Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Zach Frenkel), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

This article was updated post-publication to reflect accurate investor information

#andreessen-horowitz, #baillie-gifford, #better-mortgage, #better-com, #brazil, #co-founder, #d1-capital-partners, #david-velez, #dst, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #instacart, #instagram, #joe-lonsdale, #latin-america, #loft, #max-levchin, #mike-krieger, #money, #new-york, #nubank, #palantir, #paypal, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zillow

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Tech in the Post-Pandemic World

Assessing its future, both the bad and the good.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #doordash-mobile-app, #e-commerce, #google-inc, #innovation, #instacart, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #rna-ribonucleic-acid, #shopping-and-retail, #vaccination-and-immunization

0

Altman brothers lead B2B payment startup Routable’s $30M Series B

We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in a number of areas, particularly in the financial services space. Within financial services, there are few spaces hotter than B2B payments.

With a $120 trillion market size, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of fintechs focused on digitizing payments have been attracting investor interest. The latest is Routable, which has nabbed $30 million in a Series B raise that included participation from a slew of high-profile angel investors.

Unlike most raises, Routable didn’t raise the capital from a bunch of VC firms. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator, and Jack Altman, CEO of Lattice, led the round. (The pair are brothers, in case you didn’t know.)

SoftBank-backed unicorn Flexport also participated, along with a number of angel investors, including Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff (who also started TIME Ventures),  DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, early Stripe employee turned angel Lachy Groom and Behance founder Scott Belsky.

The Series B comes just over eight months after Routable came out of stealth with a $12 million Series A.

CEO Omri Mor and CTO Tom Harel founded Routable in 2017 after previously working at marketplaces and recognizing the need for better internal tools for scaling business payments. They went through a Y Combinator batch and embarked on a process of interviewing hundreds of CFOs and finance leaders.

The pair found that the majority of the business payment tools that were out there were built for large companies with a low volume of business payments. 

After running enough customer development we identified a huge scramble to solve high-volume business payments, and that’s what we double down on,” Mor told TechCrunch. 

Routable’s mission is simple: to automate bill payment and invoicing processes (also known as accounts payables and accounts receivables), so that businesses can focus on scaling their core product offerings without worrying about payments.

“A business payment is more like moving a bill through Congress, where a consumer payment is more like a tweet,” Mor said. “We automate every step from purchase order to reconciliation and by extending an API, companies don’t have to build their own inner integration. We handle it, while helping them move their money faster.”

Since its August 2020 raise, Routable has seen its revenue grow by 380%, according to Mor. And last month alone, the company tripled its amount of new customers compared to the month prior. Customers include Snackpass, Ticketmaster and Re-Max, among others.

“We’ve been beating every quarter expectation for the past 18 months,” he told TechCrunch.

The company started out focused on the startup and SMB customer, but based on demand and feedback, is expanding into the enterprise space as well.

It has established integrations with QuickBooks, NetSuite and Xero and is looking to invest moving forward in integrating with Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics Workday and SAP. 

“A lot of our investment moving forward is to be able to bring that same level of automation and ease of use that we do for SMB and mid-market customers to the enterprise world,” Mor told TechCrunch.

Lead investor Sam Altman is in favor of that approach, noting that the recent booms in the gig and creator economies are leading to a big spike in the volume of both payments and payees.

“With the addition of enterprise capabilities, we think this can lead to an enormous business,” he said. 

The round brings Routable’s total raised to $46 million. The company has headquarters in San Francisco and Seattle with primarily a remote team. 

Sam Altman also told me that he was drawn to Routable after having experienced the pain of high-volume business payments himself and working with many startup founders who had experienced the same problem.

He was also impressed with the company’s engineering-forward approach.

“They can offer the best service by being embedded in a company’s flow of funds instead of the usual approach of just being an interface for moving money,” Altman said. 

With regard to the other investors, Mor said the decision to partner with founders of a number of prominent tech companies was intentional so that Routable could benefit from their “deep enterprise and high-growth experience.”

As mentioned above, the B2B payments space is white-hot. Earlier this year, Melio, which provides a platform for SMBs to pay other companies electronically using bank transfers, debit cards or credit — along with the option of cutting paper checks for recipients if that is what the recipients request — closed on $110 million in funding at a $1.3 billion valuation.

#aaron-levie, #airbnb, #altman, #b2b, #behance, #doordash, #finance, #financial-services, #flexport, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gokul-rajaram, #instacart, #jack-altman, #joe-gebbia, #lachy-groom, #lattice, #marc-benioff, #netsuite, #open-ai, #oracle, #payments, #president, #recent-funding, #routable, #salesforce, #sam-altman, #san-francisco, #scott-belsky, #seattle, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

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Grocery startup Mercato spilled years of data, but didn’t tell its customers

A security lapse at online grocery delivery startup Mercato exposed tens of thousands of customer orders, TechCrunch has learned.

A person with knowledge of the incident told TechCrunch that the incident happened in January after one of the company’s cloud storage buckets, hosted on Amazon’s cloud, was left open and unprotected.

The company fixed the data spill, but has not yet alerted its customers.

Mercato was founded in 2015 and helps over a thousand smaller grocers and specialty food stores get online for pickup or delivery, without having to sign up for delivery services like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. Mercato operates in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, where the company is headquartered.

TechCrunch obtained a copy of the exposed data and verified a portion of the records by matching names and addresses against known existing accounts and public records. The data set contained more than 70,000 orders dating between September 2015 and November 2019, and included customer names and email addresses, home addresses, and order details. Each record also had the user’s IP address of the device they used to place the order.

The data set also included the personal data and order details of company executives.

It’s not clear how the security lapse happened since storage buckets on Amazon’s cloud are private by default, or when the company learned of the exposure.

Companies are required to disclose data breaches or security lapses to state attorneys-general, but no notices have been published where they are required by law, such as California. The data set had more than 1,800 residents in California, more than three times the number needed to trigger mandatory disclosure under the state’s data breach notification laws.

It’s also not known if Mercato disclosed the incident to investors ahead of its $26 million Series A raise earlier this month. Velvet Sea Ventures, which led the round, did not respond to emails requesting comment.

In a statement, Mercato chief executive Bobby Brannigan confirmed the incident but declined to answer our questions, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We are conducting a complete audit using a third party and will be contacting the individuals who have been affected. We are confident that no credit card data was accessed because we do not store those details on our servers. We will continually inform all authoritative bodies and stakeholders, including investors, regarding the findings of our audit and any steps needed to remedy this situation,” said Brannigan.


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#amazon, #boston, #california, #chicago, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #data-security, #ecommerce, #food, #instacart, #los-angeles, #mercato, #new-york, #security, #technology, #united-states, #velvet-sea-ventures

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Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

0

The Station: Another Uber spinout is born and EVs dominate SPACs

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Our transportation desk is taking shape. Two new reporters, Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan started Monday and have already provided some new and interesting coverage. Tamara Warren, a former editor at the Verge who has been writing about automotive and tech for two decades, reviewed the Aston Martin DBX. This week, Abigail Basset, a World Car Juror former CNN producer who writes about cars, tech, business — pretty much everything — break down the new VW ID. 4.

We’re just getting started. Vamos.

Please help welcome them and follow them on Twitter and maybe even drop them a DM. You can find them @RebeccaBellan and Aria over @breadfrom.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Scooter clutter has prompted a number of entrepreneurs to start companies, all aiming to solve the problem. Tortoise has its repositioning software, companies like Swiftmile offer docking stations that also charge scooters.

But what about a solution that works across brands? Paris aims to find out.

The city is testing universal charging infrastructure for electric scooters in a pilot project that will kick off in the second quarter of this year. DUCKT, which was awarded the pilot, will install 150 dock and charge points that can be plugged into bus stations and street lighting to provide the power source.

DUCKT was one of 15 companies that were named Urban Innovation District winners. Each winner is testing a different urban project in the 13th arrondissement. The competition, which is run by Paris & Co.’s urban innovation lab, includes pilots focused on food waste, rainwater collection, revegetation and waterproofing as well as several mobility projects. Ezymob will test a mobile app that helps visually impaired people navigate public transit, Mobilypod is launching a subscription-based cargo bike service and bike shelters and the LaCroix Lab is piloting 4SafeMobilities, a system designed to streamline traffic at intersections and pedestrian crossings.


Meanwhile, Porsche is taking its electrification ambitions to two wheels. The German automaker unveiled this week two electric bikes alongside the global debut of the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo, the latest variant to its EV flagship. These bikes cost between $8,000 and more than $10,000 — prices one might expect from the luxury performance brand.

Deal of the week

money the station

Forget the “deal of the week.” How about we take a stroll down memory lane and look at all the deals of 2020? CB Insights, released March 3 its State of Mobility report that looks at 2020 investment data and trends surrounding all things transportation.

The upshot: The COVID-19 pandemic did help push total funding down 5% year-over-year to $27.19 billion, although CB Insights saw recovery in the second half of the year. There were 522 deals, a 21% drop from the previous year.

Total funding only tells part of the story though. If 2020 will be known for anything — aside from the whole global pandemic thing — it’ll be for the incredible number of SPAC deals across auto and mobility. There were 107 exits last year with 22 of them from startups going public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition, or “blank check” company. Having trouble gauging if that’s a big deal? Here’s some help: there were five auto and mobility SPACs between 2015 and 2019. Five. Electric vehicle companies and those with technology that supports EVs made up 68% of those SPAC deals in 2020.

The SPAC spree isn’t stopping either with Joby Aviation, Hellbiz and Otonomo are just a few that have reached merger agreements and will go public in 2021.

Electric vehicle tech and autonomous vehicle tech both reached peaks in 2020. EV tech companies raised $12.8 billion across 193 deals, while AVs brought in $7.3 billion across 105 deals, according to CB Insights. It’s worth noting that the AV industry appears to be maturing — at least in a funding perspective — with the average deal size rising 16.8% from the previous year to $104 million.

Connected car tech and auto commerce both saw dips in funding last year. For the second straight year, connected car tech saw a drop in funding and total number of deals. Funding plummeted 52% to $1 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year. CB Insights said the drop is because connectivity solutions have been widely adopted and investors have shifted their attention and money to other areas of auto tech such as electrification and autonomy.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, bike and scooter companies saw funding rise 52% year-over-year to $2.4 billion in 2020. That’s still below funding seen in those heady days of 2017 and 2018 when scooters won over the hearts and minds of investors. Scooter and bike companies raked in $3.2 billion in 2017 and $4.9 billion in 2018.

And finally, funding to shared mobility companies (MaaS) fell 20% in 2020 to $6.3 billion across 116 deals.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aero, a startup backed by Garrett Camp’s startup studio Expa, raised $20 million in Series A funding round led by Keyframe Capital, with Keyframe’s chief investment officer John Rapaport joining the Aero board. Cyrus Capital Partners and Expa also participated.

Boom Supersonic, the aerospace startup building supersonic jets, landed a strategic investment from American Express Ventures. The funds will be used for the development of the company’s flagship product, the supersonic airliner Overture.

Fluid Truck,  a Denver-based app-based platform that lets users make short-term rentals of commercial vehicles, raised $63 million in a Series A funding round. The truck sharing platform is aimed at mid-mile and last-mile delivery companies, which use it to remotely manage an on-demand rental fleet via web or mobile app. Private equity firm Bison Capital led the round, with participation from Ingka Investments (part of Ingka Group, the main Ikea retailer), Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and Fluid Vehicle Owners.

Instacart, the n-demand grocery delivery platform, raised $265 million in funding from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners and others. The new funding pushed the company’s valuation to $39 billion — more than double its $17.7 billion valuation when it raised $200 million just six months ago.

As TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington writes: What’s behind the massive increase in the value investors are willing to ascribe to the business? Put simply, the pandemic. Last year, Instacart announced three separate raises, including a $225 million round in June, followed by a $100 million round in July. The rapid sequence of venture capital injections were likely designed to fuel growth as demand for grocery delivery services surged while people attempted to quarantine or generally spend less time frequenting high-traffic social environments like grocery stores.

Loggi Tecnologia, the Brazilian delivery company backed by SoftBank and Microsoft Corp., raised 1.15 billion reais ($205 million) in a round led by CapSur Capital, Bloomberg reported. The company is now valued close to $2 billion.

Rollick, the online powersports, RV and boat buying marketplace, raised $8.5 million in a funding round that included investors Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, TechNexus Venture Collaborative, Dallas Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures, and London Technology Club. Existing investors LiveOak Venture Partners, Silverton Partners, Autotech Ventures, ManchesterStory, Anthem Venture Partners and Capital Factory also participated.

Volocopter, a startup out of southern Germany that has been building and testing electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, raised €200 million (about $241 million) in a Series D round of funding. New investors include funds managed by BlackRock, global infrastructure company Atlantia SpA., Avala Capital; Tier 1 supplier Continental AG, Japan’s NTT via its venture capital arm, Tokyo Century and multiple family offices.. Volocopter also said that all of its existing investors — a list that includes Geely, Daimler, DB Schenker, Intel Capital, btov Partners, Team Europe and Klocke Holding and more — also contributed to the round.

Alongside its aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas. CEO Florian Reuter told TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden that live services are now two years out for the two vehicle models it has been developing.

Policy salmagundi

the station electric vehicles1

Policy: it’s what for dinner.

I’m trying out a new, semi-regular section in the newsletter that will cover notable legislative activity around electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, public transit and personal mobility.

This week, let’s head on over to California, where State Sen. Dave Min introduced a bill that would require all autonomous vehicles to also be zero emission by 2025. The bill was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group says it doesn’t want to see future means of transportation married to the technology of the past. Proponents point out the potential for AVs to either help or hurt attempts to cut emissions.

While the amendment is in line with the state’s goals to reduce emissions, it also adds a wrinkle to the plans of any AV developer that doesn’t currently use electric vehicles. Cruise and Zoox, for instance, only use electric vehicles. AV giant Waymo and numerous others use a mix of vehicles, notably the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

As Rebecca Bellan notes in her article, this proposed bill is in its infancy stages, so there are plenty of opportunities for it to be quashed.

The responses from the industry offered up the kind of political neutrality that aims to placate everyone. My interpretation of the various comments and statements — both on record and more informal on background chatter — is that work will soon begin to modify the language of the proposed bill to be more accommodating to the industry while hanging onto its original intent. That might mean pushing the deadline, adding hybrids and creating an exception for long-haul trucks.


Meanwhile, over in the land of passenger electric vehicles, work is underway to pass laws that would allow direct sales in at least eight states. Passage of such legislation would clear the way for EV giants like Tesla, along with newcomers Lucid and Rivian, which have yet to bring a vehicle to market, to sell directly to consumers.

Tesla, Rivian and other EV entrants are working together to pass these laws. Industry alliances are not unheard of on issues in which all the parties stand to benefit. Tesla’s cooperation is notable because it would end its monopoly on direct sales in some states.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Here are a few other stories that are worth sharing.

Aston Martin CEO Tobias Moers’ interview with Automotive News Europe is a complementary side dish to Tamara Warren’s review of the DBX.

Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, has officially spun out as an independent company called Serve Robotics. (Y’all might recall I previously reported that a deal was being shopped to investors.)

Serve Robotics raised seed funding in a round led by venture capital firm Neo. Other investors included Uber as well as Lee Jacobs and Cyan Banister’s Long Journey Ventures, Western Technology Investment, Scott Banister, Farhad Mohit and Postmates co-founders Bastian Lehmann and Sean Plaice.

Tesla is closing its forums and launching a new social media platform called the Tesla Engagement Platform. The move has raised the ire of a community of its most ardent supporters.

Tortoise landed another deal, this time with Albertsons Companies, the grocery giant that owns Safeway and Jewel-Osco. Albertson said it has launched a pilot program that will test grocery delivery using remote-controlled delivery robots developed Tortoise. The pilot will start at two Safeway locations in Northern California, although Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko said if successful, he expects the pilot to continue to scale to other stores in the state and possibly throughout the West Coast.

Toyota Motor said it plans to sell 500 billion yen ($4.7 billion) in “Woven Planet Bonds” to fund a variety of renewable energy and transportation projects, including  assisted mobility vehicles, and increased use of 

Volkswagen said it plans to launch an electric sedan in 2026. The company said that the vehicle, dubbed Project Trinity, will set “new standards” with its charging speed, battery range, and in other technology, Car and Driver reported.

Volvo Cars said it will only make and sell all-electric vehicles by 2030 as part of a broader transformation of the automaker that will include shifting sales online. The announcement was tied to the launch of the C40 Recharge, a low-slung crossover based on the company’s CMA vehicle platform.

#aston-martin, #automotive, #electric-cars, #instacart, #postmates, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #volocopter, #volvo

0

SoftBank makes mountains of cash off of human laziness

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was yet another crazy week, but did our best to get through as much of it as we could. Here’s the rundown, in case you are reading along with us!

  • Square is buying Tidal in a deal that some are skeptical of, but one about which we found quite a lot to like.
  • How capital-as-a-service can get you your first check in 2021, and a nod to Indie.VC, a pioneer in alternative financing for startups that announced it is shutting down net new investments this year.
  • Oscar Health priced its IPO above its raised range, which was good for it in terms of fundraising. However, since its debut the company has lost pricing altitude. Its declines mimic those of other public neo-insurance proivders in what could be a new trend.
  • And sticking to the insurtech beat, Hippo is going public via a SPAC. Because everyone else is?
  • Compass filed its S-1, which triggered a debate on how its different than OpenDoor.
  • Coupang’s IPO is also coming, replete with huge growth, an improving profitability picture, and a massive valuation. This is one to watch.
  • There was also a whole global news circuit around grocery delivery startups, with Instacart raising at a $39 billion valuation.
  • And we wrapped with the Surreal seed round that we found to be more than a little spicy. As it turns out, commercialized deepfakes are not merely on the way; they are here.

And with that we are back on Monday. Have a rocking weekend!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#clearbanc, #compass, #coupang, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #hippo, #indie-vc, #instacart, #insurtech, #opendoor, #oscar, #oscar-health, #square, #startups, #surreal, #tidal

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Instacart raises $265M at a $39B valuation

On-demand grocery delivery platform Instacart has raises a $265 million funding ground from existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners and others. The new funding, which, like its past few rounds, isn’t assigned a Series alphabetical designation, pushes the company’s valuation to $39 billion – more than double its $17.7 billion valuation when it raised is last financing, a $200 million venture round in October 2020.

What’s behind the massive increase in the value investors are willing to ascribe to the business? Put simply, the pandemic. Last year, Instacart announced three separate raises, including a $225 round in June, followed by a $100 million round in July. The rapid sequence of venture capital injections were likely designed to fuel growth as demand for grocery delivery services surged while people attempted to quarantine or generally spend less time frequenting high-traffic social environments like grocery stores.

In a blog post announcing the news, Instacart doesn’t put specifics on the growth rates of usage over the course of 2020, but it does express its intent to grow headcount by 50% in 2021, and continue to scale and invest in its advertising, marketing and enterprise efforts specifically in a quote.

On the product side, Instacart broadened its offerings from groceries to also include same-day delivery of a wide range of products, including prescription medicine, electronics, home decor, sport and exercise equipment and more. It’s capitalizing on the phenomenon of increased consumer spending during the pandemic, which is a reverse from what many anticipated given the impact the ongoing crisis has had on employment.

Instacart Chief Financial Officer Nick Giovanni said in a quote that the company expects this to be “a new normal” for shopping habits, and the size and pace of the company’s recent funding, as well as its ballooning valuation, seem to suggest its investors also don’t think this is a trend that will revert post-pandemic.

#andreessen-horowitz, #chief-financial-officer, #d1-capital-partners, #electronics, #finance, #funding, #fundraising, #instacart, #investment, #money, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #valuation, #venture-capital

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Walmart drops the $35 order minimum on its 2-hour ‘Express’ delivery service

In a move designed to directly challenge Amazon, Walmart today announced it’s dropping the $35 minimum order requirement for its two-hour “Express” delivery service, a competitor to Amazon’s “Prime Now.”  With Walmart Express Delivery, customers can order from Walmart’s food, consumables or general merchandise assortment, then pay a flat $10 fee to have the items arrive in two hours or less.

The service is useful for more urgent delivery needs — like diapers or a missing ingredient for a recipe, SVP of Customer Product, Tom Ward, noted in an announcement. They’re not meant to sub in for larger shopping trips, however — Express orders are capped at 65 items.

Today, Express Delivery is available in nearly 3,000 Walmart stores reaching 70% of the U.S. population, Walmart says. It builds on top of stores’ existing inventory of pickup and delivery time slots as a third option, instead of giving slots away to those with the ability to pay higher fees.

Like Walmart’s grocery and pickup orders, Express orders are shopped and packaged for delivery by Walmart’s team of 170,000 personal shoppers and items are priced the same as they are in-store. This offers Walmart a potential competitive advantage against grocery delivery services like Instacart or Shipt, for example, where products can be priced higher and hurried or inexperienced shoppers aren’t always able to find items or search the back, having to mark them as “out of stock.”

In theory, Walmart employees will have a better understanding of their own store’s inventory and layout, making these kind of issues less common. It will also have direct access to the order data, which will help it better understand what sells, what replacements customers will accept for out-of-stocks, when to staff for busy times, and more.

In addition to grocery delivery, Express Delivery competes with Amazon’s Prime Now, a service that similarly offers a combination of grocery and other daily essentials and merchandise. Currently, Prime Now’s 2-hour service has a minimum order requirement of $35 without any additional fees in many cases — though the Prime Now app explains that some of its local store partners will charge fees even when that minimum is met, and others may have higher order minimums, which makes the service confusing to consumers.

Walmart’s news comes at a time when Amazon appears to be trying to push consumers away from the Prime Now standalone app, too.

When you open the Prime Now app, a large pop-up message informs you that you can now shop Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh from inside the Amazon app. A button labeled “Make the switch” will then redirect you. Meanwhile, on Amazon’s website touting Prime’s delivery perks, the “Prime Now” brand name isn’t mentioned at all. Instead, Amazon touts free same-day (5 hour) delivery of best sellers and everyday essentials on orders with a $35 minimum purchase, or free 2-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods and Fresh.

When asked why Amazon is pushing Prime Now shoppers to its main app, Amazon downplayed this as simply an ongoing effort to “educate” consumers about the option.

Walmart, on the other hand, last year merged its separate delivery apps into one.

After items are picked, Walmart works with a network of partners, including DoorDash, Postmates, Roadie, and Pickup Point, as well as its in-house delivery services, to get orders to customers’ doorsteps. This last-mile portion has become an key area of investment for Walmart and competitors in recent months — Walmart, for example, acquired assets from a peer-to-peer delivery startup JoyRun in November. And before that, a former Walmart delivery partner, Deliv, sold to Target.

This is not the first time Walmart has dropped order minimums in an attempt to better compete with Amazon and others.

In December, Walmart announced its Prime alternative known as Walmart+ would remove the $35 minimum on non-same day Walmart.com orders. But it had stopped short of extending that perk to same-day grocery until now.

To some extent, Walmart’s ability to drop minimums has to do with the logistics of its delivery operations. Walmart has been turning more its stores into fulfillment centers, by converting some into small, automated warehouses in partnership with technology providers and robotics companies, including Alert Innovation, Dematic and Fabric.

And because its stores are physically located closer to customers than Amazon warehouses, it has the ability to deliver a broad merchandise selection, faster, while also turning large parking lots into picking stations — another thing that could worry Amazon, which is now buying up closed mall stores for its own fulfillment operations. 

Walmart today still carries a $35 minimum on other pickup and delivery orders and same-day orders from Walmart+ subscribers.

#amazon, #ecommerce, #food, #grocery-store, #instacart, #prime, #prime-now, #retailers, #shipt, #target, #united-states, #walmart, #whole-foods

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TikTok parent ByteDance joins patent troll protection group LOT Network

LOT Network, the non-profit that helps businesses of all sizes and across industries defend themselves against patent trolls by creating a shared pool of patents to immunize themselves against them, today announced that TikTik parent ByteDance is joining its group.

ByteDance has acquired its fair share of patents in recent years and is itself embroiled in a patent fight with its rival Triller. That’s not what joining the LOT Network is about, though. ByteDance is joining a group of companies here that includes the likes of IBM, the Coca-Cola Company, Cisco, Lyft, Microsoft, Oracle, Target, Tencent, Tesla, VW, Ford, Waymo, Xiaomi and Zelle. In total, the group now has over 1,300 members.

As LOT CEO Ken Seddon told me, the six-year-old group had a record year in 2020, with 574 companies joining it and bringing its set of immunized patents to over 3 million, including 14% of all patents issued in the U.S.

Among the core features of LOT, which only charges members who make more than $25 million in annual revenue, is that its members aren’t losing control over the patents they add to the pool. They can still buy and trade them as before, but if they decide to sell to what the industry calls a ‘patent assertion entity,’ (PAE) that is, a patent troll, they automatically provide a free licence to that patent to every other member of the group. This essentially turns LOT into what Seddon calls a ‘flu shot ‘ against patent trolls (and one that’s free for startups).

“The conclusion that people are waking up to is, is that we’re basically like a herd, we’re herd immunization, effectively,” Seddon said. “And every time a company joins, people realize that the community of non-members shrinks by one. It’s like those that don’t have the vaccination shrinks — and they are, ‘wait a minute, that makes me a higher risk of getting sued. I’m a bigger target.’ And they’re like, ‘wait a minute, I don’t want to be the target.’”

ByteDance, he argues, is a good example for a company that can profit from membership in LOT. While you may think of patents as purely a sign of a company’s innovativeness, for corporate lawyers, they are also highly effective defense tools (that can be used aggressively as well, if needed). But it can take a small company years to build up a patent portfolio. But a fast-growing, successful company also becomes an obvious target for patent trolls.

“When you are a successful company, you naturally become a target,” Seddon said. “People become jealous and they become threatened by you. And they covet your money and your revenue and your success. One of the ways that companies can defend themselves and protect their innovation is through patents. Some companies grow so fast, they become so successful, that their revenue grows faster than they can grow their patent portfolio organically.” He cited Instacart, which acquired 250 patents from IBM earlier this month, and Airbnb, which was sued by IBM over patent infringement in early 2020 (the companies settled in December), as examples.

ByteDance, thanks to the success of TikTok, now finds itself in a situation where it, too, is likely to become a target of patent trolls. The company has started acquiring patents itself to grow its portfolio faster and now it is joining LOT to strengthen its protection there.

“[ByteDance] is being a visionary and trying to get ahead of the wave,” Seddon noted. “They are a successful global company that needs to develop a global IP strategy. Historically, PAEs were just a US problem, but now ByteDance has to worry about PAEs being an issue in China and Europe as well.  By joining LOT, they protect themselves and their investments from over 3 million patents should they ever fall into the hands of a PAE.”

Lynn Wu, Director and Chief IP Counsel, Global IP and Digital Licensing Strategy at ByteDance, agrees. “Innovation is core to the culture at ByteDance, and we believe it’s important to protect our diverse technical and creative community,” she said in today’s announcement. “As champions for the fair use of IP, we encourage other companies to help us make the industry safer by joining LOT Network. If we work together, we can protect the industry from exploitation and continue advancing innovation, which is key to the growth and success of the entire community.”

There’s another reason companies are so eager to join the group now, though, and that’s because these patent assertion entities, which had faded into the background a bit in the mid- to late-2010s, may be making a comeback. The core assumption here is a bit gloomy: many companies seem to assume we’re in for an economic downturn. If we hit a recession, a lot of patent holders will start looking at their patent portfolios and start selling off some their more valuable patents in order to stay afloat. Since beggars can’t be choosers, that often means they’ll sell to a patent troll if that troll is the highest bidder. Last year, a patent troll sued Uber using a patent sold by IBM, for example (and IBM gets a bit of a bad rap for this, but, hey, it’s business).

That’s what happened after the last recession — though it typically takes a few years for the effect to be felt. Nothing in the patent world moves quickly.

Now, when LOT members sell to a troll, that troll can’t sue other LOT members over it. Take IBM, for example, which joined LOT last year.

“People give IBM a lot of grief and criticism for selling to PAEs, but at least IBM is giving everybody a chance to get a free license,” Seddon told me. “IBM joined LOT last year and what IBM is effectively doing is saying to everybody, ‘look, I joined LOT.’ And they put all of their entire patent portfolio into LOT. And they’re saying to everybody, ‘look, I have the right to sell my patents to anybody I want, and I’m going to sell it to the highest bidder. And if I sell it to a patent troll and you don’t join LOT — and if you get sued by a troll, is that my fault or your fault? Because if you join LOT, you could have gotten a free license.’”

#airbnb, #bytedance, #cisco, #flu, #ford, #ibm, #instacart, #intellectual-property-law, #lawsuit, #lot-network, #lyft, #microsoft, #monopoly, #oracle, #patent, #patent-law, #patent-troll, #software, #tencent, #tesla, #triller, #united-states, #vaccination, #vw, #waymo

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Instacart is eliminating the jobs of unionized workers

Instacart plans to lay off nearly 2,000 of its workers, including the ten workers from the Kroger-owned Mariano’s who unionized early last year, Vice reports. These workers are responsible for in-store shopping and packing of groceries.

According to Vice, ten of the workers affected unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546 in Skokie, Illinois. However, they have yet to negotiate a contract with Instacart, according to Vice. Instacart notified the union of the planned changes earlier this week. In the letter, Instacart said it planned to stop using in-store shoppers at Kroger-owned stores, which includes the Mariano’s store in Skokie, in Q1 and Q2 of this year, but no earlier than mid-March.

Currently, Instacart says it’s working to place the impacted employees with jobs at retailers or place them at other grocery stores that still rely on Instacart shoppers. In total, Instacart said about 1,800 employees will be affected by these changes. Those laid off will receive separation packages, according to Instacart. But according to UFCW, Instacart will provide between $250 to $750 to the workers they let go.

Instacart referenced the potential layoffs in a blog post earlier this week in a post about new pickup retailer model. In it, Instacart said it would wind down some of its in-store operations at some retail locations to switch to what it’s calling Partner Pick. Through Partner Pick, instead of relying on Instacart shoppers to pick and pack groceries, retailers will rely on their own workforces with the help of Instacart’s technology.

“As a result of some grocers transitioning to a Partner Pick model, we’ll be winding down our in-store operations at select retailer locations over the coming months,” an Instacart spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We know this is an incredibly challenging time for many as we move through the COVID-19 crisis, and we’re doing everything we can to support in-store shoppers through this transition. This includes transferring impacted shoppers to other retailer locations where we have Instacart in-store shopper roles open, working closely with our retail partners to hire impacted shoppers for roles they’re looking to fill, and providing shoppers with transition assistance as they explore new work opportunities. We’re also providing all impacted shoppers with separation packages based on their tenure with Instacart.”

This all comes as Instacart is gearing up to go public. In November, Reuters reported Instacart picked Goldman Sachs to lead its IPO at a $30 billion valuation. That would be a big jump from the $17.7 post-money valuation Instacart secured in October with a new $200 million funding round.

In a statement, UFCW International President Marc Perrone called these workers a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic and called on Instacart to stop these plans to fire them.

“Instacart firing the only unionized workers at the company and destroying the jobs of nearly 2,000 dedicated frontline workers in the middle of this public health crisis, is simply wrong,” he said. “As the union for Instacart grocery workers in the Chicago area and grocery workers nationwide, UFCW is calling on Instacart to immediately halt these plans and to put the health of their customers first by protecting the jobs of these brave essential workers at a time when our communities need them most.”

#instacart, #labor, #tc

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Prop 22 in California Is a Bad D

A voter-approved measure strips them of basic protections enjoyed by employees in other businesses.

#automobiles, #california, #doordash-mobile-app, #freelancing-self-employment-and-independent-contracting, #instacart, #labor-and-jobs, #lyft-inc, #referendums, #uber-technologies-inc

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CA ballot measure that keeps gig workers as independent contractors is projected to pass

Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash — the major backers of California’s Proposition 22 — are getting their way. The proposition, which will keep gig workers classified as independent contractors, is projected to pass. The Associated Press called the race with 67% of precincts partially reporting.

At the time of publication, 58.2% of voters (more than 6.3 million people) voted for Prop 22, while 41.5% of voters (about 4.5 million people) voted against it.

The ballot measure will implement an earnings guarantee of at least 120% of minimum wage while on the job, 30 cents per engaged miles for expenses, a healthcare stipend, occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment, and automobile accident and liability insurance. It’s worth noting that those earnings guarantees and reimbursement for expenses only reflect a driver’s engaged time, and does not account for the time spent in between rides or deliveries.

Proponents of Prop 22 claimed their win late Tuesday night when about 57% of the votes were accounted for. Meanwhile, some opponents of the measure conceded.

“We’re disappointed in tonight’s outcome, especially because this campaign’s success is based on lies and fear-mongering,” Gig Workers Collective wrote in a blog post. “Companies shouldn’t be able to buy elections. But we’re still dedicated to our cause and ready to continue our fight.”

The folks over at Gig Workers Rising also said the fight is far from over.

“This battle is but a stepping stone towards our continued fight to get gig workers the rights, benefits, and dignified working conditions they deserve,” Gig Workers Rising said in a statement.

Prop 22 was primarily backed by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Postmates . Last week, DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Then, on Monday, Uber put in an additional $1 million. That influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions to around $205 million. All that funding makes Proposition 22 the most expensive ballot measure in California since 1999.

On the other side, major donors in opposition of Prop 22 included Service Employees International Union, United Food & Commercial Workers and International Brotherhood of Teamsters. One gig worker, Vanessa Bain, recently told TechCrunch,

“The reality is that, you know, it establishes a dangerous precedent to allow companies to write their own labor laws,” Vanessa Bain, a gig worker and organizer at Gig Workers Collective, recently told TechCrunch. “This policy was created to unilaterally benefit companies at the detriment of workers.”

The creation of Prop 22 was a direct response to the legalization of AB-5, the gig worker bill that makes it harder for the likes of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy companies to classify their workers as 1099 independent contractors.

AB-5 helps to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in work of some independently established trade or other similar business.

Currently, Uber and Lyft are in the midst of a lawsuit regarding AB-5 brought forth in May by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. They argued Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Then, in June, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction seeking the court to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers.

In August, a judge granted the preliminary injunction. Uber and Lyft appealed the decision, but the appeals court last month affirmed the decision from the lower court. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which the court has yet to do. Meanwhile, both Uber and Lyft previously said they were looking at their appeal options.

Throughout the case, Uber and Lyft have argued that reclassifying their drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm to the companies. In the ruling last month, the judge said neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and that their respective financial burdens “do not rise to the level of irreparable harm.”

But now that Prop 22 is projected to pass, this lawsuit has far less legal ground to stand on. It’s also worth noting that Uber has previously said it may pursue similar legislation in other states.

The California Secretary of State began releasing partial election results from the state’s 58 counties at 8 p.m. PT. However, do not expect a final count tonight, or even tomorrow. That’s partly due to the fact that California accepts absentee ballots postmarked no later than Nov. 3, 2020. Meanwhile, county elections officials have until Dec. 1, 2020 to report final results.

#doordash, #gig-workers, #instacart, #labor, #lyft, #postmates, #prop-22, #tc, #uber

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It’s a Ballot Fight for Survival for Gig Companies Like Uber

A group that also includes Lyft and DoorDash has spent nearly $200 million to support a California proposition that could save them from a new labor law.

#california, #car-services-and-livery-cabs, #doordash-mobile-app, #employee-fringe-benefits, #freelancing-self-employment-and-independent-contracting, #instacart, #khosrowshahi-dara, #labor-and-jobs, #lyft-inc, #mobile-applications, #political-advertising, #postmates-inc, #uber-technologies-inc, #workplace-hazards-and-violations

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Instacart, in partnership with ALDI, will support SNAP EBT for online groceries

Instacart is making its grocery delivery and pickup services more accessible to lower-income customers by offering customers the ability to pay for groceries using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. This is the first time Instacart shoppers have been able to use government assistance programs when paying for groceries, and follows earlier moves by larger retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and others in extending SNAP EBT to online grocery.

In Instacart’s case, the option is being made available in partnership with ALDI, which will offer the ability for SNAP EBT participants to access fresh food and other staples using the online service.

When shopping, Instacart users will be able to add ALDI’s EBT SNAP-eligible items to their cart, then select how much of their benefits they want to allocate to their order before checking out.

Image Credits: Instacart

The program will launch over the new few weeks, and will first arrive at ALDI’s over 60 Georgia stores before expanding to over 570 stores across Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania in the months ahead.

Instacart says it runs its Customer and Shopper Care team from Atlanta, which one reason why it selected Georgia as the debut market — adding it was important to first support the communities where its own employees live and work.

Today, online grocery shopping is often seen as a luxury service, but that should not be the case. Often, it’s just as affordable to shop online than in-store (if using the pickup option, at least), as customers can more easily compare prices with other retailers online. For some lower-income customers, online shopping can also save time when they’re stretched between jobs and family commitments.

The pandemic has now further complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and in particular, for high-risk individuals. These customers now have to take risks with their lives and health to shop in-store, making online grocery more of a necessity.

“The introduction of Instacart’s EBT SNAP payments comes at a time when food insecurity in the U.S. has compounded as the nation continues to be impacted by COVID-19,” Instacart stated in its announcement. “According to Feeding America, due to the effects of the pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, which includes a potential 18 million children. In Georgia specifically, food insecurity impacts 12.5% of the population and disproportionately affects communities of color,” it noted.

Instacart is now one of several online retailers supporting SNAP EBT for groceries.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had been working to make online grocery more accessible to SNAP recipients through an online purchasing pilot program with support of retailers including Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite, and others. The pilot retailers  have made it possible to shop for groceries online, then pay using SNAP EBT.

ALDI and Instacart are not listed on the USDA’s website as program participants, however.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #georgia, #grocery-store, #instacart, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program

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Khosla Ventures seeks $1.1 billion for its latest fund

Khosla Ventures, the eponymous venture firm helmed by longtime Silicon Valley rainmaker, Vinod Khosla, is raising  $1.1 billion for its latest venture fund, according to documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing was first spotted by Ari Levy over at CNBC.

Khosla, whose investing career began at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (back when it was still called Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) is rightly famous for a number of bets on enterprise software companies and was a richly rewarded co-founder of Sun Microsystems before venturing into the world of venture capital.

Like his former partner, John Doerr, Khosla also went all-in on renewable energy and sustainability both at Kleiner Perkins and then later at his own fund, which he reportedly launched with several hundreds of millions of dollars from his personal fortune.

Over the years Khosla Ventures has placed bets and scored big wins across a wide range of industries including cybersecurity (with the over $1 billion acquisition of portfolio company Cylance), sustainability (with the Climate Corp. acquisition), and healthcare (through the public offering of Editas).

And the current portfolio should also have some big exits with a roster that includes: the unicorn lending company, Affirm; the nuclear fusion technology developer, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (maybe not a winner, but so so so cool); delivery company, DoorDash; the meat replacement maker, Impossible Foods; grocery delivery service, Instacart; security technology developer, Okta; the health insurance provider, Oscar; and the payment companies Square and Stripe .

That’s quite a string of unicorn (and would-be unicorn) investments. And it speaks to the breadth of the firm’s interests that run the gamut from healthcare to fintech to sustainability and the future of food.

Khosla will likely benefit from the surge of interest in investments that adhere to new environmental, social responsibility and corporate governance standards.

There are billions of dollars that are looking for a home that can invest along those criteria, and for the last 16 years or so, that’s exactly what Khosla Ventures has been doing.

#affirm, #cylance, #doordash, #impossible-foods, #instacart, #john-doerr, #khosla-ventures, #kleiner-perkins, #okta, #oscar, #stripe, #sun-microsystems, #tc, #vinod-khosla

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Instacart raises $200M more at $17.7B valuation

Instacart announced today that it has raised $200 million in a new funding round featuring prior investors. D1 Capital and Valiant Peregrine Fund led the investment. Instacart is now worth $17.7 billion, post-money, or $17.5 billion pre-money. The plan is to use the funding to focus on introducing new features and tools to improve the customer experience, and further support Instacart’s enterprise and ads businesses, according to a blog post.

Previously in 2020, Instacart raised $100 million in July, and $225 million in June. The June round valued the company at around $13.7 billion, meaning that the unicorn’s new funding round — raised just months later — came at a much higher price.

Instacart, like some other tech, and tech-enabled businesses, has seen demand for its service expand during the pandemic. It’s not hard to trace a connection between COVID-19 and its business results, as folks wanting to stay at home have turned to on-demand services to keep themselves safe.

The growth shown by Uber’s food delivery business is another example of this trend.

Instacart’s valuation has more than doubled since its 2018 Series F, when it was worth around $7.9 billion. The pace at which Instacart has created paper value is impressive, though its IPO plans appear murky from the outside and how much of the its COVID-bump will be retained when the pandemic ends is not yet clear.

The startup famously turned a profit during a month in Q2, worth around $10 million per The Information. The same report indicated that Instacart lost around $300 million in 2019. What the company’s full-year profitability profile will look like is not know.

TechCrunch sent a number of questions to the firm, including if it has had any further profitable months in 2020, and how quickly it grew in Q3 2020. The company’s spokespeople did not answer those questions.

“Today’s investment is a testament to the strong conviction our existing investors have in the strength of our teams and the important role Instacart plays for customers, partners, and the entire grocery ecosystem,” Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said in a press release. “I’m incredibly proud of our team’s work to scale our business this past year and rise to meet the unprecedented consumer demand and growth.”

Instacart is one of the company’s caught up in a regulatory war after California passed AB5, which changed the state’s rules on gig workers. A voter proposition — Prop 22 — that would keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors, is coming up for a vote in California. Instacart is in favor of the proposition, along with Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Postmates (now owned by Uber).

Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash have collectively contributed $184,008,361.46 to the Yes on 22 campaign. Those contributions have been monetary, non-monetary and have come in the form of loans. In September, the four companies each committed another $17.5 million to Yes on Prop 22 in monetary contributions. Of all the measures on this November’s ballot, Yes on Prop 22 has received the most contributions, according to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Beyond Prop 22, Instacart is facing a lawsuit from Washington D.C. District Attorney General Karl A. Racine that alleges the company charged customers millions of dollars in “deceptive service fees” and failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of sales tax. The suit seeks restitution for customers who paid those service fees, as well as back taxes and interest on taxes owed to D.C. Specifically, it alleges Instacart misled customers regarding the 10% service fee to think it was a tip for the delivery person, from September 2016 to April 2018.

Meanwhile, amid the pandemic and wildfires in California, workers have demanded personal protective equipment and better pay, and, most recently, disaster relief.

#fundings-exits, #instacart, #startups

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PopSQL raises $3.4M seed round for its collaborative SQL editor

PopSQL, a startup that builds a collaborative SQL editor for teams, today announced that it has raised a $3.4 million seed round led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Other participants include Y Combinator and FundersClub, as well as angel investors Max Mullen, the co-founder of Instacart; Calvin French-Owen, the CTO of Segment; and Guillermo Rauch, the CEO of Vercel.

Like most startups at this stage, the company plans to use the new capital to execute on its product roadmap.

Image Credits: PopSQL

“I started PopSQL because I was frustrated with the existing tools on the market. I wanted a SQL editor that was beautiful, easy to use and collaborative. Just as new collaboration tools like Slack changed the way teams communicate, our vision is that PopSQL will change the way teams analyze and share data,” said Rahil Sondhi, CEO and founder of PopSQL. “The new capital from Gradient allows us to scale the company and pursue our vision of creating the best tools for teams to analyze data together.”

With PopSQL, teams can write a database query once and then easily share it within their company (and build a library of shared queries in the process). That’s a massive timesaver for many companies, where queries like this are often still shared by email or as code snippets in Slack, which PopSQL also integrates with. With this tool, developers and data analysts can also easily create different versions of a query.

Image Credits: PopSQL

PopSQL currently supports a wide range of databases, ranging from Snowflake, Google Cloud’s BigQuery, AWS Redshift, PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, MongoDB and Cassandra.

Image Credits: PopSQL

In addition to the collaborative features, though, PopSQL also offers a number of other interesting features, including the ability to schedule recurring queries using what is essentially a visual cron editor.

The tool also features some basic charting functions and while these are mostly meant to easily allow users to visualize their queries, you can also use this feature to build basic dashboards, for example. Sondhi noted that he doesn’t necessarily think of PopSQL as a business intelligence tool, but the core functionality is there if you want it.

Image Credits: PopSQL

#artificial-intelligence, #bigquery, #business-intelligence, #cassandra, #ceo, #cloud, #co-founder, #collaboration-tools, #data-management, #databases, #developer, #fundersclub, #google, #gradient-ventures, #instacart, #mongodb, #mysql, #oracle, #popsql, #sql, #tc, #y-combinator

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Inflation Is Higher Than the Numbers Say

While government statistics say inflation is low, the reality is that the cost of living has risen during the pandemic, especially for poorer Americans.

#bureau-of-labor-statistics, #consumer-price-index, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #costco-wholesale-corporation, #delivery-services, #discount-selling, #discrimination, #e-commerce, #harvard-university, #inflation-economics, #instacart, #klenow-peter, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #quarantines, #shopping-and-retail, #shortages, #social-security-us, #twitter, #united-states-economy, #university-of-michigan

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Instacart faces lawsuit from DC Attorney General over ‘deceptive’ service fees

Instacart is facing a lawsuit from Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine that alleges the company charged customers millions of dollars in “deceptive service fees” and failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sales tax. The suit seeks restitution for customers who paid those service fees, as well as back taxes and on interest on taxes owed to D.C.

The suit specifically alleges Instacart misled customers regarding the 10% service fee to think it was a tip for the delivery person from September 2016 to April 2018.

“Instacart tricked District consumers into believing they were tipping grocery delivery workers when, in fact, the company was charging them extra fees and pocketing the money,” Racine said in a statement. “Instacart used these deceptive fees to cover its operating costs while simultaneously failing to pay D.C. sales taxes. We filed suit to force Instacart to honor its legal obligations, pay D.C. the taxes it owes, and return millions of dollars to District consumers the company deceived.”

This is not the first time Instacart has faced legal issues over its service fees. In 2017, Instacart settled a $4.6 million suit regarding claims that the company misclassified its personal shoppers as independent contractors, and also failed to reimburse them for work expenses. As part of the settlement, Instacart was required to change the way it described a service fee, which many people mistakenly thought meant tip. Even when Instacart clarified the language, the suit alleges Instacart still buried the option to tip.

“In this respect, Instacart’s checkout design compounded
consumers’ tendency to confuse the service fee with a shopper tip,” the suit alleges.

This lawsuit comes as Instacart is facing uncertainty in California over the way it classifies some of its shoppers and delivery people. Despite a new law going into effect in January that clearly lays out what type of workers should and should not be classified as independent contractors, Instacart has yet to classify its workers as employees. Instead, Instacart, along with Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, are backing a ballot measure, Prop 22, that seeks to keep their workers classified as independent contractors.

TechCrunch has reached out to Instacart and will update this story if we hear back.

#food, #instacart, #lawsuit, #tc

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Instacart workers are demanding disaster relief amid CA wildfires

Gig Workers Collective, a gig worker-activist group led by Instacart shoppers, is asking Instacart to provide disaster relief to workers impacted by natural disasters.

The demands come at a time when several parts of California are engulfed in flames. The three biggest fires, the LNU Lightning Complex, SCU Lightning Complex and CZU Lightning Complex, have collectively destroyed 1,225 structures and claimed the lives of five people, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s fire tracker.

In light of the wildfires and other anticipated climate change-related disasters, Instacart workers want the company to provide disaster pay at a daily rate equal to the average rate of daily pay, including tips, over the previous 30 days for each day Instacart’s operations are shutdown. Additionally, GWC wants Instacart to shut down its operations in markets where a city has declared a state of emergency or issued evacuations.

“Thousands of gig workers in California alone have been displaced, or seen the demand for their services dwindle in the face of natural disasters,” GWC wrote on Medium today. “Instacart can unilaterally shut down operations without paying its impacted workforce a dime, leaving displaced workers to fend for themselves. It is shameful that a company that became profitable for the first time during the pandemic off of the backs of its workers, has abandoned those very same workers during their time of need.”

These demands come shortly after Instacart agreed to distribute $727,985 among some San Francisco-based Instacart workers as part of a settlement pertaining to health care and paid sick leave benefits.

This group of workers also argues Instacart workers should be classified as employees, which would make them entitled to certain benefits, like paid sick leave, health care, unemployment benefits and more.

TechCrunch has reached out to Instacart for comment. We will update this story if we hear back.

#food, #gig-workers, #health, #instacart, #tc

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Four keys to building your startup

At last week’s Early Stage virtual event, founders and investors shared some of their best insights about startup building and what they’re looking for in their next investments. We’ve assembled a compilation of insights covering different elements of entrepreneurship from a handful of founders and VCs:

  • Jess Lee, partner at Sequoia Capital on identifying your customer
  • Garry Tan, managing partner at Initialized Capital on finding the right problem
  • Ann Miura-Ko, co-founding partner at Floodgate on product-market fit
  • Ali Partovi, Neo founder and CEO on hiring

Jess Lee, partner, Sequoia Capital: Start with your customers

Jess Lee has a whole framework for describing customers as if they were characters in a film.

“The way to think about it is as a fictional character who represents a particular user type that might use your product or company or your brand in a particular way,” she said. “And many companies have multiple personas.”

A more scientific way is thinking of your customers as a cluster of data points. The persona that emerges is at the center of that cluster.

Image Credits: TC Early Stage

“So if you map out all of the possible customers, you tend to see these clusters and then you describe who the person is at the center of that cluster,” Lee said.

What makes a good persona is someone who feels useful for product design but also memorable. That means creating a persona that has a clear story with real pain points, she said.

“And that’s the most important thing,” she said. “What do they care about and what problems are you trying to solve?”

#airbnb, #ali-partovi, #ann-miura-ko, #entrepreneurship, #events, #extra-crunch, #floodgate-fund, #founders, #funding, #fundraising, #garry-tan, #hiring, #initialized-capital, #instacart, #jess-lee, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage

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Instacart blames reused passwords for account hacks, but customers are still without basic two-factor security

Online shopping service Instacart says reused passwords are to blame for a recent spate of account breaches, which saw personal data belonging to hundreds of thousands of Instacart customers stolen and put up for sale on the dark web.

The company published a statement late on Thursday saying its investigation showed that Instacart “was not compromised or breached,” but pointed to credential stuffing, where hackers take lists of usernames and passwords stolen from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts.

“In this instance, it appears that third-party bad actors were able to use usernames and passwords that were compromised in previous data breaches of other websites and apps to login to some Instacart accounts,” the statement reads.

The statement comes after BuzzFeed News reported that data on more than 270,000 user accounts was for sale on the dark web, including the account user’s name, address, the last four digits of their credit card, and their order histories from as recently as this week.

Instacart said that the stolen data represents a fraction of the “millions” of Instacart’s customers across the U.S. and Canada, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

But who’s really to blame here: the customers for reusing passwords, or the company for not doing more to protect against password reuse?

Granted, it’s a bit of both. Any internet user should use a unique password on each website, and install a password manager to remember them for you wherever you go. That means if hackers make off with one of your passwords, they can’t break into all of your accounts. You should also enable two-factor authentication wherever possible to prevent hackers from breaking into your online accounts, even if they have your password. By sending a code to your phone — either by text message or an app — it adds a second layer of protection for your online accounts.

But Instacart cannot shift all the blame onto its users. Instacart still does not support two-factor authentication, which — if customers had enabled — would have prevented the account hacks to begin with. When we checked, there was no option to enable two-factor on an Instacart account, and no mention anywhere on Instacart’s site that it supports the security feature.

Data published by Google last year shows even the most basic two-factor can prevent the vast majority of automated credential stuffing attacks.

We asked the company if it plans to roll out two-factor to its users. When reached, Instacart spokesperson Lyndsey Grubbs would not comment on the record beyond pointing to Instacart’s already-published statement.

Instacart claims security is a “top priority,” and that it has a “dedicated security team, as well as multiple layers of security measures, focused on protecting the integrity of all customer accounts and data.”

But without giving users basic security features like two-factor, Instacart users can barely protect their own accounts, let alone expect Instacart to do it for them.

#computer-security, #credential-stuffing, #dark-web, #data-breach, #data-security, #ecommerce, #instacart, #multi-factor-authentication, #password, #password-manager, #security

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From farm to phone: A paradigm shift in grocery

In the blink of an eye, millennials, moms and grandparents alike have abandoned the decades-old practice of wandering dusty grocery aisles for the convenient and novel use of online grocery. While Instacart, Amazon Fresh and others have been offering an alternative to brick-and-mortar grocery for years, it is the pandemic that has classified them as essential businesses and more than ever afforded them a clear competitive advantage.

But these past couple months have seen not only drastic changes in consumer behavior, but also fundamental shifts in the business models adopted by grocers worldwide. These shifts are not temporary — indeed, they are here to stay, corona-catalyzed and permanent.

Fulfillment innovation can drive efficiency and cost savings

For the consumer, online grocery generally starts and ends the same way: They place their order on an app or website, and hours later it shows up at their door. But the ways those orders are being fulfilled run the gamut.

The most widely known approach comes from Instacart, which relies on hundreds of thousands of human shoppers fulfilling customers’ online grocery orders by shopping side-by-side with regular brick-and-mortar customers. The model clearly works for Instacart, which is valued at nearly $14 billion after its latest raise.

However, this model is far from ideal. Even pre-COVID, shoppers were known to crowd out regular customers, not to mention introduce high delivery costs and the element of human error to the fulfillment process.

One obvious solution has become the central fulfillment center, or CFC. CFCs are large, standalone warehouses — often serving distinct geographies — that can supply both brick-and-mortar stores and online grocery deliveries. As order volumes rise and consumers demand faster and faster delivery times, innovation has already been infused into the CFC model.

Some grocers, notably Kroger, believe that introducing robotic automation into CFCs via solutions such as Ocado can create economies of scale for fulfillment. These CFCs deploy fulfillment robots, controlled by air-traffic control tech, that run along a grid system and move goods via categorized crates. Kroger is continuing its investment in the model, recently announcing three new Ocado-automated CFCs in the West, Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States. The smallest location is over 150,000 square feet.

While Kroger remains uniquely attached to the CFC model, Albertsons/Safeway, Walmart and many others prefer the microfulfillment center (MFC). MFCs, typically far smaller in size (think ~10,000 square feet), are automated warehouses carved out of the back of existing stores that drive faster fulfillment times in a smaller geographic area, allowing chain stores to use their numerous geographic locations to act as effective fulfillment/delivery hubs for e-grocery coverage.

#advertising-tech, #albertsons, #amazon, #automation, #column, #e-grocery, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #food, #grocery-store, #instacart, #kroger, #logistics, #market-analysis, #merchandising, #michael-moritz, #natural-language-processing, #ocado, #online-grocery, #robotics, #safeway, #signia-venture-partners, #startups, #walmart, #whole-foods

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Dumpling launches to make anyone become their own Instacart

Gig economy companies like to tout the flexibility and freedom they offer workers, but for the people finding work through companies like Instacart, Uber, DoorDash and Lyft, the economic and physical risks can outweigh the rewards.

Contractors who are now considered front-line providers of essential services for their wealthier customers in the age of social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic have struggled with lack of benefits, lost tips and wages, and a dearth of back-end support.

Dumpling, a startup in the food delivery space, was born to challenge the status quo in the gig economy by giving more ownership to the workers that power it. Dumpling connects shoppers to all the resources they need to migrate off the Instacart platform and start their own personal-shopping business.

Dumpling is launching with a focus on food delivery, as the pandemic has transformed the perk into an essential service for home-bound citizens. So far, it has enabled more than 2,000 shoppers in all 50 states to become their own personal Instacarts.

Dumpling co-founders Joel Shapiro and Nate D’Anna met in college and were looking for a way to work together. Shapiro and D’Anna ditched their corporate jobs at National Instruments and Cisco, respectively, to create Dumpling.

“[We thought] what if we actually create a company to solve their problems and not just the one percenters hanging out on the coast?” D’Anna said

Before we get into how Dumpling works, let’s discuss the obvious: Not every gig worker wants to be a business owner, which is exactly the opposite of what the startup needs to succeed. Despite the gig economy’s proliferation over the last decade, only 3% of adults said they performed gig work as a primary source of income; fewer than 1 in 10 adults were full-time gig workers, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest report.

Instead, a larger issue within the gig economy is classification of workers, leading to the rise of unions and co-ops for more shopper support. 

Dumpling is another example of what the future would look like. 

Shapiro admits that not every gig worker will need Dumpling. But instead of pitching Dumpling solely as a place for gig workers to start their own businesses, he thinks the startup can bring more money into workers’ hands.

“With multiple years of all these multi-demand apps, we know that workers are going to be exploited and screwed at some point and their pay is going to be drastically reduced,” he said. “We’re trying to make them ultimately have control so the rug can’t be pulled out underneath them.”

How it works

To start, Dumpling helps users create their own LLCs. Then it offers a slew of different products, including a Dumpling credit card to help shoppers buy groceries before customer payment, an app to help centralize deliveries and customer communication, and a forum for mentorship and worker support.

Image Credits: Joel Shapiro / Dumpling

Shoppers primarily acquire customers through marketing and self-promotion when dropping off orders for other delivery apps, according to Dumpling. Some customers have recently started going directly to Dumpling to look for shoppers to order from in the area.

Dumpling gives 100% of tips to business owners. Unlike Instacart, Dumpling allows business owners to pick what tip options show up for their customers and set a personal default tip minimum. There is also space for customers to leave reviews.

The company makes money in a few different ways. It charges shoppers a one-time $10 fee to set up, which includes a Dumpling credit card, a listing on the website and a shopper search tool. The platform then charges shoppers either a $39 monthly fee or a $5 per-transaction fee for each time they book a job. On the other end, customers pay 5% on top of orders for payment processing.

Dumpling claims it can help shoppers make three times as much money as Instacart shoppers. But let’s do the math.

While the monthly fee or $5 per-transaction fee could eat into tips, Dumpling claims that users make $33 in average earnings per order, which is three times as much as Instacart users. Instacart estimates that full-service shopper pay ranges from $7 to $10 per order, according to a NerdWallet article.

Because shoppers can set their own rates, customers could simply flock to the cheapest option of the day, thus driving competition between shoppers to keep rates low (and make less money).

There are a few reasons why Dumpling doesn’t think it’s going to be a race between shoppers.

First, Dumpling customers are largely repeat clients who crave a personalized shopper to help them out. This repeatability gives shoppers some flexibility and stability, income-wise. Shoppers can schedule weekly grocery delivery times so they can manage the orders, instead of trying to drive an Uber and maximize their time on the road.

Second, Shapiro hopes that pricing isn’t the only reason a customer goes to a shopper. He noted that reviews and ratings are big sells, as well as areas of focus like vegan, local farmers’ markets, dietary restrictions and special diets. Imagine if you’re newly joining Keto and you can get a Keto-savvy shopper to pick up ingredients for you, in other words.

In the past three months, the platform has brought in tens of thousands of reviews on shoppers. The average rating of a Dumpling shopper is 4.9 to 5 stars.

It can’t fix what is broken

Even though Dumpling wants to bring ownership to the gig economy, it is experimenting with ways to support its growing network. One way would be getting bulk discounts on health insurance and benefits. Soon, Dumpling is starting a fraud protection benefit for any shopper on its platform.

While Dumpling can’t fix the gig economy, it can drastically change the way that the people within it work and own their career. Especially those few who rely on the gig economy as their sole job.

Matthew Telles, one of Instacart’s first shoppers in Chicago, fondly remembers the grocery delivery platform’s early days. He would average 20% tips on all orders, rarely drove more than five miles for a delivery and was even invited to staff engineering calls to give feedback on the platform.

Then Amazon bought Whole Foods, a deal which Telles thinks pressured Instacart to get the biggest market reach as quickly as possible (which included saving money). He received orders from all over the state. Instacart threatened to take away tips. The engineering call invites stopped.

Five years later, Telles remains on the app to advocate for shoppers. His efforts have contributed to millions in settlement payments from Instacart. The company, which has risen to a level of prominence during the pandemic, recently turned its first profit. Its shopper network continues to complain of lack of support from the platform, and has organized multiple times for better wages, changing default tip minimums and personal protective equipment.

“Fighting Instacart is my hobby now,” Telles said. “Dumpling is now my career.”

Dumpling did not disclose profitability, but said order volume has spiked by 20x. The unprecedented growth has led Dumpling to recently announce it raised $6.5 million in Series A funding, led by Forerunner Ventures. Participating investors include Floodgate and FUEL Capital. The company’s total known venture funding to date is $10 million.

As for Telles, he loves the flexibility he can have to pick up a gratitude meal for the most consistent customers along with their groceries. He’s cut his hours in half and doubled his income by going full time on the app. And, to his delight, he’s been invited on calls with Dumpling’s co-founders themselves, similar to the early days of Instacart.

#apoorva-mehta, #delivery-startups, #doordash, #dumpling, #future-of-work, #gig-economy, #gig-workers, #instacart, #joel-shapiro, #lyft, #nate-danna, #startups, #tc

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Fringe pitches a monthly stipend for app purchases and subscriptions as the newest employee benefit

Fringe is a new company pitching employers on a service offering lifestyle benefits for their employees in addition to, or instead of, more traditional benefits packages.

“We didn’t think it made sense that employees need to be sick, disabled, dead or 65+ to benefit from their benefits,” wrote Fringe chief executive Jordan Peace, in an email.

The Richmond, Virginia-based company was founded by five college friends from Virginia Tech rounded up by Peace and Jason Murray, who serves as the company’s head of Strategy and Finance. The two men previously owned a financial planning firm called Greenhouse Money, which worked with small businesses to set up benefits packages and retirement accounts.

During that time, the two men had a revelation… employees at these small and medium-sized businesses didn’t just want retirement or healthcare benefits, they wanted perks that were more applicable to their day-to-day lives. Because Murray and Peace couldn’t find a company that offered a flexible benefits package on things like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu subscriptions, Uber rides, Grubhub orders or Instacart deliveries, they built one themselves.

As they grew their business they brought in college friends, including Isaiah Goodall as the vice president of partnerships, Chris Luhrman as the vice president of operations and Andrew Dunlap as the head of product.

Peace and Murray first launched the business in 2018 and now count over 100 delivery services, exercise apps, cleaning services and other apps of convenience among their offerings.

For their part, employers pay $5 per employee covered per month and set up a monthly stipend (that may or may not be subtracted from a total benefits package) of somewhere between $50 and $200 that employees can spend on subscription services.

It’s a pitch to employers that Peace says is especially compelling as office culture changes in the wake of massive office closures and work-from-home orders from major U.S. companies as a response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“In-office perks and even most ‘off-site’ perks (gyms, massage spas, etc.) are all null and void,” wrote Peace. “Even post-COVID, it’s highly likely that many of these aspects of office culture will bear less significance with many CEOs vowing to allow ‘WFH forever.’ This means companies need a way to package their office culture and ship them home. Fringe is perfectly positioned for this and determined to be the first name that comes to mind to provide a solution.”

Peace sees this as the next step in the evolution of benefits offerings for employees. He traces its legacy to the development of private health insurance and 401k retirement plans. “After another 40 years lifestyle benefits are the newest breakthrough — and like its predecessors, will be almost universally adopted in the next 5 years,” Peace wrote.

#amazon, #employee-benefits, #fringe, #grubhub, #health-insurance, #instacart, #startups, #tc, #uber, #virginia-tech

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