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“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.
The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.
“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”
After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.
Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.
“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”
It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .
Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.
Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.
While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.
The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.
It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.
In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”
For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.
To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.
Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.
Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.
“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”
While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.
“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.
Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.
Away from the political drama of the TikTok deal, Walmart has been taking steps that are already changing the company and, by extension, the broader retail sector.
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While government statistics say inflation is low, the reality is that the cost of living has risen during the pandemic, especially for poorer Americans.
Several new companies and models have emerged to help restaurants by making food off-site, and even delivering it.
The agency said it had issued a certificate clearing the way for the company to use drones to fly packages to its customers’ doorsteps.
Modeled after food delivery services in Seoul, a tiny Koreatown business keeps neighborhood restaurants running through the pandemic.
Mr. Wilke, who has been a key lieutenant to Jeff Bezos, is departing after building the e-commerce business for two decades.
Policy changes by the postmaster general prompted allegations that the Trump administration was trying to disenfranchise voters before the 2020 election.
Uber said revenue fell 29 percent in the second quarter because people traveled less, but food deliveries soared.
Tim Bray was a celebrated engineer at Amazon. Now, he is its most high-profile defector.
“I’m going to die here, I don’t want to keep trying,” recalled Nathalia Bruno, a food deliverer in New Jersey. “But then I saw a flash of light.”
The ride-hailing company’s core business has struggled in the pandemic, and it is betting on growth of its Uber Eats division.
The ride-hailing company has been trying to expand its food-delivery business to compensate for the collapse of its main business.
A Virginia school district, determined not to let a pandemic keep students from their summer reading, is delivering books to students via the drone company run by Alphabet.
The Dutch food delivery company beat out Uber to buy Grubhub, whose chief executive will oversee operations in North America.
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Amazon, which has been under fire on worker safety, invited us into one facility to show its response.
While the apps say they are saving them in the pandemic, many restaurateurs say the opposite.
Without chefs to sell to, farmers, fishmongers and wholesalers are making house calls. And the change may be here to stay.
Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing digital-sales in emerging markets.
Retailers can plug into the company’s e-commerce platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.
With the investment one of the world’s largest delivery services looks to build a broader client-base globally using a business built in Africa.
Folayan originally founded MallforAfrica, which paved the way for Link Commerce. DHL’s investment in the company — the amount of which is undisclosed — has roots in collaboration with Folayan’s original startup.
MallforAfrica began a partnership with DHL in 2015 and launched DHL Africa eShop in 2019. The sales platform is powered by Link Commerce and has brought more than 200 U.S. and U.K. sellers — from Neiman Marcus to Carters — online to African consumers in 34 countries.
Similar to MallforAfrica’s model, Africa eShop allows users to purchase goods directly from the websites of any of the app’s partners.
For the global retailers selling on Africa eShop, the hurdles that held back distribution on the continent — payments, currency risk, logistics — are handled by the underlying Link Commerce operating platform.
“That’s what our service does. It takes care of that whole ecosystem to enable global e-commerce to exist, no matter what country you’re in,” Folayan told TechCrunch in 2019.
Link Commerce was built out of Folayan’s startup MallforAfrica.com, which he founded in 2011 after studying and working in the U.S.
A common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home — highlighted a gap between supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets.
With MallforAfrica Folayan aimed to close that gap by allowing people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.
The e-commerce site went on to onboard over 250 global retailers and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the UK.
MallforAfrica’s Africa eShop expansion put it on a footing to compete with Pan African e-commerce leader Jumia — which went public on the NYSE in 2019 — and China’s Alibaba, anticipated to enter online retail on the continent at some point.
The Link Commerce, DHL deal won’t change that, but Folayan has shifted the hirearchy of his businesses to make Link Commerce the lead operation and Africa one market of many.
“We changed the structure. So now Link Commerce is above MallforAfrica and MallforAfrica is now powered by Link Commerce,” Folayan explained on a recent call.
“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” he added.
Folayan and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world, where other companies may look to grow by wrapping an online store, payments, and logistics solution around their core business.
That could include any large entity that wants to launch an international e-commerce site, according to Folayan.
“Link Commerce is focused on banks, mobile companies, shipping companies and partnering with them to expand globally,” he said.
That’s a big leap from Folayan’s original venture, MallforAfrica.com
What began as a startup to sell brand name jeans and sneakers online in Africa, has pivoted to a global e-commerce fulfillment business partially owned by logistics giant DHL.
After losing some online shoppers to rivals during the pandemic, the retail giant is turning back to faster shipping times and big sales.
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The protests at Amazon and elsewhere over working conditions and low pay have been small, but they aren’t inconsequential.
The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on whether you’re helping more people by having goods delivered or by going to the store yourself — and more.
Forced to shutter Prune, I’ve been revisiting my original dreams for it — and wondering if there will still be a place for it in the New York of the future.
Amazon no longer gets us everything we need and quickly. Will this affect our shopping habits for good?
Children who can’t touch their parents, a single mother making do, seniors worried about the virus: What’s behind the doors as two Salvation Army officers make their rounds.
The ride-hailing competitors started the year with optimism. Now, like most other companies, they’re trying to survive the cratering economy.
Sometimes products are in stock. Sometimes they aren’t. And delivery times vary widely. A virus-fueled surge in orders has created chaos behind the scenes, and confusion for customers.
I’ve been infected with the novel coronavirus for at least three weeks.
It started with my partner coughing and feeling very tired. A couple of days later, I started showing the same symptoms.
As a medical professional, he was required to get tested and I followed suit within days. We both tested positive and have been recovering at home since.
The symptoms have been up and down over the past two weeks. After the first few days, the mild cough gave way to an unrelenting one and the feeling of being tired gave way to being completely drained at all hours. My partner completely lost his sense of smell.
A week into having COVID-19, we thought we’d turned a corner, only for more symptoms to manifest. The virus had made its way to my GI tract, adding nausea and an inability to keep my head up without throwing up. Today, two weeks after the first bouts of coughing, we both feel significantly better, but continue to self-isolate as instructed.
Luckily for both of us, we have now been symptom-free for 72 hours, and the symptoms we did have were relatively mild throughout. The experience of getting tested — mandated for my partner to be able to go back to working at the hospital — could not have been easier. I showed up at the hospital and was greeted by a doctor and two nurses. They took a sample and advised me on how best to self-isolate for the next few weeks. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes, and it was only 24 hours later that I got the call confirming that I had tested positive.
My employer has been supportive throughout. They’ve connected me to support services, offered a number of leave options if I were to take time off to deal with the virus, constantly checked in on my prognosis and even sent a work-from-home toolkit complete with a giant monitor, keyboard and mouse. Throughout the self-isolation period, I have been able to work from home — a relatively seamless transition given that my job has long enabled me to work from home when needed. If I needed further healthcare, I can count on the many telehealth options available through my insurance.
What all this cemented is how incredibly fortunate I am, unlike the millions of Americans now losing their jobs. While others have been unable to get tested, my entire testing experience was painless. I have the luxury of being able to work from home. I’m quarantined with my partner and my puppy, so I haven’t gotten lonely. Because I’m still getting my paycheck, I don’t have to worry about making the next rent payment. I’m able to have grocery and takeout deliveries left at my doorstep. If I were to take a turn for the worse, a major hospital is just down the street.
This epidemic has laid bare the incredible differences in privilege within our society, including within tech. Long celebrated as representing the future of work, today thousands of gig workers have lost their main source of income, with no paycheck to count on and no option to work from home. Others, from delivery to warehouse workers, have no choice but to work, even at increased risk of contracting the disease themselves. Thousands in the Bay Area who live alone now risk being completely socially isolated as we continue to be on lockdown, while others with kids and large families now worry about taking care of their children while also working full-time jobs.
Not to mention that the homeless of our cities have no way to self-isolate even if they wanted to. Crowded homeless shelters — to the extent they were available — are no longer an option.
This is a moment where all of us in tech have to come together to help even the scales. Thousands of tech workers are already donating their time and resources, but more can be done:
- Now is the time to max out our employee match programs to make every dollar we give count more.
- Donations are needed by Frontline Foods, an effort that started in the Bay Area to provide front-line workers with food and is now scaling globally. More generally food banks are seeing an exponential rise in the demand for their services, with Second Harvest being one to flag in the Bay Area.
- If you know a co-worker with kids, offer to babysit over video for an hour or two. This can be as simple as playing a game on Houseparty together if they’re 12 or older, or helping them with a lesson their parents have found particularly hard to get through.
- A lot of us are anxious about getting the virus, so you can only imagine how the elderly and those with underlying health conditions feel. Give your grandparent a call, or donate your time and resources to organizations like Meals on Wheels to make sure they’re getting the nutrition they need to get through this.
- Many local businesses may close because of the pandemic. Support them by ordering takeout and other delivery services. If you prefer to donate directly, many cities have created funds to provide relief to impacted small businesses, like the Silicon Valley Strong Fund in San Jose.
For the foreseeable future, my only visits to the outside world will be — with mask and gloves on — to walk my dog around the corner. I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on how lucky I am, and the privilege guilt will follow. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Let’s channel our guilt into something good.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of his employer.
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