Private chef parties at home startup Yhangry raises $1.5M Seed from VC angels and Ollie Locke

There’s an “uber for everything” these days and now there are “Ubers for personal chefs”. Just take a look at PopTop or 100 Pleats for instance. Now in London, there is Yhangry (which brands itself as the appropriately shouty YHANGRY). This is a “private chef parties at home” website, and no doubt an app at some point. The startup has now raised a $1.5 million Seed round from a number of notable UK angels which also includes a few UK VCs for good measure, as well as ‘Made In Chelsea’ TV star Ollie Locke.

Founders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal created the startup before the pandemic, which lets people order a made-to-measure dinner party online. Although it trundled along until Covid, it had to pivot into virtual chef classes during lockdowns last year and this. The company is now poised to take advantage of London’s unlocking, which will see legal outdoor and indoor dining return.

The startup also speaks to the decentralization of experiences going on in the wake of the pandemic. In 2019 we were working out in gyms and going to restaurants. In 2021 we are working out at home and bringing the restaurant to us.

Normally booking private dinner parties involves a lot of hassle. The idea here is that Yhangry makes the whole affair as easy to order as an Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

Investors in the Seed round include Carmen Rico (Blossom Capital), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), Orson Stadler (Antler) and Martin Mignot (Index Ventures), Made In Chelsea star Ollie Locke, plus fellow tech founders including Jack Tang (Urban), Adnan Ebrahim (MindLabs), Alex Fitzgerald (Cuckoo Internet), Georgina Kirby (Vinehealth) and Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels). Yhangry’s statement said all the investors are also keen customers. I bet they are.

Co-founder Mittal said in a statement: “By making private chef experiences more accessible and affordable, our customers regularly tell us they are finally able to catch up with friends at home… 70% of our customers have never had a private chef before and for them, the freedom and flexibility to curate their own evening is priceless.”

Yhangry now has 130 chefs on its books. Chefs have to pass a cooking trial and adhere to Covid rules. The funding will be used to double the size of the startup’s team.

The menus start at £17pp for six people. The price of the booking covers everything, including the cost of the fresh ingredients, but customers can add extras, such as wine etc. Since its launch in December 2019, the firm says it has served more than 7,000 Londoners.

Yhangry says it will enter key European markets, such as Paris, Berlin, Lisbon and Barcelona.

How will Yhangry survive post-Covid, with restaurants/bars opening up again?

Mittal said: “When restaurants were open between our launch and March 2020, we saw demand because people want to be able to spend time with their friends in a relaxed setting, and aren’t limited to the two-hour slot you get in a restaurant. Once places start to open up again, we believe Yhangry will follow this trend of at-home dining and socializing – not to mention for people who are not ready yet to go out to a busy pub or restaurant.”

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Backed by YC, Vendease is building Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa

For small and mid-sized restaurants in Nigeria and most of Africa, food procurement can be a complex process to manage. The system is such that a business can easily run out of money or have considerable savings. Most restaurants don’t have access to deal directly with farms to get better deals because they lack the staffing to chase them. Besides, they also don’t have the aggregation pull as single entities to directly get good value from the farms.

Nigerian startup Vendease solves this problem by building a marketplace that allows restaurants to buy directly from farms and food manufacturers.

The company was founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu, and Wale Oyepeju. The idea for Vendease came when founders who have been friends for more than five years noticed their favorite restaurants in cities like Lagos and Accra shutting down. Inquisitive, they asked the owners who were acquaintances why, and the problems boiled down to the unreliable and expensive nature of food procurement in the cities.

Some months later they saw a hotel manager openly complain to a vendor about the unsteady supply of produce the hotel was getting. It sparked an idea in the founders’ minds.

The established processes involved staff or a contract employee going to the market or using third-party vendors. The founders saw that these processes were often unreliable from the two unrelated events, and restaurants lost a lot of money from price inflation and bad produce.

“We thought to ourselves that if restaurant owners and hotel managers have these problems, let us actually do some research and find out if it is a problem we can solve, scale and make money while doing it,” Kara said to TechCrunch.

At the time, Kara, the CEO, and Fayankin, the COO, held the respective positions at a Pan-African media consulting company called RED Media. Aliyu, the chief product officer (CPO), also held a similar role at another Lagos and San Francisco-based, YC-backed startup, 54gene. Oyepeju, the CTO, was working on a couple of technology projects for corporates.

Before Vendease, they had founded an adtech startup for ride-hailing companies, which didn’t survive for long. So this was another shot at another entrepreneurial journey, and after two and half months of iteration, the founders decided to launch the company in January 2020. They also closed an undisclosed pre-seed round to kickstart operations. 

On its website, it is described as “a procurement platform that provides a transparent process for hotels and restaurants to get the best quality products at the best possible price.” But Kara has a more fanciful description: The Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa.

Customers can order anything ranging from bread to grains and meat to vegetables on the website. The order notification goes to the farms or food manufacturers, gets processed, and delivery is done within 24 hours. 

“Why we call ourselves that is because we are deliberate about fulfilling our orders to restaurants and hotels in less than 24 hours. As most of us know, this is similar to how Amazon Prime prioritizes delivery,” he commented.

The speed and timely manner in which Vendease carries out its operations are such that it currently completes 80% of on-time and one-time deliveries across all orders.

Image Credits: Vendease

To further highlight how effective the company has been thus far, Kara claims that a good number of the 100 businesses using Vendease went from procuring only one type of produce to 80% of their catalog in two months.

As much as Vendease helps restaurants a lot, it also looks out for the vendors and farmers involved in the supply chain. Typically it takes two to three months for these set of customers to get the payments and this happens because restaurants and hotels take too long to balance their books before making payments. In effect, farmers and vendors mark up their prices to mitigate losses, making products more expensive for restaurants and hotels

While growing up, Kara and Fayankin were on both sides of the vicious cycle. Growing up on a farm and helping his parents with livestock and crop care, Kara knows what it means to be owed for a long time.

“Those experiences help fuel what I do right now. Then, we had a problem selling our products and most times we ended up consuming them because we didn’t have enough off-takers. Even when you did, they’ll owe for six months. And this problem still exists to date.”

On the other side of the marketplace is Olumide, who grew up in a hotel and restaurant business. He runs and handles procurement activities and his experience is vital to how Vendease handles issues around unreliable and expensive supply of food produce. But now they are helping these customers reduce the waiting time to days.

Although they would’ve wanted to solve these problems earlier, their careers strayed toward media and energy. However, it has brought them back, and they’re solving additional problems they didn’t recognise in the past. They soon figured that customers couldn’t track most of their orders and be certain of what they got alongside the supply and cost issues.

Vendease has built all that to help these businesses digitize, track and automate their procurement and inventory management processes. It also helps with logistics, warehousing, quality control and financing where restaurants can buy goods and pay later.

In the next five years, the one-year-old company wants to be the operating system for food supplies in Africa. Kara talks of plans to expand to other African cities in the coming months but is tight-lipped on the names. As Demo Day approaches, the team will be looking to raise some money and follows Egypt’s Breadfast as the only restaurant-focused companies from Africa (although they have very different business models) that the accelerator has funded.

#africa, #amazon-prime, #food, #lagos, #logistics, #restaurant, #startups, #tc, #vendease

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Spying a pivot to ghost kitchens, Softbank’s second Vision Fund pours $120 million into Ordermark

“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.

The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.

“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”

After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.

Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.

“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”

It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .

Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.

Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.

Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark

While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.

The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.

It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.

In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”

For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.

To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.

Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.

Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.

“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”

While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.

“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.

Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.

#america, #business, #ceo, #chef, #chief-executive-officer, #companies, #covid, #delivery-services, #denver, #doordash, #east-coast, #grubhub, #jeff-housenbold, #laser, #los-angeles, #managing-partner, #menu, #online-food-ordering, #ordermark, #postmates, #restaurant, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #vision-fund, #websites, #wiz

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Uber Eats customers have given $3 million in direct contributions to restaurants

Uber Eats customers have given $3 million in direct contributions to restaurants using a new feature on the app designed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The milestone caps off a related campaign by Uber Eats to match up to $3 million in contributions made by customers. Uber Eats is sending its $3 million in matched funds to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. The company had previously donated $2 million to RERF.

The matching campaign has ended. However, the restaurant contribution feature, which was first rolled out in New York and is now in 20 countries, will continue.

The restaurant contribution feature was developed by a team of engineers in a flurry of activity over about seven days, according to Therese Lim, who leads the restaurant product management team for Uber Eats.

“There was no executive who said ‘oh we need to build this feature, you all go build this now,” Lim said, adding that this was a grassroots effort prompted by the wave of restaurants that were forced to close regular dine-in eating due to the spread of COVID-19. Lim said Uber Eats users started reaching out to employees via LinkedIn, email and other means to ask how they could help restaurants.

“We started to see restaurants get impacted severely by this,” Lim said. “This was particularly true as the various states started implementing shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders.”

The team had two primary concerns — beyond the basic backend operations — about the feature. They didn’t want it to cannibalize the amount of tips that users gave delivery workers, nor did they want it to cause customers to buy less from restaurants.

The team started to roll out the feature in a small area within New York City on April 1 to make sure tipping of delivery workers wasn’t impacted. The feature launched April 3 across the entire city and then expanded over the next week to the rest of the United States. The contribution feature is now live on the Uber Eats in 20 countries.

“We didn’t want to introduce anything that actually hurts restaurants,” Lim said. “It was important to make sure we weren’t introducing  friction into the experience that would cause a user to become impatient or displeased with the outcomes and maybe not actually finish their order.”

Those concerns didn’t bear out, according to data compiled since the app feature launched. Customers not only tipped more, they were also frequent users of Uber Eats.

Users who made restaurant contributions tipped their couriers 30% to 50% more than orders without a contribution, according to Uber. About 15% of Uber Eats customers in the U.S. who made a restaurant contribution were repeat contributors.

Data also shows that early dinner time, around 6 p.m., was the most generous time period, according to Lim. Dinner time, between 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., was the most popular for contributions, making up 60% of contribution dollars.

And certain foods, namely international cuisine, encouraged more contributions from users. French, Ethiopian, Argentinian and Thai restaurants had the highest contribution rates, according to Uber.

Some states were more generous than others. The top five most generous states, by percentage of active Uber Eats users who made at least one contribution, were Washington, Vermont, Montana, Connecticut, and South Carolina.

#automotive, #connecticut, #montana, #online-food-ordering, #restaurant, #south-carolina, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-states, #washington

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Gousto, a UK meal-kit service, raises another $41M as business booms under lockdown

Food delivery — be it ready-made restaurant meals, groceries, or anything in between — has seen a huge surge of activity in the last few weeks as people have sheltered in place to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. Today, one of the startups that’s built a business specifically in meal-kits in the UK is announcing funding to double down on its growth.

Gousto, a London-based meal-kit service, has closed £33 million ($41 million) in funding, money that it’s going to be using to continue investing in its technology — both in the AI engine that it says customers use to get more personalised recommendations of what to cook and eat, and in the backend tech used to optimise its own logistics and other operations — and in building more capacity to meet rising demand and expanding next-day delivery in the near future (it mainly operates on a three-day turnaround between ordering and delivery currently).

The company said that it’s currently delivering some 4 million meals to 380,000 UK households each month and is on course to cross 400 million meals delivered by 2025. It offers currently a choice of more than 50 recipes each week and gives people the option to tailor what they get, with the whole system running in an automated packing process, working out to average price per meal per person to £2.98 at its cheapest.

The funding — which was being raised before the novel coronavirus hit — is being led by Perwyn, with participation also from BGF Ventures, MMC Ventures and Joe Wicks — a hugely popular YouTube fitness coach who has built a lifestyle brand around healthy eating. This brings the total raised by Gousto to around £130 million ($162 million). It’s not disclosing its valuation with this round. It has 100 employees today and plans to expand that to 700 by 2022.

CTO Shaun Pearce said that Gousto was in high-growth mode before COVID-19, operating on forecasts of growing 70% year-on-year. That number — as with so many other delivery and specifically food-based delivery businesses right now — has spiked upward in recent weeks, not just from paying customers but also for Gousto’s own efforts to do something for the relief efforts, with food businesses like Gousto’s some of the remaining “key” businesses that have been allowed to stay open when others like restaurants have closed.

“We continue to be laser-focused on our vision to become the UK’s most-loved way to eat dinner. This additional investment is not only a validation of our track record, but it is also an endorsement of our strategic vision of the future which is rooted in investing in innovative technology to transform the way we search for, shop for, and cook our food,” said Timo Boldt, CEO and founder, in a statement. “In these challenging times, we want to continue offering people more choice and especially more convenience. We will maintain our close relationships with the government and other charitable partners to ensure those already struggling don’t see their situation worsen.”

In the last several weeks, Pearce said Gousto has also seen big changes in customer behavior from pre-existing customers, with a 28% increase in family boxes. “Those who buy from us want to buy more,” he said. Like some other smaller food delivery companies (and small can be as big as the online grocery Ocado) it’s also no longer accepting new customer sign-ups and is focused just on meeting the demand of pre-existing customers.

Gousto’s has also been trying to do its part in relief operations. It’s been working with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to produce meal kits for vulnerable people, and it has donated some 6,000 meals to The Trussell Trust foodbank network and to the homeless charity, Shelter. It’s also ensuring that when its system is overcrowded that NHS employees get priority access to its ordering platform. (This is in addition to the contactless and other safety procedures that Pearce said that Gousto has put in place to minimise the risk of spreading the virus both to its workers and customers.)

Meal kit services in recent years have taken a beating in recent years, typified perhaps most publicly by Blue Apron, which saw its stock drop drastically after going public in part because of the huge amount of competition (not just from other pure-play meal kit companies but a plethora of others like Amazon that have added on meal kits to other existing business lines such as other grocery delivery).

Pearce said that Gousto’s growth and popularity and flexibility that it offers users by way of the AI engine to craft recipes they might actually want to use sets it apart from current competition, which in the UK includes HelloFresh, Mindful Chef, offerings from most major grocers, and many more.

“We continue to be impressed by Gousto and its dedication to its customers,” said Andrew Wynn, founder and managing partner at Perwyn, in a statement. “The business has adapted quickly to continue providing an essential service to so many. This reaffirms the decision we took far before COVID-19, that we’re investing in the right people and a business set for even greater success.”

 

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