30 November 2018 Courier Weekly

Pay-if-you-want retail

PLUS: Blooms 2.0 – Scooter wars – Brexit – Startup venture funds

Honest retail and 25 other trends for 2019

At Drug Store, which opened in New York City’s Tribeca neighbourhood in September, customers can walk in, take a drink from the fridge, and walk out. Paying is voluntary – with customers at the shop, run by drinks startup Dirty Lemon, texting the company to say what was taken.

The company’s CEO is betting on his customers’ honesty (and that most people would feel bad about stealing). Dirty Lemon is not the only one to play with paying. From Amazon’s cashier-less kiosks to Walmart testing apps that let shoppers skip queues, we expect more businesses to experiment with how retail transactions are completed in 2019.

This is one of our 26 predictions for 2019, alongside a wider reimagining of the retail playbook by direct-to-consumer brands, to fashion rental’s future and lab-grown diamonds hitting the mainstream. For the full rundown, make sure to grab a copy of our Dec/Jan issue – which hits newsstands next week.

When the landlord hikes the rent 

In April, less than a year after launch, female-focused flexible workspace Blooms was dealt a 40% rent increase. It would have to find a new home for its co-working operation.

Blooms’ new HQ in Shoreditch, east London, is now here. As stressful as the experience has been, it’s also presented an opportunity to improve the Blooms offering. We caught up with founder Lu Li to find out how she’s tweaked her space the second time around.

  • Fewer meeting rooms. Meeting rooms are some of the most expensive bits of floor space for co-working providers – especially if they’re not getting used. As a result, Li currently offers just one meeting room at Blooms HQ – she may add one or two more in future.
  • No crèche. Blooms’ first site featured a crèche – but once it was up and running, Li realised that mums actually weren’t actually keen to lug babies, prams and nappies into central London during rush hour. ‘Unless you provide a full-on nursery with education, full time, [it’s not worth it for mothers],’ she points out.

European scooter domination

Swedish e-scooter startup Voi scooped a £44m investment this week, just three months after it launched in Stockholm. Voi says it’s racked up 120,000 users so far, and that its new funding will be used to further expansion in Europe.

But Voi has a problem: it isn’t the only scooter service trying to take over Europe. Sequoia-backed Bird and Andreessen Horowitz-backed Lime are two US-based competitors also on the case.

Voi co-founder Douglas Stark thinks by virtue of being a European local his company is in a better position to negotiate with governments, which are growing increasingly wary of transport startups. ‘We are the ones who are going to be patient to enter these [European] markets,’ he told the Financial Times.

Bird’s UK head of operations, Richard Corbett, says his company has a similar policy of patience when we spoke to him recently. ‘We work with each city to find out what their problem is and how we can solve it,’ he says. The company is currently in the process of trialling its scooters in London’s Olympic Park, but a 183-year-old law prevents it from testing them elsewhere in the UK.

‘We’ve embarked on a process to work with regulators to address that,’ Corbett says. ‘The response so far has been positive.’

Read more on Bird’s fortunes in the Dec/Jan issue of Courieravailable to pre-order now.

TechUK’s Brexit blunder

The UK’s tech community was devastated when 52% of the country voted to leave the EU in 2016. It was surprising, then, when Julian David, CEO of industry body TechUK, sent a tweet supporting the government’s newly reached withdrawal agreement.

TechUK’s official account followed up by confirming his stance.

Obviously, there has been backlash from the companies and people TechUK claims to represent. For the London-based software engineer Daniel Mason: ‘The UK tech industry currently has more vacancies than people to fill [them]. Any Brexit agreement that ends FoM [freedom of movement] is disastrous to our ability to hire.’

A good round-up of the furore can be found here.

Venture fund, startup or bank?

There’s a lot of easy money flying around at the moment.

This month, Singapore-based ride-sharing company Grab completed a £2.1bn Series H round, with money coming from Hyundai, Lightspeed Ventures and Microsoft. Amazingly, Grab is soliciting VC money all while running its own VC fund, Grab Ventures.

This investment is another reminder of recent shifts in the venture funding landscape, where more money is going to late-stage business and there are enormous amounts of capital to deploy.

Meanwhile, this week Silicon Valley-based fund General Catalyst announced it is looking into lending cash to startups. General Catalyst is also said to be in the middle of negotiating a sale of a stake of the business to US bank Goldman Sachs.

Five things on our radar