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People

Lime's new CEO on the Uber deal, absorbing Jump and socially distant scooters

The funding deal announced Thursday "reaffirms that not only Uber but major investors believe in this industry and believe in Lime," Wayne Ting said.

Lime scooter

Lime hopes scooters will be more popular due to the need for social distancing.

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Lime is receiving a much-need cash infusion from Uber and other investors as the scooter company attempts to reset its business amid the coronavirus pandemic. The move announced Thursday was a "down round," Lime's new CEO acknowledged in a morning interview with Protocol, but gives the battered company "a chance to fight back" — and perhaps benefit from the new need for social distancing.

Lime revealed it has raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber and with backing from investors including Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. It's also swallowing Jump, acquiring the assets and some employees from Uber's bike and scooter business.

Lime's new CEO — its third in as many years — is former global head of operations and ex-Uber employee Wayne Ting. He replaces co-founder Brad Bao, who will remain as chairman of the board. Joe Kraus, who once was COO and Ting's boss, continues on as president.

The funding deal "reaffirms that not only Uber but major investors believe in this industry and believe in Lime," Ting said. "This funding is going to be sufficient for us to weather the downturn and come back and compete and bring micromobility to more cities, which, especially because of COVID-19, is more needed today and more necessary today than ever before."

But the new funding is effectively a bailout for what was an already cash-strapped business going into the pandemic, and there's still no guarantee that any micromobility business will survive what is a crowded and hard-hit market.

The deal comes with a massive valuation cut, dropping the startup's valuation from $2.4 billion to around $510 million, according to The Information, which first reported details of the negotiations. According to its report, Uber will get preferred shares and have an option to buy Lime in the future.

Lime declined to comment on such details, but Ting told Protocol that "it's a down round." The company also expects to re-price some employees' shares to account for the valuation shift.

"What matters for me, Lime and all of our shareholders and employees is that we're going to weather this," he said. "We're going to come out of this on the other side because of the investments being made today. This gives us a chance to fight back to whatever valuation happened before."

Wayne Ting New Lime CEO Wayne Ting said in an interview, "This funding is going to be sufficient for us to weather the downturn."Photo: Courtesy of Lime

With the Jump acquisition, Lime will continue to operate both scooter brands in the short term, but Ting expects that it will consolidate under the Lime brand in the future. Ting prefers Jump's bikes, though, so Lime will be adopting that hardware moving forward.

The agreement could buoy Uber, which gets to move a money-losing business off its balance sheet and onto Lime's books instead. Wall Street liked the deal, with investors driving up Uber's stock more than 10% after it was announced. More details of the transaction could be announced when Uber reports earnings after Thursday's market close.

The scooter segment has been a notorious cash-burner, and both Bird and Lime have been under pressure to move toward profitability. When Bird raised $275 million in October, founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden acknowledged that industry and investor sentiment had shifted.

"Positive unit economics is the new goal line," he said at the time. That wasn't enough to inoculate Bird's business from the effects of the pandemic; it laid off around 30% of its workforce, or 400 people, in March.

Lime laid off about 100 people and exited 12 markets in January. Just before the pandemic hit, Ting said Lime was on the brink of being cashflow positive. He told Protocol on Thursday that his goal is to get Lime back to being cashflow positive by 2021, but that he's not going to pull back on the growth throttle.

"We're gonna double down on being international," he said. "The need for safe, healthy, open-air, single-passenger modes of transportation is not just an American need — it's a global need, especially when we look at the global impact of COVID-19."

Ting's bet is that people are going to emerge from the pandemic wanting more socially distanced transit options, like bikes and scooters, instead of opting for crowded transit options, a stance echoed by rival Bird.

Already in some of its restarted cities, like Berlin and Columbus, Ohio, Lime is seeing average trip fares go up as people ride scooters for longer distances. Seoul is back to nearly all-time highs, Ting said.

Moreover, consolidation in the market could help Lime. Already, Lyft has started pulling back from some markets, though Ford-owned Spin told Protocol's David Pierce that it's ready to restart its markets when the time is right.

"We've seen historically a lot of brands being funded over the last couple years. And I think that's a great thing," Ting said. "But as we go through one of these downturns, there's a question of what doesn't make sense in the future, and I think we're going to see some level of consolidation."

For now, Lime is staying in the fight, despite the onerous deal terms it had to stomach to get there.

Politics

'Woke tech' and 'the new slave power': Conservatives gather for Vegas summit

An agenda for the event, hosted by the Claremont Institute, listed speakers including U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute. The speakers include U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as a who's-who of far-right provocateurs.

Photo: David Vives/Unsplash

Conservative investors, political operatives, right-wing writers and Trump administration officials are quietly meeting in Las Vegas this weekend to discuss topics including China, "woke tech" and "the new slave power," according to four people who were invited to attend or speak at the event as well as a copy of the agenda obtained by Protocol.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that says its mission is to "restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life." A list of speakers for the event includes a combination of past and current government officials as well as a who's who of far-right provocateurs. One speaker, conservative legal scholar John Eastman, rallied the president's supporters at a White House event before the Capitol Hill riot earlier this month. Some others have been associated with racist ideologies.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Is this a VC bubble, or just the new normal?

Huge deals, little diligence and hyper-fast follow-on rounds have become commonplace. For now.

Things are looking awful frothy, aren't they?

Photo: Drew Beamer/Unsplash

The VC industry is "frothy," "overheated" or "bonkers," investors say. Whether this is the new normal or unhealthy signs of an overheated market depends on your point of view — and how well your portfolio is doing.

There are signs that VC has changed all around. In recent months, deal sizes and valuations have spiked in hot deals; due diligence on startups has evaporated as investors compete to get into hot deals first; venture firms are investing much more than they normally do; there are hyper-fast follow-on rounds; and more non-traditional investors are backing early-stage startups.

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Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Power

How Google workers secretly built a union

And why one labor leader says Google organizers have 'sparked a fire that is going to spread throughout the entire tech industry.'

Google employee holds a sign as thousands of employees walk off the job to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct claims on November 1, 2018, in Mountain View, California.

Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

More than a year ago, activists inside Google began to seriously investigate how they could go about creating a union. Frustrated with conflicts over fair treatment of workers, sexual harassment and equal pay, and facing punishment for organizing a massive walkout, some workers started to talk quietly about more official organizing. In January 2020, a group reached out to the Communications Workers of America to learn the first steps, and began quietly discussing structure and bringing more workers on board without tipping off Google leadership. Recruiting was limited to a group of closely-connected friends, peers and colleagues and secret word-of-mouth discussions, meaning that most Google workers had no idea the union was being formed.

Dylan Baker, a software engineer who joined the recruiting process in October, described a careful process fearful of Alphabet retaliation. "We needed to keep things under the radar. We added one person at a time, very incrementally," they said. Almost every worker they approached about the union agreed to join. "From here, I think every single person has a lot of reasons and a lot of things that they want to change," they said.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Politics

In 2020, COVID-19 derailed the privacy debate

From biometric monitoring to unregulated contact tracing, the crisis opened up new privacy vulnerabilities that regulators did little to address.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, says the COVID-19 pandemic has become a "cash grab" for surveillance tech companies.

Photo: Lianhao Qu/Unsplash

As the coronavirus began its inexorable spread across the United States last spring, Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, worried the virus would bring with it another scourge: mass surveillance.

"A lot of really bad ideas were being advanced here in the U.S. and a lot of really bad ideas were being actually implemented in foreign countries," Schwartz said.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
People

The year our personal lives took center stage at work

2020's blurring of professional and personal boundaries exacerbated disparities, humanized leaders and put personal values front and center.

In 2020, the personal and the professional became inextricable at work.

Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images

For those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs and privileged enough to be able to work from home, our whole selves were bared at work this year. Our homes and faces were blown up for virtual inspection. Our children's demands and crises filled our working hours, and our working mothers became schoolteachers and housewives, whether they wanted to or not. Our illnesses became vital public information, and our tragedies shared. Our work lives ate into our social lives until there was no boundary between them.

In 2020, the personal and the professional became inextricable at work. Remote work might be the most sexy 2020 trend, but for the CEOs and leaders I spoke with, the de-professionalization of work could be the most important effect on a personal level. It's the one that has caused the most harm to women in the workplace and destroyed work-life balance for basically everyone. It's also what has contributed to the majority of work-from-home Americans being more satisfied with their work lives than they were before, mostly because they feel more connected to their families, they're able to set their own schedules and they're more comfortable at home, according to a Morning Consult poll. While we can't know exactly how many and who will be going back to the office just yet, as long as there is some kind of flexible work schedule, people's personal lives will be part of their work lives and vice versa.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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