Uber sells food delivery business in India to Zomato

Uber said on Tuesday it has sold its food delivery business, Uber Eats, in India to local rival Zomato as the American ride-hailing giant races to shed lossmaking operations to become profitable by next year.

As part of the deal, Uber would own 9.99% of Zomato and its Eats users would become part of the Indian company, the two loss-making firms said. The deal valued Uber Eats’ India business between $300 million and $350 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch reported last month that the two were in advanced stages of talks for a deal. Indian newspaper Times of India first signaled about the two companies’ talks in November.

Satish Meena, an analyst at Forrester, told TechCrunch that despite the Uber deal, Zomato still lags Prosus Ventures -backed Swiggy, which services more number of orders each day.

“Our Uber Eats team in India has achieved an incredible amount over the last two years, and I couldn’t be prouder of their ingenuity and dedication,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Uber, in a statement. Uber Eats, which entered India in 2017, initiated conversations to sell the local business in late 2018, said people familiar with the matter.

“India remains an exceptionally important market to Uber and we will continue to invest in growing our local Rides business, which is already the clear category leader. We have been very impressed by Zomato’s ability to grow rapidly in a capital-efficient manner and we wish them continued success,” he added.

According to industry estimates, Uber is not the “clear category leader” in India. That title belongs to Ola, which processes twice as many rides as Uber in India and has presence in 110 cities, compared to Uber’s roughly three-dozen.

The announcement comes amidst of Zomato’s new financing round. The 11-year-old Indian firm last month raised $150 million from Ant Financial and is looking to secure another $400 million in the next few weeks.

More to follow…

TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at [email protected] or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

Instagram drops IGTV button, but only 1% downloaded the app

At most, 7 million of Instagram’s 1 billion-plus users have downloaded its standalone IGTV app in the 18 months since launch. And now, Instagram’s main app is removing the annoying orange IGTV button from its home page in what feels like an admission of lackluster results. For reference, TikTok received 1.15 billion downloads in the same period since IGTV launched in June 2018. In just the US, TikTok received 80.5 million downloads compared to IGTV’s 1.1 million since then, according to research commissioned by TechCrunch from Sensor Tower.

To be fair, TikTok has spent huge sums on install ads. But while long-form mobile video might gain steam as the years progress, Instagram hasn’t seemed to crack the code yet.

“As we’ve continued to work on making it easier for people to create and discover IGTV content, we’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the standalone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “We always aim to keep Instagram as simple as possible, so we’re removing this icon based on these learnings and feedback from our community.”

Instagram users don’t need the separate IGTV app to watch longer videos, as the IGTV experience is embedded in the main app and can be accessed via in-feed teasers, a tab of the Explore page, promo stickers in Stories, and profile tabs. Still, the fact that it wasn’t an appealing enough destination to warrant a home page button shows IGTV hasn’t become a staple like past Instagram launches including video, Stories, augmented reality filters, or Close Friends.

One thing still missing is an open way for Instagram creators to earn money directly from their IGTV videos. Users can’t get an ad revenue share like with YouTube or Facebook Watch. They also can’t receive tips or sell exclusive content subscriptions like on Facebook, Twitch, or Patreon.

The only financial support Facebook and Instagram have offered IGTV creators is reimbursement for production costs for a few celebrities. Those contracts also require creators to avoid making content related to politics, social issues, or elections, according to Bloomberg‘s Lucas Shaw and Sarah Frier.

“In the last few years we’ve offset small production costs for video creators on our platforms and have put certain guidelines in place,” a Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We believe there’s a fundamental difference between allowing political and issue-based content on our platform and funding it ourselves.” That seems somewhat hypocritical given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s criticism of Chinese app TikTok over censorship of political content.

Now users need to tap the IGTV tab inside Instagram Explore to view long-form videoAnother thing absent from IGTV? Large view counts. The first 20 IGTV videos I saw today in its Popular feed all had fewer than 200,000 views. BabyAriel, a creator with nearly 10 million Instagram followers that the company touted as a top IGTV creator has only post 20 of the longer videos to date with only one receiving over 500,000 views.

When the lack of monetization is combined with less than stellar view counts compared to YouTube and TikTok, it’s understandable why some creators might be hesistant to dedicate time to IGTV. Without their content keeping the feature reliably interesting, it’s no surprise users aren’t voluntarily diving in from the home page.

In another sign that Instagram is folding IGTV deeper into its app rather than providing it more breathing room of its own, and that it’s eager for more content, you can now opt to post IGTV videos right from the main Instagram feed post video uploader. AdWeek Social Pro reported this new “long video” upload option yesterday. A Facebook company spokesperson tells me “We want to keep our video upload process as simple as possible” and that “Our goal is to create a central place for video uploads”.

 

IGTV launched with a zealotish devotion to long-form vertical video despite the fact that little high quality content of this nature was being produced. Landscape orientation is helpful for longer clips that often require establishing shots and fitting multiple people on screen, while vertical was better for quick selfie monologues.

Yet Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom described IGTV to me in August 2018, declaring that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Now it doesn’t exist on Instagram at all since May 2019 when IGTV retreated from its orthodoxy and began allowing landscape content. I’d recommended it do that from the beginning, or at least offer a cropping tool for helping users turn their landscape videos into coherent vertical ones, but nothing’s been launched there either.

If Instagram still cares about IGTV, it needs to attract more must-see videos by helping creators get paid for their art. Or it needs to pour investment into buying high quality programming like Snapchat Discover’s Shows. If Instagram doesn’t care, it should divert development resources to it’s TikTok clone Reels that actually looks very well made and has a shot at stealing market share in the remixable social entertainment space.

For a company that’s won by betting big and moving fast, IGTV feels half-baked and sluggish. That might have been alright when Snapchat was shrinking and TikTok was still Musically, but Instagram is heading into an era of much stiffer competition. Quibi and more want to consume multi-minute spans of video viewing on mobile, and the space could grow as adults familiarize with the format. But offering the platform isn’t enough for Instagram. It needs to actively assist creators with finding what content works, and how to earn sustainable wages marking it.

This Week in Apps: App trends from 2019, Pinterest tops Snapchat, Disney+ hits No. 1 in Q4

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you to keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we dig into App Annie’s new “State of Mobile 2019” report and other app trends. We’re also seeing big gains for TikTok in 2019 and Disney+ in Q4. Both Apple and Google announced acquisitions this week that have implications for the mobile industry, as well.

Amazon partners with thousands of mom-and-pop stores in India

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in sharpening their algorithms prowess and intense focus on consumer delights. So now, Amazon is beginning to embrace them.

Amazon said on Saturday it has partnered with thousands of neighborhood stores — locally known as kirana stores — across India to use them as delivery points for goods.

The company said it’s a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. “It’s good for customers, and it helps the shop owners earn additional income,” tweeted Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos .

Bezos’ announcement today, as he concludes his fourth India trip, underscores just how vital neighborhood stores remain for shoppers in the country despite the world’s largest e-commerce giant’s major push into the country and an emergence of heavily backed ecosystem of shopping startups.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous (there are more than 10 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates), no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics is often better than most. E-commerce is still at an early stage in India, accounting for just 3% of total retail sales, according to industry estimates.

Walmart -owned Flipkart has also arrived at the same conclusion. Last month, it invested $30 million in four-year-old Bangalore-based startup ShadowFax, which works with neighborhood stores in 300 cities to use their real estate to store inventory, and utilize their large network of freelancers for the delivery.

Any alliance with neighborhood stores would come in handy to Amazon India and Flipkart as a new contender readies its e-commerce play. India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani late last month started signing up customers for a soft launch of JioMart in suburban Mumbai.

JioMart is a joint venture between Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which reshaped the country’s telecom market with ultra-cheap mobile data, and his Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retail chain with over 10,000 outlets in 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

The new venture is courting shopkeepers in many parts of India to use a handheld Jio terminal to help them better manage their inventory and order new stock from Reliance’s network of wholesalers. (Amazon, on its part, is slowly deepening its partnership with Future Retail, the second largest retailer in India.)

“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani said last year.

Today’s announcement marks what could easily be one of the most remarkable weeks for Amazon. Earlier this week, India’s anti-trust watchdog announced a probe into alleged predatory practices by Amazon India and Flipkart.

It was followed by Bezos’ arrival in India. At an event in New Delhi, he announced the company was investing a fresh $1 billion to its India operations and said it would work to help millions of small merchants come online for the first time.

Not far from the event venue, dozens of merchants assembled to protest the alleged anticompetitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart. On top of that, India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal chimed in on Amazon’s new investment to India, and said the investment was not a big favor to the nation. A day later, he backtracked on his comment.

On Friday, Amazon said it would create a million jobs in India by 2025, and ran a letter signed by Bezos on Amazon India website and app. Bezos had also sought to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a request that was not met.

Zendesk launches Sell Marketplace to bring app store to CRM product

Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and today the company announced the launch of the new Sell Marketplace.

Officially called The Zendesk Marketplace for Sell, it’s a place where companies can share components that extend the capabilities of the core Sell product. Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot and QuickBooks are available at launch.

App directory in Sell Marketplace. Screenshot: Zendesk

Matt Price, SVP and general manager at Zendesk, sees the marketplace as a way to extend Sell into a platform play, something he thinks could be a “game changer.” He likened it to the impact of app stores on mobile phones.

“It’s that platform that accelerated and really suddenly [transformed smart phones] from being just a product to [launching an] industry. And that’s what the marketplace is doing now, taking Sell from being a really great sales tool to being able to handle anything that you want to throw at it because it’s extensible through apps,” Price explained.

Price says that this ability to extend the product could manifest in several ways. For starters, customers can build private apps with a new application development framework. This enables them to customize Sell for their particular environment, such as connecting to an internal system or building functionality that’s unique to them.

In addition, ISVs can build custom apps, something Price points out they have been doing for some time on the Zendesk customer support side. “Interestingly Zendesk obviously has a very large community of independent developers, hundreds of them, who are [developing apps for] our support product, and now we have another product that they can support,” he said.

Finally, industry partners can add connections to their software. For instance, by installing Dropbox for Sell, it gives sales people a way to save documents to Dropbox and associate them with a deal in Sell.

Of course, what Zendesk is doing here with Sell Marketplace isn’t new. Salesforce introduced this kind of app store concept to the CRM world in 2006 when it launched AppExchange, but the Sell Marketplace still gives Sell users a way to extend the product to meet their unique needs, and that could prove to be a powerful addition.

Copilot is a subscription personal finance tracker aiming to kill Mint

When Intuit acquired Mint more than a decade ago, mobile was in a different place — as were tech-enabled financial services. There hasn’t been much progress for the personal finance tracker app category in the meantime. Mint has stumbled along with integration issues and tiresome data misclassifications. For many, the best alternative has been firing up a spreadsheet.

Copilot is a new personal finance-tracking app from a former Googler that seems like it could garner a following based on its slick design and ease of use. The subscription iOS app lets you load your financial data, create custom categories for transactions and set budgets. It has been invitation-only for the past several months, but is launching publicly today.

Founder Andrés Ugarte told TechCrunch that he started the effort after eight years at Google — most recently inside its Area 120 experimental products division — because of slow progress in the personal finance space since Mint’s acquisition.

“I’ve been trying to use personal finance apps for the last eight years, and I eventually ended up giving up on them,” Ugarte says. “I was willing to make them work, and create my own categories and fix the data so that stuff was all categorized correctly. But I was always disappointed because the apps never felt smart because they would make the same mistakes again.”

I spent a few hours poking around Copilot over the past couple of days and I like what I’ve seen. The design is friendlier than other options, but its major strengths are that you can easily re-categorize a transaction that didn’t automatically fall in the bucket that you wanted it to, mark internal transfers between accounts and exclude one-off purchases from your tracked budget. Other apps have also allowed these functionalities, but Copilot lets you denote whether you want every transaction with a particular vendor to route to a certain category or bypass your budget entirely, so it actually learns from your activity.

In some ways, the killer feature of Copilot is just how great Plaid is. The app relies heavily on the Visa-acquired financial services API startup, and I can see why the startup was so successful. The integration’s intuitiveness alongside Copilot’s already smooth on-boarding process gives users early indication for the app’s thoughtful design.

Copilot has its limitations, mainly in that the team is just two people right now, so those holding out for desktop or Android support might have to wait a bit. Some may be turned off by the app’s $2.99 monthly subscription price, though there are more than a few reasons to avoid free apps that have access to all of your financial info. Copilot maintains that users’ financial info will never be sold to or shared with third parties.

Ugarte has largely been self-funding the effort by selling off his Google shares, but the team just locked down a $250,000 angel round and is searching for more funding.

Marijuana delivery giant Eaze may go up in smoke

The first cannabis startup to raise big money in Silicon Valley is in danger of burning out. TechCrunch has learned that pot delivery middleman Eaze has seen unannounced layoffs, and its depleted cash reserves threaten its ability to make payroll or settle its AWS bill. Eaze was forced to raise a bridge round to keep the lights on as it prepares to attempt major pivot to ‘touching the plant’ by selling its own marijuana brands through its own depots.

If Eaze fails, it could highlight serious growing pains amid the ‘green rush’ of startups into the marijuana business.

Eaze, the startup backed by some $166 million in funding that once positioned itself as the “Uber of pot” — a marketplace selling pot and other cannabis products from dispensaries and delivering it to customers — has recently closed a $15 million bridge round, according to multiple source. The fund was meant to keep the lights on as Eaze struggles to raise its next round of funding amid problems with making decent margins on its current business model, lawsuits, payment processing issues, and internal disorganization.

 

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company is low on cash. Sources tell us that the company, which laid off some 30 people last summer, is preparing another round of cuts in the meantime. The spokesperson refused to discuss personnel issues but noted that there have been layoffs at many late stage startups as investors want to see companies cut costs and become more efficient.

From what we understand, Eaze is currently trying to raise a $35 million Series D round according to its pitch deck. The $15 million bridge round came from unnamed current investors. (Previous backers of the company include 500 Startups, DCM Ventures, Slow Ventures, Great Oaks, FJ Labs, the Winklevoss brothers, and a number of others.) Originally, Eaze had tried to raise a $50 million Series D, but the investor that was looking at the deal, Athos Capital, is said to have walked away at the eleventh hour.

Eaze is going into the fundraising with an enterprise value of $388 million, according to company documents reviewed by TechCrunch. It’s not clear what valuation it’s aiming for in the next round.

An Eaze spokesperson declined to discuss fundraising efforts but told TechCrunch, “The company is going through a very important transition right now, moving to becoming a plant-touching company through acquisitions of former retail partners that will hopefully allow us to more efficiently run the business and continue to provide good service to customers.

Desperate to grow margins

The news comes as Eaze is hoping to pull off a “verticalization” pivot, moving beyond online storefront and delivery of third-party products (rolled joints, flower, vaping products and edibles) and into sourcing, branding and dispensing the product directly. Instead of just moving other company’s marijuana brands between third-party dispensaries and customers, it wants to sell its own in-house brands through its own delivery depots to earn a higher margin. With a number of other cannabis companies struggling, the hope is that it will be able to acquire brands in areas like marijuana flower, pre-rolled joints, vaporizer cartridges, or edibles at low prices.

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company plans to announce the pivot in the coming days, telling TechCrunch that it’s “a pretty significant change from provider of services to operating in that fashion but also operating a depot directly ourselves.”

The startup is already making moves in this direction, and is in the process of acquiring some of the assets of a bankrupt cannabis business out of Canada called Dionymed — which had initially been a partner of Eaze’s, then became a competitor, and then sued it over payment disputes, before finally selling part of its business. These assets are said to include Oakland dispensary Hometown Heart, which it acquired in an all-share transaction (“Eaze effectively bought the lawsuit,” is how one source described the sale). This will become Eaze’s first owned delivery depot.

In a recent presentation deck that Eaze has been using when pitching to investors — which has been obtained by TechCrunch — the company describes itself as the largest direct-to-consumer cannabis retailer in California. It has completed more than 5 million deliveries, served 600,000 customers and tallied up an average transaction value of $85. 

To date, Eaze has only expanded to one other state beyond California, Oregon. Its aim is to add five more states this year, and another three in 2021. But the company appears to have expected more states to legalize recreational marijuana sooner, which would have provided geographic expansion. Eaze seems to have overextended itself too early in hopes of capturing market share as soon as it became available.

An employee at the company tells us that on a good day Eaze can bring in between $800,000 and $1 million in net revenue, which sounds great, except that this is total merchandise value, before any cuts to suppliers and others are made. Eaze makes only a fraction of that amount, one reason why it’s now looking to verticatlize into more of a primary role in the ecosystem. And that’s before considering all of the costs associated with running the business. 

Eaze is suffering from a problem rampant in the marijuana industry: a lack of working capital. Since banks often won’t issue working capital loans to weed-related business, deliverers like Eaze can experience delays in paying back vendors. A source says late payments have pushed some brands to stop selling through Eaze.

Another drain on its finances have been its marketing efforts. A source said out-of-home ads (billboards and the like) allegedly were a significant expense at one point. It has to compete with other pot purchasing options like visiting retail stores in person, using dispensaries’ in-house delivery services, or buying via startups like Meadow that act as aggregated online points of sale for multiple dispensaries.

Indeed, Eaze claims that its pivot into verticalization will bring it $204 million in revenues on gross transactions of $300 million. It notes in the presentation that it makes $9.04 on an average sale of $85, which will go up to $18.31 if it successfully brings in ‘private label’ products and has more depot control.

Selling weed isn’t eazy

The poor margins are only one of the problems with Eaze’s current business model, which the company admits in its presentation have led to an inconsistent customer experience and poor customer affinity with its brand — especially in the face of competition from a number of other delivery businesses.  

Playing on the on-demand, delivery-of-everything theme, it connected with two customer bases. First, existing cannabis consumers already using some form of delivery service for their supply; and a newer, more mainstream audience with disposable income that had become more interested in cannabis-related products but might feel less comfortable walking into a dispensary, or buying from a black market dealer.

It is not the only startup that has been chasing that audience. Other competitors in the wider market for cannabis discovery, distribution and sales include Weedmaps, Puffy, Blackbird, Chill (a brand from Dionymed that it founded after ending its earlier relationship with Eaze), and Meadow, with the wider industry estimated to be worth some $11.9 billion in 2018 and projected to grow to $63 billion by 2025.

Eaze was founded on the premise that the gradual decriminalisation of pot — first making it legal to buy for medicinal use, and gradually for recreational use — would spread across the US and make the consumption of cannabis-related products much more ubiquitous, presenting a big opportunity for Eaze and other startups like it. 

It found a willing audience among consumers, but also tech workers in the Bay Area, a tight market for recruitment. 

“I was excited for the opportunity to join the cannabis industry,” one source said. “It has for the most part has gotten a bad rap, and I saw Eaze’s mission as a noble thing, and the team seemed like good people.”

Eaze CEO Ro Choy

That impression was not to last. The company, this employee was told when joining, had plenty of funding with more on the way. The newer funding never materialised, and as Eaze sought to figure out the best way forward, the company cycled through different ideas and leadership: former Yammer executive Keith McCarty, who cofounded the company with Roie Edery (both are now founders at another Cannabis startup, Wayv), left, and the CEO role was given to another ex-Yammer executive, Jim Patterson, who was then replaced by Ro Choy, who is the current CEO. 

“I personally lost trust in the ability to execute on some of the vision once I got there,” the ex-employee said. “I thought that on one hand a picture was painted that wasn’t the truth. As we got closer and as I’d been there longer and we had issues with funding, the story around why we were having issues kept changing.” Several sources familiar with its business performance and culture referred to Eaze as a “shitshow”.

No ‘Push For Kush’

The quick shifts in strategy were a recurring pattern that started well before the company got tight financial straits. 

One employee recalled an acquisition Eaze made several years ago of a startup called Push for Pizza. Founded by five young friends in Brooklyn, Push for Pizza had gone viral over a simple concept: you set up your favourite pizza order in the app, and when you want it, you pushed a single button to order it. (Does that sound silly? Don’t forget, this was also the era of Yo, which was either a low point for innovation, or a high point for cynicism when it came to average consumer intelligence… maybe both.)

Eaze’s idea, the employee said, was to take the basics of Push for Pizza and turn it into a weed app, Push for Kush. In it, customers could craft their favourite mix and, at the touch of a button, order it, lowering the procurement barrier even more.

The company was very excited about the deal and the prospect of the new app. They planned a big campaign to spread the word, and held an internal event to excite staff about the new app and business line. 

“They had even made a movie of some kind that they showed us, featuring a caricature of Jim” — the CEO at a the time — “hanging out of the sunroof of a limo.” (I’ve been able to find the opening segment of this video online, and the Twitter and Instagram accounts that had been created for Push for Kush, but no more than that.)

Then just one week later, the whole plan was scrapped, and the founders of Push for Pizza fired. “It was just brushed under the carpet,” the former employee said. “No one could get anything out of management about what had happened.”

Something had happened, though: the company had been taking payments by card when it made the acquisition, but the process was never stable and by then it had recently gone back to the cash-only model. Push for Kush by cash was less appealing. “They didn’t think it would work,” the person said, adding that this was the normal course of business at the startup. “Big initiatives would just die in favor of pushing out whatever new thing was on the product team’s radar.” 

Eaze’s spokesperson confirmed that “we did acquire Push For Pizza . . but ultimately didn’t choose to pursue [launching Push For Kush].”

Payments were a recurring issue for the startup. Eaze started out taking payments only in cash — but as the business grew, that became increasingly problematic. The company found itself kicked off the credit card networks and was stuck with a less traceable, more open to error (and theft) cash-only model at a time when one employee estimated it was bringing in between $800,000 and $1 million per day in sales. 

Eventually, it moved to cards, but not smoothly: Visa specifically did not want Eaze on its platform. Eaze found a workaround, employees say, but it was never above board, which became the subject of the lawsuit between Eaze and Dionymed. Currently the company appear to only take payments via debit cards, ACH transfer, and cash, not credit card.

Another incident sheds light on how the company viewed and handled security issues. 

Can Eaze rise from the ashes?

At one point, employees allegedly discovered that Eaze was essentially storing all of its customer data — including users’ signatures and other personal information — in an Azure bucket that was not secured, meaning that if anyone was nosing around, it could be easily discovered and exploited.

The vulnerability was brought to the company’s attention. It was something that was up to product to fix, but the job was pushed down the list. It ultimately took seven months to patch this up. “I just kept seeing things with all these huge holes in them, just not ready for prime time,” one ex-employee said of the state of products. “No one was listening to engineers, and no one seemed to be looking for viable products.” Eaze’s spokesperson confirms a vulnerability was discovered but claims it was promptly resolved.

Today, the issue is a more pressing financial one: the company is running out of money. Employees have been told the company may not make its next payroll, and AWS will shut down its servers in two days if it doesn’t pay up. 

Eaze’s spokesperson tried to remain optimistic while admitting the dire situation the company faces. “Eaze is going to continue doing everything we can to support customers and the overall legal cannabis industry. We’re excited about the future and acknowledge the challenges that the entire community is facing.”

As medicinal and recreational marijuana access became legal in some states in the latter 2010s, entrepreneurs and investors flocked to the market. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on the end of a major prohibition — a once in a lifetime event. But high government taxes, enduring black markets, intense competition, and a lack of financial infrastructure willing to deal with any legal haziness have caused major setbacks.

While the pot business might sound chill, operations like Eaze depend on coordinating high-stress logistics with thin margins and little room for error. Plenty of food delivery startups from Sprig to Munchery went under after running into similar struggles, and at least banks and payment processors would work with them. With the odds stacked against it, Eaze has a tough road ahead.

44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

YouTube launches Profile cards that show a user’s comment history

Last September, YouTube began testing a new feature called profile cards, which showed a user’s public information and comment history on the current channel. The feature was touted as a way for creators to more easily identify their biggest fans by offering easy access to their past comments. Now, YouTube is launching the product to the general public, initially on Android.

YouTube hopes the new feature will help users “explore comments, build connections with others, and contribute to a more welcoming YouTube overall,” the company explains.

To use Profile cards, you’ll just tap on the profile picture of anyone who’s commenting to view their card. Here, information like their name, profile photo, subscriptions, subscriber counts, and recent comments will appear in a pop-up card. All this information is publicly available on YouTube, but the Profile card consolidates it in one place.

If you’re already subscribed to the commenter’s channel, the Profile card will indicate this; otherwise, you can click the red “Subscribe” link to start following the commenter on YouTube.

To be clear, the comment history that displays isn’t a user’s full YouTube comment history (though that would be interesting!). Instead, the Profile card only shows the comments on the channel you’re viewing when you click to view the card.

A link to the commenter’s channel is also included, towards the bottom.

While YouTube has promoted the feature as a way to connect with community members and identify a channel’s best commenters, it could also be useful for identifying trolls. Being able to see the commenter’s history on the channel can help creators or moderators make more informed decisions about whether future comments from the same users should be hidden, or if the user is trustworthy enough to earn a spot on the “approved users” list, for example.

When the feature launched into testing this fall, feedback was largely positive — especially since some see it as a way to help raise their own channel’s profile by being an active commenter. More recent feedback, however, has a few users asking for an opt-out option so their comments aren’t shown, citing concerns about out-of-context remarks or privacy issues.

YouTube says the feature is available now on Android and will launch on other devices in the future.

Profile cards are one of a few changes launching on YouTube. Also new are optional topics in the Subscriptions feed on iOS, which make it easier for subscribers to filter their subscriptions by topics like “Today,” “Unwatched,” “Live,” “Posts,” “Continue Watching,” and more.