Google reportedly ends forced arbitration for employees

Google is finally ending forced arbitration for its employees, Axios reports. These changes will go into effect for both current and future Google employees on March 21.

For the contractors Google works with directly, it will remove mandatory arbitration from their contracts. The caveat, however, is that it won’t require outside firms that employe contractors to do the same.

This is a direct response to a group of outspoken Google employees protesting the company’s arbitration practices. Last month, a group of Google employees took to Twitter and Instagram tomorrow in an attempt to educate the public about forced arbitration. That came about one month after this same group of 35 employees banded together to demand Google end forced arbitration as it relates to any case of discrimination. The group also called on other tech workers to join them.

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 massive, 20,000-person walkout at Google in November, 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. Despite some progress across the industry, the end of forced arbitration across all workplace disputes is not widespread.

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

Zoba raises $3 million to help mobility companies predict demand

Scooter-share, bike-share and ride-hailing are quickly becoming staple commodities in cities all over the world. As companies in those respective spaces try to improve their economics, Zoba is aiming to contribute to those goals by predicting demand for scooters, bikes and, eventually, rides in particular areas. To support Zoba’s mission, the company has raised $3 million seed round led by CRV with participation from Founder Collective, Mark Cuban and others.

Using spatial analytics, Zoba aims to better understand the relationships between different phenomena in order to improve the efficiency of cities. Mobility is Zoba’s first focus, Zoba co-founder Dan Brennan told TechCrunch. More specifically, Zoba looks to better understand the relationship between demand and environmental data (e.g. weather), as well as city layout. From there, Zoba helps mobility companies determine the best places to put their vehicles.

“The key is this type of spatial analytics and machine learning is very specific,” Brennan said. “You don’t see a lot of data scientists trained in this. What we do is say, ‘no matter what skill set of your data scientist, you can look at all this spatial and temporal stuff.’ We’ll make it like you have three really highly-trained spatial data scientists.” 

Zoba would not disclose which companies it’s working with, but just that it’s working with some of the industry leaders in bike, scooter and car share. Down the road, Zoba also envisions working with on-demand delivery companies, as well as urban logistics companies.

“The world is experiencing a Cambrian explosion of smart mobility and logistics services, all requiring geo-based forecasting and optimization,” CRV General Partner and Zoba board member Izhar Armony said in a statement. “We knew after meeting with the Zoba founders that they’re the best team to tackle this hard problem. What they’re doing will change the way we live and we’re excited for what’s to come.”

Uber reports $3B in Q4 revenue, rising operating losses

Ahead of its anticipated initial public offering this year, Uber reported a net loss of $865 million in the fourth quarter. That figure, however, was aided by a tax benefit that saved the company from reporting a $1.2 billion net loss in the period. On an adjusted, pro-forma basis, Uber’s net loss in the final quarter of 2018 was a slimmer $768 million.

The figures are an improvement of sorts. The firm reported a pro-forma net loss of $939 million in the preceding, third quarter of 2018, but also reported a smaller pre-tax net loss of $971 million. Regardless, Uber’s stiff losses continued in the quarter.

Meanwhile, Uber’s adjusted EBIDTA losses came in at $842 million, an increase of 88 percent year over year, and an increase of 60 percent from the third quarter. In that preceding quarter, Uber’s adjusted EBIDTA losses came in at $527 million. These increased losses can be attributed to increased competition and significant investment in bigger bets like micromobility and Elevate, for example.

In Q4 2018, Gross bookings (the amount collected before it pays drivers) went up 11 percent quarter over quarter, to $14.2 billion, while revenue increased 2 percent quarter over quarter to $3 billion.

Year over year, Uber’s gross bookings increased 37 percent and revenue increased 24 percent. But as a percentage of gross bookings, revenue declined to 21.3 percent. These numbers exclude the impact of SEA and Russia.

  • GAAP Revenue: $3.0 billion
  • Up 24 percent YOY
  • Up 2 percent QOQ
  • Revenue as a percentage of gross bookings declined 190 basis points to 21.3 percent

Compared to the entire fiscal year of 2017, Uber’s gross bookings increased 45 percent, to $50 billion in 2018. That resulted in a GAAP revenue increase of 43 percent, from 2017 to $11.3 billion. Losses also improved (decreased) from $2.2 billion in adjusted EBITDA losses in 2017 to $1.8 billion in 2018. That’s still a lot of money, but it does show overall positive signs that Uber is moving in the right direction.

“Last year was our strongest yet, and Q4 set another record for engagement on our platform,” Uber CFO Nelson Chai said in a statement. “In 2018, our ridesharing business maintained category leadership in all regions we serve, Uber Freight gained exciting traction in the US, JUMP e-bikes and e-scooters are on the road in over a dozen cities, and we believe Uber Eats became the largest online food delivery business outside of China, based on gross bookings.”

Other key stats for Uber’s Q4 2018:

  • Gross cash: $6.4 billion in unrestricted cash($4.8 billion at end of Q3 2018, $4.4 billon in Q4 2017)
  • Adjusted EBITDA margin: -5.9 percent of gross bookings (Q3 2018 was -4.1 percent)

DoorDash subsidizes driver wages with tips

It’s true that DoorDash offsets the amount it pays its drivers with customer tip, according to an FAQ page on its own site.

“For each delivery, you will always receive at least $1 from DoorDash plus 100% of the customer tip,” DoorDash states on a Dasher FAQ page. “Where that sum is less than the guaranteed amount, DoorDash will provide a pay boost to make sure you receive the guaranteed amount. Where that sum is more than the guaranteed amount, you pocket the extra amount.”

To be clear, drivers see the guaranteed amount in the app before deciding to accept or reject the order. That amount is based on the size of the order, whether or not you have to place the order in person, distance away, traffic and other factors.

On another page, DoorDash describes its payment structure as follows: $1 plus customer tip plus pay boost, which varies based on the complexity of order, distance to restaurants and other factors. It’s only when a customer doesn’t tip at all, which DoorDash told Fast Company happens about 15 percent of the time, that DoorDash is on the hook to pay the entire guaranteed amount.

But just because DoorDash is upfront about it, it doesn’t mean drivers are happy about it. There’s a webpage, Reddit and Subreddits that all describe DoorDash’s practices.

On the website, No Tip Doordash, it states:

While the tip may technically be going to the driver, it is only replacing the normal delivery pay. Your tip saves doordash money, and it is not increasing the drivers pay. Please tip in cash, if available.

In a statement to Bloomberg, DoorDash said it implemented this policy to “ensure that Dashers are more fairly compensated for every delivery.”

This comes shortly after Instacart apologized and announced it would stop engaging in that practice. In a blog post last week, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said all shoppers will now have a guaranteed higher base compensation, paid by Instacart . Depending on the region, Instacart says it will pay shoppers between $7 to $10 at a minimum for full-service orders (shopping, picking and delivering) and $5 at a minimum for delivery-only tasks. The company will also stop including tips in its base pay for shoppers.

Amazon also reportedly engages in this practice, according to The Los Angeles Times.

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

Google expands partnership with Founder Gym to support underrepresented founders

Google for Startups has expanded a partnership with startup training program Founder Gym to better serve underrepresented founders through a new scholarship program.

The program typically charges $396 to participate but thanks to this partnership with Google for Startups, Google will cover the costs for select scholarship recipients to participate in the six-week program. This partnership an extension of a pilot program that started last March.

“Google for Startups took an early bet on Founder Gym when we were less than six months old, and as any founder knows, you never forget the first people to say ‘yes’ to your dream,” Schumacher-Hodge Dixon said in a statement.
“Our team at Founder Gym has used that early vote of confidence to help fuel our efforts to train a groundbreaking number of founders around the world in our inaugural year.”

Founder Gym, co-founded by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon and Gabriela Zamudio (pictured above), unveiled its online platform to support and train underrepresented founders building tech startups in November 2017.

“We are deeply committed to supporting the growth and success of underrepresented founders,” Google for Startups VP Lisa Gevelber said in a statement. “At Google we know that innovation can come from anywhere, but the resources needed to succeed are not evenly distributed. Founder Gym is truly moving the needle in this space – their unique program delivers the tangible resources necessary to level the playing field for founders and help them grow their businesses.”

Instead of describing it as a school, bootcamp or incubator, Founder Gym describes itself as a topical, six-week training program that covers topics like fundraising, pitching, user growth and problem validation. In Founder Gym’s first 12 months of operations, its cohort has collectively raised $35 million in funding.

“As we enter year two of this journey, we couldn’t be more excited to expand our partnership with Google for Startups, an organization that has a long history of supporting the entrepreneur’s journey,” Schumacher-Hodge Dixon said. “There is no doubt in my mind, this partnership will help us achieve our mission of developing the next generation of great innovators and leaders.”

Google expands partnership with Founder Gym to support underrepresented founders

Google for Startups has expanded a partnership with startup training program Founder Gym to better serve underrepresented founders through a new scholarship program.

The program typically charges $396 to participate but thanks to this partnership with Google for Startups, Google will cover the costs for select scholarship recipients to participate in the six-week program. This partnership an extension of a pilot program that started last March.

“Google for Startups took an early bet on Founder Gym when we were less than six months old, and as any founder knows, you never forget the first people to say ‘yes’ to your dream,” Schumacher-Hodge Dixon said in a statement.
“Our team at Founder Gym has used that early vote of confidence to help fuel our efforts to train a groundbreaking number of founders around the world in our inaugural year.”

Founder Gym, co-founded by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon and Gabriela Zamudio (pictured above), unveiled its online platform to support and train underrepresented founders building tech startups in November 2017.

“We are deeply committed to supporting the growth and success of underrepresented founders,” Google for Startups VP Lisa Gevelber said in a statement. “At Google we know that innovation can come from anywhere, but the resources needed to succeed are not evenly distributed. Founder Gym is truly moving the needle in this space – their unique program delivers the tangible resources necessary to level the playing field for founders and help them grow their businesses.”

Instead of describing it as a school, bootcamp or incubator, Founder Gym describes itself as a topical, six-week training program that covers topics like fundraising, pitching, user growth and problem validation. In Founder Gym’s first 12 months of operations, its cohort has collectively raised $35 million in funding.

“As we enter year two of this journey, we couldn’t be more excited to expand our partnership with Google for Startups, an organization that has a long history of supporting the entrepreneur’s journey,” Schumacher-Hodge Dixon said. “There is no doubt in my mind, this partnership will help us achieve our mission of developing the next generation of great innovators and leaders.”

Lyft says it has more wheelchair accessible vehicles available in NYC

Lyft, which has faced at least one lawsuit pertaining to its alleged discrimination against people with physical abilities, announced today it has expanded its wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) service in New York City. Details on the blog are very scarce (we’ve reached out to Lyft for more info) but Lyft now has more than 20 partners in New York City to help increase WAV access.

“With more accessible rides on the road, we’ll be better able to help New Yorkers with physical disabilities get around the city,” Lyft wrote in a blog post.

But it’s not clear how many wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available now than before. Previously, Lyft had just a five percent success rate for finding wheelchair-accessible vehicles for riders, while Uber had a 55 percent success rate, according to a 2018 report from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. For both of these companies, they were able to find for non-accessible rides 100 percent of the time.

The lack of WAVs on Lyft and Uber have resulted in lawsuits for both companies. Last March, Disability Rights Advocates filed a class-action lawsuit against Lyft, alleging the company discriminates against people who use wheelchairs by not making wheelchair-accessible cars available in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The case, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges Lyft directly violates the law by not providing an equal and accessible transportation option to all. The suit specifically alleges Lyft is in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which guarantees people with disabilities are entitled to full and equal accommodations. The suit also alleges Lyft is in violation of the California Disabled Persons Act.

At the time, a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch it currently has “partnerships and programs in place to provide enhanced WAV access in various parts of the country, and are actively exploring ways to expand them nationwide.”

Meanwhile, Uber has faced at least two lawsuits regarding its lack of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in both New York and California. In November, however, Uber took steps to ensure people who rely on wheelchairs can get rides when they need them. Through a partnership with paratransit service provider MV Transportation, Uber has been able to add hundreds of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to its platform in six markets, including New York City.

We’ll update this story as we learn more from Lyft.

Uber’s JUMP bikes are seeing high utilization rates

In the past year, more than 63,000 people took 625,000 rides on JUMP bikes in San Francisco, JUMP announced today. Each JUMP bike in San Francisco saw an average of seven rides per bike per day compared to the docked-bike industry average of one to two per day.

JUMP initially launched 250 bikes at the beginning of the year, followed by an additional 250 in October. While fewer bikes on the road may correlate with the number of rides per bike per day, JUMP says its utilization rate remained consistent at over eight rides per bike per day post-expansion from 250 bikes to 500 bikes.

In San Francisco, there are 1,200 Ford GoBikes with about 5,500 active riders. Last year, Ford GoBikes saw 1.4 million total trips, according to the SFMTA. As of October, on a trip per bike per day basis, Ford GoBikes saw one to two trips per bike while JUMP saw eight to 10 per bike per day. On an industry-wide basis, docked systems see an average of one to two rides per bike per day, according to 2017 data from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Meanwhile, JUMP rides have continued to decrease the number of Uber rides. In July, Uber reported finding the number of car trips decreasing by 10 percent while trip frequency of JUMP + Uber increased by 15 percent.

“Since that study was released in July, those trends have remained consistent,” JUMP CEO Ryan Rzepecki wrote in a blog post. “As overall engagement (Uber + JUMP) increased, Uber car trips decreased and Uber trips during peak period decreased even more for Uber users who started using JUMP on the Uber app.”

A couple of months ago, JUMP unveiled its next generation of pedal-assist bikes featuring 4G capabilities, on-board diagnostics, retractable cable locks and phone mounts.

Instacart CEO apologizes for tipping debacle

On the heels of a recently-filed class action lawsuit over wages and tips, as well as drivers and shoppers speaking out about Instacart’s alleged practices of subsidizing wages with tips, Instacart is taking steps to ensure tips are counted separately from what Instacart pays shoppers.

In a blog post today, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said all shoppers will now have a guaranteed higher base compensation, paid by Instacart. Depending on the region, Instacart says it will pay shoppers between $7 to $10 for full-service orders (shopping, picking and delivering) and $5 for delivery-only tasks. The company will also stop including tips in its base pay for shoppers.

“After launching our new earnings structure this past October, we noticed that there were small batches where shoppers weren’t earning enough for their time,” Mehta wrote. “To help with this, we instituted a $10 floor on earnings, inclusive of tips, for all batches. This meant that when Instacart’s payment and the customer tip at checkout was below $10, Instacart supplemented the difference. While our intention was to increase the guaranteed payment for small orders, we understand that the inclusion of tips as a part of this guarantee was misguided. We apologize for taking this approach.”

For the shoppers who were subject that approach, Instacart says it will retroactively pay people whose tips were included in payment minimums.

You can read the full blog post at the bottom of this post. For background, Instacart had previously guaranteed its workers at least $10 per job, but workers said Instacart offsets wages with tips from customers.

The suit alleges Instacart “intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff’s wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers. Based on this representation, Instacart knew customers would believe their tips were being given to shoppers in addition to wages, not to supplement wages entirely.”

In addition to the lawsuit, workers have taken to Reddit and other online forums to speak out against Instacart’s paying practices. Since introducing a new payments structure in October, which includes things like payments per mile, quality bonuses and customer tips, workers have said the pay has gotten worse — far below minimum wage. In one case, Instacart paid a worker just 80 cents for over an hour of work. Instacart has since said it was a glitch — caused by the fact that the customer tipped $10 — and has introduced a new minimum payment for orders. So, Instacart paid the worker $10.80, but just 80 cents of it came from Instacart.

While Instacart has said this was an edge case, Working Washington says this has happened in other cases. In another case, Instacart paid a worker just $7.26 (including cost of mileage) for over two hour’s worth of work.

“We heard loud and clear the frustration when your compensation didn’t match the effort you put forth,” Mehta wrote in the blog post. “As we looked at some of the extreme examples that have been surfaced by you over the last few days, it’s become clear to us that we can and should do better. Instacart shouldn’t be paying a shopper $0.80 for a batch. It doesn’t matter that this only happens 1 out of 100,000 times – it happened to one shopper and that’s one time too many.”

Here’s the full text of Mehta’s post:

To Our Shopper Community:

Every day, millions of people entrust Instacart to help get the food they need to feed their families and get back valuable time to spend with their loved ones. By delivering to and for our customers, you’ve become household heroes for millions of families across North America. This past week however, it’s become clear, that we’ve fallen short in delivering on our promise to you.

As you know, we’ve made changes to our shopper earnings model over the last year. These changes were designed to increase transparency while also keeping pace with a rapidly-evolving industry. In doing so, we’ve tried, in good faith, to balance those needs, but clearly we haven’t always gotten it right.

As a company, we remain committed to listening and putting our shoppers more at the forefront of our decision making. Based on your feedback, today we’re launching new measures to more fairly and competitively compensate all our shoppers. As part of this, our earnings approach moving forward will adhere to the following:

  • Tips should always be separate from Instacart’s contribution to shopper compensation

  • All batches will have a higher guaranteed compensation floor for shoppers, paid for by Instacart

  • Instacart will retroactively compensate shoppers when tips were included in minimums

Below are details on each new element of shopper earnings, which we will be rolling out in the coming days.

Tips Should Always Be Separate From Instacart’s Contribution to Shopper Compensation – After launching our new earnings structure this past October, we noticed that there were small batches where shoppers weren’t earning enough for their time. To help with this, we instituted a $10 floor on earnings, inclusive of tips, for all batches. This meant that when Instacart’s payment and the customer tip at checkout was below $10, Instacart supplemented the difference. While our intention was to increase the guaranteed payment for small orders, we understand that the inclusion of tips as a part of this guarantee was misguided. We apologize for taking this approach.

All Batches Will Have a Higher Guaranteed Floor for Shoppers, Paid by Instacart – We’re instituting a higher minimum floor payment from Instacart on all batches. Today our minimum batch payment is $3. Depending on the region, our minimum batch payment will increase to between $7 and $10 for full service batches (where a shopper picks, packs and delivers the order) and $5 for delivery only batches (where a shopper delivers the order after a separate person picks the groceries). These increased batch floors will be consistent for all shoppers within a particular geographic area. In addition to the higher guaranteed floors, Instacart will also pay a quality bonus and peak boosts for orders that qualify. Any tips earned by shoppers will be separate and in addition to Instacart’s contribution.

Instacart Will Retroactively Compensate Shoppers When Tips Were Included in Minimums – Over the coming days, as we transition to the new higher minimum floor payments, we will make you whole on the transactions that have occurred since the launch of this feature. Specifically, we will proactively reach out to all shoppers who were adversely affected by instances in which Instacart’s payment was below the $10 threshold. For example, if a shopper was paid $6 by Instacart, to compensate for our mistake, he or she will receive an additional $4 from Instacart.

In creating these changes to improve, enhance and create clarity for shopper compensation, these new measures will do the following:

1. Better protect shoppers from smaller, outlying batches. We heard loud and clear the frustration when your compensation didn’t match the effort you put forth. As we looked at some of the extreme examples that have been surfaced by you over the last few days, it’s become clear to us that we can and should do better. Instacart shouldn’t be paying a shopper $0.80 for a batch. It doesn’t matter that this only happens 1 out of 100,000 times – it happened to one shopper and that’s one time too many. We believe that these new guaranteed floor minimums will better protect our shoppers going forward.

2. Customer tips will no longer have any impact on Instacart’s contribution to shopper earnings. With an average tip of $5, our customers regularly recognize shoppers with tips for the services they provide. We believe that with these changes customers will continue to be able to recognize great service and have full confidence that their tips are going to the shopper who delivered their order, with no impact whatsoever on what the shopper receives from Instacart. As always, shoppers will receive 100% of their tips, regardless of the batch compensation.  

3. These changes will increase Instacart’s overall contribution to our shopper’s earnings and we believe that the change in tip structure will separate Instacart from an industry standard that’s no longer working for our shoppers and our customers.

Finally, I want to thank you for your feedback. It’s our responsibility to change course quickly when we realize we’re on the wrong path and we believe today’s changes are a step in the right direction.

Apoorva Mehta

Founder & CEO of Instacart

Lime raises $310 million Series D round led by Bain Capital

Lime just announced it has raised a $310 million Series D round. Led by Bain Capital, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Ventures, GV and IVP, the round values Lime at $2.4 billion.

“This new investment demonstrates the fundamental strength of our business and the increasingly rapid adoption of Lime,” Lime CEO Toby Sun wrote in a blog post. “The new funds will give us the ability to expand into new markets, enhance our technology, strengthen the team and pilot new opportunities. We will also continue investing in two critical areas: rider safety and city collaboration.”

In May, Lime partnered with Segway to launch its next generation of electric scooters. These Segway-powered Lime scooters were designed to be safer, longer-lasting via battery power and more durable for what the sharing economy requires,  Sun told TechCrunch last year.

But this partnership hasn’t been without its issues. In October, Lime recalled some of its scooters due to battery fire concerns. The next month, Lime put $3 million toward a new safety initiative called “Respect the Ride.” Safety, in general, is a major concern. In September, someone lost their life after a scooter accident.

This brings Lime’s total funding north of $800 million. Lime, which got its beginnings as a bike-share company, has deployed its scooters in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 27 international cities. Since June, Lime has more than doubled the number of cities where it operates in the U.S. Lime has also partnered with Uber to offer Lime scooters within the Uber app.