Daimler and BMW invest $1.1 billion in urban mobility services

Daimler AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. And now, they want to unify their services under five categories by creating five joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.

Both automakers plan to invest $1.1 billion (€1 billion) to foster these urban mobility services over the coming years. There are already 60 million people using one of the 14 services currently available.

Let’s go through the details. Free Now is the name of the ride-hailing company, which includes mytaxi, Kapten, Clever Taxi and Beat. Those services combined operate in 130 cities in 17 countries. Hive, a new e-scooter company, is also part of Free Now.

mytaxi, a popular app that lets you hail a taxi from your phone, already sent an email to its customers saying that the company will rebrand its service to Free Now later this year. It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the other brands. Chauffeur-Privé recently rebranded to Kapten, so it sounds like apps and services won’t merge overnight.

Charge Now already exists and is a network of public charge points for electric cars. It provides a white label service for car manufacturers as well. So nothing is changing there.

Park Now combines an existing service called ParkNow (I know, it’s confusing), ParkMobile, RingGo and Park-line. As the names suggest, they all operate parking services.

Share Now is all about free-floating services. Daimler and BMW each had its own service, DriveNow and Car2Go; they’re now under the same roof.

The new Reach Now combines moovel with an existing service called ReachNow. This one is a bit weird as moovel lets you access various transportation methods from a single app. You can find your itinerary, and book and pay for various services through the app. The old ReachNow is different as it’s a ride-hailing service in Seattle and Portland.

That wasn’t easy to unpack. It’s clear that things are still moving and plans aren’t set in stone when it comes to integrations and brand simplification. Eventually, BMW CEO Harald Krüger hopes that all of those services will converge and form an end-to-end service.

“We have a clear vision: these five services will merge ever more closely to form a single mobility service portfolio with an all-electric, self-driving fleet of vehicles that charge and park autonomously and interconnect with the other modes of transport,” he said in the release.

While it sounds like a wild dream, it’s interesting to see that Daimler and BMW are both very serious about mobility services. They know that they can’t just be car manufacturers, and must expand beyond their traditional role.

It’s a competitive industry with well-funded giants, such as Uber and Didi. And if Daimler and BMW want to remain relevant, they need to invest and develop these services.

Daimler and BMW invest $1.1 billion in urban mobility services

Daimler AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. And now, they want to unify their services under five categories by creating five joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.

Both automakers plan to invest $1.1 billion (€1 billion) to foster these urban mobility services over the coming years. There are already 60 million people using one of the 14 services currently available.

Let’s go through the details. Free Now is the name of the ride-hailing company, which includes mytaxi, Kapten, Clever Taxi and Beat. Those services combined operate in 130 cities in 17 countries. Hive, a new e-scooter company, is also part of Free Now.

mytaxi, a popular app that lets you hail a taxi from your phone, already sent an email to its customers saying that the company will rebrand its service to Free Now later this year. It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the other brands. Chauffeur-Privé recently rebranded to Kapten, so it sounds like apps and services won’t merge overnight.

Charge Now already exists and is a network of public charge points for electric cars. It provides a white label service for car manufacturers as well. So nothing is changing there.

Park Now combines an existing service called ParkNow (I know, it’s confusing), ParkMobile, RingGo and Park-line. As the names suggest, they all operate parking services.

Share Now is all about free-floating services. Daimler and BMW each had its own service, DriveNow and Car2Go; they’re now under the same roof.

The new Reach Now combines moovel with an existing service called ReachNow. This one is a bit weird as moovel lets you access various transportation methods from a single app. You can find your itinerary, and book and pay for various services through the app. The old ReachNow is different as it’s a ride-hailing service in Seattle and Portland.

That wasn’t easy to unpack. It’s clear that things are still moving and plans aren’t set in stone when it comes to integrations and brand simplification. Eventually, BMW CEO Harald Krüger hopes that all of those services will converge and form an end-to-end service.

“We have a clear vision: these five services will merge ever more closely to form a single mobility service portfolio with an all-electric, self-driving fleet of vehicles that charge and park autonomously and interconnect with the other modes of transport,” he said in the release.

While it sounds like a wild dream, it’s interesting to see that Daimler and BMW are both very serious about mobility services. They know that they can’t just be car manufacturers, and must expand beyond their traditional role.

It’s a competitive industry with well-funded giants, such as Uber and Didi. And if Daimler and BMW want to remain relevant, they need to invest and develop these services.

Daimler and BMW invest $1.1 billion in urban mobility services

Daimler AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. And now, they want to unify their services under five categories by creating five joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.

Both automakers plan to invest $1.1 billion (€1 billion) to foster these urban mobility services over the coming years. There are already 60 million people using one of the 14 services currently available.

Let’s go through the details. Free Now is the name of the ride-hailing company, which includes mytaxi, Kapten, Clever Taxi and Beat. Those services combined operate in 130 cities in 17 countries. Hive, a new e-scooter company, is also part of Free Now.

mytaxi, a popular app that lets you hail a taxi from your phone, already sent an email to its customers saying that the company will rebrand its service to Free Now later this year. It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the other brands. Chauffeur-Privé recently rebranded to Kapten, so it sounds like apps and services won’t merge overnight.

Charge Now already exists and is a network of public charge points for electric cars. It provides a white label service for car manufacturers as well. So nothing is changing there.

Park Now combines an existing service called ParkNow (I know, it’s confusing), ParkMobile, RingGo and Park-line. As the names suggest, they all operate parking services.

Share Now is all about free-floating services. Daimler and BMW each had its own service, DriveNow and Car2Go; they’re now under the same roof.

The new Reach Now combines moovel with an existing service called ReachNow. This one is a bit weird as moovel lets you access various transportation methods from a single app. You can find your itinerary, and book and pay for various services through the app. The old ReachNow is different as it’s a ride-hailing service in Seattle and Portland.

That wasn’t easy to unpack. It’s clear that things are still moving and plans aren’t set in stone when it comes to integrations and brand simplification. Eventually, BMW CEO Harald Krüger hopes that all of those services will converge and form an end-to-end service.

“We have a clear vision: these five services will merge ever more closely to form a single mobility service portfolio with an all-electric, self-driving fleet of vehicles that charge and park autonomously and interconnect with the other modes of transport,” he said in the release.

While it sounds like a wild dream, it’s interesting to see that Daimler and BMW are both very serious about mobility services. They know that they can’t just be car manufacturers, and must expand beyond their traditional role.

It’s a competitive industry with well-funded giants, such as Uber and Didi. And if Daimler and BMW want to remain relevant, they need to invest and develop these services.

Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand.

The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report. The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager.

The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.)

Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.”

Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business.

Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans.

Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers.

The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

Didi also went on the record with some financial data. The company claimed that annualized GMV for Xiaoju has jumped from 37 billion RMB ($5.4 billion) in April 2018 to 60 billion RMB ($8.76 billion) as of today. That’s impressive growth of 62 percent, and the forecast is that it will easily pass its previous goal of 90 billion RMB ($13.15 billion) for 2018 before this year is finished.

GMV, in this case, refers to the total value of goods and services crossing the Xiaoju platform. That help gives an idea of how active it is, but it doesn’t translate to revenue or profit/loss for Didi. The company didn’t provide information for either revenue or profitability for Xiaoju.

This year has been a notable one as the company has expanded its horizons for the first time by venturing outside of China.

Last year, Didi raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Beyond that massive $4 billion raise, Didi recently landed a $500 million investment from Booking Holdings that’s aimed at providing strategic alliances between the Didi and the travel giant’s range of services. The company has raised over $17 billion from investors to date and it was last valued at $56 billion.