N26 hires Adrienne Gormley as its new chief operating officer

Fintech startup N26 is announcing some changes in the leadership team with two new C-Level hires. First, Adrienne Gormley, pictured above, is joining the company as chief operating officer, replacing Martin Schilling who left the company in March 2020. Second, Diana Styles, pictured below, will become N26’s chief people officer.

Gormley has spent the last six years working for Dropbox in Dublin. She was the VP of Global Customer Experience as well as the head of EMEA for Dropbox. Previously, she’s worked at Google and Transware.

At N26, she will be in charge of a large chunk of the company, from customer service, to business operations, service experience and workplace division.

Styles has many years of human resources experience. She was the senior vice president of Human Resources, Global Sales and Brands at Adidas. Similarly, as chief people officer, she will oversee important aspects of the company, such as employee retention, leadership development, talent acquisition and more.

Both will be based in Berlin and report to the company’s co-founder and chief financial officer Maximilian Tayenthal. N26 has grown quite a lot over the past few years as there are now 1,500 employees working for the company.

Image Credits: N26

One week until we discover the future of transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility

Were you Born to be Wild? Then get your electric motor running, head out on the virtual highway to look for adventure, because we’re just one week away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Join thousands of global attendees October 6-7 for two programming-packed days devoted to the fast-moving world of mobility and transportation technology.

Price of admission: We offer a range of pass levels and prices to fit just about every budget. Prices start at $25 (for the Expo ticket) plus, we have discounts for groups (bring the whole team) and students (network your way to a cool internship or job). Buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package to claim a spot in our expo and really strut your stuff. Get moving, though because we have only a few expo spots left.

Want to save money? Buy your pass now — all prices increase on October 5.

Check out the packed event agenda where you’ll find a phenomenal line up of 1:1 interviews and panel discussions with the top names, makers, movers and shakers. Here are just two examples of what we have waiting for you on the main stage.

Future of Cities: Delivery Takes Flight — Margaret Nagle, head of policy and public affairs at Wing, will talk about how drones used for delivery could reshape cities and improve accessibility.

Scooting Through the World’s Regulatory Frameworks — Join Euwyn Poon, CEO of U.S.-centric Spin, Voi co-founder Fredrik Hjelm and Tony Adesina, CEO of Gura Ride as they discuss the state of dock-less scooters — and the different regulatory landscapes — across Europe and Africa.

We’ve also added a series of Q&A Sessions where you can interact with leading experts and get answers to those burning questions.

Block time in your schedule to explore the expo and more than 40 early-stage mobility startups showcasing their products, platforms and talent. Watch demos, discover potential partners, collaborators and customers. Find innovative additions to your investment portfolio. And be sure to check out the pitch sessions. All of the exhibiting startups will get five minutes to introduce their company to thousands of world-wide mobility attendees.

Can’t get enough pitching? Neither can we. That’s why we created a new event this year — Startup Pitch-Off. Ten hand-picked early-stage startups will pitch to a panel of discerning VCs on October 5 — the evening before we officially kick off. The judges will select five to pitch live from the main stage the following day. Who knows? You might just witness a unicorn in the making.

You were born to be wild. Get your TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 pass, get your EV motor running and drive your business forward.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Klaxoon launches Board, an interactive meeting product for video calls

A few weeks after teasing its new product, French startup Klaxoon is launching Board, a visual interface that lets you work together during a video call. Instead of staring at other people’s faces, you get a shared canvas that you can use for presentations and to suggest ideas.

Klaxoon is well aware that many companies have strong opinions about video conferencing services. Some companies are already using Microsoft Teams for everything, others are using Zoom or Google Meet. That’s why the company is trying to make it as easy as possible to use Board while you’re on a call using Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.

Given that you’re already in Board when you’re generating a Zoom link, you can also use Klaxoon’s own video-conferencing service called Live.

“Video represents less than 10% of your screen real estate. Our goal isn’t to compete with other services when it comes to pixels, high definition or the number of thumbnails,” Klaxoon co-founder and CEO Matthieu Beucher told me.

Instead, when you use Live, you accept multiple constraints that could help you remain focused on your meeting. For instance, you can only have 15 people in your meeting. The person organizing the meeting can set a limit — it can be 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes. But you can’t use Live for a meeting that lasts longer than 30 minutes.

And finally, other people on the calls are represented through tiny thumbnails on the right side of the screen. Most of the screen is filled with a sort of digital whiteboard that you can use to write text, insert images or videos. You can work on your board before starting the meeting or you can add a table from a template library.

People joining your meeting can submit ideas through digital sticky notes. You can also switch from the freeform view to a more structured column view to move ideas from one category to another.

Klaxoon has been working on interactive whiteboards and meeting tools for quite a few years now. Board combines some of the stuff that the company is already providing to its clients, but with a focus on remote meetings. The service is launching today for €9.90 per month.

Image Credits: Klaxoon

Noyo raises $12.5M Series A to keep building its health insurance API business

This morning, Noyo, a startup that provides APIs that link players in the health insurance space, announced that it has closed a $12.5 million Series A round of funding. 

The new capital comes less than a year after the startup disclosed that it had raised around $4 million in pre-seed and seed capital, and that its product was already in the market.

At the time it was clear that Noyo had a laser focus on its part of the healthcare world. Now, nearly a year later, the company confirmed to TechCrunch during conversations surrounding its new capital raise that it’s keeping its focus for now.

Linking the carriers and platforms of other insurance verticals, or varietals, will have to wait.

But Noyo is working in an enormous market, namely the U.S. health insurance universe, one that could provide it with space to grow for years to come. The startup sells the use of its application programming interfaces, or APIs, which in Noyo’s case allow customers to “execute, track, and confirm the fulfillment of member transaction requests to carriers,” citing the startup’s documentation

The company’s product was born out of frustration that Noyo co-founders Shannon Goggin and Dennis Lee dealt with while working for Zenefits, an HR tech unicorn that ran into problems with regulators and customers alike. For more on that story, our prior reporting is useful. (Notably, AgentSync is another API startup play under construction by Zenefits alums.)

The American healthcare market is enormous, lucrative and fraught with inefficiencies and antiquated technology. And the insurance portion of the healthcare market is similarly titanic and broken, providing an outsize opportunity for a startup that can navigate its politics and unique needs with a technology solution able to help incumbents speed up, and save money.

The Series A

Noyo’s new funding event was led by Costanoa Ventures and Spark Capital. Prior investors Core Innovation Capital, Garuda Ventures, the Webb Investment Network, Precursor Ventures and Homebrew upped their investment in the new round.

Homebrew’s Satya Patel was effusive about the company in a comment provided to TechCrunch, saying that Noyo’s “technology and strategic vision have convinced major industry leaders to get on board right out of the gate.” This tracks with what the company has said, including that it has lined up new partnerships with insurance providers Ameritas and Humana.

Patel also noted that “Noyo is helping connect insurance companies and the growing ecosystem of insurtechs,” a portion of the startup market that TechCrunch has worked to track in the last year as it has raised piles of capital, seen notable liquidity and continues to drive headlines more recently.

A good question to ask startups that don’t run their cash accounts near zero before raising new funds is why they raised now. In Noyo’s case, I was curious what was the catalyzing factor for it to go out and raise more capital. 

Goggin said that Noyo had found “really good signal and pickup from our early clients and partners.” That, combined with what she described as a “very clear sense of what we needed to do, and how we could accelerate bringing our future vision to life” were enough for her team to say “alright, let’s settle down, this is working, let’s be able to take the big swings.”

And thus the Series A came together.

Noyo has plans to keep hiring, with Goggin telling TechCrunch that her company is currently around 20 people, but will be around 30 by the time 2021 kicks off. She added that “the nice thing” about her new capital raise is that her startup won’t have “a staffing constraint” when it wants to “roll out a new product.”

The pace at which Noyo builds, then, should accelerate.

Which, in turn, should yield more revenue growth. Goggin cautioned that Noyo is not aiming for profitability but is, at the same time, “a real business with a viable model.” The Series A stage is generally a bit early to press founders on growth metrics, as most won’t share unless they are outlier-good. But happily, by the time that Noyo raises a Series B, it should have enough revenue history for some useful year-over-year comparisons, and we will ask for them.

The Noyo round is another data point that API-delivered startups are seeing good market traction, and that investors are taking notice. Expect to hear from a few more related companies in the next few weeks if my inbox is any indicator of what’s coming up.

Philippines payment processing startup PayMongo lands $12 million Series A led by Stripe

Stripe has led a $12 million Series A round in Manila-based online payment platform PayMongo, the startup announced today.

PayMongo, which offers an online payments API for businesses in the Philippines, was the first Filipino-owned financial tech startup to take part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Y Combinator and Global Founders Capital, another previous investor, both returned for the Series A, which also included participation from new backer BedRock Capital.

PayMongo partners with financial institutions, and its products include a payments API that can be integrated into websites and apps, allowing them to accept payments from bank cards and digital wallets like GrabPay and GCash. For social commerce sellers and other people who sell mostly through messaging apps, the startup offers PayMongo Links, which buyers can click on to send money. PayMongo’s platform also includes features like a fraud and risk detection system.

In a statement, Stripe’s APAC business lead Noah Pepper said it invested in PayMongo because “we’ve been impressed with the PayMongo team and the speed at which they’ve made digital payments more accessible to so many businesses across the Philippines.”

The startup launched in June 2019 with $2.7 million in seed funding, which the founders said was one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a Philippines-based fintech startup. PayMongo has now raised a total of almost $15 million in funding.

Co-founder and chief executive Francis Plaza said PayMongo has processed a total of almost $20 million in payments since launching, and grown at an average of 60% since the start of the year, with a surge after lockdowns began in March.

He added that the company originally planned to start raising its Series A in in the first half of next year, but the growth in demand for its services during COVID-19 prompted it to start the round earlier so it could hire for its product, design and engineering teams and speed up the release of new features. These will include more online payment options; features for invoicing and marketplaces; support for business models like subscriptions; and faster payout cycles.

PayMongo also plans to add more partnerships with financial service providers, improve its fraud and risk detection systems and secure more licenses from the central bank so it can start working on other types of financial products.

The startup is among fintech companies in Southeast Asia that have seen accelerated growth as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many businesses to digitize more of their operations. Plaza said that overall digital transactions in the Philippines grew 42% between January and April because of the country’s lockdowns.

PayMongo is currently the only payments company in the Philippines with an onboarding process that was developed to be completely online, he added, which makes it attractive to merchants who are accepting online payments for the first time. “We have a more efficient review of compliance requirements for the expeditious approval of applications so that our merchants can use our platform right away and we make sure we have a fast payout to our merchants,” said Plaza.

If the momentum continues even as lockdowns are lifted in different cities, that means the Philippine’s central bank is on track to reach its goal of increasing the volume of e-payment transactions to 20% of total transactions in the country this year. The government began setting policies in 2015 to encourage more online payments, in a bid to bolster economic growth and financial inclusion, since smartphone penetration in the Philippines is high, but many people don’t have a traditional bank account, which often charge high fees.

Though lockdown restrictions in the Philippines have eased, Plaza said PayMongo is still seeing strong traction. “We believe the digital shift by Filipino businesses will continue, largely because both merchants and customers continue to practice safety measures such as staying at home and choosing online shopping despite the more lenient quarantine levels. Online will be the new normal for commerce.”

Is your startup the next Tik Tok?

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

And I don’t mean building an app that gets the world addicted to short-form videos. I mean, where you build a huge company that spans the world and then get turned into a political football.

The Bytedance-owned app developer still appears headed for a shutdown in the US, after the already convoluted talks stalled out this past week. Each national government appears to require local ownership of a new entity, as Catherine Shu details, and the business partners are each claiming ownership. It’s a zero sum global game now for control of data and algorithms.

On the other side of the world, Facebook was quick to state that it would not be pulling out of the European Union this week even if it is forced to keep EU user data local, as Natasha Lomas covered. The company was clarifying a recent filing it had made that seemed to threaten otherwise — it doesn’t want to get TikTok’d.

For startups with physical supply chains, existing tensions are squeezing business activity from Chimerica out into other parts of the world, as Brian Heater wrote about the topic for Extra Crunch this week. Here’s what one founder told him:

Many [companies] are considering manufacturing in areas like Southeast Asia and India. Vietnam, in particular, has offered an appealing proposition for a labor pool, notes Ho Chi Minh City-based Sonny Vu, CEO of carbon-fiber products manufacturer Arevo and founder of deep tech VC fund Alabaster. “We’re friendly [with] the Americans and the West in general. Vietnam, they’ve got 100 million people, they can make stuff,” Vu explains. “The supply chains are getting more and more sophisticated. One of the issues has been the subpar supply chain … it’s not as deep and broad as as other places like China. That’s changing really fast and people are willing to do manufacturing. I’ve heard from my friends trying to make stuff in China, labor’s always this chronic issue.”

Danny Crichton blamed nationalistic US policies for undermining the country’s long-term commitment to leading global free trade and threatening its competitive future, in a provocative rant last weekend. There’s truth to that, but the underlying truth is that globalization worked, it just hasn’t work as well as hoped for a lot of people in the US and some other parts of the world. In addition to phenomenon like China’s industrial engine, for example, those cross-border flows of money and technology have helped nurture the startup ecosystem in Europe.

Mike Butcher, who has been covering startups for TechCrunch from London since last decade, writes about a new report from Index Ventures about this trend.

It used to be the case that in order to scale globally, European companies needed to spend big on launching in the U.S. to achieve the kind of growth they wanted. That usually meant relocating large swathes of the team to the San Francisco Bay Area, or New York. New research suggests that is no longer the case, as the U.S. has become more expensive, and as the opportunity in Europe has improved. This means European startups are committing much less of their team and resources to a U.S. launch, but still getting decent results…. Between 2008-2014, almost two-thirds (59%) of European startups expanded, or moved entirely, to the U.S. ahead of Series A funding rounds. However, between 2015-2019, this number decreased to a third (33%).

The report also highlights the economic problem of dividing up markets into political blocks. “European corporates invest three-quarters (76%) less than their U.S. counterparts on software,” Butcher adds about the report. “And this is normally on compliance rather than innovation. This means European startups are likely to continue to look to the U.S. for exits to corporates.”

The pain from failing to trade will come home sooner or later to each government, as Danny observes. But that could be longer than your current company exists. Instead, now is the time to pick the markets you can win, and plan for a world where success has a lower ceiling. And hey, if you’re lucky, your national government could pick you as its winner!

Want $100m ARR? Fix your churn

We’ve been recapping key moments from the Extra Crunch Stage at Disrupt this week, here’s a key segment from a panel Alex Wilhelm hosted about how to achieve the $100m ARR dream, featuring Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain:

After explaining that in the early stages of building a SaaS company it’s common to focus more on adding new revenue than “plugging the holes at the bottom,” [Jain] added that as a company matures and grows, more focus has to be paid to managing churn and retention. He said that dollar-based retention is a key metric in the SaaS world that startups are valued by, meaning that after securing a customer, your ability to upsell that same account over a “defined window of time” really matters.

Noting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that bonuses at Egnyte are tied to retention, “I say, managing churn is the new revenue,” he added. “Focus on that disproportionately more than you would focus on just top-line growth” … . Egnyte, Jain added, drives to just one or two metrics (net new MRR, or gross MRR adds and churn). “Everything that we’re doing, all of us [at Egnyte] have to be measured with that number to say, ‘How are we doing as a company?’” So if your startup is post-Series A, listen to what Jain says on managing churn. After all his company reached $100 million ARR, has a few dozen million in the bank, grew 22% in Q2 and is EBITDA positive.

Summer of tech IPOs continues with Root, Corsair Gaming and of course, Palantir

While public markets have waffled on tech stocks lately, the overall momentum of unicorn IPOs has continued.

Except, Danny may have slowed things down a bit for Palantir? Here are the key headlines from the week:

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO? (EC)

Chamath launches SPAC, SPAC and SPAC as he SPACs the world with SPACs

Palantir publishes 2020 revenue guidance of $1.05B, will trade starting Sept 30th

Following TechCrunch reporting, Palantir rapidly removes language allowing founders to ‘unilaterally adjust their total voting power’

In its 5th filing with the SEC, Palantir finally admits it is not a democracy

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? (EC)

Even more info about the best investors for you

We’re making another big update to The TechCrunch List of startup investors who write the first checks and lead the scary rounds, based on thousands of recommendations that we’ve been receiving from founders. Here’s more, from Danny:

Since the launch of the List, we’ve seen great engagement: tens of thousands of founders have each come back multiple times to use the List to scout out their next fundraising moves and understand the ever-changing landscape of venture investing.

We last revised The TechCrunch List at the end of July 30 with 116 new VCs based on founder recommendations, but as with all things venture capital, the investing world moves quickly. That means it’s already time to begin another update.

To make sure we have the best information, we need founders — from new founders who might have just raised their VC rounds to experienced founders adding another round to their cap tables — to submit recommendations. Thankfully, our survey is pretty short (about two minutes), and the help you can give other founders fundraising is invaluable. Please submit your recommendation soon.

Since our last update in July, we have already had 840 founders submit new recommendations, and we are now sitting at about 3,500 recommendations in total now. Every recommendation helps us identify promising and thoughtful VCs, helping founders globally cut through the noise of the industry and find the leads for their next checks.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live: Join Index Ventures VCs Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon Sept 29 at 2 pm EDT/11 am PDT on the future of startup investing

TC Sessions Mobility 2020 kicks off in two weeks

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Explore the global markets of micromobility at TC Sessions: Mobility

Don’t miss the Q&A sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling Helsinki VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

Human Capital: The Black founder’s burden

Thanks to Google, app store monopoly concerns have now reached India

Free VPNs are bad for your privacy

Extra Crunch

The Peloton effect

Edtech investors are panning for gold

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

How Robinhood and Chime raised $2B+ in the last year

Dear Sophie: Possible to still get through I-751 and citizenship after divorce?

Equity: Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet?

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s VC-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and your humble servant gathered to chat through a host of rounds and venture capital news for your enjoyment. As a programming note, I am off next week effectively, so look for Natasha to lead on Equity Monday and then both her and Danny to rock the Thursday show. I will miss everyone.

But onto the show itself, here’s what we got into:

Bon voyage for a week, please stay safe and don’t forget to register to vote.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Black founders face a unique set of challenges

The notion that Black people in America need to work twice as hard as others to succeed may be a depressing sentiment, but it has been deeply ingrained into the psyches of many African-Americans.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, several Black founders spoke about some of the burdens that come along with being a Black person in tech. Many of us are familiar with imposter syndrome, where one feels like they’re a fraud and fear being “found out.” But another idea that came up was representation syndrome.

Representation syndrome centers around this idea that because there are so few Black people in tech, being one of the only ones comes with this added pressure to be successful. Otherwise, one may feel that if they fail as one of the only Black people in tech, they will inadvertently make it harder for other Black people to be embraced by this homogeneous industry. That’s a heavy load to carry. 

As Jessica Matthews, founder and CEO at Uncharted Power said:

When we raised our Series A, the immediate thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man. I can not lose these people’s money.’ This is huge and if we don’t work, it’s not even about us, it’s about every other person who looks like me.

Matthews said she hopes for a world where her daughter “can be mediocre as hell and still raise funding.”  In 2016, she launched the Harlem Tech Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on STEM. 

“You know, we would tell people we’re going to be the first billion-dollar tech company in Harlem, but we do not want to be the last,” she said.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels

Privacy data mismanagement is a lurking liability within every commercial enterprise. The very definition of privacy data is evolving over time and has been broadened to include information concerning an individual’s health, wealth, college grades, geolocation and web surfing behaviors. Regulations are proliferating at state, national and international levels that seek to define privacy data and establish controls governing its maintenance and use.

Existing regulations are relatively new and are being translated into operational business practices through a series of judicial challenges that are currently in progress, adding to the confusion regarding proper data handling procedures. In this confusing and sometimes chaotic environment, the privacy risks faced by almost every corporation are frequently ambiguous, constantly changing and continually expanding.

Conventional information security (infosec) tools are designed to prevent the inadvertent loss or intentional theft of sensitive information. They are not sufficient to prevent the mismanagement of privacy data. Privacy safeguards not only need to prevent loss or theft but they must also prevent the inappropriate exposure or unauthorized usage of such data, even when no loss or breach has occurred. A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

The first wave of innovation

A variety of privacy-focused security tools emerged over the past few years, triggered in part by the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) within the European Union in 2018. New capabilities introduced by this first wave of innovation were focused in the following three areas:

Data discovery, classification and cataloging. Modern enterprises collect a wide variety of personal information from customers, business partners and employees at different times for different purposes with different IT systems. This data is frequently disseminated throughout a company’s application portfolio via APIs, collaboration tools, automation bots and wholesale replication. Maintaining an accurate catalog of the location of such data is a major challenge and a perpetual activity. BigID, DataGuise and Integris Software have gained prominence as popular solutions for data discovery. Collibra and Alation are leaders in providing complementary capabilities for data cataloging.

Consent management. Individuals are commonly presented with privacy statements describing the intended use and safeguards that will be employed in handling the personal data they supply to corporations. They consent to these statements — either explicitly or implicitly — at the time such data is initially collected. Osano, Transcend.io and DataGrail.io specialize in the management of consent agreements and the enforcement of their terms. These tools enable individuals to exercise their consensual data rights, such as the right to view, edit or delete personal information they’ve provided in the past.

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers on the planet. Not only that, they’re complex creatures with unique demands in terms of how they define job fulfillment. With demand for developers on the rise (the number of jobs in the field is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade), companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

First and foremost — above salary — employers must ensure that product teams are made up of developers who feel creatively stimulated and intellectually challenged. Without work that they feel passionate about, high-quality programmers won’t just become bored and potentially seek opportunities elsewhere, the standard of work will inevitably drop. In one survey, 68% of developers said learning new things is the most important element of a job.

The worst thing for a developer to discover about a new job is that they’re the most experienced person in the room and there’s little room for their own growth.

Yet with only 32% of developers feeling “very satisfied” with their jobs, there’s scope for you to position yourself as a company that prioritizes the development of its developers, and attract and retain top talent. So, how exactly can you ensure that your team stays stimulated and creatively engaged?

Allow time for personal projects

78% of developers see coding as a hobby — and the best developers are the ones who have a true passion for software development, in and out of the workplace. This means they often have their own personal passions within the space, be it working with specific languages or platforms, or building certain kinds of applications.

Back in their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote:

We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. [This] empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.

At DevSquad, we’ve adopted a similar approach. We have an “open Friday” policy where developers are able to learn and enhance their skills through personal projects. As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product. In fact, 65% of professional developers on Stack Overflow contribute to open-source projects once a year or more, so it’s likely that this is a keen interest within your development team too.

Not only does this provide a creative outlet for developers, the company also gains from the continuously expanding skillset that comes as a result.

Provide opportunities to learn and teach

One of the most demotivating things for software developers is work that’s either too difficult or too easy. Too easy, and developers get bored; too hard, and morale can dip as a project seems insurmountable. Within our team, we remain hyperaware of the difficulty levels of the project or task at hand and the level of experience of the developers involved.

HumanForest suspends London e-bike sharing service, cuts jobs after customer accident

UK-based startup HumanForest has suspended its nascent ‘free’ e-bike service in London this week, after experiencing “mechanical” issues and after a user had an accident on one of its bikes, TechCrunch has learned. The suspension has also seen the company make a number of layoffs with plans to re-launch next spring using a different e-bike.

The service suspension comes only a few months after HumanForest started the trial in North London — and just a couple of weeks after announcing a $2.3M seed round of funding backed by the founders of Cabify and others.

We were tipped to the closure by an anonymous source who said they were employed by the startup. They told us the company’s e-bike had been found to have a defect and there had been an accident involving a user, after which the service was suspended. They also told us HumanForest fired a bunch of staff this week with little warning and minimal severance.

Asked about the source’s allegations, HumanForest confirmed it had suspended its service in London following a “minor accident” on Sunday, saying also that it had identified “problems of a similar nature” prior to the accident but had put down those down to “tampering or minor mechanical issues”.

Here’s its statement in full: “We were not aware that the bike was defective. There had been problems of a similar nature which were suspected to be tampering or minor mechanical issues. We undertook extra mechanical checks which we believed had resolved the issue and informed the supplier. We immediately suspended operations following the minor accident on Sunday. The supplier is now investigating whether there is a more serious problem with the e-bike.”

In an earlier statement the startup also told us: “There was an accident last week. Fortunately, the customer was not hurt. We immediately withdrew all e-bikes from the street and we have informed the supplier who is investigating. Our customers’ safety is our priority. We have, therefore, decided to re-launch with a new e-bike in Spring 2021.”

HumanForest declined to offer any details about the nature of the defect that caused it to suspend service but a spokeswoman confirmed all its e-bikes were withdrawn from London streets the same day as the accident, raising questions as to why it did not do so sooner — having, by its own admission, already identified “similar problems”.

The spokeswoman also confirmed HumanForest made a number of job cuts in the wake of the service suspension.

“We are very sorry that we had to let people go at this difficult time but, with operations suspended, we could only continue as a business with a significantly reduced team,” she said. “We tried very hard to find a way to keep people on board and we looked at the possibility of alternative contractual arrangements or employment but unfortunately, there are no guarantees of when we can re-launch.”

“Employees who had been with the company for less than three months were on their probation period which, as outlined in their contract, had one week’s notice. We will be paying their salaries until the end of the month,” she said, reiterating that it’s a difficult time for the startup.

The e-bikes HumanForest was using for the service appear to be manufactured by the Chinese firm Hongji — but are supplied by a German startup, called Wunder Mobility, which offers both b2c and b2b mobility services.

We contacted both companies to ask about the e-bike defect reported by HumanForest.

At the time of writing only Wunder Mobility had responded — confirming it acts as “an intermediary” for HumanForest but not offering any details about the nature of the technical problem.

Instead, it sent us this statement, attributed to its CCO Lukas Loers: “HumanForest stands for reliable quality and works continuously to improve its services. In order to offer its customers the best possible range of services in the sharing business, HumanForest will use the winter break to evaluate its findings from the pilot project in order to provide the best and most sustainable solution for its customers together with Wunder Mobility in the spring.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot provide any information about specific defects on the vehicles, as we have only acted as an intermediary. Only the manufacturer or the operator HumanForest can comment on this,” it added.

In a further development this week, which points to the competitive and highly dynamic nature of the nascent micromobility market, another e-bike sharing startup, Bolt — which industry sources suggest uses the same model of e-bike as HumanForest (its e-bike is visually identical, just painted a more lurid shade of green) — closed its e-bike sharing service in Paris, a few months after launching in the French capital.

When we contacted Bolt to ask whether it had withdrawn any e-bikes because of technical issues it flat denied doing so — saying the Paris closure was a business decision, and was not related to problems with its e-bike hardware.

“We understand some other companies have had issues with their providers. Bolt hasn’t withdrawn any electric bikes from suppliers due to defects,” a spokesperson told us, going on to note it has “recently” launched in Barcelona and trailing “more announcements about future expansion soon”.

In follow up emails the spokesperson further confirmed it hasn’t identified any defects with any e-bikes it’s tested, nor withdrawn any bikes from its supplier.

Bolt’s UK country manager, Matt Barrie, had a little more to say in a response to chatter about the various micromobility market moves on Twitter — tweeting the claim that: “Hardware at Bolt is fine, all good, the issues that HumanForest have had are with their bespoke components.”

“The Paris-Prague move is a commercial decision to support our wider business in Prague. Paris a good market and we hope to be back soon,” he added.

We asked HumanForest about Barrie’s claim that the technical issues with its hardware are related to “bespoke components” — but its spokeswoman declined to comment.

HumanForest’s twist on the e-bike sharing model is the idea of offering free trips with in-app ads subsidizing the rides. Its marketing has also been geared towards pushing a ‘greener commute’ message — touting that the e-bike batteries and service vehicles are charged with certified renewable energy sources.