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TechScape: Uber’s easy ride is over | Uber

A massive leak of confidential internal documents about Uber has cast new light on the strategies the cab-hailing company took to reach the top of its game. Goodbye “fake it till you make it”, hello “break it till you make it” – the rules, the law, and anything else that stands in your way.

From our lead story:

A leaked trove of confidential files has revealed the inside story of how the tech giant Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion.

The cache of files, which span 2013 to 2017, includes more than 83,000 emails, iMessages and WhatsApp messages, including often frank and unvarnished communications between Kalanick and his top team of executives.

There is an awful lot here. There’s political wheeling and dealing, of course: Peter Mandelson helped Uber reach the Russian elite; Emmanuel Macron, then-economy minister, helped with the French. The former EU digital chief helped with the Dutch. Documents also suggest that George Osborne, meanwhile, “was a private supporter of the US company’s efforts to grow its business in the UK, just as the company simultaneously positioned itself to avoid future UK taxes.”

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While it was buddying up with politicians, the company was also building infrastructure to avoid the legal ramifications of its launches – which often came several years before the company would eventually be permitted to operate. A “kill switch”, built into its systems, let the company lock out local offices from its corporate network, preventing secrets being seized in police raids.

And there’s also the fallout of its aggressive tactics. As protests against Uber raged around the world, the company’s own drivers were put in harms’ way: one report, during aggressive protests in western Europe, put the number of injured drivers at 18 in a day, with “three relatively serious cases involving taxi violence including one badly damaged car and two beaten-up drivers”. The response of co-founder and then-chief executive, Travis Kalanick, is “startlingly frank”, write the Guardian’s Felicity Lawrence and Jon Henley, and focused on the company’s battle with the French government: “‘If we have 50,000 riders they won’t and can’t do anything,’ he wrote. ‘I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantee[s] success. And these guys must be resisted, no? Agreed that right place and time must be thought out.’” Kalanick’s spokesperson “questioned the authenticity of some documents”, the reporters say, and that Kalanick “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety” and any suggestion that he was involved in such activity would be completely false.

Uber’s response has been to shift as much of the blame as possible on to Kalanick, who left the company under a cloud in 2017. “Five years ago, those mistakes culminated in one of the most infamous reckonings in the history of corporate America. That reckoning led to an enormous amount of public scrutiny, a number of high-profile lawsuits, multiple government investigations, and the termination of several senior executives,” the company said in a statement. “It’s also exactly why Uber hired a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who was tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates.”

To call the 2017 removal of Kalanick a reckoning serves to obscure the fact that Uber has never really had to look head-on at the tactics that earned it its place in the world. As tech analyst Benedict Evans put it: “Uber’s public, avowed strategy was to launch where the service was [more or less] illegal and bully politicians into approving it, rather than lobbying first, on the theory that lobbying wold [sic] fail unless you’d already shown people the service.”

‘Burning the burn’

The fall of Theranos prompted hand-wringing about the tech industry’s tendency to fake it til you make it. Where is the line between making bold promises and misleading investors? The legal saga that followed the collapse of that biotech company has revealed that the answer is, at least, “somewhere before ‘running labs filled with fake machines that don’t work’”. But if Theranos had actually invented the machines it said it was working on, then the early years would have been written off as mere stumbles, not as fraud.

But the fall of the old Uber did little to halt the rise of the company, and didn’t prompt the same questioning about whether “break it till you make it” was itself a questionable approach. Just like Theranos, the company isn’t alone in taking that approach. If the rules stop your company from growing, complying with them is only one option: another option is break them, then grow so fast that when the punishment does come, it’s trivial compared to the advantage you gained.

Uber’s defence was always that, even if it was breaking the rules, the rules were wrong. Taxi legislation was built for a different age, the company would argue in cities around the world, and needed to be rewritten to allow for nimble firms like itself. But Kalanick’s insight was that the argument was much more likely to succeed if the nimble firm was already popular and widely used, rather than a simple paper-lobbying procedure. And so the tactic was born: enter a market, grow rapidly, then fight to retroactively legalise your business.

There were more conventional aggressive business practices alongside: in October 2014, for example, the business was subsidising driver wages in Berlin by almost five times as much as customers were paying. “Uber burned through cash to ‘buy revenue’, in the phrase of the presentation. At the same meeting a senior manager gave a talk about ‘burning the burn’ – that is, cutting subsidies.” Buying revenue wasn’t just about securing repeat customers who would stick with the company even as price slowly rose; it was also about buying passionate users who would write to local politicians to campaign for continued access to their cheap taxis, even while the company was making plans to remove the subsidy.

Uber’s easy ride as a company is now over, and the years when it heavily subsidised riders have left a permanent mark on cities around the world. But even if its explosive growth peters out, and it survives as just a normal taxi app, it’s hard not to think that the example it sets for future entrepreneurs is a bad one. Break it till you make it, and you too might be cast out in a “reckoning” that still leaves you dynastically wealthy. Not much of a downside, is it?

Elon continues

So Elon Musk is now trying to pull out of buying Twitter. Maybe I was right when I said I was wrong, and he actually was bullshitting all along. “I am making a firm offer to take this company private” isn’t a very good joke for a typical CEO of a public company – it’s probably illegal, for one thing – but Elon Musk isn’t a typical executive. He’s already made the joke once before – why not make it again!

The pretext for pulling out of the deal is so flimsy as to be barely worth paying hundreds of lawyers thousands of dollars an hour to get down on paper. Musk, who said he was buying Twitter to tackle the spam bots, now says he is pulling out of buying Twitter because the site has too many spam bots. Pull the other one.

A more pressing question is whether he changed his mind for boring reasons: Twitter is worth less than it was; Tesla is worth less than it was; selling Tesla stock to buy Twitter at $54.20 is now an extraordinarily bad trade for Musk when once it was just a silly one – or for more interesting ones: has three months of being subject to endless discussions of moderation policy and political disputes-by-proxy made him realise that it wouldn’t be very fun to become the dude everyone is shouting at?

Either way, the immediate question is whether or not Twitter can force him to close the deal, or merely summon up a fine in court. On paper, they have a good shout at the former, experts agree, since Musk doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But the Delaware Chancery court, where the case will be heard, doesn’t tend to love mandating “specific performance” – that’s forcing the deal through – and may be happy to settle for a hefty breakup fee, which would leave Twitter in a significantly worse position than if Musk had instead just downloaded some new video games when he got bored.

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Culture

Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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