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Bird has shut down scooter sharing in several cities in the Middle East, an operation that was managed by Circ, the micromobility startup it acquired in January. About 100 Circ employees have been laid off and as many as 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to a third-party UAE-based company for recycling, according to multiple industry and company sources who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak with the media.

The shutdown — which Bird has couched as “pausing of operations” — comes less than six months after LA-based Bird announced it had acquired its European counterpart and touted plans to expand. Bird’s decision to shut down Circ’s entire Middle East business affects operations in Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to EnviroServe, a UAE-based company that recycles electronics and other products, multiple sources who asked not to be named told TechCrunch. Almost 1,000 of the Circ scooters were new, according to one source.

Bird said in a statement that it is not leaving the Middle East. Instead, the company said it is “pausing operations” and plans to return to the region in the fall. Bird is still operating its own service in Tel Aviv.

“Bird is currently operating in Tel Aviv and we have temporarily paused operations in other parts of the Middle East as they become increasingly hotter at this time of the year,” the company said in an emailed statement. “During this pause, we are taking the opportunity to responsibly recycle parts of the old Circ fleet that were previously used in the region. Following extreme wear and tear, the Circ vehicles no longer met our rigorous quality standards. Selling or re-use of these vehicles would potentially result in safety and reliability issues, which would not have been fair or ethical to the purchasers or potential riders. We look forward to resuming our service throughout more parts of the region later this year.”

TechCrunch learned that several companies, including Berlin-based Tier Mobility, offered to buy the Circ-branded scooters that have been taken off the streets in Dubai and other Middle East cities. Bird declined these offers, according to two sources.

In the past two months, tens of thousands of electric scooters and bikes have been scrapped in the U.S., Canada, Europe and now the Middle East as micromobility companies pull back from markets in an effort to cut costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos and videos showing piles of scrapped bright red JUMP bikes spread across Twitter last month and sparked widespread criticism and anger among bike advocates, urban planners and industry watchers. The bikes were part of the collateral damage that stemmed from a complex deal between Lime and Uber. Last month, Lime raised $ 170 million in a funding round led by Uber. As part of the deal, Uber offloaded JUMP, which it had acquired in 2018 for $ 200 million, to Lime. All 400 JUMP employees were laid off and at least 20,000 bikes and scooters were scrapped in the U.S. alone. Reports of JUMP bikes being pulled off streets and sent for recycling have popped up in Canada as well.

Tier Mobility CEO and co-founder Lawrence Leuschner had offered to buy the JUMP bikes. Tier Mobility also reached out to Bird.

“That has nothing to do with sustainable mobility and it needs to have consequences,” Leuschner said in a recent interview discussing the decision by companies to scrap scooters and bikes. “This is not what the industry should stand for and that’s why I have to speak up.”

Leuschner, who previously founded reBuy, a European market leader in used electronics, has said it is possible to properly and safely refurbish scooters and sell them to consumers. Tier Mobility refurbished and sold its old e-scooters to consumers after it replaced most of its fleet with newer hardware.

Circ burst on the scene in January 2019 with €55 million in Series A funding. The Berlin-based e-scooter startup, which was initially called Flash before it was rebranded, was founded by Delivery Hero and Team Europe founder Lukasz Gadowski.

The company expanded quickly across Europe and eventually into the Middle East. Just six months after it came out of stealth, Circ was in 21 cities across 7 countries — and it expanded even further throughout the rest of the year. But it encountered some of the same setbacks that other scooter-sharing companies faced in 2019. The company laid off staff in November at its regional operations and Berlin headquarters. The reduced headcount was driven by the fluctuation in users across seasons, “operational learnings” and a move to e-scooters with swappable batteries, Gadowski told TechCrunch at the time.


TechCrunch

Acorns, which helps millions of people invest their spare change in the stock market, has laid off between 50 to 70 people, TechCrunch has learned from multiple sources.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company would not confirm the total number of people laid off, but did confirm that there were cuts at the company as a result of broader business changes.

The news emerged days after the fintech company closed its Portland office earlier this week, one of four offices the company maintained. While Acorns offered Portland employees an opportunity to relocate to its Irvine headquarters, some roles were terminated as part of the relocation, the company said.

Employees laid off largely were members of Acorns’ support team. And the internal cuts are related to an external partnership with TaskUs, which out-sources customer care and support needs for other businesses. Acorns will bring on roughly 80 new TaskUs support roles in the next year, which the company said would grow its support team, just not its internal staff.

The internal Acorns support team will handle high-touch customer care situations via phone, while external roles will handle email support.

Beyond support roles, Acorns cut some people from various teams across the company.

Acorns has found unprecedented growth as the coronavirus brings new users into its world of investing and saving money. The company recently hit a milestone of 7 million sign-ups, continuing the trend that trading apps are benefiting from a down market.

At the same time, Acorns also launched a debit card that depends on users spending in order to make sense as a business product. Payment processing is a risky space to play in right now because consumer spending has nosedived due to shelter in place orders. It could be a weak spot for the company at the moment. Earlier today, Brex laid off 62 staff members, just one week after raising $ 150 million in venture capital money.

So, why does a company like Acorns, that is facing immense growth, need to do layoffs? Even if you’re winning right now, the pandemic and potential of an extended recession is forcing businesses to reevaluate the way they’re spending money. In Acorns’ case, it will have more headcount next year than it does right now. But dig a little deeper, and its choice to outsource roles and shut down an office means that growing right now can come at the cost of slimming down.

Investors in Acorns include PayPal, DST Global, Rakuten, Greycroft and Bain Capital.


TechCrunch

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $ 95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $ 127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $ 220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.


TechCrunch

StockX, the high-flying resale marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of sneakers, streetwear, handbags and other collectible items who agree on pricing, has seen its fortune rise along with the $ 6 billion global sneaker resale market, which is part of the broader $ 100 billion sneaker category. In fact, the company, which was assigned a billion-dollar-plus valuation last year, says $ 1 billion worth of merchandise was sold through its platform last year.

The big question is whether StockX can maintain its momentum. Not only are other rivals biting at the heels of the five-year-old, Detroit-based outfit, which has raised roughly $ 160 million from investors, but some believe the streetwear “bubble” is on the verge of bursting. Add to the mix a pandemic that’s putting millions of people out of work (and in some cases jeopardizing the health of those still showing up), and you might assume that answer is no.

Yet in an online event earlier this week hosted by this editor and conducted by Erin Griffith of the New York Times, StockX CEO Scott Cutler insisted that the exact opposite is true. By his telling, business is booming. In fact, perhaps unsurprisingly, he argued that StockX looks more durable than the traditional public market right now, and he’s well-acquainted with the latter, having earlier spent nine years as an executive with the New York Stock Exchange. (Cutler was also formerly an executive at eBay and StubHub.)

Below is part of their talk, edited lightly for length.

Griffith kicked off the interview by giving Cutler a chance to describe in his own words how StockX works.

“So if you’re a buyer of sneakers, you’ve got choices as to where you want to do that you could go to Nike or Adidas, you could go to a retailer . . . There are other marketplaces like eBay, as an example, where one person has an item to sell, and you would match and try and find that one person [who will buy it at their price] and that would be a unique peer-to-peer-based experience.”

“The difference for Stock x is that typically those items that are the most sought-after things from a retailer or brand and are never available at that retailer or brand. They’re released online, or they’re released in a store, and they and they vanish immediately. . . So as a buyer, you come into the experience knowing largely that you want a particular product. And we give you the opportunity to either buy that at the lowest price somebody is willing to sell that for, or put a bid out and say, ‘This is what I’m interested in paying for this product.’

“If you’re a seller, you don’t have to create a seller rating. You don’t have to create a profile. You don’t have to create a listing. You simply have something to sell, it’s in our catalog. And you either sell it at the highest price that somebody is willing to bid . .  . or you ask and say, ‘This is what I’m willing to sell this item for.’ So it’s a very much a trading market much like oil and commodities and equities, but in sneakers and collectible items.”

She asked who is driving the marketplace and whether that might be a small number of power users.

“Seventy-five percent of our customers are under the age of 35. And that customer is a now a wide demographic, I would say two years ago, it was defined in sneakers as a “sneakerhead,” meaning somebody that collected sneakers and bought and sell sneakers specifically. But today, that demographic, if you looked at millennials and Gen Z, as an example, 40% of them would define themselves as sneakerheads, and so that’s male and female, and this demographic is around the world. We have customers in over 170 countries and territories.”

Cutler went on to say that StockX is very well-positioned because, unlike with a lot of goods that people might find through Amazon or a Google search and thus compete on some level with them, StockX is itself the “first” shopping destination for most of its customers.

“Even the brands can’t provide access to [what’s for sale at StockX].  So that consumer comes to us as a first destination; they don’t go to those brands to shop to shop . . . That means that we have an incredible opportunity then to deliver exactly what that customer wants at the beginning of the journey, which is very rare in e-commerce, to be that first point of destination.”

Naturally, Griffith asked how the virus has impacted StockX’s bottom line. Cutler said it’s been “great for our business and growth.”

“The recent events over the last couple of months has been a benefit to our business. We’ve had more and more traffic and buyers coming to our site because in some respects, traditional retail in some geographies is not available. We thought we’ve always been a marketplace of scarcity, but now you can’t actually go into a real retail location, so you’re coming to StockX. So on the one hand, it’s been great for our for our business and for our growth.”

Cutler also acknowledged that to accommodate that growth, StockX needs people in the warehouses where sellers send goods so that StockX can authenticate them before shipping out to buyers. He said that StockX has “people in those centers that are coming to work right now, even in places like New Jersey that are certainly impacted.” He called it a “balancing” act of trying to ensure its team members feel “safe” while continuing to operate its business at scale around the world.

As for how, exactly, StockX is ensuring these employees are safe, he said that StockX is “operating under all of the local rules and regulations that we have in all the different places where we operate.” As an added sweetener, he said the company recently gave a “spot bonus” and increased the salaries of employees at its authentication centers by 25%.

And what happens if the warehouses are ordered to shut down or employees begin showing up with the virus? Griffith asked what StockX’s backup plan entailed.

Here, Cutler noted the company’s multiple authentication centers, saying that “in the event that we have to reroute traffic from one authentication center to the other, we will do that. We’ve been operating that way.” (He also said that business continuity planning is currently a “stand-up every single day [wherein] we go through site safety and security and any incidents that come up and we’re making decisions as a team every day on some of that routing logic.”)

Not last, Griffith wondered what kinds of conversations StockX’s venture investors are having with the company given everyone’s focus right now on belt-tightening. ((StockX is backed by DST Global, General Atlantic, GGV Capital Battery Ventures, and GV, among others.)

Cutler acknowledged that the “future, in some respects, is uncertain for many of us, in that you don’t know how long this is going to last.” He said that as the company looks to the future, it’s trying to factor in “different scenarios of macro shifts in demand, macro shifts in the supply chains that we think are going to be actually quite short-lived.” He said that in China, for example, where many supply chain factories went down this winter, many are back up to 80% or 90% of their previous capacity, adding that “depedinng on how this plays out here in the U.S. and in Europe, it could either be a very quick recovery —  or we have to be prepared for scenario where this could be extended for some time.”

Asked if StockX is recession-proof should the downturn last (Griffith noted that some of the pricier sneakers on the platform are “selling for thousands of dollars”), Cutler suggested that he hopes so for the sake of the businesses run off its platform. 

Said Cutler, “For a lot of our sellers, you have to appreciate that our they depend on StockX for their livelihood. They actually may be running a very sophisticated business that is selling sometimes thousands of pairs of sneakers every single day to [maybe] a student who’s using StockX to fund their education. So it’s it is really important that we remain up and operational because we’re providing a livelihood for those for those individuals.”

Cutler then compared StockX to the public equities markets, insisting that they aren’t so different and that, to his mind, StockX might even be the safer bet right now.

“We actually have buyers who see this time as a market opportunity and see the price of a rare Jordan 1 [shoe] that’s maybe coming down, and they say, ‘Hey, this is short lived,’ much like somebody may say, ‘Hey, the market is off a little.’

“They’re putting their money in sneakers,” Cutler continued, adding: “My portfolio right now in sneakers is still up on the year. That’s more than I can say about the S&P.”


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