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Papaya wants to help electrify last-mile logistics in Europe

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Internal combustion engines still rule the roost when it comes to powering automobiles, but there are signs that they’re slowly trundling into oblivion, at least in some markets. The likes of Sweden, Denmark, and the U.K. are planning to ban sales of diesel and petrol cars by the end of the decade, while markets such as Australia and California are also making moves in that direction albeit at a slower pace.

Part of this process will have to involve making it easier for consumers and businesses alike to transition to electrification, for example through extending access to electric vehicle (EV) charging stations as the U.S. recently announced as part of its $1 trillion infrastructure bill. But companies will also need help acquiring and operating their EV fleets — and this is where a new startup called Papaya is setting out to play its part.

Soft-launched back in February, Papaya’s software is designed to help fleet operators source and manage electric or light-electric vehicles (LEVs), solving something that cofounder and CEO Santi Ureta says is usually “highly fragmented and opaque.” And to help take things to the next level, the London-based company today announced that it has raised $3.5 million from a slew of institutional and angel investors.

For context, there are no shortage of vehicle management systems out there already, from Automile and Fleetcheck to Webfleet, but Papaya is hoping to set itself apart with its specific industry focus on smaller EVs that are likely to be used by last-mile delivery companies and such like. It’s about solving very specific pain points, reducing fragmentation, and serving as a single platform for everyone to connect and communicate.

“No one is really connecting all sides of the market as we are doing, and also building the tools they need to manage the relationship better,” Ureta told TechCrunch.

Ureta and Papaya’s CTO cofounder Renato Serra both have experience working at companies where transport and logistics are pivotal to their bottom line, including European food delivery juggernaut Deliveroo and quick-commerce unicorn Gopuff. And this experience was what proved the genesis for Papaya.

“We realised first-hand that sourcing an electric fleet is hard, and managing one efficiently is even harder,” Ureta said. “Managing a hybrid electric fleet with current software tools is impossible to do in one place.”

Moving parts

Among the problems that Papaya is looking to solve is the complexity of multimodality — electric fleets require different kinds of vehicles for different use-cases. For example an e-van may be more suitable for larger scale grocery deliveries, while a cargo bike or e-bike might suffice for food delivery. And for each kind of vehicle, there is a whole host of different suppliers, maintenance firms, and other service providers to keep everything functioning and in order.

Papaya essentially joins the dots between the fleet operators (e.g. Gopuff or Deliveroo) and service providers which may include vehicle suppliers (e.g. Hop or Otto), maintenance providers (e.g. Fettle or Cycledelik), insurance providers (e.g. Laka or Zego), or even storage spaces designed for housing and charging EVs (such as Reef or Infinium Logistics)

“Every single provider has their outdated systems — Google Forms, spreadsheets, emails or clunky fleet management tools — and the fleet needs to interact with all these tools to report incidents and maintain their availability, which makes it really difficult and inefficient,” Ureta said. “Papaya is centralising all these different processes and tools into one single operating system, allowing the fleet to have full visibility, accountability and transparency about the status of their vehicles, and manage all their relationships in the same place.”

Papaya dashboard

In its original guise, Papaya was mostly about enabling the management of existing EV and LEVs, but its overarching objective is to help companies transition from traditional fossil-fuel burning vehicles to emission-free alternatives. And that is why the company is gearing up to launch its vehicle marketplace, serving as a single conduit for fleet operators to procure EVs and LEVs and all the related services.

“One could see it [the marketplace] as a way for vehicle suppliers and service providers to showcase their products and services to fleets, in the geographies they operate within,” Ureta explained, adding that he expects the marketplace to launch by the end of the year. “Papaya will make it far easier for companies to source EVs, and manage them — this will accelerate the transition from combustion engine fleets to EV fleets.”

Papaya is already live in five markets, including the U.K. Spain, France, Germany and Estonia. And in its short lifespan so far, the company has already amassed an impressive roster of customers that include the aforementioned Gopuff (currently valued at $15 billion) and parcel delivery giant Evri.

Gopuff, according to Ureta, uses Papaya to interact with all the vehicles in their fleet, track availability and cost, and manage incidents as they come up.

“Gopuff uses Papaya as its main vehicle management system — they have all their vehicles on the platform and their main service providers onboarded on the other side,” Ureta said. “The platform is used by multiple actors, from riders to hub operators, fleet managers and heads of operations.”

On top of sourcing and managing EVs, much like other vehicle management systems, Papaya is also substantively about generating data and garnering insights into everything that’s happening in a fleet at any given point in time.

Bringing down emissions

A quick look at the data reveals that Papaya is onto something. The European Commission (EC) has targeted a 90% reduction in transport emissions by 2050, while last-mile logistics are currently responsible for around 5% of a company’s supply chain emissions — but with ecommerce only going on an upwards trajectory, this figure is likely to increase. Indeed, the World Economic Forum suggests that the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities will increase 36% by 2030, with emissions from the traffic growing in tandem.

In short, if the world has any hope of meeting lofty climate goals, it needs to address the emissions problem. And this is what lies at the heart of Papaya’s growth plans — the company’s new $3.5 million investment ushered in a host of backers including Giant Ventures, Seedcamp, 20VC, FJ Labs, Flexport, Cocoa, Sir Richard Branson’s family (specifically: Freddie Andrewes and Holly Branson, who manage the family fund), Glovo cofounder Oscar Pierre, and former TechCrunch journalist Steve O’Hear.

The company said that it plans to use its cash injection to “build Europe’s largest electric vehicle ecosystem and decarbonise European fleets.”

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Mozilla acquires the team behind Pulse, an automated status updater for Slack

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Firefox developer Mozilla is making a rare foray into the world of mergers and acquisitions, with news that it has snapped up recently-shuttered California-based productivity startup Pulse.

Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed, but the deal is tantamount to an “acqui-hire,” with Mozilla looking to deploy the Pulse team across an array of machine learning (ML) projects.

“We’re acquiring Pulse for the incredible team they have built,” Mozilla chief product officer Steve Teixeira told TechCrunch. “As we look to continue to improve user experiences across all of our products, ML will be a core part of that.”

Feel the pulse

Founded out of Menlo Park in 2019, Pulse in its initial guise was a “virtual office” platform called Loop Team, but after honing the idea for a couple of years it pivoted and rebranded last November. Pulse, essentially, was an automated status-updating tool that used signals based on pre-configured integrations and preferences set by the user.

For example, users could synchronize Pulse with their calendar and Slack, setting rules to stipulate what their status and corresponding emoji should be based on keywords in their calendar event title. If their schedule for a particular time says “hair appointment” from 12-1pm, then the person’s Slack status update might display a scissors emoji alongside the word “haircut.” Or, it might say “birthday” alongside a cake emoji if that’s what is in their calendar.

Pulse: Calendar rules

But Pulse sported myriad integrations with business tools that brought similar functionality. For example, users could link Pulse with Zoom, so that whenever they start a video meeting, a telephone emoji automatically displays in their Slack status to tell people they are unavailable.

Shutting shop

Pulse had flown largely under the radar since it started rolling out to a small group of users last December, but the company had apparently garnered some fairly big-name customers, including Netflix and 1Password, with monthly premium plans starting at around $3 per user.

The company was among TechCrunch’s Battlefield 200 startups at TC Disrupt in October, and TechCrunch interviewed Pulse cofounder and CEO Raj Singh at the event for a potential future startup profile piece. Singh said at the time that it was planning to raise a seed round of funding early in the new year, something that obviously won’t be happening now. When quizzed on whether Pulse was more like a feature that the big tech platforms could just build themselves, rather than a sustainable business in its own right, Singh was adamant that Pulse could thrive as a standalone product. While he acknowledged that companies such as Microsoft or Google might well want to develop a similar automated status update tool for their own products, they were less incentivised to make it work well as an integrated feature that plays ball with various third-party tools.

Pulse was all about communicating things to colleagues around the world passively, regardless of what tools they were using or what timezone they’re in. This is particularly important with remote work becoming the norm, and Pulse was looking to find its niche at a time when workplace culture is rapidly changing.

“A lot of people actually want to update their status, but it’s tedious,” Singh told TechCrunch in October. “But there’s hundreds of signals, and the thing we realised was status is not just ‘availability’, it’s actually a way to communicate empathy.”

While Pulse did have plans to expand beyond Slack into other workplace communication tools including Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace, the company abruptly announced in late October that it was shutting down. In an email distributed to customers at the time, the company attributed this to “market conditions,” noting that it was finding it difficult to raise fresh capital — but it did confirm that it had found a buyer, the identity of which was unknown until today. Singh also said in the email that there was a chance that the buyer could resurrect Pulse in some form, but there is little indication that Mozilla has such a plan on its radar.

What’s next

To the casual observer, Slack was probably the obvious contender to acquire Pulse. For starters, there is the fact that Pulse had been focused exclusively on Slack status updates. But on top of that, Singh had previously founded a smart calendar app called Tempo AI which he sold to Salesforce for an undisclosed sum in 2015.

Singh then joined Salesforce to help with the initial transition of Tempo AI’s technology into Salesforce’s Inbox app. And as we now know, Salesforce went on to acquire Slack in 2020, so with Singh’s connections to Salesforce and his product’s close alignment with Slack, there seemed like only one possible suitor here. 

Tempo AI Image Credits: Tempo AI

Alas, Slack hasn’t acquired Pulse — the Mozilla Corporation has. It is something of a surprise, if for no other reason than Mozilla isn’t renowned for its M&A endeavors, though it is starting to ramp up its investment efforts after launching its first venture capital fund last month. But its only known acquisition to date was back in 2017, when it snapped up Pocket, a popular read-it-later web-clipping service that Mozilla had already integrated into its Firefox browser two years previous.

As a side point, Pulse itself had been on something of an acquisition spree this year, buying rival status updating service Holopod back in January, followed by audio-based communications platform Commons in March. Then in May, news emerged that Pulse had acquired team communication startup Lounge.

“Our strategy [with M&A] is pretty straightforward — we look for opportunities to bring on talent and technology that helps us improve experiences for our customers,” Teixeira said. “With Pulse, this is about supplementing the skillsets we have here already as a way to speed up our development efforts. We have a high bar for any acquisition, but if we find teams and technologies with incredible talent that share our mission and vision for the future of the internet, we are absolutely open to pursuing a transaction.”

As it happens, Pocket may be an early beneficiary of the Pulse acquisition. While Mozilla ultimately plans to deploy the Pulse team across various projects, Teixeira says that an early focus will be on using ML to improve personalization in Pocket, which presumably means in the form of content recommendations.

It’s worth noting that Mozilla has dabbled with ML a fair bit in the past, including experimental projects inside Firefox that recommend content to users, as well as tracking prices across myriad online stores. The company is also leveraging ML across various voice and speech projects.

“We see opportunity to use ML in virtually all of our products, including Firefox, as a foundation for improving the experience for all of our customers,” Teixeira said.

Mozilla hasn’t revealed how much it’s doling out for the startup, but Pulse had only raised around $4.7 million in pre-seed funding according to Crunchbase data, and given its difficulties in raising fresh capital, it’s safe to assume that Mozilla hasn’t broken the bank here.

What Mozilla is getting for its money is six people, including Pulse’s three founders Raj Singh, Jag Srawan, and Rolf Rando, each bringing significant engineering, ML, and product execution experience to Mozilla’s ML efforts. Singh actually created his previous startup Tempo AI as a project inside SRI International, the Stanford research institute responsible for Siri. He rejoined SRI as executive in residence (EIR) after leaving Salesforce, remaining there until founding Pulse (then Loop Team) nearly four years ago.

“In building Pulse, we enabled a variety of machine learning experiences to make distributed teams feel more connected,” Singh noted. “Finding ways to use AI and machine learning to simplify tasks for users is our passion.”

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Here’s your chance to show off your expertise at TechCrunch’s founder summit

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Do you have what it takes to present at TechCrunch Early Stage on April 20 in Boston, Massachusetts? We’re looking for trendsetting, game-changing, later-stage startup founders and ecosystem experts — of every stripe — to apply for the opportunity to share their hard-won expertise at our annual founder summit.

An entrepreneurial bootcamp experience, TC Early Stage connects people in the beginning or early stages of their startup journey with top industry experts for hands-on training. Presenting at this event is an opportunity to align yourself with TechCrunch and position yourself as a thought leader for hundreds of early-stage entrepreneurs. Apply here now.

You have until January 6 to submit an application outlining the content you’d like to present. TechCrunch will vet each application and select the top contenders to participate in an Audience Choice voting round where TechCrunch readers will choose the sessions they want to see most at TC Early Stage.

Our call for outstanding content is officially open, and here are the important dates to keep in mind:

  • Application deadline: January 6
  • Notify Audience Choice participants: January 23
  • Voting period: January 30 through February 17
  • Notify winners: By February  22

If you can deliver content that elicits this kind of attendee feedback, we want to hear from you.

“Early Stage offered a great variety of sessions and speakers — top investors, founders and credible subject-matter experts — who gave unique insights based on personal experience. You get great mentorship through attending the Early Stage sessions. It’s like a mini masterclass in entrepreneurship.” — Ashley Barrington, founder, MarketPearl

Show us your content — apply today!

TC Early Stage, which takes place on April 20, 2023, in Boston, Massachusetts, provides access to essential information, resources and community connections to help nascent entrepreneurs reach their potential. Grab your ticket now — just $149 for the next 30 founders — and join us in Boston!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Early Stage 2023? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Amplio helps companies find components when supply chain breaks down

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When Covid shut down much of the world down in 2020, it ended up wreaking havoc on the supply chain. Suddenly companies built for just-in-time production couldn’t find parts they needed to build their products.

Even as Covid subsided, the supply chain woes continued. Veterans of supply management like the founder of startup Amplio watched, and figured there had to be a better way to guard against these kinds of disruptions in the future using software to find parts wherever they were.

Amplio launched last year with that goal in mind, and today the startup announced a $6 million seed to build a system to help track parts shortages. Trey Closson, CEO and co-founder at Amplio says his company’s goal is to build more resilience into the electronic components supply chain.

“We help our customers understand the components that are at highest risk of leading to material shortages, and then we connect our customers to alternative sources of supply to mitigate those shortages,” Closson told TechCrunch.

He knows what he’s talking about. He spent his entire career in supply chain management, and he’s seen firsthand how disruptions can have a negative impact on a business’s ability to function. He blames “Just-in-time production” techniques for the problems we are seeing today.

“The supply chains have been designed for 30 or 40 years to optimize for cost and for the best case scenario, but the reality is that we don’t live in a world of best case scenarios. We live in a world of constant disruptions,” he said.

“The way that our platform works is that we’re connected to our customers’ systems of record or their ERP solutions, and we take in in their bill of materials and their operational data, and then combine that with external datasets to be able to show the customer their ability to source their particular components over the next six to 18 months,” he said.

Amplio parts inventory screen showing which parts could be in danger of having supply issues.

Image Credits: Amplio

What’s more, in cases where the customer isn’t able to source the components, customers can go to the Amplio marketplace to find suppliers or other manufacturers who might have surplus inventory they are trying to sell.

Closson’s most recent job was working at Koch Industries, leading international supply chain for Georgia Pacific, where he was on the front line of the Covid-induced toilet paper shortages. But he decided to focus his startup on electronic components.

“So while supply chain resilience is really critical across the market, we want to focus on the electronics industry, because it has such a tremendous impact on the global economy,” he said. He conceived of and incubated the company as part of a program run by Koch and High Alpha Innovation, the program launched by former Exact Target execs to help startups with enterprise-focused ideas.

The company currently has 6 employees, but plans to expand with the funding (which closed in May). He says as he grows the company, diversity and inclusion is a core building block. “Diversity is one of the core principles for our hiring and in decision making processes. So just from a selfish standpoint, diverse organizations make better decisions and have more creative ideas, and are ultimately more successful,” he said.

Today’s round was led by Construct Capital with participation from Slow Ventures, High Alpha Capital, Flexport Ventures, Alpaca Venture Capital and various industry angels.

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