Ride or Die
Earlier today, The Verge published a pretty damning report alleging that Uber was essentially shutting down its taxi service in New York City. The worst allegations involved the claim that multiple drivers received messages calling them into headquarters to get paid a cash bonus, only when the cabbies got there, “Uber surprised them by asking for the device back, informing them that taxi service was no longer available in New York.” Another driver told the Verge that Uber offered $1,000 to sign up for its black car service instead. (As earlier screenshots obtained by Betabeat show, Uber has offered cash rewards to drivers in the past.)
Not long after, Uber admitted on its blog that UberTAXI has shut down operations in New York “for now,” emphasizing that no changes have been made to its black car service. With yesterday’s news of Square shutting down its pilot program in New York City, this is the second setback of sorts as technological advances to the taxi-riding experience try to make their way into the market. Square also promised it would try again soon–but unlike Uber, its program had official approval.
“We invested a fair amount of money in the UberTAXI in New York after initially getting a verbal greenlight from the TLC,” CEO Travis Kalanick told Betabeat of the amount Uber spent on its month-long test run, which involved a week of free rides to every New Yorker at $25/piece–for those who actually managed to find a cab on the app.
Ride or Die
Ouch, we think we just got whiplash. A couple weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg was photo-opping in the backseat with Jack Dorsey, founder of the mobile payments company Square.
But this afternoon, the New York Post got its hand on a letter from Square to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) announcing that the company has suddenly pulled out of its pilot program in yellow cabs, which the agency recently stated was going swimmingly.
The pilot run in 13 cabs was testing Square’s service–featuring iPads in the vehicle’s partition and iPhones in the front–as a replacement for TPEP, the agency’s internal moniker for the TV screens and credit card swipers currently run by an exclusive contract with Verifone and CMT that expires this coming February.
Groupon has launched its own iPad payment system in hopes of rivaling Square. Good luck with that. [The Next Web]
Kids these days don’t want a stupid computer, ’cuz they’re for old people. [Wired]
A court has ruled that book scanning counts as fair use, much to the chagrin of the Author’s Guild. [Ars Technica]
Google has launched a large online museum called the Cultural Institute, boasting 42 different exhibits. [The Daily Dot]
A 25-year-old female Redditor has made it her mission to publicly out those she calls “Predditors” who post sexualized photos of women to r/creepshots without their consent. [Jezebel]
For the last time, please stop giving your startup meaningless, baffling names. [Wired]
Hip to Be Square
In a recent New York Times profile of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a rather interesting piece of information surfaced about Twitter and Square cofounder Jack Dorsey. The Times wrote that Mr. Dorsey’s role at Twitter was diminished “after employees complained that he was difficult to work with and repeatedly changed his mind about product directions.”
Understandably, the office gossip led to some confusion over his current role. To clear up any misunderstanding, Mr. Dorsey took to his Tumblr today to defend his work schedule, proclaiming that he’s had a backseat role at Twitter (he’s currently a chairman) since January:
All-natural candy lover Jack Dorsey announced on his Twitter today that Square, the payment service seeking to disrupt credit card systems, has acquired 80/20, a design agency based in New York. “Square acquires 80/20, one of the best design agencies in the world, and with it, an office in SoHo,” he tweeted. “We believe in NYC.”
There are many industries worthy of large-scale disruption, including dry cleaning and the line at Shake Shack. But one crucial industry that Betabeat forgot to mention in our list of things we wish techies would disrupt? Candy. How could we forget?
According to All Things D, a coterie of celebrities–including bus-riding Square cofounder Jack Dorsey, model Gisele Bundchen and full-time Boston tour guide Matt Damon–have teamed up to sing the praises of a new candy company. Unreal Candy purports to be a natural, non-corn-syrup alternative to the gross chemical-laden stuff that somehow still tempts you every time you enter a bodega.
Hip to Be Square
Visa and Mastercard have long dominated the retail payment business (after all, when was the last time you saw someone flaunting a Discover card?). But now, Dwolla*–which recently launched an NYC office–and the San Francisco-based Square may be collaborating to knock the two legacy institutions off their pedestal.
Quartz reports that there may be a deal in the works between the two–one that would benefit both merchants and customers. Square provides a way for businesses to process credit card payments without clunky POS systems; Dwolla allows users to instantaneously transfer money with a flat fee of $.25. By teaming up, the two could really give the dominant credit card processing companies a run for their money.
Everyone’s favorite credit card processing company has returned from its latest trip to the venture capital trough. Today Square announced a $200 million Series D, in a five-sentence blog post that could only be described as terse. Perhaps CEO Jack Dorsey is taking his emulation of Bruce Lee a little too far?
According to the announcement, investors include Citi Ventures, Rizvi Traverse Management, and Starbucks Coffee Company. Judging from CrunchBase, it looks like CrunchFund also got in on the action. The cash will go toward an international expansion planned for later this year.
Tap It To Me
Before most consumers have gotten around to downloading a single mobile payments app onto their smartphone, a consortium of a big chain stores are preparing to push out yet another alternative. The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart, Target, 7-Eleven, Best Buy, CVS, Sunoco, and more are in the early stages of developing a horribly-named payments network called Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), which will let users pay with a tap of their phone.
Rather than go the Starbucks route and partner with Square or follow other national retailers (like Duane Reade, RadioShack, Banana Republic, etc.) into Google Wallet, the group is going rogue, arguing that Google and other telecom providers–AT&T and T-Mobile have a payments app called Isis; Verizon and Vodafone have one as well–don’t understand customers like they do. The retailers behind MCX point out that they have a combined $1 trillion in annual sales and “serve nearly every smartphone user in the U.S.”
Listen, we understand the desire to reside in a big ol’ tech bubble. It’s so warm and cozy here, with beanbags for office chairs, free lunches prepared by gourmet chefs and cashed-out friends lending you spare Burning Man costumes. Why would you ever want to leave?
But sometimes the need for a reality check burns a hole in your chest, just beneath your hand-sewn, perfectly tailored Everlane shirt. While whipping through the city in an Uber expensed to your corporate card, you might grow a little wistful, hot tears fogging your Warby Parker specs. As you listen to MGMT on the iPod you got as a company Christmas gift, you might become nostalgic for a time when “pitching” referred to baseball and you could easily relate to How The Other Half Lives.