VC Deals: SoftBank Puts $940M In Self-Driving Bots

DoorDash (DOORD) is reportedly raising for a $500M round that would push its valuation to between $6B and $7B. Temasek is expected to lead the …

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Venture Capital Deals of the Week. Follow this account and turn on the e-mail alert to receive VCDeals in your inbox on Saturday mornings.

1. SoftBank bets $940M on autonomous delivery bots

SoftBank (OTCPK:SFTBF, OTCPK:SFTBY) Vision Fund invested $940M in autonomous vehicle startup Nuro at a $2.7B valuation.

Nuro was founded by two vets of Google’s self-driving project (now called Waymo) and last year launched an autonomous vehicle for grocery deliveries and other errands. Last year, Nuro and Kroger launched a pilot grocery delivery program in Arizona that uses a delivery bot without a safety driver. Nuro also licensed its tech to autonomous truck startup Ike.

The massive infusion will likely go towards expanding its delivery service, scaling up its fleet of self-driving bots, signing up new partners, and hiring.

2. Amazon makes another vehicle investment

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) led a $700M equity round in electric truck startup Rivian. GM (NYSE:GM) was reportedly still circling a potential investment.

Rivian plans to launch its R1T pickup truck and R1S sport utility in the U.S. next year with a global launch following in 2021. The vehicles are modeled on a “skateboard” platform the company says has the flexibility to accommodate several different vehicle body styles. Amazon’s investment in Rivian came a week after the tech giant participated in a funding round for autonomous vehicle tech startup Aurora.

Competitors: Traditional truck and SUV automakers like GM and Ford (NYSE:F) plus Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).

3. DoorDash seeks $500M

DoorDash (DOORD) is reportedly raising for a $500M round that would push its valuation to between $6B and $7B. Temasek is expected to lead the round. DoorDash has already raised nearly $1B in funding from backers that include SoftBank and Kleiner Perkins. Valuation was $4B when the company raised $250M last year.

Earlier this year, DoorDash expanded its operations to cover all 50 U.S. states. The company has also reportedly started to supplement its driver income with consumer tips, similar to Instacart.

Competitor: GrubHub (NYSE:GRUB), Uber (UBER) Eats, and Postmates (POSTM), which filed for an IPO earlier this month.

4. Reddit confirms Tencent investment

Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY, OTCPK:TCTZF) pitched in half of the confirmed $300M round in Reddit, the “front page of the internet.” TechCrunch reported on the investment last week, and the confirmation followed. The Series B round also included Sequoia, Fidelity, and Snoop Dogg and brought the valuation up to $3B.

Reddit generated $100M in revenue last year and plans to double the figure in 2019. As of late November, Reddit had 330M average MAUs and 14B screen views per month. Tencent’s investment rankled some Reddit users, but the company says it has no plans to create a censored version of the platform for the Chinese market, where the site is currently blocked.

5. Credit Karma for businesses gets $44M

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) participated in a $44M round in business credit startup Nav. Point72 Ventures and Experian Ventures. As part of its investment, Goldman’s investment group managing director Rana Yared will join Nav’s board.

Nav essentially serves as a Credit Karma for small businesses, showing their credit scores from the major consumer and commercial credit agencies for free, which makes it easier for the company to know its financing options. Nav’s platform also contains over 100 financing products including loans and credit cards. Those payment partnerships are how Nav makes its money.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

SeekingAlpha

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Last Week In Venture: Haute Hijab, Pro Network Mining, Coin Crunching, And Time Storage

We covered reports that Doordash is inking a big new funding deal. And, in other news, Lyft’s founders move to concentrate power, Peloton is …

Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, the weekly roundup of startup funding deals which may have flown under your radar.

Subscribe to theCrunchbase Daily

Before getting into that, though, here’s a bit of what the Crunchbase News team did this week. VC investor confidence is down, and we followed up with an investor to hear their thoughts on the market. We covered Amazon’s acquisition of home WiFi company Eero and supergiant funding rounds raised by Rivian, DriveNets, Flow Kana, and Nuro. We covered reports that Doordash is inking a big new funding deal. And, in other news, Lyft’s founders move to concentrate power, Peloton is prepping for an IPO, and dating apps aren’t getting a lot of love from VCs.

Of course, this is just a small piece of a bigger picture. There are plenty of companies outside the unicorn spotlight, and their contributions to the broader startup ecosystem are definitely worth sharing.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the week that was in venture-land!

Haute Hijab

Aiming to deliver “the world’s best hijabs for the world’s most powerful women,” NYC-based Haute Hijab designs and sells a selection of hijabs and underscarves in an array of luxury and performance fabrics. On Monday, the company announced it raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Cue Ball. Sinai Ventures, Muse Capital, Maveron, Ludlow Ventures, Helm, and AngelList participated in the deal.

The ecommerce company was launched back in 2010 by Melanie Elturk (CEO) with her husband Ahmed Zedan (COO). Last year, when Haute Hijab launched a luxury collection of crystal-laced hijabs, Elturk told Glamour magazine that, growing up in Detroit in the 90s, she owned two hijabs that she would rotate every other day. “They were dark and drab and didn’t fit into my American style… the idea of hijab and fashion couldn’t even be said together. It was the ultimate oxymoron,” she told the fashion magazine.

Today, the company is a leading brand in the hijab market and says it plans to use its new capital to scale up domestically and “extend its competitive lead worldwide.” In a statement about the funding round, the company says that “[t]he average Muslim woman wears up to four hijabs per day and owns over 100 hijabs in total,” and it’s a rapidly-growing market. Citing figures reported by The Guardian, the company said that the Muslim middle class is expected to triple to 900 million people by 2030. According to the 2017 Global Islamic Economy report, $254 billion was spent on Muslim attire in 2016. The report indicates the market could grow to $373 billion by 2022.

Professional Network Data Mining

The likes of Facebook and Google are busy mining your social data for ethically dubious (but phenomenally profitable) advertising businesses. Well, teams can now collectively mine their own professional network for more useful stuff, like introductions to new customers and business partners.

Affinity is a San Francisco-based maker of a relationship intelligence platform, which “structures the world’s communication data to harness the power of professional relationships.”1 The company raised $26.5 million in a Series B round co-led by Sway Ventures and Advance Venture Partners. Pear Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, and Lars Dalgaard (investing individually) participated in the round.

How does it work? Affinity’s patented technology siphons metadata out of your calendars and email, reconciles it with available social information and communications from other people on your team, and helps visualize a professional network and identify folks who are best-positioned to make warm introductions. It’s like the contemporary digital surveillance state, but for corporations!

The security page on the company’s website says that a person using the software is “able to view email subjects, email recipients, calendar event titles, and calendar participants across [their] entire firm.” The company advises to use the default-open privacy settings, but it says it offers more granular privacy controls, including ways to hide messages between certain people from the platform. In a business setting, it makes sense to keep some executive communication off the record, as it were, but it highlights another divide between haves and have-nots. If data is the new oil, the workers themselves can be wells, too. Sounds like a greasy business to me.

Storing Time Makes Money

Stop for a moment and think about the countless sensors and chips, logging and computing away, recording moment-to-moment happenings all day, every day. Where does all that data go?

Well, to be most useful, time-dependent data should be stored in a time-series database, which are purpose-built to slice and dice data by datetime tags. Time-series databases are among the fastest-growing category of databases infrastructure. According to industry monitoring authority DB-Engines, the most popular time-series database system is InfluxDB.

This week, InfluxDB announced it raised $60 million in a Series D round led by Norwest Venture Partners. Several prior investors, including Sapphire Ventures and Battery Ventures, participated in the round.2 In conjunction with the financing, MongoDB CEO Max Schireson joined InfluxData’s board of directors.

More Interesting Deals From The Week

And with that, we’re done! Here’s to hoping that some of our U.S. readers can enjoy a three-day weekend. Everyone else should rest easy, too. The POTUS probably isn’t going to do anything else while he’s golfing.

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Ferdinand Stohr, via Unsplash.


  1. Disclosure: 8VC led Affinity’s Series A round. 8VC is an investor in Crunchbase, the corporate parent of Crunchbase News. For more information about Crunchbase News’s policies about disclosure, please consult the about page on the Crunchbase News website.

  2. Mayfield Fund participated in the round as well. Mayfield Fund is an investor in Crunchbase, the corporate parent of Crunchbase News. For more information about Crunchbase News’s policies about disclosure, please consult the about page on the Crunchbase News website.

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Big Gig: Gig economy workers join hands to fight for a $15-per-hour minimum wage

Fast Company reports that drivers from companies like Instacart, DoorDash, and Amazon Flex have banded together with the labor advocacy …

Last year was huge for IPOs: There were 173 through the end of September 2018 alone (3x 2016’s number), and 2019 is on track to be even bigger.

But companies with an eye on going public will try almost anything to cut costs — even if that means cutting a driver’s take-home (pay for companies within the gig economy).

Fast Company reports that drivers from companies like Instacart, DoorDash, and Amazon Flex have banded together with the labor advocacy organization Working Washington to launch a campaign demanding a $15/hour minimum wage across the gig economy.

The decline that broke the driver’s back

Janssen Sartiga, an Instacart delivery driver, claims Instacart’s new cost-cutting pay algorithm dropped his earnings from an average of $20/hour in May to well under $15/hour in January — and he’s not alone.

Citing pay decreases of between 30% and 40%, nearly 1.6k Instacart gig workers signed a petition in January.

The group’s demands delivered a big victory package weeks later, when Instacart rolled out new minimums for workers between $5 and $10 per assignment, despite what the algorithm says.

But the war’s far from over

Each gig platform uses its own algorithms, which means that pay based on distance, number of items, weight of items, time of day, and other factors varies between each delivery-app service.

Instacart drivers have noticed that the service started bundling multiple customer orders into one batch, leaving a smaller payout for drivers.

And let’s not forget, DoorDash, Instacart, and Amazon have all been called out for counting tips toward user payin other words, the tips you leave your delivery drivers are going to billion-dollar corporations.

The fight for $15

Instacart’s win in January inspired them to team up with DoorDash and Amazon Flex — a company that bills maintenance costs into its advertised $18/hour employee wage — to restructure how workers get paid.

“No matter how the pay works, there ought to be a bottom line they can’t go below,” Sage Wilson of Working Washington said. “The details matter a lot, but we need a baseline that can apply to all apps.”

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The fight for $15 (per hour) comes to the gig economy

With take-home pay dropping as companies prune for IPOs, drivers for Instacart, DoorDash, and other services are uniting to demand a minimum …

The new fight for 15

On February 13, over 600 people joined a national teleconference, organized by Working Washington, to launch a campaign demanding a $15 per hour minimum wage throughout the gig economy. It’s a way to cut across the complex accounting of algorithms that pay based on distance, number of items, weight of items, time of day, and other factors–calculated differently by each delivery-app service.

“No matter how the pay works, there ought to be a bottom line they can’t go below,” Wilson told the meeting. “The details matter a lot, but we need a baseline that can apply to all apps–$15, plus expenses.”

That last point is no small detail. Amazon Flex, for instance, guarantees workers a minimum of $18 per hour. But workers furnish their own vehicles, paying for gas, maintenance, and depreciation. Instacart breaks out a per-mileage fee paid to drivers, but considers it part of pay. (As independent contractors, the drivers also pay higher payroll taxes and expenses like health insurance.)

Good question, fellow @Instacart contractor.

Here’s our answer: They will either pay our fee PER CUSTOMER ORDER, or the business is over.

This is the next big fight. And we’ve already started.

Watching you, @apoorva_mehtapic.twitter.com/j0z9O1EPc6

— Matthew (@MatthewTelles) February 12, 2019

Instacart, DoorDash, and most other services quote a fee per assignment, not per hour, requiring contractors to do a lot of math in their head to determine if a job is worth accepting. It seems that Working Washington’s proposal would only cover actual time on a delivery, not downtime. “Our thinking is that it would be $15 for time you spend with an active job, so from the time you accept the job until the time you drop off with the customer,” said an organizer for Working Washington who goes only by the name “Emily.”

Furthermore, workers will demand this pay irrespective of how much the customer tips. DoorDash, and more recently Instacart and Amazon, have come under fire from drivers for counting tips toward user pay.

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With Third-party Drivers, Mountain Mike’s Changes Pizza Delivery Model

An initial test at the end of 2017 with DoorDash yielded positive results, including a “major same-store sales increase” and slight bump in average …
By Laura Michaels

Published: 2019.02.14 09:52 AM

While Jimmy John’s was swearing off third-party delivery in favor of its own in-house team and Domino’s CEO was telling CNBC, “When a customer orders from Domino’s, I want a Domino’s uniformed driver to show up and deliver that pizza,” a California pizza franchise has been busy rolling out delivery partnerships with not one but three third-party services.

Even though Mountain Mike’s 200-plus pizza restaurants each have their own delivery team, the Newport Beach-based brand is working with DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub to reach customers it believes wouldn’t otherwise order its food.

Partnering with three services “extends our delivery range,” says Jim Metevier, president and COO of Mountain Mike’s, “and we wanted to not put our eggs in one basket.

“We do think there are unique users in each of these delivery pools,” he continues.

An initial test at the end of 2017 with DoorDash yielded positive results, including a “major same-store sales increase” and slight bump in average ticket, says Metevier, who adds the orders coming from the outside channels are indeed incremental. “We got access to the customers of those platforms themselves.”

The lack of shared customer data by these third-party services is a point of contention for many operators, but Metevier said that access to information, or lack thereof, “was not a barrier to the decision” to use the trio of services. Mountain Mike’s is pushing to learn as much as it can about these new customers, he adds, and continues to promote its own online ordering and delivery options.

“All our restaurants do delivery and will continue to do delivery for the foreseeable future,” he says. “I don’t see in the near future cutting back on in-house delivery but we will continue to evaluate. They complement each other at this point.”

Mountain Mike’s announced the three partnerships at its franchisee convention in October 2018 and secured what Metevier calls “competitive pricing” for its system of 100 percent franchised restaurants. Franchisees are embracing the initiative, he says, and Mountain Mike’s is also working with its provider to fully integrate the three delivery services into its point-of-sale system.

Acquired in April 2017 by a trio of private equity firms, Mountain Mike’s made its Franchise Times Top 200+ debut last year at No. 271. The brand hit $156 million in sales in 2017, an 11.4 percent increase from the previous year.

The Top 200+ is Franchise Times’ exclusive ranking of the 500 largest franchises based on systemwide sales.

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