Lime continues to battle San Francisco’s electric scooter decision

Electric scooter and bike-share company Lime is not giving up on San Francisco. This afternoon, Lime plans to protest on the steps of SF City Hall to petition the city’s scooter selection process.

“We are calling the SFMTA to expand equitable transportation options throughout the City by allowing more choice and greater options, by requiring a scalable low-income program that ensures equal access to scooters and other mobility options, and by working with experienced operators with a proven track record of success,” Lime wrote in its petition. “The SFMTA scooter selection process resulted in an extremely small service area as well as an absence of robust equity options. If you are as frustrated as we are, come let your voice be heard.”

The SFMTA has previously said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency selected Skip and Scoot as the only two electric scooter companies permitted to operate in the city, competitor Lime took legal steps to attempt to prevent Skip and Scoot from deploying. A San Francisco judge, however, promptly denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Meanwhile, Lime had officially appealed the SFMTA’s decision. Other companies, including Spin and Uber’s JUMP, have also appealed the scooter selection process.

Earlier today, the SFMTA heard Lime’s case. It’s not clear how it went, but I’ve reached out to Lime and the SFMTA to learn more. Based on Lime’s actions, it seems as if it didn’t work out very well for the company.

Update 1:57PM PT: About 30 or so people showed up to Lime’s protest. It was relatively uneventful, but the gist is that Lime is seeking community support to petition the SFMTA and convince the agency to allow Lime to operate its electric scooters in the city.

Tesla is suing alleged ‘saboteur’ for $167 million

Tesla is now seeking $167 million in a lawsuit against Martin Tripp, the former Tesla employee who CEO Elon Musk has referred to as a saboteur, CNBC first reported. The lawsuit, originally filed in June and seeking just $1 million at the time, alleges Tripp stole confidential and trade secret information, and gave it to third parties.

Tripp, in July, filed a formal whistleblower tip to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Tesla misled investors and put its customers at risk. It’s been a bitter back-and-forth between Tesla and Tripp, who then in August tweeted photos of allegedly damaged batteries at Tesla’s factory.

According to the filing, Tesla has not made Musk available for a deposition. Additionally, the filing argues Tripp’s lawyers need to depose more than ten people involved with Tesla.

“In this case, where Mr. Tripp is being sued for more than $167,000,000.00 and has asserted counterclaims against Tesla, more than ten (10) depositions is certainly reasonable and appropriate,” Tripp’s lawyers wrote in the filing.

I’ve reached out to Tesla and will update this story if I hear back. The case is Tesla, Inc. v Tripp, located in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

Google employees demand the end of forced arbitration across the tech industry

On the heels of an employee-led protest against Google, a group of 35 Google employees is banding together to take it a step further and end the practice of forced arbitration across the entire tech industry.

Forced arbitration ensures workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. These types of agreements effectively prevent employees from suing companies. Following the walkout last month, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit.

However, optional arbitration at Google is only granted for full-time employees, which does not include the thousands of contract workers at the company. Now, a group of Google employees is demanding an end to forced arbitration, as it relates to any case of discrimination, across the entire industry.

As the employees note on Medium, arbitration is still forced for discrimination cases pertaining to race, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, age and ability. Additionally, employee contracts in the U.S. still have an arbitration waiver, the employees wrote.

“We have not heard of any plan to render these waivers null and void,” employees wrote on Medium. “Google operates in 52 countries where arbitration laws vary, and leadership has not addressed these variances. What should we expect?”

Moving forward, they’re asking other tech workers to join them in their fight to end forced arbitration for all forms of harassment and discrimination. They’re also calling on elected officials to support the Arbitration Fairness Act, as well as Restoring Justice for Workers Act.

“We are already engaging with multiple organizations and can help connect the dots through educational materials and organizing resources,” they wrote. “2019 must be the year to end a system of privatized justice that impacts over 60 million workers in the US alone.”

I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.

Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.

Apple Watch’s ECG feature is already proving its worth

When Apple announced its latest Series 4 Watch with electrocardiogram features, my mom took a sigh of relief, and then proceeded to set a reminder to order one for my dad. That’s because we found out last year, by chance, that he has atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, often times rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related issues.

The ECG feature, which monitors your heart rhythm and can detect AFib,* went live just two days ago. Already, at least one person has benefited from it.

Yesterday, a person on Reddit shared how their Apple Watch notified them of an abnormal heart rate. From there, they ran the ECG app and found out it was AFib. They went to urgent care and saw a doctor who they say said, “You should buy Apple stock. This probably saved you. I read about this last night and thought we would see an upswing this week. I didn’t expect it first thing this morning.”

The patient says they proceeded to go to a cardiologist the next day, who did an exam and confirmed the AFib diagnosis.

“I’m scheduled to go back in a week for some additional tests to start looking at the cause… blood, thyroid, etc…,” they wrote. “He also scheduled me with a partner who specializes more in the electrical side of things to have it looked from that angle as well.”

As one of the first more widely-owned ECG monitors, this could make a huge difference in the number of people who have at least some transparency into their heart health. But to be clear, once you enable the new feature, the watch is still not constantly looking for AFib. When the heart rhythm monitor detects something is off — a skipped or rapid heartbeat, for example — it will send a notification to your wrist.

That’s when you open up the ECG app, rest your arm on your lap or table, and then hold your finger to the crown for 30 seconds. From there, the watch will tell you if there are signs of atrial fibrillation.

If you want to learn more about the features, check out my colleague Brian Heater’s piece below.

Google Translate gets rid of some gender biases

Google is by no means perfect when it comes to issues relating to gender, but it’s clear the company is trying. Google recently made some important changes to its Translate tool — reducing gender bias by providing both masculine and feminine translations for gender-neutral words. Previously, Google would default gender-neutral words to the masculine form.

This comes after Google has been specifically called out for its biases in translate and autocomplete. Back in February, Forbes reported how examples of gender bias in Translate began popping up on social media.

“So when the model produced one translation, it inadvertently replicated gender biases that already existed,” Google Translate Product Manager James Kuczmarski wrote on the company blog. “For example: it would skew masculine for words like ‘strong’ or ‘doctor,’ and feminine for other words, like ‘nurse’ or ‘beautiful.'”

gender specific translation

Now, Google will offer both feminine and masculine translations for single words when translating from English to French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish, as well as when translating from Turkish to English. Down the road, Google says it does plan to address non-binary gender in translations. Google will also eventually bring this to its iOS and Android apps, and address gender biases in auto-complete.

Google contract workers demand better pay and benefits

Google contract workers, internally referred to as Temporary, Vendor and Contractors (TVCs, are seeking better, equal treatment. That entails better pay and access to benefits, as well as better access to company-wide information. In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, they allege Google “routinely denies TVCs access to information that is relevant to our jobs and our lives.”

For example, when there was a shooting at YouTube this past April, TVCs say Google only sent out updates to full-time employees. They say they were also left out of the town hall discussion the following the day.

“The exclusion of TVCs from important communications and fair treatment is part of a system of institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination,” they wrote in the letter. “TVCs are disproportionately people from marginalized groups who are treated as less deserving of compensation, opportunities, workplace protections, and respect. We wear different badges from full-time employees, which reinforces this arbitrary and discriminatory separation. Even when we’re doing the same work as full-time employees, these jobs routinely fail to provide living wages and often offer minimal benefits.”

As Bloomberg reported in July, Google’s TVCs make up more than half of the company’s total staff. They handle a variety of jobs, including serving meals, testing self-driving cars and managing teams.

This comes after Google conceded to some of the employee’s demands in the aftermath of sexual harassment and assault allegations. While Google did make some changes, the company did not address all of the organizers’ demands. For example, Google failed to elevate its chief diversity officer to report directly to Pichai and also ignored the organizers’ request to add an employee representative to the board of directors.

I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.

 

Corporate food catering startup Chewse raises $19 million

Chewse, a food catering and company culture startup, just announced a $19 million fundraising round as it gears up to expand its operations in the Silicon Valley area. This brings Chewse’s total funding to more than $30 million. Chewse’s investors include Foundry Group, 500 Startups and Gingerbread Capital.

Instead of plopping down meals in the office and bouncing, Chewse aims to create a full experience for its customers by offering family-style meals. In order to ensure quality, Chewse employs drivers and meal hosts so that it can provide them with training. Chewse also offers it drivers and meal hosts benefits.

“We initially started with a contractor model but then very quickly started to realize our customers often mentioned the host or the driver in their feedback,” Chewse CEO and co-founder Tracy Lawrence told TechCrunch.

“I know there’s a lot of other companies that are like food tech or logistics but for us, it’s all about elevating and improving company culture,” Lawrence said. “We have technology but we’re investing in it to create an exceptional real-life experience.”

“On the tech side, we’re using a ton of machine learning and algorithms to learn what people like to eat and create custom meal schedules,” Lawrence said.

To date, Chewse has hundreds of customers across three markets. Chewse initially launched in Los Angeles, but paused operations for a little over one year in order to focus on achieving market profitability in San Francisco. Chewse has since relaunched in Los Angeles, in addition to launching in cities like Palo Alto and San Jose. As part of the Silicon Valley launch, Chewse has partnered with restaurants like Smoking Pig, HOM Korean Kitchen and Oren’s Hummus Shop.

Within the next year, the goal is to double the number of markets where Chewse operates. But Chewse faces tough competition in the corporate meal catering space.

Earlier this year, Square acquired Zesty to become part of its food delivery service, Caviar. The aim of the acquisition was to strengthen Caviar’s corporate food ordering business, Caviar for Teams.

At the time, Zesty counted about 150 restaurant customers in San Francisco, which is the only city in which it operates. Some of Zesty’s customers include Snap, Splunk and TechCrunch. Zesty, which first launched in 2013 under a different name, had previously raised $20.7 million in venture funding.

“Zesty is a direct competitor of ours for sure,” Lawrence said. “When we’re thinking about the things that set us apart from Zesty and ZeroCater, the investment in using the technology and building a meal algorithm — which is something we know they’re doing by hand — and then automatically calibrate when we’re getting feedback because we employ our hosts and our drivers. Yes, it’s more expensive for us but because it provides such a superior experience, we retain our customer longer.”

Sleep tracking ring Oura raises $20 million from Michael Dell, Lance Armstrong and others

Oura Health, a sleep tracking and improvement platform, just raised $20 million in a funding round led by MSD Capital with participation from YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Sunrise founder Dave Morin, JUMP founder Ryan Rzepecki and others. This round comes a couple of years after the Finnish company raised €5 million from MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito and others.

Oura is a smart ring that tracks your sleep habits to help you achieve better sleep. It does this by measuring the blood volume pulse from your finger’s palmar arteries, detecting the direction and intensity of your body’s movements using a 3D accelerometer and gyroscope to detect the direction and by measuring your temperature through three NTC temperature sensors.

“I believe Oura has identified a challenge that faces us all, namely getting enough high-quality sleep,” Dell said in a statement. “Oura’s design and technology show tremendous craftsmanship, and now more consumers around the world will be able to get their own Oura ring.”

The star-studded funding group also includes Shaquille O’Neil, Lance Armstrong and Will Smith.

“We are thrilled to have such a talented group of builders, champions, and creators join us as investors,” Oura Health CEO Harpreet Rai siad in a statement. “It’s amazing to see how such a diverse group of investors all recognize the universal importance of sleep.”

To be clear, sleep tracking and improvement is an area many startups and large companies have tried. You may remember Basis Health, which eventually sold to Intel. And then there’s Fitbit, smart ring Motiv and other wearables that track your sleep.

We have yet to try this out, but we’ll report back if we do. Oura Health is currently shipping to over 100 countries and retails from $299 – $999, depending on the material you select. Meanwhile, Motiv retails for $199.

Sweetgreen is opening up order-ahead locations inside WeWork

Salad startup Sweetgreen is expanding on a pilot program with WeWork that provides free delivery to WeWork members. Though, it’s more accurate to describe it as an order-ahead service that lets you pick up your food from your WeWork of choice.

Geared toward WeWork employees and members, Sweetgreen at WeWork outposts are going live in seven cities in the country. Across those seven cities, which include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston, Sweetgreen at WeWork has plans to cover 50 WeWork locations.

“WeWork and sweetgreen share a vision for creating community and being more conscious global citizens, fostering discussion and recognition of the way our actions impact ourselves, our communities, and the world around us,” WeWork president and CFO Artie Minson said in a press release. “Together, we are bringing sweetgreen’s offerings directly to thousands of WeWork members and employees while leveraging WeWork’s platform to support sweetgreen’s continued scale. While Outposts presents an exciting new opportunity, it only represents the beginning of this long-term, strategic partnership by our two mission-driven companies.”

At these locations, WeWork members and employees can place an order via Sweetgreen’s web or mobile platform, and then select their specific WeWork as the pickup location. From there, Sweetgreen delivers to that location at a select time.

This announcement comes shortly after Sweetgreen officially became a unicorn following a $200 million Series H round led by Fidelity. That round brought Sweetgreen’s total amount of funding to $365 million.

With the additional $200 million in funding, Sweetgreen is setting its eyes on other food categories and looking to expand its delivery offerings. Sweetgreen is also looking at using blockchain technology to create more transparency in the supply chain.