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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

The billion-dollar scooter shakeup

Lime
Lime Scooter

Good morning! This Wednesday, a power shakeup in the scooter wars, big layoffs at Airbnb, and Tom Cruise hopes to head to space for a movie.

Don't forget to mark your calendar for Protocol's two events tomorrow! First, at noon PDT / 3 p.m. EDT, Biz Carson chats with three of Silicon Valley's most important VCs about where the investment world goes next. Sign up here. Then tomorrow night, at 5:30 p.m. PDT / 8:30 p.m. EDT, we're co-hosting an event with leaders at Box, Slack, Postmates, Twitter and more. Sign up for that one here. Hope to see you tomorrow!

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People Are Talking

From Protocol: Airbnb laid off about a quarter of its staff, and Brian Chesky wrote a long note explaining why to the whole company:

  • "To those leaving Airbnb, I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb … that helped make Airbnb. I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us."

Some companies are giving back their PPP loans, and Zumper CEO Anthemos Georgiades said it's creating an optics nightmare:

  • "It's a veiled warning of 'you should expect public scrutiny if you accept this.'"

Twitter's Sunita Saligram explained why the platform is experimenting with prompting people to revise offensive tweets before they send them:

  • "We're trying to encourage people to rethink their behavior and rethink their language before posting because they often are in the heat of the moment and they might say something they regret."

The Big Story

It's hard out there for scooter startups

For a while there, it seemed anyone with a Google Maps API key and a warehouse full of Ninebot-made scooters could raise millions of dollars. Scooters were going to revolutionize transportation, take over the world, fix climate change, remake cities altogether! Personally, I rode a scooter to and from the office every single day. It was awesome.

And then coronavirus happened.

  • Bird laid off about a third of its staff in late March (in a horrific two-minute Zoom call), and has stopped service in a number of cities.
  • Lyft shut down its scooter service in a number of cities, and laid off about 20 people from the team.
  • Lime laid off 13% of its staff last week, and had to pause operations in 99% of its markets worldwide "to support cities' efforts at social distancing," CEO Brad Bao said. Lime is also reportedly raising money from Uber at a $510 million valuation — vastly lower than the $2.4 billion it was worth on paper barely a year ago.

The question now isn't whether scooters were a good idea (they definitely are) or if they represent a viable business model. It's how many of the companies are going to be left to answer those pre-existing questions when the pandemic is over?

One company, though, is trying to take back the streets. Spin, the scooter company owned by Ford, restarted service in some cities yesterday. It's offering free rides to healthcare workers, cleaning scooters more often, and generally hoping that now is a good moment to win some market share.

  • Bird, Lime and others raised mega-millions so they could blanket streets with their product, hoping to become users' default choice. That didn't leave much room for smaller, less-funded startups like Spin. Now, there's less competition.
  • "We've taken this slow and steadier path towards growth," Spin co-founder Euwyn Poon told me. "I think we're kind of poised to be one of the leaders, if not the leader in growing this and scaling this as a true solution."
  • Spin hasn't had to do layoffs, largely because Ford's willing to play a long game with scooters. In that way, Poon said, "we're very unique in this space, actually."

Spin did shut down service in 60 of its 70 markets, but Poon said that with staff still on board and scooters in warehouses ready to go, getting things back up to speed won't take much time at all. As the rest of the scooter market crashes back to reality, Spin might be about to take off.

Gig Economy

"We intend to make sure that Uber or Lyft play by the rules"

The are-gig-workers-employees debate felt like it had hit some sort of stalemate. California passed AB 5, but Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and others were fighting to change the way the law was applied — and it didn't seem like a huge amount of progress was being made. Who knew where things would end up?

Well, California AG Xavier Becerra seems to have a vision. Becerra, along with the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, yesterday sued Uber and Lyft, alleging that "both companies continue to misclassify their drivers — and have exploited hundreds of thousands of California workers — in direct contravention of California law."

  • The suit seeks back wages for workers, and penalties that would add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. "Californians who drive for Uber and Lyft lack basic worker protections — from paid sick leave to the right to overtime pay," Becerra said in a statement.
  • From the complaint: "The laws violated by Defendants include, but are not limited to, requirements relating to minimum wages, overtime wages, business expenses, meal and rest periods, wage statements, paid sick leave and health benefits, and social insurance programs."

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of San Francisco, and is surely just one more in a long line of legal moves between the two sides. But unlike drivers or advocacy groups, these accusers have the resources to go the distance.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Pandemic Art

In quarantine, all the Zoom's a stage

So far, most performances in lockdown — think SNL and all your favorite morning shows — have worked despite the technology limitations, not because of them. But a small Minnesotan theater troupe is pushing the medium to new heights. Protocol's Sofie Kodner watched an entirely Zoom-based rendition of "The Diary of Anne Frank," and may have just seen a new kind of theater:

  • Park Square Theatre had planned for a live performance, but shelter-in-place orders got in the way. Compelled to carry on, the cast and company realized the play — confined to a single space anyway — was ripe for restaging via Zoom. As the characters navigate life in isolation over conversations on video chat, you just can't help but relate.
  • It is a Zoom performance, warts and all. Each actor is confined to their own square in gallery view, and enters or exits a scene via their webcam. They wear costumes that are visible only from the chest-up, and sit in front of blank walls presumably in their own households. There were glitches, and moments where the audio doesn't quite match the video. Someone forgot to take themselves off mute, but only once.
  • The whole thing works impressively well. And it's hard not to draw parallels, especially as the actress playing Anne says "I think that the world may be going through a phase" into her webcam. The show is free and available for streaming through May 15.

So is Zoom just a platform? Or can it also be an artform? From theater to reality TV to that awesome Parks & Recreation reunion special, Zoom has emerged as a new home for creativity. The shows that can turn the production constraints into assets — through thematic support or by tapping into the authenticity of it all — have a shot at outlasting the pandemic. There's definitely more Zoom-based avant garde performance art to come, at least.

Number of the Day

5,000,000,000

That's how many dollars a new bill, authored by Ron Wyden, will request for fighting and preventing online child sex abuse. The New York Times reports that the bill would create nearly 200 dedicated positions in law enforcement groups, along with a Senate-confirmed official in the White House to oversee how the money was spent. Wyden and his co-sponsors are making a point we're hearing more often: Without empowered, well-funded enforcement, cybersecurity and privacy legislation is nothing but empty words.

In Other News

  • As the U.K. starts testing its homegrown contact-tracing app, it's encountering every challenge in the app developer book: battery drain, data storage, and how to deal with that problem of Apple not really allowing apps to run in the background. It makes crystal clear why Google and Apple thought they needed new tech to solve this.
  • An Amazon warehouse worker in New York died of COVID-19. The person worked in the same Staten Island warehouse where others have been striking for better work conditions and safety precautions.
  • Streaming TV users are "borrowing" more than 44 million passwords across various services (mostly Netflix), according to a new survey. Most of those people say they'd pay for their own account if they were cut off. Which sounds like a lie, but what do I know.
  • Magic Leap is in talks to raise up to $100 million from Zimmer Biomet, the health care giant, The Information reported. If that funding falls through, it sounds like Magic Leap may not have much life left.
  • Apple's all-virtual WWDC finally has a date: it kicks off June 22. As for what it'll be? No idea: Apple's promising a "completely new online experience," much of which appears to to be happening inside the Apple Developer app.
  • Microsoft is investing $1 billion in Poland, hoping to help push forward a digital transformation in what's called the "Polish Digital Valley." As part of the deal, Microsoft will open a datacenter region in the country.
  • Don't miss this story from The New York Times on the lengths many people are forced to go to for internet access now that libraries, coffee shops and other reliable sources of Wi-Fi are closed.

One More Thing

Mission: Impossible Starship Super Heavy

Most wild stories about filming a movie in space should be taken with a grain of salt. When Tom Cruise is involved? Expect to see it in theaters in a year or so. In this case, Cruise is apparently working with SpaceX and NASA to plan a movie shot aboard the International Space Station. Cruise, the man who hangs out of helicopters and jumps from skyscrapers, feels like the perfect person to make this cinematic leap, especially because I'm not sure you could fit Dwayne Johnson inside a rocket's cockpit. Can't wait to see how much Quibi spends to make this flick happen.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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