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Dear Readers,

In our newsletter edition
two weeks ago, we talked about Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who was seeking a girlfriend for his Moon voyage on a SpaceX rocket. As our lonely billionaire announced on Twitter today, 27,722 women had applied but the matchmaking process (which was supposed to be documented in a reality TV show) was canceled due to "personal reasons".

Maybe our lonely billionaire learned about something that's currently being developed in Australia. A company called Akon is building an emotionally intelligent AI that could support astronauts on their trips to space, acting as a digital companion that provides empathetic support.

We say: that’s Artificial Intelligence applied to real social benefit! 

But back to more down-to-earth industry knowledge. Today's major topic: the biggest startup bets in Travel and Mobility Tech. Some of them are flourishing businesses about to reach profitability, for others, the odds of succeeding are shrinking by the minute. Find out below.

What also caught our attention this week: WIRED reported that the popularity of video conferencing is soaring (the full article is linked in our Must Reads). The demand for video calls is so high that one in every two companies are making around 2,000 video calls per month.

Is it because the quality of video calls has finally become stable enough for people to enjoy meeting up online? No more back-and-forth "Can you hear me?" Or is it because people travel less for business to cut down on their carbon footprint? If the latter is true, what does this mean for travel providers and airlines? We're still working out what we think. 

Today's reading time: 5:43 minutes.

Lennart Dobravsky
Director Research & Intelligence, Lufthansa Innovation Hub

 Video 

Listen to three of the biggest bets in Travel and Mobility Tech

At last week’s DLD Conference – Europe’s self-proclaimed leading innovation conference for visionaries from around the globe – we hosted a keynote and panel talk on the most promising tech startups in Travel and Mobility Tech.

I kicked things off with a 5-minute update on the state of digital innovation in the Travel and Mobility Tech space, before three of the biggest players in our sector discussed the future of travel. 

Listen to Fredric Lalonde (CEO of Hopper), Ariel Cohen (CEO of TripActions), and Julian Weselek (CEO of Tourlane) dissecting the major trends in travel and the specific strengths of their respective companies.

It’s a highly entertaining talk. If you don’t want to listen to the full 42 minutes, we outlined the major topics so you can skim through the video right here.
 Startups 

Air taxis are entering higher altitudes

Traffic systems in major metropolitan cities around the world are overloaded with severe traffic congestion leading to high economic costs. A popular and futuristic solution is to move cars to the third dimension.

The hype and buzz around flying cars / air taxis / electric vertical takeoff and landing passenger jets – whichever terminology you prefer – has been building steam for quite some time. But the hype seems to reach a tipping point where the air-taxi reality seems to move closer and closer.

Startups are leading the way

More than a dozen relevant and highly-funded startups have formed – all eagerly working towards a flying-car future. Enough capital is the foundation for all these players to research and develop the next prototype.

Currently in the pole position: Joby Aviation. The Toyota-, Intel- and Jet-Blue-backed startup from California landed a mega deal earlier this month, making it the most well-funded air-taxi startup in the world and also the first unicorn in this space.

Germany's Lilium to follow Joby's footsteps

But that’s not the only breaking news: yesterday's rumors are that German-based Lilium is about to complete a financing round north of $165 million led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

This would bring Lilium's total valuation to more than 1.5 billion USD making it the second air-taxi unicorn sighting within the last two weeks only.
It's not only Venture Capital investments sending out positive signals these days. The number of press articles, academic papers and industry publications reporting on air-taxis has also been steadily increasing.

No more air-taxi bashing

Even more astounding, media tonality (meaning the sentiment) has become increasingly favorable since 2017 as our graphic below shows. This will most likely help the entire industry gain more public acceptance – one of the critical barriers for air-taxis to take off commercially in the future.
If you are as excited about air-taxis as we are and cannot wait to hear about new test flights and latest developments, get on our waiting list for a dedicated newsletter that we will publish soon. All it takes is a click on the banner below.
 Sneak Peak 

The biggest bets vol. II

When talking about the biggest bets in our sector, there is no way around Asia’s flourishing Travel and Mobility Tech scene. More than half of the biggest privately-held tech companies in our sector are currently headquartered in China and other Asian countries.
This distribution reflects overall annual funding trends in our industry as more than half of Venture Capital dollar amounts in Travel and Mobility Tech have been allocated to startups from the Far East. 
Chinese mega-startups have benefitted the most from these rising investment sums. The average total funding raised by unicorns in China is significantly higher than what their American and European counterparts were able to collect.
For more insights and concrete innovation examples that you only find in Asia, sign up for our future email list and be the first to receive regular news updates and deep market intelligence dissecting the Asian Travel and Mobility Tech ecosystem from our local team on the ground.
 Trends 

Consolidation is (finally) reaching the German kick-scooter market

After years of increasing supply of new transportation forms, especially in the urban environment (think ride-hailing, car-sharing, shared bikes and scooters), consolidation seems to slowly clean out a very fragmented market.

New Transportation providers are cutting back

At the end of 2019, Bosch-owned Vespa-like scooter sharing provider COUP announced that it will discontinue its services. Two weeks ago, Lime and other electric-kick-scooter startups reported that they would exit several markets to focus on profitability. This week, German kick-scooter startup CIRC was taken over by American scooter giant Bird

Rumors say that CIRC struggled to raise a much-needed funding round to keep operations going and, ultimately, had to go for a fire-sale before things turned south. That’s when Bird stepped in.

Survival of the fittest 

What seemed inevitable right from the beginning is now becoming real: The urban mobility rat race, especially for e-scooters, is about who can stay (unprofitable) in the market the longest. Global economies of scale through procurement, operational, brand and acquisition excellence are the key success factors towards profitability. Only the biggest and boldest bets seem to have a shot at getting there.

The consolidating German e-scooter landscape

The scenario of CIRC sliding down the slippery slope was something that could have been predicted already last summer. Back then, we found out that CIRC’s market entry into Germany was slower and more defensive than the launch of its main competitors Tier and Lime.

Re-read our market-share analysis of the German e-scooter landscape here to get the full story.
 Press Picks 

Our recommended must reads 

INVESTORS CAUGHT THE GREEN FEVER – BlackRock announced it will start evaluating clients on their sustainability initiatives. And they’re not the only one, other investors followed. Especially in travel, sustainability will give companies and edge in the eyes of investors. 
 Read more on Phocuswire
VIDEO CALLS SUBSTITUTING BUSINESS TRAVEL? – Video conferencing at work are often cringeworthy recipe for disaster – but their popularity is soaring. In the grip of a climate crisis, demand for video calls is soaring.
 Read more in Wired
AIR-BUSES INSTEAD OF TAXIS? – The Chinese drone and air-taxi maker Ehang released a white paper elaborating on why the future of urban mobility should be like a city’s public bus system.
 Read more on Technode
UPTURN FOR BUSINESS TRAVELS – After a success in the UK and Netherlands, TripActions aims to fully take on Europe with Lufthansa Group as their first and only strategic partner.
 Read more on Business Travel News
BOOKING FLIGHTS WITH WHATSAPP – Yet in another effort to bring flight booking closer to a customer, EaseMyTrip now lets its users book flights directly from WhatsApp. Here they can also request fare quotes and stay updated about price changes.
 Read more on Phocuswire
 Funding Update 

Most recent Venture Capital deals

 = Exit Alert (startup listed at the stock exchange or got acquired)

 = Unicorn Alert (post-deal company valuation at >$1B) 


Bounce – the Bangalore-based bike rental startup raised $105M from Accel, B Capital Group, and further investors. 

 Bolt – the Estonia-based ride-hailing, e-scooter, and food delivery unicorn raised $56M from the European Investment Bank. 

Life House – the New York-based lifestyle hotel operator raised $30M from Thayer Ventures, Tiger Global, and further investors. 

Zoomcar – the Indian platform that offers self-driving car rental services raised $30M from Sony Fund and further investors. 

Overair – the California-based eVTOL aircraft developer raised $25M from Hanwha Systems. 

Xie Zhu Technology – the Chinese smart hotel solutions developer raised $21.5M from SR Capital, SND Ventures Group, and further investors. 

ByHours – the Barcelona-based hotel booking platforms that offer micro stays booking in small hours packages raised $8.8M from Angel Ventures and DILA Capital. 

Upgrade pack – the London-based flight and hotel upgrade marketplace raised $6.5M from Havisham Group and further investors.

Astroscale – the Japan-based space tech startup raised $4.5M from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. 

Draper Startup House  – the Singaporean entrepreneur-focused hostel chain, formerly known as Tribe Theory, raised $3.5M from American VC Tim Draper. 

Stasher – the London-based sharing network of luggage storage raised $2.5M from Venture Friends and further investors.  

Nannybag – the Paris-based luggage storage provider raised $2.2M from Expon Capital and Fa Dièse.
 
Nextravel – the New York-based business travel platform raised $2.4M from Pipeline Angels and Quest Ventures. 

Daytrip – the Prague-based platform that connects travelers to local drivers raised $1.1M from Nation 1 and J&T Ventures. 


eNett – the Australian payment solution provider for the travel industry was acquired by WEX, in a combined deal valued at $1.7B that includes virtual card issuer Optal. 

Best Day Travel Group – the Mexican online travel agency was acquired by Despegar for $136M.

 TripActions – the US-based corporate travel management startup raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from several investors including the Lufthansa Group.  

AutoX – the Chinese autonomous vehicle startup raised an undisclosed amount in Series Pre-B funding from Hongzhao Fund, Chaoshan Capital, and further investors.
 

Circ – the Berlin-based e-scooter sharing startup was acquired by Bird for an undisclosed amount. 

 Waylo – the San Francisco-based hotel booking platform was acquired by eDreams Odigeo for an undisclosed amount. 

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