Sources: Bird is in talks to acquire scooter startup Scoot

If you are among those who thought that the scooter market sounded a little overhyped and overcrowded, we’ve gotten wind of a deal that could point to some impending consolidation. The on-demand scooter business Bird has agreed to acquire Scoot, a smaller two-wheeled mobility startup, sources tell TechCrunch.

The stage of the negotiations is not clear although from what our sources tell us, it sounds like the deal is not closed. Contacted for a response, both Scoot and Bird said they declined to comment on speculation.

If accurate, it would be far from a merger of equals. Scoot was last valued at around $71 million, having raised about $47 million in equity funding to date from Scout Ventures, Vision Ridge Partners, angel investor Joanne Wilson and more.

Bird is significantly larger. Led by chief executive officer Travis VanderZanden, earlier this year the company was working on a round of financing reportedly worth $300 million at a $2.3 billion valuation. We’ve been able to confirm that this round has now closed, although we don’t yet know the final amount or who the investors are. (Backers of Bird include Sequoia, Index, Charles River Ventures, Tusk Ventures, Upfront Ventures and dozens more.) Scoot would be Bird’s first full acquisition.

Scooting toward consolidation

It’s still very early days in the scooter market in terms of consumer adoption, but that hasn’t stopped people from launching a lot of startups and raising funding to capitalise on what many believe will be a big opportunity longer term.

That promise is made bigger by the regulatory structure of the scooter market. Similar to their approach to bikes, many cities restrict the number of licenses they give out to companies to run on-street, hourly scooter services. Winning a license can give a company a near-monopoly on building a business in that city.

It also means that a combination between two companies whose geographic footprints do not overlap becomes a much cheaper and faster way of instantly creating a bigger business.

Notably, Scoot has a license to operate a pick-up/drop-off street service in the key market of San Francisco — where it competes with Skip, the only other licensed operator in the city. (Note: Bird last month did start up business again in SF, but only for the less popular offer of monthly rentals.)

What’s more, the two startups do not have any overlap in the rest of their footprints. Scoot is active in Barcelona, Spain and Santiago, Chile. Bird, on the other hand, has launched in about 100 cities spanning the U.S. and Europe, but its list does not include any of the cities where Scoot has rolled out its service.

Bird announced its new, two-seated electric vehicle earlier this week

On the vehicle front, the story is a little different. The two are providing, more or less, the same kinds of vehicles. Scoot has built out a network focused primarily on electric push scooters, seated scooters and electric bikes. Bird, meanwhile, has mostly built its service around electric push scooters, but just yesterday the company debuted its first seated vehicle to expand into a new product class.

Bird acquiring Scoot will help the two achieve better economies of scale in terms of vehicle purchasing power and device R&D.

It also helps them compete against the big boys. The market for scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles (collectively termed “micro-mobility”) is still a relatively new one, but Lyft and Uber have also waded in early to establish market share, as part of their own strategies to position themselves as the go-to platforms for any and all transportation needs.

Bird buying Scoot is one likely M&A move, but it’s not the only one.

Sources have told TechCrunch that an Uber acquisition of Skip (the other provider in SF) could also be in the works. Skip, much like Scoot, is another small player in the e-scooter market. To date, it has secured $31 million in venture capital funding from Initialized Capital, Accel and others.

Uber is already an active acquirer in the area of mico-mobility. If you remember, it acquired JUMP Bikes for $200 million in April 2018.

Uber’s acquisition of JUMP wasn’t surprising. In January 2018, the ride-hailing giant partnered with JUMP to launch Uber Bike, which lets Uber riders book JUMP bikes via the Uber app.

Other acquisitions in the nascent micro-mobility space include Lyft’s purchase of Motivate, a deal announced roughly one year ago. Motivate, the oldest and largest electric bike-share company in North America, did not disclose terms of the deal, though reports indicated it was asking for at least $250 million.

Bird — founded in 2017 — has yet to announce any acquisitions, although a spokesperson for the company said there have been quiet acqui-hires before now.

It was itself the subject of acquisition rumors for several months in 2018, too. Prior to Uber filing to go public in what was one of the most highly anticipated initial public offerings of the decade, many expected it to shell out cash for either Bird or Lime. From what we know, Uber was in discussions to acquire Bird, but ultimately it wasn’t able to meet Bird’s steep asking price.

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LG's V50 ThinQ 5G is up for pre-order tomorrow from Sprint

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Starting tomorrow, customers in select cities can preorder Sprint’s first two 5G devices — the LG V50 ThinQ 5G and HTC 5G Hub. They’ll be available in Sprint’s first four expected 5G markets — Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City — by May 31st. And in the next few weeks, they’ll hit Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, DC. Sprint’s announcement suggests its on track with its goal to launch 5G in those cities this spring.

We first saw the HTC 5G Hub — a connectivity hub that lets you link to 5G networks and has a 5-inch Android tablet built in — at MWC 2019. Now, as part of the launch, Sprint is offering an introductory discount. You’ll be able to get the Hub for $12.50 per month — a 50 percent savings — and you can activate 100 GB of high-speed data for $60 per month. Sprint is also offering the LG V50 ThinQ, its first 5G smartphone, at $24 per month with $0 down, which according to its press release, is half off the lease price.

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Meet ‘The Prepared,’ the media company pitching disaster preparedness for everyone

A little over two years ago, The New Yorker ran a story about the survivalism craze sweeping Silicon Valley. The moneyed elite behind the tools of convenience that make modern life were, it turned out, making detailed contingency plans for the collapse of the civilization they’d help architect.

Now, there’s a media company for that.

The Prepared, a new site launched a little over a year ago by three men — two who have their own ties to the tech world — is aiming to make the world of survivalism more approachable to a wide audience.

Taking away the stigma or stereotype of lone wolves hoarding caches of weapons and food and waiting for the zombie apocalypse, The Prepared bills itself as a sort of scouting class for adults — if the Scouts BSA and Girl Scouts posed the question, “Should You Worry About EMPs?

As John Ramey, The Prepared founder and a serial entrepreneur, puts it, “I’ve been a prepper my whole adult life.”

The company operates a web site offering columns and “how to” videos; it has a YouTube channel and also runs disaster preparedness-focused events.

Ramey thinks he was one of the first “outed preppers” in Silicon Valley. It all started with a coffee meeting between Ramey and a prominent investor at a venture capital fund around 2010. The investor saw Ramey’s “get-home” bag in his car and began asking questions.

The questions didn’t stop. “A bunch of people started reaching out to me,” Ramey said.

Survivalism in left and right

For John Stokes, who co-founded Ars Technica and is the deputy editor of The Prepared, it was the financial crisis of 2008 that prompted his interest in disaster preparedness:

“I got hit up by private wealth managers after they read about the sale [of Ars] on TechCrunch. In May of 2008 some guys from Lehman came to the house when I was in Chicago. I still hadn’t signed on with any private bankers and then the week before TARP passed I met with a private wealth manager at Credit Suisse and he said if it doesn’t pass everything stops,” Stokes recalled. “It was this ‘shit-hits-the-fan’ scenario, where there’s no money in ATMs and people don’t go to work and there’re rats in the streets… This guy is telling me the world is going to end next week… and that’s when I got serious about this preparedness stuff.”

He wasn’t alone. The 2008 financial crisis, its political aftermath, and the ensuing eight years of the Obama administration gave birth to an image of a certain kind of survivalist. It’s one that Stokes and Ramey actually think marginalized what would be a mainstream movement if not for its early associations with a radical fringe.

“As a rational person I was frustrated by the way the prepping business market worked,” says Ramey. “In the 2008 to 2016 time period was when the stereotype of preppers was developed. It went down the wrong path and a very vocal minority took over that industry… The vast majority was amateur, cuckoo, fringe-type stuff.”

John Ramey, former Innovation Advisor to the Obama White House and founder of The Prepared

In some ways, Steve Huffman, the Reddit chief executive and co-founder interviewed by The New Yorker, embodies the particularly Silicon Valley-style of survivalist that Ramey and Stokes think is more representative of a broad swathe of American thinking.

“I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work,” Huffman (echoing Stokes) told The New Yorker. “While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”

Huffman was one of a number of Valley voices to share their concerns about the fragility of modern American political society — while also being concerned about the possibility of some sort of environmental catastrophe.

It’s possible — likely even — that this embrace of survivalism by certain corners of Silicon Valley is an equal and opposite reaction to the political climate that saw more politically conservative Americans reach for their revolvers under the Obama administration. (It’s well-documented that gun sales go up under Democratic administrations when gun owners perceive that there’s a greater threat to their Second Amendment right to bear arms.)

John Stokes, co-founder of “Ars Technica” deputy editor of “The Prepared”

“I’ve seen this decline in this space,” says Stokes. “A part of the opportunity and the story of the opportunity of this website is that the first zombie wave and the Alex Jones kind of stuff… is dead… What’s left is the more traditional emergency defense stuff… and a new group of people worried about climate change and political instability.”

Indeed, the advent of the Trump administration caused the collapse of media properties and entities that had thrived during the Obama years — a (maybe not-so-curious) consequence of shifting politics and a greater sense of security among Americans who feared greater government intervention into their lives.

“There were 1 million of those people — and that market had basically collapsed,” says Ramey. “Those million people are, by and large, gone. But there are millions more people who ask, ‘What are reasonable steps to protect my home?’ ”

Guns, germs and steel

HOUSTON, TX – AUGUST 28: People walk down a flooded street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

If there’s a through-line that connects Ramey and Stokes and their other collaborator, Tom Rader, a Navy corpsman who previously worked as the editor-in-chief of “The Firearm Blog,” it’s guns. 

All three are longtime gun owners, and Stokes has written about guns for this site, and several others, with a focus on hunting, the outdoors and smart guns.

“[Rader] came at it from the firearm side. Stokes came at it from the outdoors side,” says Ramey. “All of us saw the core point that the audience [for survivalism] was changing. This fat middle was growing and they were closeted and underserved.”

Tom Rader, managing editor at The Prepared and editor-in-chief of The Firearm Blog

So the material on The Prepared runs more in the scouting-for-adults vein rather than toward stockpiling for the zombie apocalypse

“So much of prepping is about more of the ‘Eagle Scout’ stuff,” says Ramey. “Not the, ‘I’m going to have four machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammo.’ I would say half of our audience doesn’t have a gun.”

Besides, the audience for doomsday preppers is already well served by, well, “Doomsday Preppers.”

Even the kind of stories that Stokes, Ramey and Rader are pushing out has antecedents in television programs like “Man vs. Wild” or “Naked and Afraid.”

The litany of threats that could cause civilizational collapse has not necessarily changed, but the nature of the current administration and its ability to respond effectively to climate-related natural disasters, civil disobedience and revolution, disease outbreaks, nuclear strikes or any other of the potential calamities that could ring the death knell of society as we know it has unified Americans in a belief in the overall incompetence of government to achieve anything.

In the 2016 election there was this pendulum swung in the opposite direction,” says Ramey. “Tens of millions of Americans are into this… they had to be closeted for a while.”

Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Prepping for the “woke” survivalist

What The Prepared gives these folks is a modern-looking website that doesn’t traffic in terror or predictions of the apocalypse in a sensational way. The concerns, as presented, are more matter of fact, with tutorials on how to prepare a “bug out bag” or a “get home” bag (the essential supplies for 72 hours of survival in the event of a catastrophe), or tie a tourniquet.

“To be a prepper means to think about those things and to be a more responsible adult,” says Stokes. 

For the first months of its existence, the site was self-funded, but as it has grown, The Prepared has managed to attract some backers in the beginning of the year.

The financing path that Ramey, a former innovation advisor to the Obama administration, decided to pursue was novel. The company did a priced round (Ramey would not disclose the size) with a small group of angel investors. Uniquely, the co-founders built the structure of the round around cash-flow and has committed to regular distributions to investors whenever the company makes a profit.

“Any year we have a profit we distribute 35% of that profit,” says Ramey. “We do it to cover people’s tax liability and I have the discretion to either give it as dividends or keep in the business to reinvest.”

The site is running on affiliate marketing for much of its revenues, something that makes sense, given that its how-to sections would naturally include reviews of tourniquets. Other revenue could come from live events that would potentially operate like training sessions from scout camp.

In the meantime, Ramey and Stokes caution that the world is calling for greater preparedness.

“It’s extremely unlikely that we get to a Walking Dead level of collapse.. What’s more likely on the extreme end is climate collapse like forced migration, or extreme weather… You can describe that as collapse but it’s not going to be two people in a bunker,” says Ramey. “To get to that level of preparedness, homesteading is growing…. People are thinking more about tiny homes, a burner lifestyle, van life.”

Call them the “woke” end of the survivalist spectrum.

“I started with the 72 hours, and then two weeks because of the earthquake stuff, and now I’m up to four or five months for my family of five,” says Stokes of his own level of preparedness. “In Austin we just had two weeks without city water because of the flooding… I don’t prepare for a specific thing like a solar storm or nuclear war, I think of duration of time without access to basic services… how many weeks am I prepared to go if there’s no lights or no water?”

Stokes says this kind of thinking is just sensible.

“We’re all long on civilization,” says Stokes. “I am fully invested in civilization as an entrepreneur and as an owner of a stock portfolio. Almost all of my chips are on civilization, but I keep some of my chips as a hedge.”

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Snow in Chicago this close to May is unusual, but we're getting numb to abnormal weather

It snowed earlier in April in Chicago and again the last weekend before May.
It snowed earlier in April in Chicago and again the last weekend before May.
Image: Xinhua/ via Getty Images

Yes, it is snowing in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest.

Yes, it is April 27 — a mere four days until May.

Yes, people are heading to Twitter and social media to freak out. 

And finally, yes, we’ll forget our shock as soon as the next extreme weather event happens. 

That’s what a study from earlier in 2019 conducted by the UC Davis environmental science and policy researcher Frances Moore found after examining 2 billion tweets over a two-and-half year period. It found that we tweet about unusual weather because it stands out, but as it becomes more normal, we accept it as how it is and post about it less. In this way we slowly acclimate to extreme weather from climate change, the study asserts. 

So Saturday’s late-April snowstorm in Chicago stands out now, but in the long-run it’ll blend into the February heatwaves, torrential flooding, and other once-remarkable-but-now-not-so-notable weather we experience as the climate changes. 

In this particular situation, as more snow and cold temperatures strike later into spring, we’re more likely to not notice the strangeness and bizarre patterns — and eventually accept May snowfall as a normal trend, even if it’s not.

And while it seems outrageous for this much snow to accumulate in the middle of spring, it has happened in the past, and even later into the season.

April showers? More like April snow. Get used to it.

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Beyond Meat prices its public offering

Beyond Meat, the meat replacement company whose packages of Beyond Burgers line grocery store aisles across America, has priced its initial public offering.

The company is looking to raise roughly $200 million in the stock sale for its portfolio of burger, chicken and sausage replacements, selling 8.75 million shares of common stock at an upper limit of $21 per share that would value Beyond Meat at more than $1 billion.

The Los Angeles-based company’s public offering should be a nice windfall for the Chicago-based investors DNS Capital, an investment firm managing the private wealth of the Pritzker family, and Cleveland Avenue, founded by former McDonald’s executive Don Thompson; as well as the venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins and Obvious Ventures.

Another winner from the Beyond Meat public offering is the corporate investment arm of Tyson Foods . The meat processor and marketer invested in Beyond Meat back in 2016.

All told, Beyond Meat has raised $122 million from investors, including Obvious Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Cleveland Avenue, DNS Capital, Tyson Ventures, Bill Gates, S2G Ventures and a whole host of other firms, according to Crunchbase.

While Beyond Meat has increased its revenues steadily — from $16.2 million when it began selling its wares in 2016 to $87.9 million in 2018 — the company is still a loss-generating machine. Its operations were in the red to the tune of $29.9 million in 2018, down from $30.4 million a year earlier.

With the public offering, Beyond Meat becomes the first venture-backed meat replacement company to list its shares, but there are other startups waiting to follow suit. Impossible Burger is another well-financed startup making burger alternatives, as is the current king of animal-free condiments, Just, which is looking at lab-grown meat on its product roadmap.

Supporting all of this investment activity is the potential to carve out a huge chunk of the $270 billion consumers spent on meat in the U.S. in 2017 alone. Globally, consumers bought $1.4 trillion of meat, according to data from Fitch Solutions Macro Research cited by the company.

Meanwhile, consumption of plant-based meat replacements in the U.S. is growing at a steady clip. In the first half of 2018, Americans bought $670 million of meat replacement products, according to a Nielsen study commissioned by the Plant Based Food Association.

The company first filed for its public offering in November 2018.

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