Micromobility company Lime says it has moved beyond the financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a milestone that seemed unthinkable earlier this year.
In short, the company is now largely profitable.
Lime said it was both operating cash flow positive and free cash flow positive in the third quarter — a first — and is on pace to be full-year profitable, excluding certain costs (EBIT), in 2021.
During the WSJ Future of Everything event Thursday, Lime CEO Wayne Ting painted a far rosier picture of the company’s future than one might have expected.
There was a time when Bird and Lime, competing domestic scooter rental companies, were raising capital at a torrid pace, fighting for market share, regulatory breathing room and sidewalk real estate. Then, the pandemic hit and the companies had to take shelter.
Lime underwent a round of layoffs in April, taking on capital from Uber the next month in a down-round that brought its valuation under the $ 1 billion mark. As it announced in a blog post that TechCrunch reviewed before publication, it paused most of its operations for a month during the early COVID-19 days.
“It was certainly a very, very tough decision for us earlier this year and I know we weren’t the only company during COVID,” Ting said during the event. “I think it’s been in so many ways helpful to us to realize how hard these choices can be. We’re going to be growing headcount again. We’re going to do so in a careful way so that we’re not going have to make hard choices like the ones we made earlier this year.”
Now things are better, Lime says. Much better. Indeed, the company claims that it is the “first new mobility company to reach cash-flow positive for a full quarter.”
Cash flow positivity, in general, is an important threshold for a startup to reach as it implies that the company can largely self-fund from that point forward, limiting its dependency on external cash for survival.
Lime also claims that it “reached EBIT positive at the company level over the summer.” The specifics of the phrase “EBIT positive” are important. Was the company employing strict EBIT on its math and not discounting share-based compensation, or was it measuring using adjusted EBIT as many startups do, removing the cost of share-based compensation that shows up in GAAP results? According to the company the number did exclude share-based compensation, making the news slightly smaller.
Perhaps the most bullish data point from Lime is that it expects to be full-year profitable in 2021. TechCrunch asked for specifics because again how one measures profitability matters. It turns out, Lime is basing this projection on EBIT, as opposed to more traditional net income. For a startup this is not a surprising decision, but before we declare Lime fully “profitable,” we’ll want some more GAAP metrics.
Still, it appears that Lime is not going to die, and is, importantly, putting capital into developing new products. The company provided the first example of that new product pipeline on Thursday with the launch of the Gen4 scooter in Paris. It also teased a so-called “third and fourth mode” in the first quarter of 2021 as well as the addition of a swappable battery.
The scooter company wouldn’t give TechCrunch much information about what these third and fourth modes will be. The first two modes are bikes and scooters, which leaves skateboards, cars, flying cars and boats?
Lime did give TechCrunch a little bit of clarification, stating that “move beyond,” means the company will be operating an additional mode, accessed through the Lime app, in line with its goal to serve any trips under five miles. These modes will build on the Lime Platform play, but this will be operated by Lime rather than a partner.
Lime has long discussed reaching profitability. Perhaps because it and its competitor Bird were infamous for their losses during their early unicorn period.
By November of 2019, Lime was talking about reaching EBIT positivity in 2020. But the start of 2020 was not kind on the company, with 100 of its staff losing their jobs and 12 markets getting dropped. At the time TechCrunch wrote that “Lime is hoping to achieve profitability this year by laying off about 14% of its workforce and ceasing operations in 12 markets,” with the company itself writing at the time that “financial independence [was its] goal for 2020, and [that it was] confident that Lime will be the first next-generation mobility company to reach profitability.”
Depending on how you measure profitability, that could be true.
Things didn’t get easier for Lime later in the year. Its competitor Bird underwent layoffs, and Lime cut more staff in April. At the time, Lime said that it was focused on coming “back stronger than ever when this is over.”
The company is certainly in better shape than it was in April and May. So, how did Lime come back from the brink? In its own estimation, the company took time during its pause to “drill down on getting the business right, narrowing [its] focus and strengthening [its] fundamentals.” That might sound like corporate babble, but by taking a nearly full stop in its operating business, Lime could probably see a bit more clearly what was working and what was not. And with some cuts to what wasn’t, it could set up a future in which its operations were leaner, and more unit-economically positive.
And, now, here we are asking niggling questions about just what sort of profit Lime is really making. Instead of, you know, who might buy its leftover office furniture. It’s a nice turnaround.
Ring built its entire business on reinventing the doorbell — and now it’s taking a similar approach to the humble home security camera, with the Ring Always Home Cam, set to be available sometime next year. You might not guess from its name, but this security camera is actually mobile: It’s a drone that flies autonomously throughout your home, to provide you with the view you want of whatever room you want, without having to have video cameras installed in multiple locations throughout your house.
The Always Home Cam is a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which you lay out as a user. The drone can’t actually be manually flown, and it begins recording only once its in flight (the camera lens is actually physically blocked while it’s docked) — both features the company says will help ensure it operates strictly with privacy in mind. Always Home Cam is also designed intentionally to produce an audible hum while in use, to alert anyone present that it’s actually moving around and recording.
As you’d expect, the Always Home Cam doesn’t have the exposed rotors you’d see on a drone designed for use in outdoor open spaces. It has a plastic border and grills that enclose those for safety. It’s also small, at 5″x 7″x7″, which is useful for safety of both people and household objects.
I spoke to Ring founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff about why they decided to create such an ambitious, unorthodox home security camera — especially given their track record of relatively down-to-Earth, tech-enabled versions of tried-and-tested home hardware like doorbells and floodlights. He said that it actually came out of user feedback — something he still personally pays close attention to, even now that Ring is part of the larger corporate apparatus of Amazon . Siminoff said that a lot of the feedback he was seeing was from customers who wished they’d either been home or been able to see when some specific thing happened at a specific place in their house, or that they wanted a camera for a particular room, but only for certain times — and then a different camera in a different room for others.
“It’s not practical to have a camera at every angle in every room of the home,” he said. “Even if you had unlimited resources, I think it’s still not practical. What I love about the Always Home Cam is that it really does solve this problem of being one cam for all — it allows you to now see every angle of the home, in every part of the home.”
Drones are also not Ring’s main business, and yet the Always Home Cam will be available at the relatively low price of $ 249 when it becomes available, despite the technical challenges of creating a small aircraft able to operate indoors safely and fully autonomously. I asked Siminoff how Ring was able to achieve that price point in a category that’s outside its core expertise, with a design developed fully in-house.
“As the technology has kind of aged, a lot of these parts come down in price,” he said. “There’s also a lot of price compression happening because auto manufacturers are using a lot of these parts now at higher volumes, because to have an autonomous drone, you need some similar things to autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s not the same exact parts, but all of those costs have been coming down, and we were able to go with a fresh perspective to it. But I also challenged the team when we came up with this, that this has to be affordable.”
The Ring Always Home Cam will also work with Ring Alarm to automatically fly a pre-set path when an alarm is triggered. You’re able then to stream the video live to your mobile device via the Ring app. In many ways, it does seem like a natural extension of the Ring ecosystem of products and services, but at the same time, it also seems like something out of science fiction. I asked Siminoff if he thinks consumers are ready to take this kind of technology seriously as something that’s part of their daily lives.
“I think it is sort of something that is, in some ways, way out there,” he acknowledged. “What I love about it, though, is that it’s what happens when you just take the constraints away of this linear thinking. I love that we are doing stuff from really looking at the need backward, and then what technology exists, and ask what can we build? It’s really exciting for me to be able to do something and put our stamp on something that is an industry first.”
- The biggest Google update of the year is called the Page Experience update.
- Core Web Vitals are part of that update, and they are definitely ranking factors to keep in mind, especially when optimizing images.
- AMP is no longer the only way to get a “Top Stories” feature on mobile. Starting in 2021, any news webpage can become a “Top Story”.
- Combining AMP’s privacy concerns and cost of operation might mean that AMP will disappear within a couple of years.
- E-A-T is not a ranking factor right now, and we don’t know if it will become one in the future.
2020. What a year. History is happening around us, and Google? Well, Google keeps on revamping their search algorithms. Over the years, there have been many many major algorithm updates, as Google worked to keep us on our toes. 2020 was no different: in one fell swoop, we got the news about a Page Experience update and AMP news. All the while the debate about whether or not you need E-A-T for ranking rages on. How do the Core Web Vitals stand in changing the search game in 2021?
Let’s go over each of these innovations and see which will change the way we do SEO, and which will fade into obscurity sooner rather than later.
1. Importance of core web vitals for SEO
Core Web Vitals were part of Page Experience update, and, by far, caused the biggest ruckus.
There’s a lot to learn about Core Web Vitals, but they boil down to the three biggest issues on our webpages:
- LCP — Largest Contentful Paint, which deals with the loading speed of the largest single object on the page.
- FID — First Input Delay, which means the reaction time of the page to the first user input after (whether they click, tap, or press any keys).
- CLS — Cumulative Layout Shift — this is the measure of how much the content of the page jumps while loading content, mostly visual content, after opening.
How core web vitals influences rankings
Of course, some SEO experts think that the entire Page Experience update is nothing special, and could even: “[…] distract, […] from the core mission of communication and storytelling,”.
And, sure, most of Page experience update is simply an assembly of things we’ve known for a while: use HTTPS, be mobile-friendly, control your page speed, and so on.
But Core Web Vitals are a bit different and can influence the SEO practice in unexpected ways. Key factor that’s already changing rankings is Cumulative Layout Shift.
As most SEO experts know, for a while an important part of image optimization was using the <decoding=async> attribute in the <img> tag to avoid losing page speed while rendering the page.
Using <decoding=async> could lead to some seriously janky pages if coders didn’t specify the height and width of every single image to be rendered. Some websites did it anyway, for example, Wikipedia on most of its pages has a predefined space for images created ahead of time.
But as SEO experts we didn’t have to worry about pages being jumpy all too much, as that didn’t influence the rankings. Now with CLS being formally announced as a ranking factor, things will change for a whole slew of websites and SEO experts.
We’ll need to make sure that every webpage is coded with CLS in mind, with the needed space for every image defined ahead of time, to avoid the layout shifts.
Overall, of course, it’s too early to tell, and more work by SEO’s around the web needs to be done here. However, it seems that if you aren’t used to focusing on technical SEO, Core Web Vitals becoming ranking signals might not influence your day-to-day work at all.
However, if you are conducting complicated technical SEO, then Core Web Vitals will definitely change the way you work in as-yet unexpected ways.
2. Importance of AMP for SEO
The AMP’s relevance today is kind of an open question. While it’s always been great as a quick-and-easy way to increase page speed, the privacy concerns have been voiced over and over again since the technology’s very inception.
But in 2020, significant changes are afoot, since, within the same Page Experience update, Google announced that there’s finally no requirement for us to create AMP pages to occupy the “Top Stories” SERP feature.
That’s a pretty huge step for anybody trying to accrue as many SERP features as they can, and, in particular, for news websites.
How AMP influences rankings
If we believe John Muellers’ words, then AMP is not a ranking factor. Seems plain and simple enough. But of course, things aren’t so simple, because AMP comes with pretty significant gains in page speed, and speed is an important ranking factor.
Thanks to AMP’s pre-rendering combined with some severe design limitations, AMP webpages often really do win in page speed, even if not in ranking as is.
The “Top Stories” SERP feature, however, was a huge benefit to using an AMP for any news agency with a website, and it’s easy to understand why. Just look at how much of the page is occupied by the “Top Stories” results.
Not only do “Top Stories” automatically get top 1 ranking on the SERP, but they also sport a logo of the website posting them, standing out even more from the boring old blue-link SERP.
This means that for a few years now news websites were essentially forced into using AMP to get into a “Top Stories” SERP feature on mobile since it absorbs a whole lot of clicks.
On the other hand, it takes quite a lot of resources to support AMP versions of the webpages, because you are basically maintaining a whole additional version of your website.
Added to which, a page that’s been properly optimized for speed might not need AMP for those speed gains, as well.
While it’s tough to imagine that AMP will fade away completely within the next couple of years, AMP’s privacy issues combined with the cost of maintaining it might spell the end of it being a widely used practice.
Now, with the “Top Stories” becoming available to non-AMP pages, there’s virtually no reason to jeopardize the users’ security for speed gains you could get by proper optimization.
3. Importance of E-A-T for SEO
Expertise. Authority. Trust. All perfectly positive words and something we should all strive for in our professional lives. But what about search optimization?
Coming straight from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, E-A-T has been the talk of the town for a good moment now. Let’s dive in and see how they might change the way we optimize for search.
How E-A-T influences rankings
For most of us, they don’t really.
Sure, Quality Rater Guidelines provide valuable insights into Google’s ranking process. However, E-A-T is one of the lesser-important factors we should be focusing on, partly because these are nebulous, abstract concepts, and partly because Google doesn’t exactly want us to.
As Google’s official representatives informed us, E-A-T is not in itself a ranking factor.
Receiving follow-up questions, Google’s John Mueller then reiterated that point, and Ben Gomes, Google’s VP of search engineering confirmed that quality raters don’t influence any page’s rankings directly.
However, in practice, we often see that the so-called YMYL websites already can’t rank without having some expertise and authority established. A very popular example is that it’s virtually impossible to rank a website providing medical advice without an actual doctor writing the articles.
The problem here is that expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are not easily interpreted by the search algorithms, which only understand code.
And, at the moment, there seems to be no surefire way for Google to transform these signals into rankings, except to read the feedback of their quality raters before each algorithm update.
While using E-A-T to rank websites might sound like an inarguable benefit for the searcher, there is a couple of concerns that aren’t easily solved, namely:
- Who exactly will be determining the E-A-T signals, and according to which standard?
- The introduction of such factors creates a system where the smaller and newer websites are punished in rankings for not having the trustworthiness that they couldn’t realistically acquire.
Responding to both of these concerns requires time and effort on the search engine’s side.
As things stand right now, E-A-T is not something to keep in mind while doing day-to-day SEO operations.
Let’s imagine a fantastical scenario where a webmaster/SEO expert has some free time. Then they might want to work on E-A-T, to try and stay ahead of the curve.
On the other hand, there simply isn’t any proof that Google will actually use E-A-T. Or that, even if used, these signals will become major ranking factors. For this reason, E-A-T shouldn’t be your priority ahead of traditional SEO tasks like link building and technical optimization.
Additionally, consider this. The entire Quality Rater Guidelines is 168 pages long. However, a comprehensive explanation of what E-A-T is and why it might be calculated a certain way will take many more pages than that.
As of the time of this writing, the Core Web Vitals seems to be the most important ranking news to come out in 2020 in practical terms. However, search is an extremely volatile field: what worked two weeks ago may not work today, and what works today might not work for most of us.
The matters are further complicated because we’re fighting an uneven battle: it’s simply not in search engines’ best interest to give us a full and detailed picture of how ranking works, lest we abuse it.
This is why it’s crucial to keep our hand on the pulse of optimization news and changes occurring every single day. With constant efforts from our SEO community to work out the best way to top rankings, it’s possible for us to close that gap and know for sure which trends are paramount, and which we can allow ourselves to overlook.
Aleh Barysevich is Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario.
The post Google ranking factors to change search in 2021: Core Web Vitals, E-A-T, or AMP? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
“Based on guidance from health and government experts, as well as decisions drawn from our internal discussions about these matters, we are allowing employees to continue voluntarily working from home until July 2021,” a spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.
Facebook also said it will provide employees with an additional $ 1,000 to spend on “home office needs.”
Late last month Google also extended its coronavirus remote work provision, saying staff would be able to continue working from home until the end of June 2021.
Both tech giants have major office presences in a number of cities around the world. And despite the pandemic forcing them into offering more flexible working arrangements than they usually do, the pair have continued to build out their physical office footprints, signaling a commitment to operating their own workplaces. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how much money they’ve ploughed in over the years to turn offices into perk-filled playgrounds designed to keep staff on site for longer — with benefits such as free snacks and meals, nap pods, video games arcade rooms and even health centers.)
Earlier this month, Facebook secured the main office lease on an iconic building in New York, for example — adding 730,000 square feet to its existing 2.2 million square feet of office space. Google has continued to push ahead with a flagship development in the U.K. capital’s King’s Cross area, with work resuming last month on the site for its planned London “landscraper” HQ.
In late July, Apple said staff won’t return to offices until at least early 2021 — cautioning that any return to physical offices would depend on whether an effective vaccine and/or successful therapeutics are available. So the iPhone maker looks prepared for a home-working coronavirus long haul.
As questions swirl over the future of the physical office now that human contact is itself a public health risk, the deepest pocketed tech giants are paradoxically showing they’re not willing to abandon the traditional workplace altogether and go all in on modern technologies that allow office work to be done remotely.
Whether remote work played any role in the company’s recent account breach is one open question. It has said phone spear phishing was used to trick staff to gain network access credentials.
Certainly, security concerns have been generally raised about the risk of more staff working remotely during the pandemic — where they may be outside a corporate firewall and more vulnerable to attackers.
A Facebook spokeswoman did not respond when we asked whether the company will offer its own staff the option to work remotely permanently. But the company does not appear prepared to go so far — not least judging by signing new leases on massive office spaces.
Facebook has been retooling its approach to physical offices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing in May it would be setting up new company hubs in Denver, Dallas and Atlanta.
It also said it would focus on finding new hires in areas near its existing offices — including in cities such as San Diego, Portland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said then that over the course of the next decade half of the company could be working fully remotely. Though he said certain kinds of roles would not be eligible for all-remote work — such as those doing work in divisions like hardware development, data centers, recruiting, policy and partnerships.
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