WeWork kicks the keg

CXC

Ali Griswold

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Scooters!

Bird acquired Berlin-based e-scooter company Circ, it said yesterday without disclosing the price. Bird said the deal would add some 300 employees to its Europe operations. It also announced that it added $75 million to its series D funding from last August, bringing the round to $350 million total.

Circ was founded by Lukasz Gadowski, who also co-founded food delivery company Delivery Hero. Circ officially launched in January 2019 under the name Flash and with €55 million (about $61 million) in financing. It rebranded as Circ in June. Flash evoked speed and superheroes, whereas Circ was “all about circles, connections,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch at the time. Gadowski is also an investor in Latin American scooter startup Grow.

Of course, a lot of other European scooter companies also launched around the same time Circ did. They included Voi, Tier, Wind Mobility, and Dott. It wasn’t all that clear how Circ differed from its competitors, which brings me to my favorite anecdote about Circ.

At the Micromobility Europe conference in Berlin last October, Financial Times reporter Tim Bradshaw asked the six scooter reps on his panel to say in one sentence what made their company different from everyone else on stage. (This was a great question and I will absolutely be stealing it in the future.)

“We have a great team, that’s one, and the other one is that we’re orange,” said Gadowski, who was sporting a bright-orange windbreaker.

The mic passed to Wind co-founder Eric Wang, then Voi CMO Caroline Hjelm. “First of all,” she said, scowling at Gadowski, “we were orange first!”

I like this story because it gets at how absurdly commoditized micromobility is. There is so little to differentiate one scooter service from another that they semi-seriously boast about their color schemes, except even those aren’t unique. It’s like Circ went to the prom only to realize Voi was already wearing the same dress.

The true differentiator with commoditized services tends to be how much cash each company has access to, and can use to outgrow and outlast its competitors. Circ didn’t have as much as most of its European rivals. In late November, Circ laid off around 50 people, which it attributed to an expected decline in ridership over the winter. The FT reported last week that Circ was in talks with Bird and had been seeking a buyer after struggling to raise money for expansion.

Bird is likely hoping the Circ deal will bolster its presence in Europe, where it is widely thought to lag Silicon Valley rival Lime. Bird’s head of the UK and Ireland left last week, expressing frustration with how the political climate had thwarted efforts to make progress on scooter regulations. “There’s nothing more I think I can do personally to make things move quicker,” he told Bloomberg. Fast-forward a few days, and the UK is now reportedly preparing to legalize e-scooters on roads and in cycle lanes.

Bird was the fastest startup to reach a $1 billion valuation when it did so in June 2018, but last year said it was refocusing on unit economics and profitability after, you know, that became trendy. To underscore the point, Bird crammed so much profitability-specific jargon into co-founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden’s prepared quotes on the Circ deal (“profitability over growth,” “financially disciplined companies,” “clear path to profitability,” “shifted our focus from growth to profitability,” “deliver the strongest unit economics”) that they read like a particularly obsessive Mad Libs entry.

Vancouber.

Vancouver, the last major city in North America without Uber, just got Uber.

The service rolled out the morning of Jan. 24, a day after the Passenger Transportation Board, British Columbia’s transport regulator, said it had approved both Uber and Lyft to operate their ride-hail services in parts of the province.

Uber launched quietly in Vancouver in the summer of 2012. But that November, the Passenger Transportation Board informed the company it needed to follow the same rules as limousine services and charge a minimum of $75 per trip, effectively shutting Uber down.

The request didn’t fly with Uber co-founder and then-CEO Travis Kalanick—“almost no one was abiding by that rule,” he told a local news outlet at the time—but unlike in most other North American cities, Uber’s usual lobbying tactics (Twitter campaigns, emails to users, heckling politicians) didn’t work on Vancouver.

In late 2014, with Uber rumored to be eyeing a return to Vancouver, the city placed a six-month moratorium on issuing new taxi licenses and British Columbia deployed plainclothes transit agents to monitor for any illegal taxi operators. Over the next few years, the city council repeatedly extended the moratorium.

Last year, Slate.com, my former employer, did a good story on how Vancouver managed without Uber for all those years (spoiler, just fine):

So how have Vancouverites handled the lack of ride-hailing? Well, their city has hardly ground to a halt. The percentage of Vancouverites who commute to work by walking, cycling, or transit rose from 57 percent in 2013 to 59 percent in 2017. During that time, the share of commute trips by bicycle jumped by about 50 percent as Vancouver rolled out investments like a network of protected downtown bike lanes. TransLink, the regional transit authority, grew ridership by 5.7 percent in 2017, easily the fastest rate in North America. Andrew McCurran, TransLink’s director of strategic planning and policy, says ridership rose even faster in 2018, by 6.7 percent. Remarkably, a major driver was TransLink’s bus ridership, which rose by 7.3 percent last year.

Also popular, per Slate, was Car2Go, the rental-car company with a network of cars you could reserve and borrow for a few hours from regular street parking spots. Car2Go said last year it was shutting down operations in North America as of Feb. 29. That’s bad for Vancouver but probably good for Uber and Lyft, which can soak up all the unmet rental car demand.

Kicking the keg.

It’s the end of an era at WeWork:

WeWork is phasing out free beer and wine at it North American locations, a spokesperson confirmed to Bisnow Monday. The company doesn't have kegs at all of its 600-plus locations, but they were staples of WeWork's earliest outposts, which were also its most successful, according to WeWork's financial disclosures last year.

All taps will be turned off by the end of February. A WeWork spokesperson told Bisnow that data from an “expanded member satisfaction survey we conducted last year indicated many of our members wanted a greater variety of beverage options,” and that the company is rolling out options including cold brew, kombucha, seltzer, and cold teas. Unless Adam Neumann stages a tequila-shot-fueled comeback, WeWork may be as a dry town for the foreseeable future.

Elsewhere in We, SoftBank-backed Gympass inked a big deal for WeWork office space in New York that SoftBank surely had no hand in. And WeWork competitors want investors to know that while they could be the next WeWork, they are most definitely not the Next WeWork.

Bad dreams.

Quite the burn from the New York Post:

Casper — whose clever cartoon ads have long been ubiquitous on New York subways — has billed itself the “Nike of sleep.” But unlike Nike, which for years has tightly controlled its manufacturing costs, Casper is beholden to a small coterie of powerful US manufacturers.

The Post reports that Casper’s original mattress supplier, Elite Foam, was last year sold to Leggett & Platt, a manufacturer that also makes bed parts for several Casper competitors such as Leesa and Tuft & Needle. Yes that’s right, via M&A, Casper has accidentally gotten in bed with some of its competitors. (Mattresses, the most terribly pun-prone of all industries! Thanks, Mattress Firm.)

Casper, the direct-to-consumer, Warby-Parker-of-mattresses, our-business-is-more-than-mattresses-it-is-the-SLEEP-ECONOMY startup, is expected to list soon on the New York Stock Exchange under the trading symbol CSPR. Casper dreamed big and achieved a $1.1 billion valuation from private investors. But in a securities filing yesterday, the company set an IPO price range of $17-$19, which at the top end of the range would value it closer to $750 million. You might say, a rude awakening.

This time last year.

The breakup letter Uber investors wrote to Travis Kalanick

Other stuff.

WeWork’s Valuation Was for WeWork. Uber pits drivers against each other in California. Restauranteur plans to sue Grubhub for advertising menu she doesn’t serve. Stasher raises $2.5 million for luggage storage. Hourly hotel-rental startup ByHours raises €8 million. Berlin-based Home gets €11 million for flat rental software. Zoomcar adds to series D. SoftBank leads $32 million round in robot waiters company Bear Robotics. Uber signs deal with Nissan to offer UK drivers discounted electric cars. Uber bringing driverless cars to DC. Competition watchdog probing Just Eat takeover. US Consumer Product Safety Commission probing Lime scooters. Lagos bans bike-hailing startups. Skip scooters combust in Golden Gate Park. DC installs parking corrals for scooters. Atlanta to renew scooter permits on month-by-month basis. Uber braces for clash with European cities on scooter data. Waymo brings long-haul trucks to Texas and New Mexico. WeWork sells stake in The Wing. Indian e-bike startup Bounce raises $105 million.


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Send tips, comments, and WeWork kegs to @alisongriswold, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.