Juno, a months-old, New York-based ride-sharing service that is planning to take on Uber, is talking with investors about a $30 million round of funding, according to several sources, one of whom said of the valuation that Juno seeking, “it’s high.”
Asked to confirm, the company’s cofounder and CEO Talmon Marco said last night via email, “I’m gonna stick to my long tradition of not commenting on matters related to financing. Sorry.” (Here, he inserted a smiley face for good measure.)
If Juno gets a high valuation despite more turbulent times for startups right now, it won’t surprise. Marco sold his last company, the messaging app Viber, for $900 million to the Japanese internet giant Rakuten. Marco also cofounded and long ran iMesh, one of the earliest P2P networks.
Marco seemingly has plenty of drivers willing to join his new platform. According to one source, the company — which targets Uber and Lyft drivers who have a rating of at least 4.7 out of 5 stars on either platform — Juno already has a waitlist of drivers that’s six months long.
That’s likely owing to numerous deal sweeteners that Juno is offering them, including, most significantly, equity in the company. Indeed, the company has said it’s saving half its founding shares for drivers, equity that will be diluted alongside those of Juno’s four founders as investors back the company. (The other three founders, Igor Magazinnik, Sani Maroli and Ofer Smocha, cofounded Viber with Marco.)
Juno also says it will take a 10 percent cut from each ride, compared with Uber, which takes 20 percent on average. It will have 24-hour support for its drivers. And drivers will be allowed to block riders with whom they’ve had a bad experience.
In a recent interview, Marco acknowledged that “Juno will have multiple features not found in Uber,” but he said that ” to me this is not the key thing. To me what matters the most is the fact that at the heart of Juno is a belief that it’s time for a ride-sharing service that treated drivers right. It’s time for an ethical, socially responsible ride-sharing service. And that’s what we are doing.
“It’s the overall attitude towards drivers,” he added. “It’s the respect and transparency in the way the company deals with its drivers, who are also owners.”
The company, which has been operating in so-called stealth mode in New York, has not specified an official launch date yet, but Marco said that “we are slowly warming up the engine, no pun intended.”
Up to now, Marco has been very quiet about how Juno has been financing its operations. When we asked Marco about this a few weeks ago, he said only that the money has come from “us, friends, investors.”
We also asked why he thought it still possible to compete against Uber, which not only has a lot of scale at this point across over 400 markets, but also many billions of dollars in funding.
“When you have something good, something right, you can rely on viral distribution, on word of mouth,” said Marco. “Other companies pay tens of millions, even hundreds of millions [of dollars], in referral fees to drivers so they’ll bring their friends. So far our referral fees paid [are] a very round number: Zero dollars.”
More, he continued, “What are [Uber’s] drivers going to get when these services go public? Zero. What are drivers going to get when self-driving cars come? They get ‘deactivated.'” As a Juno shareholder, Marco said, “The driver gets to own a piece of each and every car out there.”