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REEF Technology raises $700M from SoftBank and others to remake parking lots

November 3, 2020 No Comments

It seems like SoftBank and the Mubadala Corp. aren’t finished taking big swings at the commercial real estate business in the U.S. Even after the collapse of WeWork, the investors are doubling down on a similar business model as part of a syndicate investing $ 700 million into REEF Technology.

REEF began its life as Miami-based ParkJockey, providing hardware, software and management services for parking lots. It has since expanded its vision while remaining true to its basic business model. While it still manages parking lots, it now it adds infrastructure for cloud kitchens, healthcare clinics, logistics and last-mile delivery, and even old school brick and mortar retail and experiential consumer spaces on top of those now-empty parking structures and spaces.

Like WeWork, REEF leases most of the real estate it operates and upgrades it before leasing it to other occupants (or using the spaces itself). Unlike WeWork, the business actually has a fair shot at working out — especially given business trends that have accelerated in response to the health and safety measures implemented to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In part that’s because REEF does operate its own businesses on the premises and works with startups to provide actual goods and services that are location dependent for their success and revenue generating.

The money will be used to scale from its roughly 4,800 locations to 10,000 new locations around the country and to transform the parking lots into “neighborhood hubs,” according to Ari Ojalvo, the company’s co-founder and chief executive.

SoftBank and Mubadala are joining private equity and financial investment giants Oaktree, UBS Asset Management and the European venture capital firm Target Global in providing the cash for the massive equity financing. Meanwhile, REEF Technology and Oaktree are collaborating on a $ 300 million real estate investment vehicle, the Neighborhood Property Group, as Bloomberg reported on Monday.

In all, REEF, which could reasonably be described as a WeWork for the neighborhood store, has $ 1 billion in capital coming to build out what it calls a proximity-as-a-service platform.

Since taking a minority investment from SoftBank back in 2018 (an investment which reportedly valued the company at $ 1 billion) and transforming from ParkJockey into REEF Technology, the company added a booming cloud kitchen business to support the increase in virtual restaurant chains.

In addition, it added a number of service providers as partners, including last-mile delivery startup Bond (and the logistics giant, DHL); the national primary healthcare services clinic operator and technology developer, Carbon Health; the electric vehicle charging and maintenance provider, Get Charged; and — at its operations in London — the new vertical farm developer, Crate to Plate (Ojalvo said it was in talks with the established vertical farming companies in the U.S. on potential partnerships).

Next year, the company plans to launch the first of its experiential, open-air entertainment venues at a space it operates in Austin, according to Ojalvo.

And further down the road, the company sees an opportunity to serve as a hub for the kinds of data-processing centers and telecommunications gateways that will power the smart city of the 21st century, Ojalvo said.

“We have inbound interest from companies that do edge computing and companies getting ready with 5G,” he said. “Data and infrastructure is a big part of our neighborhood hub. It’s like electricity. Without electricity and connectivity, we don’t have the world we want to see.” 

Rental Cars Stored At Dodger Stadium During Coronavirus Pandemic

Rental cars are stored in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in this aerial photograph taken over Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Hertz Global Holdings Inc. will sell as many of its rental cars as possible while in bankruptcy to bring its huge fleet in line with reduced future demand in a post-pandemic economy.

The bulk of the company’s revenue is coming from its parking business, but Ojalvo expects that to change as the its cloud kitchen business continues to grow. “Neighborhood Kitchens will be a significant part of non-parking revenue,” said Ojalvo.

REEF already operates more than 100 Neighborhood Kitchens across more than 20 markets in North America, and that number will only grow as the company expands its regional footprint. It’s hosting virtual kitchens from celebrity chefs like David Chang’s Fuku, and, according to the company, offering lifelines to beloved local restaurateurs like the chain Jack’s Wife Freda in New York or Michelle Bernstein’s kitchens in Miami.

These restaurants are, in some cases, taking advantage of the employees that REEF Technology has operating its network of kitchens. It’s another difference between WeWork and REEF. The company not only provides the space, in many instances it’s providing the labor that’s allowing businesses to scale.

The company already employs over a thousand kitchen workers prepping food at its restaurants. And REEF acquired a company earlier in May to consolidate its back-end service for on-demand deliveries.

That same strategy will likely apply to other aspects of the company’s services, as well.

“We’re building a platform of proximity,” says Ojalvo. “That proximity is driven through an install base that’s in parking lots or parking garages… [and] that enables all sorts of companies to use its proximity as a platform. To basically build their marketplaces.”

CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM – DECEMBER 22: A Deliveroo rider at work at night on December 22, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

As REEF raises money for expansion, it’s tapping into a new theory of urban development embraced by mayors from Amsterdam to Tempe, Ariz. calling for a 15-minute city (one where the amenities needed for a comfortable urban existence are no more than 15 minutes away).

It’s a worthwhile goal, but while mayors seem to place the emphasis on the availability of accessible amenities, REEF’s leadership acknowledges that only a few of its parking lots and garages will be multi-use and accessible to neighborhood residents. According to a spokesman, only several hundred of the company’s planned 10,000 businesses will have the kind of multi-use mall environment that encourages neighborhood access. Instead, its business seems to be based on the notion that most delivery services should be no more than 15 minutes away.

It’s a different project, but it also has a number of supporters. One could argue that cloud kitchen providers like Zuul, Kitchen United, and Travis Kalanick’s Cloud Kitchens all ascribe to the same belief. Kalanick, the Uber co-founder and former CEO whose company received billions from SoftBank, has been snapping up properties in the US and Asia under an investment vehicle called City Storage Systems, which also uses parking lots and abandoned malls as fulfillment centers.

Big retailers also have taken notice of the new revenue stream and one of America’s largest, Kroger, is even running a ghost kitchen experiment in the Midwest.

If that’s not enough, there are plenty of under-utilized assets that are already on the market thanks to the economic downturn wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s efforts to contain it.

“I guess a lot depends on how you think delivery players work out in the coming years versus say drive through or curbside pickup which seems to be where large national players are focused (Starbucks, McDonalds, Dominos, etc),” wrote on venture investor in an email. “But how do delivery players use these spaces versus say lots of low cost retail spaces that can be used to staging or package returns. Maybe there is a play to add modular or prefab units to the existing parking spaces on provide flex for scaling, but it’s not clear that anyone is growing at a frantic pace… I’m just not sure how to see converted parking versus other… commercial spaces for retail or office that are all searching for new applications.”

REEF Technology last mile delivery vehicle and DHL-branded vehicle. Image Credit: REEF Technology

The COVID-19 outbreak that has changed so much of modern life in America so quickly in the span of a single year didn’t create the urge to transform the urban environment, but it did much to accelerate it.

As REEF acknowledges, cities are the future.

Roughly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and the world’s largest cities are cracking under the pressures of economic, civil, and environmental transformations that they have not been able to address effectively.

Mobility and, by extension, places to store and maintain those mobile technologies are part of the problem. Roughly half of the average modern American city, as REEF notes, is devoted to parking, while parks occupy only 10% of urban spaces. REEF’s language is centered on changing a world of parking lots into a space of paradises, but that language belies a reality that makes its money (at least for now) off of isolating individuals into personal spaces where their commercial needs are met by delivery — not by community interaction.

Still, the fact remains that something needs to change.

“Traditional developers and local policies have been slow to adopt new technologies and operating models,” said Stonly Baptiste, an investor in the transformation of urban environments through the fund, Urban.Us (which is not a backer of REEF). “But the demand is growing for a better ‘city product’, the need to make cities better for the environment and our lives has never been greater, and the dream to build the city of the future never dies. Not that dream is subsidized by VC.”


Startups – TechCrunch


Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

July 10, 2019 No Comments

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.


Social – TechCrunch


Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

July 10, 2019 No Comments

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Twitter announces new content deals with Univision, The Wall Street Journal and others

April 30, 2019 No Comments

Twitter is unveiling a number of new content deals and renewals tonight at its NewFronts event for digital advertisers.

It’s only been two years since Twitter first joined the NewFronts. At the time, coverage suggested that executives saw the company’s video strategy as a crucial part of turning things around, but since then, the spotlight has moved on to other things (like rethinking the fundamental social dynamics of the service).

And yet the company is still making video deals, with 13 of them being unveiled tonight. That’s a lot of announcements, though considerably less than the 30 revealed at last year’s event. The company notes that it has already announced a number of partnerships this year, including one with the NBA.

“When you collaborate with the top publishers in the world, you can develop incredibly innovative ways to elevate premium content and bring new dimensions to the conversations that are already happening on Twitter,” said Twitter Global VP and Head of Content Partnerships Kay Madati in a statement. “Together with our partners, we developed this new slate of programming specifically for our audiences, and designed the content to fuel even more robust conversation on Twitter.”

Here’s a quick rundown of all the news:

  • A partnership with Univision covering Spanish-language sports, news and entertainment content, including 2020 election analysis and reporting.
  • A multi-year extension of Twitter’s deal with the NFL, which includes highlights and analysis.
  • The Players’ Tribune and Twitter are announcing a live talk show called “Don’t @ Me,” where two athletes with debate topics chosen in part by Twitter users.
  • A multi-year extension of Twitter’s deal with Major League Soccer.
  • Continued programming from ESPN, including new ESPN Onsite branding to highlight shows filmed on location at big events.
  • Bleacher Report is bringing “House of Highlights” back for a second season.
  • Blizzard Entertainment will be sharing content from BlizzCon in November, including the entire opening ceremony.
  • The Wall Street Journal is launching WSJ What’s Now, an original video show for Twitter. The deal will also include live-streamed content from Wall Street Journal events.
  • Bloomberg’s TicToc will expand its coverage to include events like the G20 Summit, United Nations General Assembly and World Economic Forum.
  • CNET is announcing a new partnership with Twitter, which will cover major tech industry events.
  • Time is developing new video content for Twitter around the Time Person of the Year and Time 100.
  • Live Nation is bringing a new concert series exclusively to Twitter this fall, with 10 concerts in 10 weeks.
  • At the Video Music Awards, Viacom-owned MTV will offer a Stan Cam where fans can share their own live-streamed reactions to the show. Viacom will also be live-streaming red carpet coverage from its other events.


Social – TechCrunch


Lola.com raises $37M to take on SAP and others in the world of business travel

March 26, 2019 No Comments

Business customers continue to be a huge target for the travel industry, and today a startup has raised a tidy sum to help it double down on the $ 1.7 trillion opportunity. Lola.com — a platform for business users to book and manage trips — has raised $ 37 million to continue building out its technology and hire more talent as it takes on incumbents like SAP targeting the corporate sector.

The Series C is led by General Catalyst and Accel, with participation from CRV, Tenaya Capital and GV. All are previous investors. We are asking about the valuation but it looks like prior to this, the company had raised just under $ 65 million, and its last post-money valuation, in 2017, was $ 100 million, according to PitchBook.

There are signs that the valuation will have had a bump in this round. The company said in 2018, its bookings have gone up by 423 percent, with revenues up 786 percent, although it’s not disclosing what the actual figures are for either.

“As business travelers have become increasingly mobile, Lola.com’s mission is to completely transform the landscape of corporate travel management,” said Mike Volpe, CEO of Lola.com, who took the top role at the company last year. “The continued support of our investors underscores the market potential, which is leading us to expand our partner ecosystem and double our headcount across engineering, sales and marketing. At the core, we continue to invest in building the best, simplest corporate travel management platform in the industry.”

Co-founded by Paul English and Bill O’Donnell — respectively, the former CTO/co-founder and chief architect of the wildly successful consumer travel booking platform Kayak — Lola originally tried to fix the very thing that Kayak and others like it had disrupted: it was designed as a platform for people to connect to live agents to help them organise their travel. That larger cruise ship might have already said, however (so to speak), and so the company later made a pivot to cater to a more specific demographic in the market that often needs and expects the human touch when arranging logistics: the business user.

Its unique selling point has not been just to provide a pain-free “agile” platform to make bookings, but for the platform’s human agents to be proactively pinging business users when there are modifications to a booking (for example because of flight delays), and offering help when needed to sort out the many aspects of modern travel that can be painful and time consuming for busy working people, such as technical issues around a frequent flyer program.

Lola.com is not the only one to spot the opportunity there. To further diversify its business and to move into higher-margin, bigger-ticket offerings, Airbnb has also been slowly building out its own travel platform targeting business customers by adding in hotels and room bookings.

There are others that are either hoping to bypass or complement existing services with their own takes on how to improve business travel such as TravelPerk (most recent raise: $ 44 million), Travelstop (an Asia-focused spin), and TripActions (most recently valued at $ 1 billion), to name a few. That speaks to an increasingly crowded market of players that are competing against incumbents like SAP, which owns Concur, Hipmunk and a plethora of other older services.

Lola.com has made some interesting headway in its own approach to the market, by partnering with one of the names most synonymous with corporate spending, American Express, and specifically a JV it is involved in called American Express Global Business Travel.

“Lola.com offers an incredibly simple solution to corporate travel management, which enables American Express Global Business Travel to take our value proposition to even more companies across the middle market,” said Evan Konwiser, VP of Product Strategy and Marketing for American Express GBT, in a statement.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Lily raises $2M from NEA and others for a personal stylist service that considers feelings, not just fit

December 13, 2017 No Comments

 One of the reasons recently IPO’d Stitch Fix became so popular among female shoppers is because of how it pairs the convenience of home try-on for clothing and accessories with a personal styling service that adapts to your tastes over time. But often, personal stylists bring their own subjective takes on fashion to their customers. A new startup called Lily aims to offer a more… Read More

Mobile – TechCrunch


Shujaa Delivery aims to compete with Aramax, DHL and others

November 21, 2017 No Comments

On-demand delivery is a coveted service in traffic-congested Nairobi. Enter Shujaa Delivery, a Nairobi-based door-to-door delivery and courier service for businesses that uses motorcycles instead of cars. Read More
Startups – TechCrunch


What Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are doing to tackle hate speech

August 16, 2017 No Comments

 For all the talk about the internet as a great uniter across geographical and ideological divides, it’s just as often used as a tool to deepen divides, as many users are content to stay within their ideological echo chambers. There’s no easy fix, but when hateful rhetoric begins to manifest itself as real-world violence, a failure to take a stand moves beyond theoretical. Read More
Social – TechCrunch