Jiji raises $21M for its Africa online classifieds business

Pan-African digital classifieds company Jiji has raised $21 million in Series C and C-1 financing from six investors, led by Knuru Capital.

The Nigeria based venture, co-founded by Ukrainian entrepreneur Vladimir Mnogoletniy, has an East to West presence that includes Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Buyers and sellers in those markets use Jiji to transact purchases from real estate to car sales.

“We are the largest marketplace in Africa where people can sell pretty much anything…We are like a combination of eBay and Craigslist for Africa,” Mnogoletniy told TechCrunch on a call.

The classifieds site has two million listings on its Africa platforms and hit eight million unique monthly users in 2018, per company stats.

Jiji sees an addressable market of 400 million people across its operating countries, according to Mnogoletniy. The venture bought up one of its competitors in April this year, when it acquired the assets of Naspers owned online marketplace OLX in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Jiji’s top three categories for revenues and listings (in order) are vehicle sales, real estate, and electronics sales (namely mobile phones).

With the recent funding, the company’s total capital raised from 2014 to 2019 comes to $50 million. Knuru Capital CEO Alain Dib confirmed the Abu Dhabi based fund’s lead on Jiji’s most recent round.

Jiji plans to use the latest investment toward initiatives to increase the overall number of buyers, sellers and transactions on its site. The company will also upgrade the platform to create more listings and faster matching in the area of real-estate, according to Mnogoletniy.

For the moment, Jiji doesn’t have plans for country expansion or company purchases. “Maybe at some point we will consider more acquisitions, but for the time being we’d like to focus on those five markets,” Mnogoletniy said — referring to Jiji’s existing African country presence.

To ensure the quality of listings, particularly in real-estate, Jiji employs an automated and manual verification process. “We were able to eliminate a high-percentage of fraud listings and estimate fraud listings at less than 1%,” said Mnogoletniy.

He recognized the challenge of online scams originating in Nigeria. “We take data protection very seriously. We have a data-control officer just to do the data-protection verification.”

With the large consumer base and volume of transactional activity on its platform, Jiji could layer on services, such as finance and payments.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about adding segments other than our main business. We decided that for the next three to five years, we should be laser focused on our core business — to be the largest marketplace in Africa for buying and selling to over 400 million people,” Mnogoletniy said.

The company faces an improving commercial environment for its goals, with Africa registering some of the fastest growth in the world for smartphone adoption and internet penetration.

Jiji also faces competitors in Africa’s growing online classifieds space.

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia, which listed in April in an NYSE IPO, operates its Jumia Deals digtial marketplace site in multiple African countries.

Swiss owned Ringier Africa has classified services and business content sites in eight French and English speaking countries. On car sales, Nigerian startup Cars45 has created an online marketplace for pricing, rating, and selling used-autos. 

Adding to the trend of foreign backed ventures entering Africa’s internet business space, Chinese owned Opera launched an online buy/sell site, OList, last month connected its African payment app, OPay.

eBay operates a partnership with MallforAfrica for limited goods sales from Africa to the U.S., but hasn’t gone live yet on the continent.

On outpacing rival in its markets, Jiji’s co-founder Vladimir Mnogoletniy touts the company’s total focus on the classifieds business, market experience, and capital as advantages.

“We’ve spent five years and raised $50 million to build Jiji to where it is today. It would take $50 to $100 million for these others to have a chance at building a similar business,” he said.

In the ghost kitchen race, GV-backed Kitchen United aims to kill with kindness; here’s its playbook

Cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens, dark kitchens. No doubt by now you know a little about these businesses that are moving into underused or more affordable properties that can be turned into shared workspaces for the purposes of cooking up meals exclusively for delivery.

You probably also know that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been at the forefront of the trend for more than a year, growing his CloudKitchens business as fast as he can, fueled in part by $400 million that he quietly raised from the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Sometimes these are in the U.S., in so-called opportunity zones or lower-income areas that, under the Trump Administration, are enabling businesses to set up shop and avoid federal taxes in exchange. Kalanick is also reportedly eyeing big moves into both India and China.

CloudKitchens has competition, though. In fact, among a growing number of rivals, its fiercest competitor is Kitchen United, a Pasadena, Ca.-based outfit that has raised roughly $56 million to date from investors including GV, Fidelity, and the real estate operating companies Divco West and RXR Realty, among others — and which has turned down hundreds of millions of dollars more for the time being.

Does its founder, a tech veteran turned restaurateur Jim Collins, not understand the opportunity before him? It was one question among many that Collins answered last week at a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco where he dazzled the crowd with his comic timing — and his tactics. The interview — conducted by former TechCrunch editor and now CNBC reporter Lora Kolodny — also provided one of the best overviews to date of what this fast-ballooning industry is really about.

If you’re interested in the future of how food is made and delivered — and who could win and lose in the process — this is an interview you should read to the end.

On Collins’s background:

“I did tech companies for a bunch of years and sold the last one off about 10 years ago, and i said i never want to work with venture capital people again. [Laughs.] That’s sort of true but not completely. Honestly, I was burned out, it was a grind.

[One day] there was a restaurant up the street for sale. I walked up the street and bought the restaurant and then came home and told my wife, ‘I bought the restaurant.’ And so we had a conversation that [that decision] might entail a lifestyle change where I was going to be gone every night, and I was at the restaurant every night for about a year and a half getting it going, but I absolutely fell in love with the restaurant business.

On how he came to run Kitchen United (as well as run his restaurant, which is still a going concern):

[Our restaurant] is in Montrose outside of Los Angeles, in a sleepy community that most people in Los Angeles have never heard of, and about a year-and-a-half ago, we started getting people at the door, saying, ‘Yes, I’m from Postmates’ or ‘DoorDash’ or ‘UberEats’ and ‘I’m here to place an order.’  Because we weren’t signed up on any services, I was like: What is that? I was so far outside of my past world that I didn’t even know what it was. But all of a sudden, it was a thing and [it was growing], and one day, a headhunter who I knew well called me up and said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at food thing.’ So he sent me a job description (that was honestly terrible) for the CEO role at Kitchen United, so I went and met the founders — the two folks who were with the company at the time — and I kind of fell in love with them and felt like it was a big idea that we could go after.

What they pitched him on, and why he didn’t think it would work:

The original business plan was,  ‘Robots and autonomous cars are going to change the food business, so we need to be ready for that, so let’s build kitchens!’ And I said, ‘I think that’s actually true . . . in 10 years. The problem that the restaurant industry is experiencing because of the explosion of the shift in consumer demand and consumption isn’t a robots-and-autonomous-cars problem. It’s a proximity problem, and proximity is a problem we can solve tomorrow while we’re waiting.

What Kitchen United is building exactly:

We build kitchen centers. Basically you go into a space that’s $25 per square foot that no one has rented in 20 years, so we’ll take that space and put a bunch of kitchens in it. We also install a lot of technology — IoT, conveyer belts, all kinds of display information; we use machine learning to understand fire times — a whole series of things that go into deploying a kitchen center. Then we build a pick-up center in the front of the space that’s kind of the retail interface where drivers from Ubers, Postmates, DoorDash, Cavier, GrubHub (and seven other services can pick up the food) and [consumers can also grab pick-up].

Jim CollinsThere’s a thing called shared kitchens, which means that I’m going to go and cook in a space this morning, and when I’m done, somebody else is going to walk in this afternoon and cook in that same space. That’s not our business. Ours is effectively creating four-wall spaces for known restaurants to operate inside of our facilities for the purpose of extending their reach to meet new markets for delivery and consumer pick-up.

On whether Kitchen United is raising more money soon:

I don’t think so. We closed our Series B about six weeks ago.

It’s weird to be an entrepreneur in this world. There are two different operating methods that you’re encouraged to pursue if you’re going after a hot space. You’re either encouraged to be the biggest and fastest and to take as much money as you possibly can so you can be the biggest fastest, right? Or you’re encouraged to work hard and build a great business and then once you’ve built a great business, go out and get lots of money so you can build it.

Honestly, I felt like this business was so complex, that we had to learn about elementary stuff, like, where do we build these? Where’s the right place to put ’em? When we first started, we had meetings with big investment firms that were saying, ‘We’ll put $250 million against a $750 million valuation right now.’ That was the first conversation, when it was really like, we’ll put $8 in against whatever [laughs]. But when we were having that conversation, I’m flying home, thinking, $250 million? How would I deploy that? And they’re saying, ‘Well, you just go out and buy a bunch of warehouses in opportunity zones, and put kitchens in them, and it’ll be a great business! It’ll be awesome and you’ll own the market!”

Except warehouses in opportunity zones are too far away from consumers for food to get there fast enough for consumers to want to order from those restaurants. So I would have deployed $150 million in venture capital on brick walls and dry wall and stoves and vents and plumbing — like, ugly stuff. And once that stuff is deployed, it isn’t like it’s so easy to pick it up and move it someplace else.

How Kitchen United competes, if not in a land grab: 

Most conservative projections for this space over the course of the next four years are that we’re going to go from somewhere around $30 billion today to around $230 billion, so people come along and people say, ‘This guy is in this business and he’s got all this money’ or ‘This company has raised this much to put to work; does that make you nervous?’ And the answer is, if we go out and build 3,000 of these things, we build like the fourth-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., we’ve only addressed about 40 percent of the total market. So when I look at it from a pure antiseptic, practical perspective, the fact is we need other people in the space, helping us solve the problem. And honestly, to the extent that other people are learning from us and getting better, and we’re learning from others and getting better, I think the competition isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing. (Here, Kolodny teased him for his “very diplomatic answer.”)

On what makes Kitchen United distinct from its long and growing list of rivals:

First, we decided the U.S. is a giant market, so we decided to focus here on the U.S., despite requests probably once a week from somebody saying, ‘Come to Saudi Arabia’ because it turns out it’s hard to build kitchens anywhere in the world, and we’re pretty good at building them.

The other thing we did . . .[is decide to play nice with Kitchen United’s two biggest customers  — major food chains and delivery services]. I don’t want to boil the ocean. I don’t want to be a restaurant; I don’t want to cook food for consumers. There are 800,000 restaurants in the U.S., so let’s let them cook food and let’s come alongside them and help them expand what they are doing into new areas. . . . Our whole job is to expand the inventory for the [delivery] marketplace, expand the addressable market for the restaurant, and expand options for consumers so that we have a great business for all the various markets that we’re serving.

On the criteria to become part of Kitchen United:

We don’t work with startup restaurants. We don’t work with people that only have one location. When we started, we didn’t know what would work so we brought in all kinds of restaurants and ended up having to kick most of them out because either they didn’t know how to be a restaurant or they didn’t know how to be a multi-location restaurant. This is true of the ghost kitchen community as a whole: if you’re a restaurant and you don’t already have a consumer connection and an audience and a following and you try to open in a space with no consumer interface, no storefront, you have to climb a giant mountain.

There are some virtual restaurant brands. We have one in our location in Chicago. They were people who had operated multi-location restaurants and had a tremendous amount of internet marketing savvy and skill, so we decided to let them operate and they’re actually doing pretty well, so that’s an interesting new wrinkle.

On whether anything disqualifies a business from using Kitchen United as a platform:

Yes, a lot of large chains that will say we want to be in Kitchen United. We were at a big real estate development conference in Las Vegas and there were probably 20 chains that talked with us about being in KU and probably 18 of them would not qualify.

You’d like to think [that’s on a nutritional basis]. One thing we’ve learned isn’t to filter what the American consumer wants; our job is just to provide a path for them to get what they want.

The actual challenge is giant chains that have very little ability to create an online connection to their consumer. If they don’t have sophisticated online ordering interfaces, if they haven’t deployed the right technologies into their ERP and their ordering infrastructure and all the stuff that goes into the back end, then they aren’t going to be a good fit for KU because of the operational problems they have to overcome is just too great.

On how Kitchen United uses the data that’s running through it’s operations:

It’s a hot topic. We’re pretty careful. KU is a partner to our restaurants, and so we learn information through our own order channel. We don’t derive much information through the marketplace channels. There’s sort of a misnomer that when the marketplaces deliver orders . . . all we know is a consumer name, we don’t know an address or any of the other information. So you don’t get a lot of data like that.

Information we do get is stuff like how many chicken sandwiches a Chick-fil-A is selling or whatever. And you might think, ‘Oh cool, so you’ll just make a chicken sandwich [of your own] when Chick-fil-A closes down and you’ll sell it to the public.’ The restaurant world is very nervous about that; it’s a big topic in this space. If you go to restaurant conferences, there are a lot [accusations of], ‘They’re stealing my data.’ I’m the guy on stage saying, ‘It’s their data [the delivery marketplaces]. They attracted the consumer, they got the order from you. It’s their data. They aren’t stealing your data, it’s their data; you chose to allow them to sell your product on their network.’

But [also] it’s not as easy as that. You can’t just whip up a fried chicken sandwich and make consumers like it. The world is littered with even more failed restaurants than failed startups.

What happens to neighborhoods — and local restaurants — if Kitchen United succeeds:

The restaurant industry is huge — $800 billion in the U.S., $675 billion if you discount hospitals and stuff like that. [This take-out market] is somewhere around $33 billion this year. So we’re edging into it as a percentage, but if you look at dining room revenue year over year for the last 20 years in the U.S restaurant industry, it grows 1% per year, which is pretty much consistent with population growth. And the same is projected to be the case this year.

So restaurants aren’t dying because of marketplace delivery. Marketplace delivery is actually pulling business out of grocery stores. That’s why you see Kroger and Amazon and other grocery store chains plowing down rows of [goods] and installing warm counters with warm food and you’re seeing grocery chains focus on delivery.

It’s the wild west. It’s a crazy market and I absolutely, positively love it. It’s not a question of what gets me up in the morning. I never go to bed.

Indonesia’s Travelio raises $18M to help tenants rent apartments

More than 50% of residential apartments and other real estate properties in Jakarta are currently vacant, according to official estimates. A startup that is attempting to make it easier for tenants to rent these properties in Jakarta and other places in Indonesia said on Thursday that it has closed a new financing round.

Travelio has raised $18 million in its Series B financing round led by Singapore-based Pavilion Capital and Gobi Partners, the four-year-old startup said. Some existing investors also participated in the round.

The startup works with individual apartment owners and property dealers to allow tenants to find and rent apartments. People can book an apartment for a day to months, Christina Suriadjaja, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Travelio, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Travelio has over 4,000 properties exclusively signed up with the platform, she said. The startup takes between 20% to 35% of the revenue cut from its property owner partners, she explained.

Typically, it would cost a little more than $350 for someone to rent an apartment for a month from Travelio. In Indonesia, currently those looking for an apartment from property dealers and individual owners have to make a down payment of 20% and pay an advanced security deposit for more than a year. Through its pricing structure, Travelio is attempting to address this issue as well.

A number of startups including RedDoorz, Oyo, and Airbnb operate in Indonesia, but because they are focused on providing rooms for a day or two like hotels, this differentiates them from Tavelio. Suriadjaja said Airbnb, which lists properties of Tavelio, is more of a partner than a competitor. “Our competitors are property dealers,” she said.

In addition to offering these fully furnished apartments on rents, Tavelio also takes care of house cleaning and maintenance of these properties.. “In the coming months, we will work on expanding the services we offer,” she said. Some of the services it is exploring include interior design, daily necessities, financing, payments and other logistic-related offerings.

The startup aims to have 20,000 apartments on its platform in one year. “With Indonesia’s rising middle class population, Travelio is well-positioned to serve the growing demand for temporary housing, urbanization and affordable living options,” the startup said.

Indonesia’s Travelio raises $18M to help tenants rent apartments

More than 50% of residential apartments and other real estate properties in Jakarta are currently vacant, according to official estimates. A startup that is attempting to make it easier for tenants to rent these properties in Jakarta and other places in Indonesia said on Thursday that it has closed a new financing round.

Travelio has raised $18 million in its Series B financing round led by Singapore-based Pavilion Capital and Gobi Partners, the four-year-old startup said. Some existing investors also participated in the round.

The startup works with individual apartment owners and property dealers to allow tenants to find and rent apartments. People can book an apartment for a day to months, Christina Suriadjaja, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Travelio, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Travelio has over 4,000 properties exclusively signed up with the platform, she said. The startup takes between 20% to 35% of the revenue cut from its property owner partners, she explained.

Typically, it would cost a little more than $350 for someone to rent an apartment for a month from Travelio. In Indonesia, currently those looking for an apartment from property dealers and individual owners have to make a down payment of 20% and pay an advanced security deposit for more than a year. Through its pricing structure, Travelio is attempting to address this issue as well.

A number of startups including RedDoorz, Oyo, and Airbnb operate in Indonesia, but because they are focused on providing rooms for a day or two like hotels, this differentiates them from Tavelio. Suriadjaja said Airbnb, which lists properties of Tavelio, is more of a partner than a competitor. “Our competitors are property dealers,” she said.

In addition to offering these fully furnished apartments on rents, Tavelio also takes care of house cleaning and maintenance of these properties.. “In the coming months, we will work on expanding the services we offer,” she said. Some of the services it is exploring include interior design, daily necessities, financing, payments and other logistic-related offerings.

The startup aims to have 20,000 apartments on its platform in one year. “With Indonesia’s rising middle class population, Travelio is well-positioned to serve the growing demand for temporary housing, urbanization and affordable living options,” the startup said.

Airbnb to verify all of its listings

Following the death of five people at a Halloween party hosted at a California Airbnb rental, and a scathing Vice report outlining Airbnb’s failure to prevent nation-wide scams, the company says it will begin verifying all seven million of its listings.

Airbnb properties will soon be verified for accuracy of photos, addresses, listing details, cleanliness, safety and basic home amenities, according to a company-wide email sent by Airbnb co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky on Wednesday. All rentals that meet the company’s new standards will be “clearly labeled” by December 15, 2020, he notes. Beginning next month, Airbnb will rebook or refund guests who check into rentals that do not meet the new accuracy standards.

The long-awaited updates to Airbnb’s security measures come months before the company plans to complete an initial public offering or direct listing and just days after Chesky announced the business would ban “party houses,” and work harder to combat unauthorized parties and abusive host and guest conduct.

“We believe that trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms, and we believe that this is an important step for our industry,” Chesky said in the staff email.

Airbnb also will launch a 24/7 Neighbor Hotline, which will allow guests to reach a real Airbnb employee from any location at any time. The company will fully roll-out the service next year. Finally, Airbnb will expand its screening of potentially high-risk reservations globally next year.

The new efforts are led by Margaret Richardson, Airbnb’s vice president of trust, who Chesky tasked with rapidly formulating a response to the Halloween party massacre. The company has also tapped Charles Ramsey, former chief of the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. police departments, and Ronald Davis, the former chief of the East Palo Alto police department, to advise the projects.

“More than eleven years after Joe, Nate, and I started Airbnb, I have been asked what has surprised me most about the world,” Chesky writes. “My answer is two things: that people are, in fact, fundamentally good, and that we are 99% the same. We still believe this, and with these changes, we hope to continue to demonstrate this to the world.”

Airbnb to ban ‘party houses’ in wake of Halloween shooting that left 5 dead

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said Saturday the company will ban “party houses” and take other steps to safeguard hosts and guests after five people died at a Halloween party hosted at California home that was rented on the service.

Chesky made the announcement via a series of tweets Saturday. “What happened on Thursday night in Orinda, CA was horrible,” Chesky wrote. “I feel for the families and neighbors impacted by this tragedy — we are working to support them.”

Chesky then announced that party houses would be banned and that the company is “redoubling” efforts to combat unauthorized parties.

Chesky announced several other measures to increase safety, including the expansion of manual screenings of high-risk reservations flagged by Airbnb’s risk detection technology and creating a dedicated “party house” rapid response team

Margaret Richardson, from Airbnb’s executive team, has been tasked to accelerate the review process to enact these new policies as soon as possible, he added.

 

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office said the party had been advertised on social media as a mansion party, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Police were headed to the home Oct. 31 over noise complaints when the gunfire began around 10:50 p.m. Several people died at the scene. The fifth victim died Friday night.

Los Angeles-based BuildOps, subcontracting software for real estate, raises $5.8 million

Software development companies tackling services for niche industries, like commercial real estate subcontracting, continue to find Los Angeles to be fertile ground for development.

The latest company to raise funding from a clutch of investors is BuildOps, which raised $5.8 million in seed financing from some big names in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem.

Led by Fika Ventures, with additional investments from MetaProp VC, Global Founders Capital, CrossCut Ventures, TenOneTen, IGSB, 1984 Ventures, L2 Ventures, GroundUp, NBA all-star Metta World Peace, Oberndorf Enterprises, Wolfson Group, and scouts from Sequoia Capital, the new financing will be used to support the company’s continued growth.

BuildOps sells software that integrates scheduling, dispatching, inventory management, contracts, workflow and accounting into a single software package for commercial real estate contractors with staff ranging from a few dozen to several hundred employees.

Software for the service industry is nothing new for Los Angeles entrepreneurs. The unicorn ServiceTitan hails from the greater Los Angeles area and a number of other software as a service businesses are calling the greater Los Angeles area home.

It’s hard to argue with the size of the commercial construction market. Over the past three years commercial construction spending grew from $626 billion to $807 billion, according to data provided by the company. And while most large vendors — architects, general contractors and property management companies have some project management software, the fragmented group of subcontractors that provide services to those customers has remained resistant to adopting new technologies, the company said.

Co-founded by former ServiceTitan devel

oper Neeraj Mittal; Microsoft, Nextag, Swurv, and Fundly former executive Steve Chew; and Alok Chanani, who previously founded a commercial real estate company and was a former commander of a transportation unit of the Army in Iraq.

“At BuildOps, we are on a mission to bring a true all-in-one solution on the latest technology to the people who keep America’s hospitals, power plants, and commercial real estate running. We are privileged to be working closely with some of the country’s top commercial contractors,” said Chanani.

That sentiment is echoed by Liquid 2 Ventures managing partner and former National Football League superstar, Joe Montana .

“Liquid 2 Ventures has an investment thesis in supporting America’s working class and I just love the idea of making their lives far easier and better. You have one solution that does it all and talks seamlessly to every single part of their business from parts to ordering to inventory and more,” said Montana in a statement. “There are very few world-class technology solutions for commercial subcontractors like this and we believe in the founders.”

Sidewalk Labs (Alphabet’s grand experiment in smart cities) will move forward with Toronto project

In the two years since Sidewalk Labs pitched its vision for a grand smart city development — encompassing an entire neighborhood on the Toronto waterfront — the project has been beset by controversy and criticism.

On one hand, the 12-acre project in Toronto’s Quayside district promised to be a proving ground for the latest thinking in sustainable design and technology integration into urban planning led by a subsidiary of one of the world’s most innovative technology companies. On the other, that same technology company has been instrumental in the development of a corporate, technologically enabled, panopticon that has an almost total view into our digital (and physical) lives through its search and mapping technology.

Giving that company the potential for unfettered access to the built environment in which Toronto citizens would move seemed like a step too far for many privacy advocates in the city — and around the world.

The public outcry had gotten so loud that the project seemed to be in jeopardy. That, in turn, likely would be an existential challenge to Sidewalk Labs, since the company’s work in Toronto was to be the early crown jewel proving out its ability to integrate technology into the built environment in a way that would benefit populations, the company argued.

Now, the project will move forward. Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto (the regulatory body overseeing the project) have come to an agreement that will limit the scope of the Sidewalk development and make the company work more closely with oversight agencies on the construction of the 12-acre parcel abutting Toronto’s parliamentary building.

We are encouraged by today’s decision by the Waterfront Toronto board and are pleased to have reached alignment on critical issues with Waterfront Toronto. We want to be a partner with Waterfront Toronto and governments to build an innovative and inclusive neighborhood,” said Sidewalk Labs chief executive officer, Dan Doctoroff, in a statement.

Sidewalk is making some significant concessions to move forward. Under the initial plan that the company submitted in June, it attempted to expand the scope of its development efforts beyond the initial 12 acres it had been bidding for. The company also wanted to be the lead developer of the land.

Instead, Sidewalk is acceding to the Waterfront Toronto counter-offer that it restrict its development to the 12-acre “beta site” initially carved out by the city. The company will also agree to work with Waterfront Toronto, which will lead a public procurement process for a developer to partner with Sidewalk Labs. Finally, Sidewalk Labs will also no longer lead the efforts to design and implement infrastructure. That’s now going to be handled by Waterfront Toronto.

“After two years in Toronto and engaging and planning with over 21,000 Toronto residents, we are looking forward to the next round of public consultations, entering the evaluation process, and continuing to develop a plan to build the most innovative neighborhood in the world. We are working to demonstrate an inclusive neighbourhood here in Toronto where we can shorten commute times, make housing more affordable, create new jobs, and set a new standard for a healthier planet.”

One of the sticking points that the agreement between Sidewalk and the city doesn’t address is what’s going to be done with all of the data the company will doubtless be collecting about the residents and visitors to this new intentional community.

Data privacy was one of the biggest concerns about the project. Indeed, at one point Sidewalk Labs proposed setting up an independent trust that would analyze and approve data collection in Quayside. The conflict between Sidewalk and its consultants drove one expert, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, to step away from the work she was doing. Cavoukian wanted the data collection to be anonymized before it would be collected by any entity, and Sidewalk Labs was not willing to make that commitment on behalf of third parties.

Even with concerns over data collection, the experiment in urban planning has merit. Integrating technology to improve efficiencies in construction, energy generation, energy efficiency, traffic management and telecommunications could create a roadmap that other developments could follow. That’s a good thing. But those advancements should not come at the cost of an even greater erosion of personal privacy.

Ensuring that Sidewalk Labs can thread that needle in Toronto could actually improve the company’s chances to create a quilt of technologically advanced communities around the world.

Adam Neumann planned for his children and grandchildren to control WeWork

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann didn’t plan for his family’s control of WeWork to end at his death but instead expected to pass that control to future generations of Neumanns, too, says Business Insider.

The outlet reports that in a speech Neumann gave to employees in January of this year, footage of which it says it has viewed, Neumann is seen saying that WeWork isn’t “just controlled — we’re generationally controlled.” He reportedly goes on to say that while the five children he shares with wife Rebekah Neumann “don’t have to run the company,” they “do have to stay the moral compass of the company.”

According to BI, Neumann even invoked his future grandchildren, telling those gathered: “It’s important that one day, maybe in 100 years, maybe in 300 years, a great-great-granddaughter of mine will walk into that room and say, ‘Hey, you don’t know me; I actually control the place. The way you’re acting is not how we built it,'” he said.

These may sound like more outlandish proclamations from Neumann, who has a flair for the dramatic. (Talking to Fast Company earlier this year, he compared WeWork to a rare jewel, asking, “Do you know how long it takes a diamond to be created?”)

But before WeWork began coming apart at the seams, Neumann had every reason to believe that he could pass power down to his heirs. Though many public shareholders may not realize as much, a growing number of tech founders enjoy the kind of dual-class shares that Neumann had extracted from investors, shares that don’t merely give founders more voting power for a while after their companies go public or even throughout their lifetimes, but whose power can be passed down to their children, too.

We wrote about this very issue as a kind of hypothetical last month, quoting SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson, a longtime legal scholar and law professor, who told an audience last year that nearly half of companies that went public with dual-class shares between 2004 and 2018 gave corporate insiders “outsized voting rights in perpetuity.”

Warned Jackson, “Those companies are asking shareholders to trust management’s business judgment — not just for five years, or 10 years, or even 50 years. Forever.” Such perpetual dual-class ownership “asks them to trust that founder’s kids. And their kids’ kids. And their grandkid’s kids . . . It raises the prospect that control over our public companies, and ultimately of Main Street’s retirement savings, will be forever held by a small, elite group of corporate insiders — who will pass that power down to their heirs.”

You might argue that it’s senseless to worry, that the market will speak as it did in WeWork’s case. But not every company has such apparent flaws, and Neumann could have made himself a lot harder to shake than he did. In fact, the broader question the video raises is whether anyone will step in to stop the broader trend, or if public market investors will be living with the consequences down the road instead.

Neumann wasn’t insane to imagine the scenario that he did. That doesn’t mean it’s rational. Giving founders super-voting shares for some period after transitioning onto the public market, we can understand. Giving founders so much power that their kids call the shots of these publicly traded companies? Now that is crazy.

Airbnb’s WeWork problem

Airbnb may be another overvalued “unicorn,” but it’s no WeWork.

The Information this morning reported new Airbnb financials — indicating a massive increase in operating losses — that immediately call Airbnb’s future into question. Precisely, Airbnb lost $306 million on operations on $839 million in revenue, namely as a result of marketing spend, in the first quarter of 2019. In total, Airbnb invested $367 million in sales and marketing, representing a 58% increase year-over-year, in Q1. The company is gearing up for a major liquidity event next year and is making a concerted effort to rake in new customers, as any soon-to-be-public business would.

Given WeWork’s sudden demise, coupled with Uber and Lyft’s lukewarm performances on the stock markets, many have wondered how Wall Street will respond to Airbnb’s eventual IPO prospectus. Will money managers have an appetite for another over-valued Silicon Valley darling? Or will the market compete like mad for shares in the massive home-sharing marketplace?

But Airbnb, again, is no WeWork, and I wager Wall Street will have a much friendlier approach to its offering. For one, Airbnb’s co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky isn’t dropping $60 million on private jets — I don’t think. CEO behaviors aside, Airbnb has more capital in the bank than it has raised in its entire 11-year history, which is a whole lot of money. This is all according to a source who is familiar with Airbnb’s financials and shared this detail with TechCrunch following The Information’s Thursday morning report. As for Airbnb, the company told TechCrunch, “we can’t comment on the figures, but 2019 is a big investment year in support of our hosts and guests.”

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014

Airbnb has attracted more than $3.5 billion in equity funding at a $31 billion valuation and has even more locked away in its bank account. Additionally, Airbnb has an untouched $1 billion credit line, the source said. Presumably, the referenced credit line is the 2016 $1 billion debt financing from JPMorgan, CitiGroup, Morgan Stanley and others.

Moreover, Airbnb has been “cumulatively” free cash flow positive for some time, meaning that it’s seen more money coming in than going out during recent quarters, according to our source. It has been reported that Airbnb surpassed $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019 and in the third quarter of 2018, but we’re guessing the business did not top $1 billion in Q4 of 2018 or Q1 of 2019 because it if had, that information would probably have been “leaked.”

Finally, Airbnb has been profitable on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis for two consecutive years, the company announced in January. Gross bookings, meanwhile, are growing, as is Airbnb’s business offering and its experiences product.

Why does any of this matter, you ask?