Juno's first birthday cake.
Juno, a ride-hailing upstart in New York City, promised to be a savior for drivers. While Uber and Lyft employ drivers as independent contractors, Juno said it would give drivers the option of being full-time employees, and it doled out promises of equity. “Can this ride-sharing start-up kill Uber with kindness?” Vanity Fair asked. “You get to take more money home and put food on the table with Juno,” Talmon Marco, Juno’s chief executive, told BuzzFeed News in July.
On Wednesday, Juno was acquired by Gett, another ride-hailing company based in New York, for $200 million. And now, it’s terminating the stock program that the company had said “gives you, the driver, an opportunity to become a Juno shareholder and benefit from the company’s future potential success if it goes public or is sold.”
“We helped them build the startup and they cashed the money and ran away,” said Ahmed Hashem, who drives for Juno, Uber, and Lyft in New York. “They’re all the same – Uber, Lyft, Juno, Gett. We are slaves.”
Spokespeople for Juno and Gett did not return a request to make Talmon available for an interview, and they didn't comment in response to drivers' complaints.
Drivers who sign up to drive for the new service – Juno by Gett – will instead be offered cash bonuses based on how much they’ve driven. In July, Talmon told BuzzFeed, “The plan is definitely to take the company public when it makes sense so our drivers can actually get something out of these [shares].”
Juno launched in NYC in beta mode last year and said it reached 1 million rides in August. To gain riders in a market saturated with taxis, Uber and Lyft, it appealed to the hearts of drivers by pledging to be “socially responsible” – a move that capitalized on Uber’s poor reputation among drivers. Drivers who referred new riders to the app – for example, by telling their Uber riders about Juno – received bonuses. Now, those same drivers told BuzzFeed they feel used by the company.
Hashem received an email from Juno on Wednesday about the sale to Gett. The company told him his 14,173 RSUs would instead amount to a cash bonus of $251.
“I’m going to still continue working for them, but I’m not going to give them all my time. I have Uber, I have Juno, I have Lyft,” Hashem said. “They cheated us.”
“Given the actions of driving apps to date, it comes as little surprise that Juno is cashing out, leaving the drivers who helped build the company with next to nothing. This latest bait-and-switch underscores the need for industry-wide protections to ensure a living wage for drivers in the face of deceptive tactics, empty promises, and manipulation from ride-hail apps,” said Ryan Price, executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents and advocates for 50,000 ride-hail drivers in NYC.
Regardless of the sale to Gett, Juno said in the email to drivers that its stock program had faced scrutiny from a securities regulator. Juno had already been considering whether the previously granted shares to drivers were “void.” Asked to comment further on the regulatory issues raised by the Securities and Exchange Commission, a spokesperson for Juno did not return a request for comment. The SEC did not immediately return a request for comment.