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Starship Technologies picks up €50M from the EU’s investment arm to expand its fleet of autonomous delivery robots – TechCrunch

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Starship Technologies, one of the bigger names in the world of autonomous delivery robots — those little caboose-like, boxy delivery vehicles that self-drive around cities — has been on a roll during Covid-19, providing extra (unmanned) horsepower to distribute food and other goods between stores or restaurants and consumers, at a time when consumers were either reluctant or being ordered to stay at home to minimize the spread of the virus. Now it’s picking up some funding along with an endorsement Europe to further its growth.

The startup has received €50 million (just under $57 million at today’s rates) from the European Investment Bank, the funding arm of the European Union. Starship Technologies is describing this as a “quasi-equity facility”, meaning there is a venture loan involved in the mix.

It is not disclosing its valuation with this investment, but Alastair Westgarth said that this doesn’t rule out raising further funding from investors. Starship raised $40 million Series A led by Morpheus Ventures back in 2019, and last January according to Pitchbook data also raised a further $17 million with strategic backers TDK Ventures (the investment arm of the Japanese electronics giant) and Goodyear Ventures among the investors. It has now made more than 2.5 million commercial deliveries (up from 2 million in October 2021) and travelled over 3 million miles globally. Westgarth said that on average, its fleet is making 10,000 deliveries per day.

Based out of Los Angeles, Starship initially made its name, back in 2017, running pilots with delivery companies in the U.S. — Doordash and Postmates (now part of Uber) — and then deployments in closed campus environments. It also butted heads around that time with city regulators in San Francisco, and it has yet to return to that city. It’s also had a significant presence in Europe, with its primary R&D operation based out of Tallinn, in Estonia (hence the financial endorsement from the EU), and its first substantial city deployment in Milton Keynes in the UK. Prices for the service can vary by city and location, but as an example a service that it provides to grocery chain Coop in Milton Keynes is made for a flat fee of 99 pence.

In the last two years, Starship’s name has been coming up a lot as a delivery partner helping companies get food order to customers at a time when delivery drivers were in shorter supply, people wanted to move around less, and generally come into less contact with humans. The Milton Keynes service alone saw hundreds of thousands of deliveries, and Starship started to sign on some significant partners. In the UK, the list includes the grocery chains Tesco, Coop and Budgens, which partner with Starship primarily as a delivery vehicle not for its mega grocery stores, but for its centrally-located, smaller-format shops, which act as ‘dark stores’ stocking the items that Starship delivers to smaller radiuses around them. People order Starship deliveries via the startup’s iOS and Android apps.

Today the campus deployments are a majority of Starship’s business — some 70% — but the signs are pointing to a likely shift, Westgarth said.

“Grocery will be larger in a year to 18 months,” he said. The addressable market for campuses that would likely use Starship’s services is around 400-500, he said, “but grocery is billions of dollars. We are chasing delivery services around the world. We can deliver like anyone on a bike, scooter or car, but we’re cheaper, and our robots get cheaper each year.” The average battery life is 18 hours and a typical robot can travel around 40km/day. 

The company now operates its fleet as a level 4 autonomous system, meaning humans are monitoring at an operations center for issues, and can if need be take over if a vehicle finds itself in an unexpected pickle, but that is not the default.

“99% of the time our robots have nobody involved. We make many deliveries without anyone involved,” Westgarth said.

 

The funding from the EIB ticks a couple of different boxes for the EU. First, it has been looking to promote more sustainable forms of transportation, both to reduce emissions and to reduce traffic on the roads. Second, it’s had a long-term goal of backing tech startups to further its standing in the digital economy.

“Electric vehicles in all shapes and sizes will be part of our future, and can be a key part in the sustainable transport puzzle,” said EIB VP Thomas Östros in a statement. “Starship’s delivery robots are already proving their worth, and we are glad to support the company so that they can continue to develop their technology and scale-up their production.”

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A Business Owner’s Operating Guide

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Running a remote business comes with a different set of challenges to having a team who all work from the same office. Things that once made sense now don’t. Lines that were definite are now blurred. There’s a new set of expectations and myriad ways to operate.

The events of 2020 forced many companies to adopt remote work with zero training or guidance. It’s no surprise that feelings of burnout and a lack of work-life balance were at an all-time high. Not only that, but the definitions aren’t widely understood. Working remotely does not mean working from home. Truly location independent companies understand the nuances and are creating a structure that means business success and an enjoyable life for everyone involved.

Mitko Karshovski is the host of That Remote Life, a top 2% podcast covering the remote work revolution and the digital nomad lifestyle. Since 2018, his work has helped remote companies establish operations and culture from a remote-first perspective. After guiding hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to better run remote teams, Karshovski created a set of rules for effective remote work.

Karshovski believes following these 12 simple rules will mean you and your team are, “more productive, less anxious, and positioned to grow and thrive.”

1. Look for answers before you ask questions

Karshovski believes that all companies working remotely not only need to make good use of Google, but they also need to have “a handbook that keeps track of how things are done in the company.” Your manual, playbook or collection of SOPs. Whatever it’s called, it needs to exist.

He advised that, “before asking anyone in your team how to do something, check if the answer is in the company’s handbook.” If it takes more than five minutes to find the answer, that document needs to be improved.

2. Only solve problems you are qualified to solve

“The person that is closest to the problem is usually the one that is best suited to make decisions about that problem,” said Karshovski. They have the most information and are most likely to come up with the best solution. “Trust t hem to make the right call.”

You wouldn’t “ask managers how to solve a coding issue” or a developer how to solve a marketing issue and Karshovski agrees this “will likely end in disaster.” But, similarly, avoid weighing in on decisions you aren’t best placed to make, because this overcomplicates and creates unnecessary lines of enquiry.

3. Create physical and mental boundaries

Avoid burnout by creating “a sacred work space both digitally and physically.” Karshovski advised you don’t work where you relax. Instead, “Go to a coworking space, find a coffee shop you love, or even try working from a local museum. You’d be surprised how good the internet speed is at museums.”

If you use the same computer for work and fun, use different profiles and accounts so you keep work and home separate. Karshovski uses Notion to create dedicated spaces for work and life.

4. Identify and share your weaknesses

Karshovski encourages his clients to, “share their weakness with the team.” This doesn’t “make you a bad worker,” he said. Instead, it will make it easier for them to know where you might need support and how they can help. “No one is perfect, we all struggle with something.”

Your team exists to cover your weaknesses, and you theirs. Accepting that you each have downfalls focuses your mind on the solution; on solving the puzzle of how everyone’s strengths are best utilized.

5. Maximize your non work time

If you work largely asynchronously or have the ability to get your work done without a time overlap with the rest of your team, make the most of it. “This allows you to work around your life, rather than the opposite,” which means you can rethink your time. Use this to “do epic stuff,” said Karshovski. There’s no excuse.

Get your work done to a high standard and use every other second to “travel the world, take on side projects or experiment with a new hobby.” Karshovski said having fun remote working is the whole point.

6. Create and stick to a routine

As a wise man once said, discipline equals freedom. Routine doesn’t stifle creativity; it allows for it. Karshovski guides his clients to, “create boundaries for your work so it doesn’t blur into the rest of your life, and vice versa.” He knows that in the long run, “your family, coworkers and mental health will thank you for it.”

Your default day could be exactly the same, as long as the structure works for you. Perhaps you do deep work in the morning, exercise and eat in the middle of the day, then do manager work and smaller tasks in the afternoon before exploring a new city in the evening. Whatever works for you, just make sure it’s intentional.

7. Only your results count

The golden rule of remote work, according to Karshovski. “How you get work done doesn’t matter as long as you deliver.” Duration, effort and input doesn’t matter, it’s the results that count. But while you can only be judged on your results, if they’re not up to scratch, your methods will be questioned.

“If you’ve found a way to get something done in less time while meeting expectations, more power to you,” he said. “But if you’ve found a way to do get things done faster, cheaper, or more efficiently, it’s your responsibility to show the rest of your team so they all benefit.”

8. Invest in your hardware

If you aren’t seeing people face to face, how you appear on a screen matters, so Karshovski wants you to “invest in a good microphone and webcam.” For less than $100 your video can, “look and sound as good as your local TV anchor,” an investment that you should absolutely make.

Karshovski compares this to office work, where you wouldn’t, “turn up wearing a stained shirt and dirty sweatpants.” For working remotely, don’t show up for a video call sounding like you’re in a hurricane.

9. Plan for no response

Being left hanging isn’t ideal in a work situation, and with a remote team it’s inevitable as you all clock off at different times. Karshovski advised you “always add a ‘dead man’s switch’ for decisions.” This means you let people know what action you will take if they don’t respond.

For example, “let them know which option you will go with if they don’t answer in a certain number of hours,” but give them plenty of time. No one wants to work in a place that forces urgency and hurried decisions, so aim to overcome blockers to action without enforcing them on others.

10. Improve your written communication

Without face-to-face interactions happening (unless they are planned), written communication becomes even more important. Karshovski said you should take extra care to improve your emails and messages.

Ask, “Is your question clear? Did you make any silly spelling mistakes? Did you include answers to any obvious follow up questions?” Finally, did you signal the best solution or the next steps, or is the way forward ambiguous? Karshovski believes “your team will appreciate the extra effort.”

11. Assume positive intent

“Communicating through text can sometimes make things sound sharper than they were intended,” said Karshovski. “So always assume that messages are positive.” As the writer of messages, remember text will be inferred in the worst way possible, so read it as such when you proofread and adjust.

Karshovski knows that emojis are your friend. “They may be silly, but they are a great way of making sure that a message that may come across as sassy is received in the positive way that it was meant to.”

12. Overcommunicate your availability

Working remotely puts you on a different schedule to your team and your availability is likely not to overlap very much. Karshovski says overcommunicate your availability to avoid issues. “Make it clear when you won’t be at your computer,” which he said avoids the team, “assuming you’re available and waiting on your response.”

Similarly, respect the stated availability and working patterns of your team members.” Overcommunicate to find a cadence that works well. If you absolutely need crossover time with certain members, agree on this together.

Follow the 12 commandments of remote work to communicate effectively, do your work to a high standard and enjoy your life when you’re not working. Edit these rules to suit your workplace and share them somewhere everyone can see.

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HUL, other FMCGs in acquisition talks with Oziva: Report

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Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is in talks with Oziva for a strategic acquisition of the plant-based nutrition brand.

The development, first reported by The Economic Times, comes at a time when niche brands—which saw accelerated growth amid the COVID pandemic-led online shopping boom—are now struggling to grow during a funding winter.

According to the report, the nutrition brand is also in talks with Dabur and Tata Consumer for a possible acquisition.

A query shared with Oziva did not elicit any response at the time of publishing this story.

Oziva was founded by Aarti Gill, an MBA graduate from INSEAD, along with Mihir Gadani in 2016. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand operates in nutrition categories, including immunity boosters and organic plant protein.

Last year, as the pandemic shopping boom started to subside, the brand introduced products in the clean beauty category. Oziva also started making inroads in physical retail stores by launching sachets of its products, priced between Rs 15 and Rs 20 to appeal to a wider consumer base.

“Our current price points are slightly premium due to the quality. But we want everyone to be able to afford our products,” Aarti told YourStory in July 2021. However, growing digital marketing costs and investors backing firms with caution has been hard for many direct-to-consumer brands.

According to Abneesh Roy, Executive Director at Nuvama Institutional Equities, Oziva could be valued at Rs 400-Rs 500 crore.

“We like HUL’s strategy of acquiring small companies in spaces where it doesn’t have a presence. HUL ramped up Indulekha, V Wash, sharply post-acquisition,” says Abneesh.

Earlier in November, clothing firm Bewakoof Brands Pvt. Ltd. got acquired by Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. (ABFRL) in a distress sale. Moreover, Marico has been actively acquiring more than 50% stake in D2C brands, including Beardo, Just Herbs, and True Elements.

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BharatPe claims over Rs 88 Cr in damages from Ashneer Grover and family

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The Delhi High court on Thursday issued a notice and summons to Ashneer Grover, former Managing Director of BharatPe, and his family members, in a suit filed by the company seeking orders to restrain them from making defamatory statements against the company. 

Meanwhile, the fintech unicorn has also slapped a lawsuit against former head of controls and wife of Ashneer Grover, Madhuri Jain, under Section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), said various media reports. Besides the couple, the other defendants in the suit are Grover’s brother-in-law, father-in-law, and mother-in-law.

The couple has been granted two weeks time to file their response to BharatPe’s application seeking interim relief. BharatPe has sought:

  • Disclosure of assets of Grover and his family members
  • Interim injunction against the defendants restraining them from making defamatory/derogatory statements concerning BharatPe, its directors, employees and/or publicising the same
  • Direction to defendants to delete/remove within a period of five days all statements, tweets, social media posts, books, re-tweets, hashtags, videos, press conferences, interviews, comments, etc., made against the company
  • Orders granting liberty to BharatPe to approach all social media platforms, media organisations, publications, websites, blogs, etc., to seek deletion/removal of all such material. 

The matter will next be heard in January 2023.

During the hearing, which took place on Thursday, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing BharatPe, pointed out various tweets made by Grover after his resignation earlier this year.

As per the reports by LiveLaw, Rohatgi said that Grover should be restrained from running a “vicious campaign” against the fintech company. He cited various tweets posted by Grover and his family members following his ouster. 

“These are all his family. They were sacked from the company. We have suit for damages as well.”

Counsel for Grover claimed that the suit was not served on his client, said Bar and Bench report, to which Rohatgi responded, “We didn’t serve them because the moment he knows about it, he will again go on a rampage.”

Further, Rohatgi said that while being the former Managing Director, Grover brought in his entire family.

“To fleece the company, they (defendants) created fictitious vendors from Panipat who were paid 50-60 crores and nothing was purchased. The vendors don’t exist,” Rohatgi submitted, adding that there was a massive hiring of employees, said LiveLaw. 

BharatPe has also claimed damages of over Rs 88 crore from Grover, his wife, and his brother. This includes a claim for payment made against the invoices of non-existent vendors, amounting to Rs 71.7 crore; a claim for penalty paid to GST authorities amounting to Rs 1.66 crore; payments made to vendors purportedly providing recruitment services totalling Rs 7.6 crore; payments of Rs 1.85 crore made to a furnishings company; payments for personal expenditures of Ashneer and Madhuri Jain Grover amounting to Rs 59.7 lakh and Rs 5 crore damages for loss of reputation to the company caused by tweets and other statements made by Grover and his family members.

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