Leak reveals Uber’s $9.99 unlimited delivery Eats Pass

What’s the cord-cutting equivalent to ditching your kitchen? Uber’s upcoming subscription to unlimited free food delivery. Uber is preparing to launch the $9.99 per month Uber Eats Pass, according to code hidden in Uber’s Android app.

The subscription would waive Uber’s service fee that’s typically 15 percent of your order cost. Given that’s often $5 or more, users stand to save a lot if they order in frequently. But Uber could still earn money on menu item markups, cover costs with a flat order fee that protects against someone ordering a single taco, and most importantly, build loyalty and scale at a time of intense food delivery competition.

The Uber Eats Pass was first spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, the notorious reverse engineering specialist who’s become a frequent TechCrunch tipster. She managed to generate screenshots from Uber’s Android app code the reveals a prototype of the feature. “Get free delivery, any restaurant, any time” is says, showing the amount of money you could have or already saved.

A Uber spokesperson did not dispute the legitimacy of the findings and told TechCrunch “We’re always thinking about new ways to enhance the Eats experience.” They declined to provide further details, which could hint that a launch is imminent but some details are still subject to change. For now we don’t know exactly what perks come with an Eats Pass or where it will be launching first.

At $9.99 per month, the Uber Eats Pass would cost the same and work similarly to Postmates Unlimited and DoorDash DashPass. If they all seem like good deals, you see why they’re less about immediate revenue and more about customer lock-in. You’re a lot less likely to order GrubHub or Caviar if you’ve already pre-paid to cover your Uber Eats delivery costs. And whichever apps emerge from this battle will have instituted the scale and steady behavior to raise prices or just enjoy large lifetime value from each subscriber.

Exploring new business opportunities could help perk up Uber’s share price which closed at $41.50 today two weeks after IPOing at an opening price of $42. There are fears that intense competition across both ride sharing and food delivery could make for an expensive road ahead for the newly public company. Any way it can gain an edge on its rivals keep users from straying to them is important. The logistics giant is already experimenting with allowing restaurants to offer discounts in exchange for promoted placement in the app, which is the first step to Uber becoming an ads company where businesses pay for extra exposure.

If Uber combined Eats Pass with its car service subscription Ride Passes, you have the foundation for a sort of Uber Prime experience — one where you pay an upfront subscription fee that scores you perks and discounts but also makes you likely to spend a lot more on Uber. That bundle could be even more central to Uber than Amazon, which has few direct rivals in the west. People will need to eat and get around for the foreseeable future. Subsidizing loyalty now could be costly in the short-term, but poise Uber for years of lucrative business down the line.

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India’s Ola switches gears on its food delivery business Foodpanda

India’s Ola, which has expanded to select international markets and set ambitious goals for its electric vehicles business, is struggling with selling food. So it is making major changes to its food business.

The ride-hailing giant is pivoting Foodpanda, the Indian business of the food delivery startup it acquired in late 2017, to serving in-house food brands, sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Unlike market leaders Zomato and Naspers-backed Swiggy that work with tens of thousands of restaurants to deliver food, Foodpanda will now focus on expanding its own portfolio of private label food brands, sources said.

Ola currently has about four private labels that cover food items such as shakes, biryani, and khichri, a dish from the Indian subcontinent made from rice and lentils. The company is working to expand this to 50 labels in the coming weeks, the sources said. The pivot comes as Foodpanda finds competition from Zomato and Swiggy unsustainable, one of the sources said. Local newspaper Mint reported earlier today that Ola was suspending Foodpanda’s business in India.

“As part of our ongoing business repurposing initiatives, we are focused on building a portfolio of own food brands and curated food offerings through our fast expanding network of kitchens. Many of these offerings are already available in all major cities through the Ola and Foodpanda apps. We continue to invest in expanding our facilities and kitchens, as well as our portfolio of food offerings for customers. We remain committed to our mission of building a superior food experience for millions of our customers,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

(Foodpanda, which operates in more than 10 other markets under a different owner — DeliveryHero — remains fully operational outside of India.)

After acquiring the India business of Foodpanda, Ola’s second foray into food business, the company aggressively tried to court customers by offering heavy discounts in early 2018. The company said then that it would invest $200 million in Foodpanda business. But later in 2018, the discounts began to run thin as Ola revised its strategy for the food business, one of the sources added.

The move comes as Zomato and Swiggy remain locked in a fierce battle in India, leaving little room for anyone without deep pockets and strong commitment. Uber has attempted to sell off its UberEats business in India to either of the two giants, but failed to get a deal, people familiar with the matter said. The San Francisco-headquartered firm, which went public earlier this month, has since cut its spendings budget for UberEats in India, a source familiar with the matter said.

Ola, which leads the ride-hailing market in India, has struggled with food business in the past, too. In 2015, it launched OlaCafe, a food delivery service that did not take off and was shut down a year later.

As of September last year, Foodpanda was processing about 3 million orders a month, compared to Swiggy and Zomato, both of which claim to handle over 30 million orders in the same period.

According to Mint, Ola has terminated contracts of most of its 1,500 food delivery partners, and laid off about 40 people. As of Wednesday morning (local time), the vast majority of restaurants listed on Foodpanda and Ola apps were not servicing in major cities.

India has emerged as one of the largest food-technology markets globally in recent years. It could be worth up to $2.5 billion by 2021, according to consulting firm RedSeer.

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DefinedCrowd offers mobile apps to empower its AI-annotating masses

DefinedCrowd, the Startup Battlefield alumnus that produces and refines data for AI-training purposes, has just debuted iOS and Android apps for its army of human annotators. It should help speed up a process that the company already touts as one of the fastest in the industry.

It’s no secret that AI relies almost totally on data that has been hand-annotated by humans, pointing out objects in photos, analyzing the meaning of sentences or expressions, and so on. Doing this work has become a sort of cottage industry, with many annotators doing it part time or between other jobs.

There’s a limit, however, to what you can do if the interface you must use to do it is only available on certain platforms. Just as others occasionally answer an email or look over a presentation while riding the bus or getting lunch, it’s nice to be able to do work on mobile — essential, really, at this point.

To that end DefinedCrowd has made its own app, which shares the Neevo branding of the company’s annotation community, that lets its annotators work whenever they want, tackling image or speech annotation tasks on the go. It’s available on iOS and Android starting today.

It’s a natural evolution of the market, CEO Daniela Braga told me. There’s a huge demand for this kind of annotation work, and it makes no sense to restrict the schedules or platforms of the people doing it. She suggested everyone in the annotation space would have apps soon, just as every productivity or messaging service does. And why not?

The company is growing quickly, going from a handful of employees to over a hundred, spread over its offices in Lisbon, Porto, Seattle, and Tokyo. The market, likewise, is exploding as more and more companies find that AI is not just applicable to what they do, but not out of their reach.

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Aaptiv, the workout app, launches a new AI-based personal trainer called Coach

After raising at least $20 million last year from the likes of Amazon, Disney and Bose for a mobile app that offered workouts led by professional, human trainers, Aaptiv is now taking a tech turn. Today, the startup is beginning a pilot of a new service it calls Aaptiv Coach, an AI-based assistant that builds personalised fitness and lifestyle plans based on a user’s goals, current fitness levels, eating habits and data input from external devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Coach will mark a notable departure for the startup. Aaptiv built its name on human-led workouts produced by Aaptiv itself. (“We might the only people willing to acknowledge that we will not use AI to replace trainers,” founder and CEO Ethan Agarwal told TechCrunch last June. “The trainers create the classes and that will be always the same. That relationship and drive and the passion cannot be matched by anyone or anything.”)

Now, while the company is not removing trainers from the platform, it will be reorienting the focus of how it delivers fitness plans to users: Coach will give users an order of what should be done, with the option of using Aaptiv workouts, or alternatively following sessions led by others, or even doing the exercise on their own, using AI to measure progress.

That change, it should be noted, came with some personnel shifts at the company, too: earlier this year, the company laid off employees, including personal trainers, and while it would not confirm the exact amount, several tipsters suggested to us that it was around one-third of staff.

In an interview ahead of today, Agarwal made it clear that the reductions were not about eliminating human coaches altogether but about adding something new to the platform as it continues to scale.

Coach is being released after three years of internal development that was taking place at the same time that the company was building out the data and using it to feed and improve its algorithms. The company has to date streamed 22 million workouts across 20 countries, and all of that translates into data points that both have taught Coach, but also the startup itself about what it is that people want.

“The first phase was spent learning about how people consume classes, where and when they work out,” Agarwal said.

One thing that it learned was that while there are definitely a small and dedicated part of the population that will carve out significant time each day for workouts, there is a larger proportion that will not, and so Coach is about trying to fit fitness into those consumers’ lives.

And maybe more importantly, the rest of how an individual leads his or her life will probably give a better picture of what she or he will need to do to achieve a desired outcome (such as lose weight, or achieve a better running time, or get stronger, or whatever it happens to be).

“The idea is how can we help people achieve their goals, whatever they are?” he said. “If you work out three times a week for 45 minutes, that is basically two percent of your week. But there are a lot of companies out there competing for that two percent: gyms, in-home biking startups, and more. But the way we see it, is that the other 98 percent of your time is where your habits are formed, where you need to start to build structure.”

Aaptiv’s approach with Coach will be to create personalised daily, weekly and monthly plans for getting to a specified goal. “No one will have the same plan,” Agarwal said. For those who are already using Aaptiv, their own data will be used to start to build Coach’s profile of the person. Users will be given the option to add other sources of input, and also add in more information, to further tailor the experience.

Like many a platform, what’s interesting about Coach is how its open-ended structure could be leveraged to help Coach grow.

Today, there is already guidance on food a person should avoid or try to eat regularly, but you could imagine how one might link up the APIs from a particular appliance to inform Aaptiv’s Coach more directly on what a person is eating.

Or, you could imagine also a time when someone might even order the food she should be eating directly from the app, to be delivered by a food delivery partner.

The commerce aspects are an interesting one to consider, given how much people spend on fitness and health already today.

Take running shoes as an example: if you input into Coach what shoes you already own, and it’s tracking where you are running and how much you weigh and so on, it will be able to reasonably determine when it’s time for you to get a new pair of shoes, even if your old ones don’t look like they’re about to fall apart.

All of that will not only extend the amount of time people are spending in the Aaptiv app, but potentially present revenue streams on top of the basin subscription-based one that exists today. (It’s also perhaps a clue as to why Amazon is interested in the company.)

When I covered Aaptiv’s round last year, I wondered about how the model would scale as it expanded, built as it was on personal human connections. Coach provides one possible answer.

The potential of where and how Coach might develop is one way that Aaptiv is filling out its valuation (which last year was $200 million), and also attracting attention. From what I’ve heard, the company has been approached by multiple interested parties hoping to tap into the audience it has built and the engagement that it’s bringing to the world of health and fitness.

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ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, plans to launch a free music streaming app

Does the overcrowded and cut-throat music streaming business have room for an additional player? The world’s most valuable startup certainly thinks so.

Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, valued at over $75 billion, is working on a music streaming service, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The company, which operates popular app TikTok, has held discussions with music labels in recent months to launch the app as soon as end of this quarter, one of the sources said.

The app will offer both a premium and an ad-supported free tier, one of the sources said. Bloomberg, which first wrote about the premium app, reported that ByteDance is targeting emerging markets with its new music app. A ByteDance spokesperson declined to comment.

For ByteDance, interest in a music app does not come as a surprise. Snippets of pop songs from movies and albums intertwined with videos shot by its humongous userbase is part of the service’s charm. The company already works with music labels worldwide to licence usage of their tracks on its platform. In China, where ByteDance claims to have tie ups with over 800 labels, it has been aggressively expanding efforts to find music talents and urge them to make their own tracks.

Besides, ByteDance has been expanding its app portfolio in recent months. Earlier this year, the company released Duoshan, a video chat app that appears to be a mix of TikTok and Snap. This week, it launched Feiliao, another chat app that is largely focused on text-driven conversations. At some point, the company may have realized the need for a standalone music consumption app.

When asked about TikTok’s partnership with music labels last month, Todd Schefflin, TikTok’s head of global music business development, told WSJ that music is part of the app’s “creative DNA” but it is “ultimately for short video creation and viewing, not a product for music consumption.”

The private Chinese company is likely eyeing India as a key market for its music app. The company has been in discussion with local music labels T Series and Times Music for rights. Moreover, its apps are estimated to have over 300 million monthly active users in the nation, though there could be significant overlaps among them.

India may have also inspired ByteDance to consider a free, ad-supported version of its music app. Even as more than 150 million users in India listen to music online, only a tiny portion of this user base is willing to pay for it.

This has made India a unique battleground for local and international music giants, most of which offer an ad-supported, free version of their apps in the market. Even premium offerings from Apple and Spotify cost under $1.2 a month. India is the only market where Spotify offers a free version of its app that has access to the entire catalog on-demand.

The launch of the app could put the spotlight again on ByteDance in India, where its TikTok app recently landed in hot water. An Indian court banned the app for roughly a week after expressing concerns over questionable content on the platform. Ever since the nation lifted the ban on TikTok, the company has become visibly cautious about its movement.

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