Here’s what Facebook wants to do with 1,200 more employees

Facebook is growing its head count by as much as 14 percent according to a new Reuters report. It has 1,200 open job listings on its website, mostly for virtual reality roles with Oculus Rift. It’s also hiring for its drones, data centers, and Atlas advertising efforts. None of the roles mentioned by Reuters support Facebook’s core business: Its social media application. Facebook is pulling a Google, expanding into new industries to protect itself.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg placed a sizeable bet that virtual reality will be the next big thing in mobile computing when he bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in March last year. That’s exactly what he told media, explaining, “When you put on the goggles, it’s different from anything I have ever experienced in my life.” Oculus has stayed pretty quiet since coming under Facebook’s purview, but Reuters analysts suspect the big staff up in positions like logistics and global supply management mean the company is getting ready to launch to the public.

If you don’t follow the company closely, you might be confused at the positions Facebook is hiring for to support its drone technology development: Roles like thermal engineering and aircraft electronics. Remember Internet.org, Facebook’s big ambitious project to bring Internet connections to parts of the developing world? That’s what it hopes to use drones for, and it needs people with expertise in these areas to make that happen. If Internet.org succeeds it will ultimately benefit Facebook. Reliable, fast internet in more parts of the world — the two thirds of the population currently without Internet — likely means far more Facebook (and WhatsApp and Instagram) users.

In the last few years, Facebook has moved quickly and deftly into these new business endeavors, not content to rest on its cooling social media laurels. It has grown largely through acquisition, snapping up separate, independent companies and product like Oculus, Atlas Ad Server, WhatsApp, and Instagram, instead of trying to build them from scratch. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is investing in Facebook’s future stability and growth, a smart move given the fact that its core social product has faded in relevance with younger populations. Eventually teens grow up and become the new adults, slowly decreasing Facebook’s power over time.

It needed to diversify to ensure its future.

 

 

 

Here’s how Sidecar took the lead in the carpool race

It’s been four months since Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar officially launched their carpool features. And although all three rideshare companies have marketed their new carpool feature to the masses, one of them is pulling ahead: Sidecar.

It has expanded its carpool option to the most cities and seen record-breaking use in the process. The company trotted out a host of statistics and facts during a recent interview with me. The overall picture was clear: Sidecar’s carpooling feature is now its main source of growth, and a welcome injection.

Sidecar’s Shared Rides feature is now available in five cities, compared to three for both Lyft and Uber. In the cities where it launched the feature, 40 percent of the rides Sidecar offers are carpool. Uber wouldn’t disclose its percentage of UberPool rides. Lyft told me that as of a few months ago, 30 percent of its rides in San Francisco were Lyft Line, but it declined to share more up-to-date figures or the percentages of other cities.

It’s worth noting that since Lyft does a higher volume of rides than Sidecar, 30 percent of its total is likely far greater in absolute number of rides than 40 percent of Sidecar’s total.

For those who don’t track every change in the transportation industry: This carpooling option is different from these companies’ original “ridesharing” services. Instead of traveling alone with a driver (as with original ridesharing), in carpooling you get matched with another passenger going the same direction, making it cheaper to get across town than if you were traveling solo.

You might be surprised to hear that Sidecar has expanded its carpooling feature more quickly than Uber or Lyft. After all, it’s the company which I have previously referred to as the forgotten stepsister of ridesharing. It’s the smallest, with far less passengers and far less venture capital funding ($35 million) than Uber ($3.3 billion) and Lyft ($332.5 million).

But the company’s smaller size may actually be the reason for its fast carpool expansion. It has been able to focus its resources on the carpooling part of the business, making it a priority above all else. The company raised its latest round, a comparably paltry $15 million, solely on the premise of expanding Shared Rides.

Since introducing Shared Rides, Sidecar’s business has grown in multiples. It had a record week last week, with rides up 60 percent from the average prior weeks, despite the fact that there wasn’t a holiday like New Years or Halloween to propel the growth. The number of rides it offered in Chicago increased 10 times since it launched Shared Rides there in early November.

Contrary to outward appearances, Sidecar was first to market with the carpool feature, giving it a head start on Uber and Lyft. The media narrative around carpooling originally went: Lyft was the creatorUber upstaged Lyft’s big launch with a preemptive release, and Sidecar belatedly chased the pack.

But as this June article shows, Sidecar had actually been doing shared rides months before its competitors — it just hadn’t made much fanfare announcing it. The company claims it started testing Shared Rides in May. It had months of time to hone its operations, and as Uber and Lyft were just launching their SF markets, Sidecar had already tried out its feature with 13,000 passengers.

It has by no means won that war though. Sidecar may have gotten a head start, but its rivals are still far better funded. All it takes is Lyft or Uber placing a priority on carpooling — making it their main raison d’être — for them to take over.

Uber’s first ever Global Head of Safety hints at improvements

Uber riders received an email Wednesday from the company’s new “Head of Global Safety,” Philip Cardenas. Cardenas introduced himself as a new hire whose team is reviewing Uber’s safety practices around the world to implement new technology and better procedures.

The company confirmed to me that although Uber has always had safety teams, Cardenas is the first person in this executive-level role. The company brought him on in September, but this appears to be his debut to the public. I’ve reached out to Uber to verify that.

Uber hired Cardenas away from Airbnb, where he oversaw safety practices for three years. According to his LinkedIn, Cardenas also spent time in the U.S. military, as an intelligence officer in Baghdad for a year in 2009.

In the blog post, Cardenas also previewed a range of safety procedures that Uber is considering. He said the company started a global safety procedure review in November and will be developing new technology and tactics to vet drivers carefully. For an overview on what’s wrong with Uber’s background checks, see our primer.

“We have more work to do, and we will do it,” Cardenas says. “As we look to 2015, we will build new safety programs and intensify others.”

Among the product roadmap he mentioned are “biometric sensors,” “voice verification,” lie detection tests, and a type of panic button for riders. Some will apply to certain countries but not others. For example, a polygraph test would be useful in India, where documents can be forged, but isn’t necessary for the states.

Cardenas didn’t elaborate on what constitutes biometric sensors, although it could be some version of fingerprinting. He didn’t provide more information on voice verification either, but I could see it being used to ensure drivers don’t hand off their Uber phones (and therefore app identification) to other unvetted drivers.

Cardenas’ hire was followed by a few tumultuous weeks where Uber’s background check system came under fire. I’m sure Uber has been keeping him busy.

A woman was allegedly raped by a driver in New Delhi, one who was already out on bail for a rape charge. The incident led Uber to suspend its Delhi operations until it reviewed its driver vetting process. Then, the SF and LA District Attorneys sued Uber for misleading people about the strength of its background checks.

CEO Travis Kalanick recently spoke about the issue with a Wall Street Journal reporter. He admitted that the company could do more to bolster its attempts.

“We can always invest more in safety and make sure we’re bringing way more safety than taxis,” Kalanick told the Wall Street Journal. “I think we’re already there, and the question is how much further can we go?” Cardenas’ hire is an indication that the company is serious about answering that question.

This story was updated as it developed.

Will Change.org’s new funding compromise its mission?

Petition website Change.org has raised a $25 million Series C round in a rather unusual way. Instead of finding institutional investment firms, Change.org’s new funding comes from socially conscious individuals (and a few firms with social investment mandates): Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Evan Williams, Jeff Weiner, Jerry Yang and others. The list is a veritable who’s-who in tech.

Change.org makes money through sponsored recommendations, where petition creators can pay to put their petitions in front of other Change.org users with similar interests.

With the additional capital, Change.org will expand its mobile, political, and global efforts (Yeap, they’re pioneering GoMoPo. Hey, it’s better than AOL’s HoMo). The company plans to make it easier for people to create and sign petitions from their phones, as well as verify politicians and organizations on the app so these entities can converse directly with petitioners. And although Change.org already has employees in twenty countries, it wants to further expand the app’s tools and languages.

But the hefty bundle of new cash raises some questions for the company. Will Change.org’s humanitarian mission — “to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see” — be compromised by its investors’ need for an exit?

Not surprisingly, Change.org COO Jen Dulski says no way. She had a few solid points to back herself up. The investors joining Change.org’s round have agreed to an unusual exit route. Down the line, the company can choose to return their money via private secondary equity offering or stock repurchasing, instead of an acquisition or IPO. That’s one big benefit to raising funding from socially conscious investors who are putting in their own cash, instead of a VC firm with LPs who need a big return.

Secondly, Dulski pointed out that Change.org is a certified benefit corporation. There’s no legal requirement to go along with that, but in order to keep its benefit corp status Change.org needs to apply to renew it every year. “The process is very rigorous,” Dulski says. “It makes sure you treat your staff in a certain way, you take care of the environment, that you’re transparent.” Change.org is also in the process of legally incorporating as a benefit corporation, which will add even more onerous standards to live by.