Juul will stop selling mango, creme, fruit and cucumber pod flavors in the U.S.

Juul has stopped selling a number of its flavored nicotine products — mango, creme, fruit and cucumber — in the U.S., pending a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Now, the vaping company will only sell the flavors that taste like tobacco, mint or menthol in the U.S., the company announced today.

“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said in a statement.

This comes after Juul stopped actively supporting San Francisco’s Proposition C, ceased its advertising campaigns in the U.S and stopped lobbying the FDA on its draft flavor guidance.

But this doesn’t mean Juul is giving up on selling these flavors in the future. The company said it will continue to try to develop scientific evidence to support the use of those flavored products, as well as develop stricter measures to combat underage usage. Meanwhile, Juul is still selling all of its flavors outside of the U.S.

Earlier this week, a parent who lost her child filed a wrongful lawsuit against Juul. That suit is just one of several lawsuits Juul faces.

Uber lays off another ~350 across Eats, self-driving and other departments

Uber has just laid off around 350 employees across a variety of teams within the organization, marking what the company says is its third and final phase of layoffs of the process it began earlier this year, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said to employees today in an email obtained by TechCrunch (full email below). Those affected include employees from Eats, performance marketing, Advanced Technologies Group and recruiting, as well as various teams within the global rides and platform departments. Some employees have also been asked to relocate.

“Days like today are tough for us all, and the ELT and I will do everything we can to make certain that we won’t need or have another day like this ahead of us,” Khosrowshahi wrote in the email. “We all have to play a part by establishing a new normal in how we work: identifying and eliminating duplicate work, upholding high standards for performance, giving direct feedback and taking action when expectations aren’t being met, and eliminating the bureaucracy that tends to creep as companies grow.”

In total, the layoffs represent about 1% of the company, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. All of this comes about one month after Uber laid off 435 employees across its product and engineering teams and less than three months after Uber laid off about 400 people from its marketing team. At this point, most departments at Uber have been affected by layoffs.

For Uber’s self-driving car unit, this is its first round of layoffs since it spun out into its own unit earlier this year. Uber has previously said the team consists of more than 1,200 people and today still employs more than 1,200, despite the layoffs. according to an Uber spokesperson. Based on the terms of ATG’s $1 billion fundraising round in April, the unit is worth $7.25 billion on a post-money basis.

More than 70% of those affected in this round of layoffs are based in the U.S. and Canada, and the rest are relatively evenly distributed across APAC, Latin America and EMEA. Uber notified those affected this morning.

As TechCrunch previously reported, these layoffs are a result of Khosrowshahi asking every member of his executive leadership team if they were to start from scratch, would their respective organizations look the way they do?

“As you know, over the past few months, our leaders have looked carefully at their teams to ensure our organizations are structured for success for the next few years,” Khosrowshahi wrote to employees. “This has resulted in difficult but necessary changes to ensure we have the right people in the right roles in the right locations, and that we’re always holding ourselves accountable to top performance.”

In Q2 2019, Uber lost more than $5 billion — its biggest quarterly revenue loss to date — though a chunk of its losses were a result of stock-based compensation expenses for employees following the company’s IPO in May.

In other parts of Uber’s business, it’s continuing to invest money in ensuring its drivers remain 1099 independent contractors. Already, Uber, along with Lyft and DoorDash, put $30 million toward a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors. In light of gig worker protection bill AB-5 passing in the California State Senate and Assembly, Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West made it clear the company was willing to invest more money into that campaign initiative. California Governor Gavin Newsom has since signed that bill into law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020.

While West said he believes Uber would pass the test and prove its drivers are properly classified, there would surely be a financial impact if Uber fails the test. West did not comment on what that impact could be, but industry analysts have estimated a change in classification for drivers could result in up to a 30% cost increase.

Uber will report its Q3 earnings on November 4. The company is currently trading at $31.26 per share, which is well below its IPO pricing of $45.

Below is Khosrowshahi’s full email with the subject line, “Stronger moving forward”:

Team Uber,

As you know, over the past few months, our leaders have looked carefully at their teams to ensure our organizations are structured for success for the next few years. This has resulted in difficult but necessary changes to ensure we have the right people in the right roles in the right locations, and that we’re always holding ourselves accountable to top performance.

Today is the last wave of a process we began months ago with our Marketing team, and more recently, with our Product and Engineering teams. This time, ATG, Eats, Global Rides and Platform (Rides Ops, CommOps, Safety & Insurance, U4B, and Product Ops), Performance Marketing, and Recruiting have made changes. As part of this exercise, some of our employees are being asked to relocate, and around 350 will be leaving the company.

Days like today are tough for us all, and the ELT and I will do everything we can to make certain that we won’t need or have another day like this ahead of us. We all have to play a part by establishing a new normal in how we work: identifying and eliminating duplicate work, upholding high standards for performance, giving direct feedback and taking action when expectations aren’t being met, and eliminating the bureaucracy that tends to creep as companies grow.

We have proven ourselves to be not only one of the most ambitious and innovative companies in the world, but also one of the most resilient. We’ve always pushed through tough times and come out the other side a better and stronger company—that will continue to be true tomorrow, and every day after.

As always, we’ll be at the All Hands tomorrow and will dedicate most of the time to answer your questions. Add yours to the slido here.

Eyes forward—back to building.


Fortnite is just a black hole right now

Fortnite just blew up its entire map and all that’s left is a black hole.

Some are speculating that this is simply a teaser for a new Fortnite map, but it’s unclear when that new map will arrive. On Epic Games’ status page, it says Fortnite is currently experiencing a minor service outage, noting “anomaly detected.”

As Kotaku reports, players this morning were only able to access a team fight mode called “The End.” That led to a massive explosion that resulted in a black hole.

Fortnite’s website is currently just a Twitch stream featuring a black hole.

Instacart shoppers are organizing a nationwide protest

Instacart has long been at odds with its shoppers — the people who go to the grocery store on behalf of customers. From November 3-5, thousands of Instacart shoppers plan to protest with three demands. They want Instacart to change the default tip amount to at least 10%, ditch the service fee and commit to always giving 100% of the tip to the shopper.

“We did not arrive at the 10% figure arbitrarily, rather this is what the default tip amount was back when I and many others started working for Instacart,” Vanessa Bain, an Instacart shopper wrote on Medium this week. “We are simply demanding the restoration of what was originally promised.”

Back in 2016, Instacart removed the option to tip in favor of guaranteeing its workers higher delivery commissions. About a month later, following pressure from its workers, the company reintroduced tipping. Then, in April 2018, Instacart began suggesting a 5% default tip and reduced its service fee from a 10% waivable fee to a 5% fixed fee.

“We take the feedback of the shopper community very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience,” an Instacart spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This protest is on the heels of a class-action lawsuit over wages and tips, as well as a tipping debacle where Instacart included tips in its base pay for shoppers. Instacart, however, has since stopped that practice and provided shoppers with back pay. Though, Fast Company recently reported that Instacart delivery drivers’ tips are mysteriously decreasing.

But it’s a new day for gig economy workers — at least in California. Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law gig worker protections bill AB-5. This legislation will make it harder for gig economy companies to classify their workers as 1099 independent contractors when it goes into effect in January. The victory came after gig workers made their voices heard through protests and other direct actions.

What’s clear at this point is that workers are refusing to stay silent and are more than willing to advocate for themselves. Organizers of the Instacart protest have outlined three ways for shoppers to get involved. The more active approach would entail shoppers signing up for as many hours as possible from November 3 -5, but keep letting the batches time out. The more passive approach entails not signing up for any hours at all, and not accepting any on-demand batches.

“Despite loyalty to Instacart and the customers we’ve gotten to know over the years, many of us have been forced to find other gigs to make ends meet,” Bain wrote. “But not all Shoppers are so lucky or even have the ability to be so fluid with their careers or their time. A large portion of the working body are single parents, caregivers, are disabled or have other conditions or obligations that would make getting other work difficult or impossible. Instacart is highly aware of this and weaponizes this fact against us when turning the pay dials lower and lower.”

Stephen Curry invests in Guild Education

Stephen Curry, along with SC 30, Inc. President Bryant Barr, just announced an investment in Guild Education, which helps Fortune 1000 companies, like Disney and Loews, offer debt-free degrees to their employees.

“We pioneered what we call education as a benefit,” Guild Education co-founder and CEO Rachel Carlson told TechCrunch. “We’re the tech platform and network of non-profit and public universities. We built those things together so that every employee at those companies has access to go back to school with the support of their employer.”

Guild Education aligns with Curry’s recently announced non-profit organization Eat. Learn. Play Foundation, Curry told TechCrunch.

“The timing was crazy because of our Eat. Learn. Play Foundation that launched last July,” Curry said. “This is an opportunity to really target that learn piece and explore how important it is in terms of college education and college completion. And we’re trying to attack that from elementary school and on.”

Guild Education’s mission also aligns with Curry’s personal goals to finish college. Curry didn’t have a chance to complete his degree in sociology from Davidson before getting drafted to the NBA in 2009.

“There’s a parallel there,” Curry said. “It’s a process I’ll have to go through very, very soon.”

Unfortunately, Davidson College’s process for accepting credits does not align with Guild Education. The college, Barr told TechCrunch, has a strict requirement for what transfers in as credits.

Although Curry will not be completing his degree via Guild Education, the company is available to more than three million Americans.

“Our students are the most underrated of the American workforce,” Carlson said. “There are 64 million Americans who have not gone to college. We both shared the belief that we have to offer pathways for underrated, talented people who haven’t had the opportunities they deserve. We can expand that opportunity through education.”

LifeCouple wants to improve your romantic relationship

Good relationships require ongoing commitment and work. LifeCouple, launching today in public beta at TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, wants to help make that work a bit easier for you and your partner.

Through its app, LifeCouple enables couples to address and monitor any challenges in their relationship. The startup does this by serving up content designed to encourage people to look more closely at their relationship across four key areas: trust, communication, conflict and intimacy. The content includes daily relationship challenges, ice breakers to help approach tricky conversations, digital gifts and more.

LifeCouple is designed to supplement couples therapy, its founder Sean Rones told TechCrunch.

“It’s not a replacement to therapy but it’s a complement to it,” he said. “I don’t think this can 100% solve your problem but it can give you the tools to solve your problems.”

Additionally, Rones envisions couples therapists using this tool to further assist their clients.

Just how startups use technology to track fitness and health, LifeCouple aims to help people create relationship goals, address those goals and track them over time. The ideal is for people to spend about 15 minutes per day to get the most out of it, Rones said.

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“What motivated me is after many different startups, I’ve learned that in order to be somewhat successful, you have to be tackling a really big problem,” he said.

LifeCouple is currently free, but is working to determine the cost moving forward. In the first two months of its soft launch, LifeCouple amassed 2,500 users in the U.S.

“What we’re trying to do is create something that can help — even if it’s just 10 couples that stay together,” Rones said.

This year, LifeCouple raised a $575,000 seed round. The plan is to do a full launch in January.

Lyft launches a driver rewards program

Lyft is rolling out rewards for its drivers to give them access to things like cash bonuses, ride credits, and free or discounted tax services. Initially, the rewards program will be available to drivers in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, New Orleans, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Drivers earn points for every eligible dollar earned while they drive during their respective city’s busiest hours. From there, drivers can redeem the points for cash bonuses and Lyft rider credits.

For drivers with a 90% or higher acceptance rate who have a rating of at least 4.9 (Platinum or Gold), they have access to exclusive features. That includes the ability to see the estimated length of trip time and direction before they accept the ride.

Those who reach Platinum status can claim a monthly AT&T phone plan credit, a Lyft direct debit card with 5% cash back on all gas prices, free 24/7 roadside assistance from AllState and free Turbo Tax for self-employed workers.

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In November, Uber launched a rider loyalty program. That same month, Uber unveiled Uber Pro, a rewards program for drivers in ten cities. Since then, Uber has rolled out Pro to an additional 20 markets.

This comes shortly after gig worker bill AB 5 was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

AB-5 will help to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codify the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in work of some independently established trade or other similar business.

Clearly, Lyft is trying to do what it can to make its drivers happy and perhaps minimize the potential of future labor-related lawsuits.

Already, Lyft has put in $30 million toward a campaign initiative to ensure it can continue to classify its drivers and independent contractors. Uber, similarly, has also put in $30 million toward that same initiative.

Defining micromobility and where it’s going with business and mobility analyst Horace Dediu

Micromobility has taken off over the last couple of years. Between electric bike-share and scooter-share, these vehicles have made their way all over the world. Meanwhile, some of these companies, like Bird and Lime, have already hit unicorn status thanks to massive funding rounds.

Horace Dediu, the well-known industry analyst who coined the term micromobility as it relates to this emerging form of transportation, took some time to chat with TechCrunch ahead of Micromobility Europe, a one-day event focused on all-things micromobility.

We chatted about the origin of the word micromobility, where big tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon fit into the space, opportunities for developers to build tools and services on top of these vehicles, the opportunity for franchising business models, the potential for micromobility to be bigger than autonomous, and much more.

Here’s a Q&A, which I lightly edited for length and clarity, I did with Dediu ahead of his micromobility conference.

Megan Rose Dickey: Hey, Horace. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Horace Dediu: Hey, no problem. My pleasure.

Rose Dickey: I was hoping to chat with you a bit about micromobility because I know that you have the big conference coming up in Europe, so I figured this would be a good time to touch base with you. I know you’ve been credited with coining the term micromobility as it relates to likes of shared e-bikes and scooters.

So, to kick things off, can you define micromobility?

Dediu: Yes, sure. So, the idea came to me because I actually remembered microcomputing.

Uber Incubator launches to develop new products and services

Uber today announced Uber Incubator, an initiative open to both Uber employees and those outside the Uber organization to develop products and services on top of Uber’s platform.

“Our process follows lean startup methodologies,” Uber wrote in a blog post. “We provide support and resources to teams with a compelling opportunity, so they can rapidly pressure test the business model and iterate their idea towards product-market fit. Once the business is proven sustainable, it receives funding consistent with disciplined business-building best practices to scale to the next stage and merge into the overall Uber platform.”

The idea for Transit, for example, came out of the Uber Incubator, the company said, and there’s already another project underway called New Mobility Robotics. That includes sensing and robotics for light electric vehicles, like bikes and scooters, on Uber’s platform. Details are scarce, but Uber has previously talked about exploring autonomous bikes and scooters that would be able to drive themselves to charging areas or other locations.

At an event today in San Francisco, Uber also showed off its swappable batteries for JUMP bikes, as well as kiosks, which it plans to deploy next year. The idea is for riders to be able swap out the batteries themselves.

JUMP also plans to bring these swappable batteries to its scooters. This comes shortly after Uber’s JUMP received a one-year permit to operate its shared electric scooters in San Francisco.

As part of the incubator, Uber also launched a six-month entrepreneur in residence program, open to both Uber employees and external people. Those participating in the EIR program will work closely with members from the incubator.

Meanwhile, Uber’s corporate team is working to ensure its drivers remain independent contractors. As Uber outlined last month, the company is pushing for a framework that would establish a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, offer portable benefits and enable drivers to “have a collective voice.”

On a press call following the passage of gig worker protections bill AB-5, Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said Uber is continuing to explore several legal and political options to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020. Uber and Lyft announced a $60 million joint initiative last month, and West said Uber is open to investing even more money in that committee account.

At the event today, Uber also announced the addition of a driver earnings estimate tool.

Uber is adding the ability to text 911 in-app

Sexual assaults and other safety-related issues are unfortunately a reality in the ride-hailing business. Uber, which has been the subject of some of these allegations, just announced the ability for riders to text 911 from within the app.

During a ride, riders can access Uber’s safety toolkit to text 911 a prepopulated message of all the pertinent information, like the car license plate, where they’re going and their exact location.

“We know that in an emergency, every second counts,” Uber Senior Director of Product Management Sachin Kansal said at an Uber event today. “The combination of being able to text 911 through the app and being able to send the exact location through the Uber app is an absolute game changer, and law enforcement professionals tell us that this can potentially save lives.”

This comes shortly after the Washington Post reported how Uber’s investigations team works to limit the company’s liability. Between 2014-2018, CNN found 103 Uber drivers who had been accused of sexual assault or abuse of passengers.

Uber first added 911 assistance to its app in May 2018 in partnership with RapidSOS. Uber will launch this 911 text feature next month in Los Angeles in partnership with local law enforcement. Down the road, Uber hopes to launch the feature in additional markets throughout the U.S.