaled recently posted a video of him riding one of Lyft’s electric scooter while also promoting his participation in Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run II tour.

Word on the street, according to a source, is that DJ Khaled asked Lyft for one of its electric scooters for his upcoming tour. This is not too surprising given Lyft has previously tapped DJ Khaled to be one of its spokespeople. Lyft declined to comment for this story.

Earlier this month, Lyft outlined its scooter plans, along with its bike-share plans. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely it will happen soon.

Lyft, along with 11 other companies, is currently vying for a permit to operate an electric scooter service in San Francisco. As of July 19, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was still reviewing the 12 applications from companies to operate electric scooters in the city.

A bit of background: In early June, companies like Uber, Lime, Bird, Lyft and others applied for permits to operate electric scooter-share services in San Francisco. San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in San Francisco without a permit.

The SFMTA expects to finalize its recommendations and documentation “in the coming weeks,” the SFMTA wrote in a blog pos. Once that’s done, the agency says it will work with companies to finalize and clarify the terms and conditions of the permit. The goal, according to the blog post, is to issue permits sometime in August.

There are, of course, plenty of other markets for Lyft and its competitors to launch scooters in. You can read more about where you’ll find scooters below.

Two ex-Uber execs have an investor syndicate to fund Uber alum

Josh Mohrer (pictured above) and William Barnes, two former Uber executives, are working on an investor syndicate to invest in startups led by fellow former Uber employees, Axios reported and TechCrunch has confirmed.

“We believe that people who help build transformative companies will go on to do other awesome things,” Mohrer told TechCrunch about the syndicate’s thesis to invest in Uber alumni. “The idea is that we can really move the needle for companies who are doing things that are Uber-adjacent — thing that are in our wheelhouse.”

Mohrer and Barnes have been working on this for the last nine months or so. While a lot of the emphasis is on backing startups led by former Uber employees, that’s not a strict requirement, Mohrer said.

The syndicate, which is made up of around 100 former Uber employees, “started pretty organically,” Mohrer said. So far, about 50 people have taken part in at least one investment. The check sizes have been modest — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The focus of the syndicate is on two-sided marketplaces and transportation startups like Lime and Cargo, which partnered with Uber last week to enable drivers to sell passengers goods during rides. The syndicate’s other investments are in Replicated, Service and Salido.

“In the fall, we’re strongly considering what a traditional VC angle on this would look like,” Mohrer said. Likely, that would be called Moving Capital.

Last May, Mohrer left Uber to join Tusk Ventures as its managing director. Before joining Tusk, Mohrer spent about five years at Uber. While at Tusk, Mohrer led the firm’s Series A and B investments in Lime competitor Bird. Barnes, on the other hand, formerly led Uber’s West Coast operations for almost six years.