Likely competition for Uber/Lyft in California. Grocery delivery is growing. Apple’s response to Epic’s lawsuit

Potential competition for Uber/Lyft in California

The two poster children of ride hailing companies in the US, Uber and Lyft, are having a legal fight with the state of California. The outcome of that battle remains to be seen, but if they lose, the companies already threatened to leave the state. Meanwhile, CNBC reported that at least 2-3 ride hailing startups talked about potentially swooping in to replace Uber and Lyft if they depart. One of those startups that I found interesting is Alto. Alto is a ride hailing startup that mainly operates in Dallas and Fort Worth. What differentiates Alto from their two bigger peers is that Alto’s drivers are salaried employees with benefits. Also, drivers don’t have to worry about gas or maintenance costs. Here is what their recruitment page says

Source: Alto

Some critics of AB5, the law that can potentially cause Uber/Lyft to leave California, say that the law is flawed in that it kills the flexible schedule that drivers, classified as contractors, enjoy. That is a valid point. Some do prioritize a flexible schedule over everything else. I have seen myself several drivers who just drive on the weekends to get some more money on this side gig. These drivers likely wouldn’t appreciate entering an employment contract that would likely require them to work more than they want. Clearly, in this case, AB5 likely won’t work.

That; however, doesn’t change the fact that Uber and Lyft’s refusal to classify drivers as employees can put drivers as disadvantage. Some drivers put in a lot of working hours, but do not earn enough after they take into account gas, car maintenance expenses and dead miles (hours when they drive around without any rides). Because they are not employees, they don’t have benefits like paid time off or insurance either.

There are two separate camps in this argument with virtually conflicting interests. Whether AB5 alone is a sufficient fix remains to be seen, but the existence of companies like Alto and its willingness to enter California’s market offer proof that there is an alternative model to what Uber and Lyft stand for.

Online grocery continues to grow amid the pandemic

Since March, Covid-19 has pushed online grocery to new heights that few could have predicted. According to Brickmeetsclick, even though growth has plateaued in June, online grocery sales reached $7.2 billion and an incredible 85 million orders.

Recent market developments suggest that the trend is likely to continue in the upcoming months. Shipt announced the drop of membership requirements and instead let customers pay $10 for a single order, $9 per delivery for 3 orders and $8 for 5 orders. Additionally, Walmart and Instacart recently partnered to provide same-day delivery in four markets across California and Oklahoma. Last Thursday, DoorDash entered the grocery delivery market with DashPass, a $10/month subscription which allows customers to order and receive groceries in about an hour. Last month, Uber joined the party with their own grocery delivery option through the main Uber and Uber Eats apps. Moreover, FreshDirect unveiled its expansion into New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Grocers and delivery services are working in tandem to facilitate more online grocery spend. Grocers let customers receive orders at their front door, pick up and drive up at stores. Delivery services lower barriers and compete with one another to acquire users. In the near future, this battle will be very fierce and the biggest beneficiary will be the end consumers.

Apple’s legal issues with Epic Games

Apple responded to Epic Games’ lawsuit over the App Store policies. In the response, Apple offered reasons why the court should let Apple continue to ban Epic Games’ apps while the legal battle rumbles on, including:

  • Epic’s alleged harm is not irreparable. Epic’s apps will be reinstated on the App Store if the game maker removes its own payment option, the cause of its violation of the terms of services, and adheres to the guidelines that Epic agreed to from day one.
  • Epic’s alleged harm is its own doing. The game maker first asked Apple for a special treatment by creating an Epic Store inside the App Store. Then, it asked Apple to open up the App Store by allowing more payment options. After the requests were declined, Epic Games decided to circumvent the App Store policies by offering its own payment scheme, suing Apple and launching a coordinated PR attack.
  • Apple does not engage in anti-competition practices and the App Store policies are to make sure that 1/ consumers’ privacy and safety are protected and 2/ Apple gets paid for its investments

The legal document is here and if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you should have a read.

Personally, I don’t think Epic will win this legal battle. The App Store is Apple’s investment and intellectual property. Hence, Apple is entitled to enforcing the policies on the app marketplace, the same policies that Epic Games has agreed to when it launched its apps on the App Store. Whether Apple is wielding too much power is another matter for discussion, but if you created a marketplace and invests a lot of resources into it, it’s pretty difficult to understand the sentiment that you’re not allowed to benefit from your own investments or to enact and enforce policies that you see fit.

Plus, what happened, based on the emails exchanged between Apple and Epic, seems pretty distasteful and bully-like from the latter. On 6/30/2020, Tim Sweeney wrote to Apple the following, which is part of a longer email. His requests were rejected by Apple on 7/10/2020:

Source: Scribd

On 8/13/2020, Epic wrote to Apple, declaring its intention not to follow the App Store guidelines and to take legal actions if Apple retaliated. Apple subsequently wrote to Epic twice, informing the app maker of its violations and asking it to remedy the situation. Epic Games instead sued Apple for enforcing rules on…Apple’s own app marketplace.

Source: Scribd

Since I am not a lawyer, I’ll leave the argument on legal standings to the court and the lawyers from both sides, but from a common sense perspective, I don’t see a chance for Epic here. Hey app from Basecamp had trouble with Apple before. Instead of raising a legal fuzz, Basecamp raised the issue publicly on Twitter and engaged in discussions with Apple to resolve conflicts, which it did. And Hey didn’t even demand to have its way in the App Store like Epic Games did. That’s the way to do it, not the course of actions and manner that Epic Games pursued here.

This legal battle will leave Epic’s reputation tainted while also not doing Apple’s any favor.

Weekly readings – 22nd February 2020

The Merits of Bottoms Up Investing

I admit that I was initially fond of Lambda, but there has been growing coverage of the challenges that the startup faces and of what the company really is about. Here is one of the most damning articles: THE HIGH COST OF A FREE CODING BOOTCAMP

The Ride-Hail Utopia That Got Stuck in Traffic

Student debt in the US reached $1.6 trillion, yet graduates are having the hardest time ever to find employment

Unemployment among Americans aged between 22 and 27 who recently earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.9% in December — about 0.3 percentage point above the rate for all workers.

Source: Bloomberg

What Can the Stock Market Tell Us About the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger?

In light of the Coronavirus, here is how WHO advises us to wear a mask

Masayoshi Son and SoftBank struck again, this time with Oyo. Given the magnitude of capital involved, it’s incredulous to read this kind of shocking articles.

There were missteps at Oyo from the start. The Japan hotel team, led by a transplant from India named Prasun Choudhary, figured they could get to as many as 75,000 rooms in the first year, which would put them ahead of the Apa Hotels chain in the No. 1 spot. But they took as their starting point an inflated addressable market of 1.6 million rooms based on numbers from the local tourism authority: They included campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts and pay-by-the-hour love hotels, which weren’t part of Oyo’s business plan, according to people involved at the time.

Oyo Life, the apartment rentals business led by another Indian lieutenant called Kavikrut (who like many Indians goes by one name), set the goal of 1 million rooms in part because it was a stunning, round number that would exceed the capacity of the Japan market leader, the people said. That was the target that caught Son’s attention in March.

The unpredictable economics of pawn shops

An interesting report by PwC on the consumer preference in the streaming battle

An interesting read on a software startup that helps coffee farmers

How Saudi Arabia Infiltrated Twitter

a16z compiled a report on Top 100 Marketplace startups

What is the proper way to drink whisky?

How to write usefully

An amazing piece of innovation from F1 Mercedes team that is an immensely ominous sign for their rivals

What I learned from Uber S-1

Its filing is packed with a lot of information. Below are my take-aways so far from reading it

It’s doing a lot of things

Apart from the ride-hailing business that it has been known for, Uber also offers Uber Eats, Uber Freights and New Mobility, including e-bikes, e-scooters. Additionally, it has been investing in autonomous driving cars as well.

Personal Mobility

In the quarter ended December 31, 2018, the average wait time for a rider to be picked up by a Driver was five minutes.

The rapid growth and scale of our Ridesharing products, which to date have accounted for virtually all of our Personal Mobility offering, demonstrates the size of our opportunity:

• Revenue derived from our Ridesharing products grew from $3.5 billion in 2016 to $9.2 billion in 2018.

• Gross Bookings derived from our Ridesharing products grew from $18.8 billion in 2016 to $41.5 billion in 2018.

• Consumers traveled approximately 26 billion miles on our platform in 2018.

Uber Eats

Our Uber Eatsoffering allows consumers to search for and discover local restaurants, order a meal at the touch of a button, and have the meal delivered reliably and quickly. We launched our Uber Eats app just over three years ago, and we believe that Uber Eats has grown to be the largest meal delivery platform in the world outside of China based on Gross Bookings. For the quarter ended December 31, 2018, the average delivery time was approximately 30 minutes.

Of the 91 million MAPCs on our platform, over 15 million received a meal using Uber Eats in the quarter ended December 31, 2018, tapping into our network of more than 220,000 restaurants in over 500 cities globally.

Uber Freights

We serve shippers ranging from small- and medium-sized businesses to global enterprises by enabling them to create and tender shipments with a few clicks, secure capacity on demand with upfront pricing, and track those shipments in real-time from pickup to delivery. We believe that all of these factors represent significant efficiency improvements over traditional freight brokerage providers. Since Uber Freight’s public launch in the United States in May 2017, we have contracted with over 36,000 carriers that in aggregate have more than 400,000 drivers and have served over 1,000 shippers, including global enterprises such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Niagara, Land O’Lakes, and Colgate-Palmolive. Uber Freight has grown to over $125 million in revenue for the quarter ended December 31, 2018

Impressive growth has slowed down

Really impressive growth, but a further look reveals that the growth seems to slow down

Their market map indicates that there is not much room for further horizontal expansion. What Uber can do is to dig deeper in each market to gain more market share. Uber said that as of the quarter ended December 31st, 2018, 74% of their trips and 52% of their Gross Bookings were from outside of the US.

It hasn’t made money operationally yet

Operationally, Uber hasn’t made any money. A positive sign is that their revenue grew faster than their operating loss. In 2018, their operating loss was more or less at the same level as it was in 2016 even though revenue grew significantly in the same period

Regulations, Regulations, Regulations

Throughout the filing, regulatory challenges are repeatedly mentioned and for a good reason. Uber’s struggle with authority bodies around the world has been well documented. Below is what Uber said specifically how regulations restrict their ride-sharing operations in a few countries

We plan to grow our current SAM by expanding further into our six near-term priority countries, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Spain, where our ability to grow our Ridesharing operations to scale is currently and may continue to be limited by significant regulatory restrictions

In 2018, we derived 24% of our Ridesharing Gross Bookings from five metropolitan areas – Los Angeles, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States; London in the United Kingdom; and São Paulo in Brazil. Over the same period, we generated 15% of our Ridesharing Gross Bookings from trips that either started or were completed at an airport, and we expect this percentage to increase in the future.

If some regulations are imposed in those important markets or around airports, however likely or unlikely, it may meaningfully affect Uber’s revenue.

Another aspect related to laws is how Uber classifies its drivers. Here is what it said specifically on the matter

Our business would be adversely affected if Drivers were classified as employees instead of independent contractors

If politicians in the markets where Uber has operations decide to force the company to treat its drivers as employees and give them minimum wage, it may be an issue

Culture

The first of the norms Uber laid out in “How We Approach The Future” section reads: “We do the right thing. Period”. Not really surprising, but a welcoming sign from a company that endured a public backlash symbolized by the hashtag #DeleteUber not so long ago.

In the filing, Uber promises to “release a transparency report, which will provide the public with data related to reports of sexual assaults and other safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform in the United States.” this year. Another welcoming sign.

Furthermore, unlike other tech companies, Uber won’t have dual share structure which is implemented to give the founders, usually, more voting rights. For example, Mark Zuckerberg has more than half of the voting rights at Facebook.

Their stakes in strategic partnerships

In August 2016, we completed the sale of our operations in China to Didi in exchange for an approximate 18.8% interest in Didi, which, based on our current information, we estimate to be 15.4% as of September 30, 2018. In February 2018, we consummated a joint venture with Yandex whereby we and Yandex each contributed our operations in Russia/CIS to a joint venture which we refer to as the Yandex.Taxi joint venture. We received a 38.0% interest in the Yandex.Taxi joint venture at the closing of the transaction, which, based on our currently available information, we estimate to be 38.0% as of December 31, 2018. In March 2018, we completed the sale of our operations in Southeast Asia to Grab in exchange for a 30.0% interest in Grab, which, based on our currently available information, we estimate to be 23.2% as of December 31, 2018. We measure our interest in each of our minority-owned affiliates based on the outstanding shares of capital stock on an as-converted basis but without taking into account securities exercisable or exchangeable for shares of capital stock or its equivalent (including outstanding vested or unvested stock-based awards and any reserved but unissued stock-based awards under any equity incentive plan of our minority-owned affiliates).

Its business deals with Google

According to the filing, Uber paid Google from Jan 1, 2016 through December 31, 2018, $631 million, $70 million and $58 million for Marketing & Advertising (Ads), technology infrastructure & enterprise services (which I believe is Google Cloud Platform), and Google Maps respectively.