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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

How Dropbox, Nike, Salesforce, MailChimp, Google and Pepsi welcome their new hires

By Arman Tabatabai
Vladimir Polo Contributor
Vladimir PoloVladimir Polo is the founder and CEO of AcademyOcean, a SaaS tool for interactive onboarding and training. Vladimir has 10 years of management experience (agency & product) and is passionate about SaaS and building strong corporate culture.

The first day of work at a new job can be very stressful. The unfamiliar surroundings and onslaught of new material can cause new hires some degree of discomfort. But sometimes the atmosphere at the new company can be welcoming and can help counteract the stress.

Different companies have their own traditions to help make this transition period more comfortable and memorable for new hires. Some of these traditions include:

  • Team-building day trips for new hires
  • Breakfast with the CEO
  • Tours of the best cafes, parks, and other spots in the neighborhood
  • Office “quests” (or some other gamification of onboarding)
  • Personalized onboarding programs or interactive company academies

Usually, only employees can experience these traditions. But there’s one new-hire tradition that has become extremely popular and often highly publicized: the “welcome kit”.

Welcome kits usually contain a hodgepodge of items that employees will need on the job (pens, notebooks, books, etc.) and things to make employees feel welcome (clothing, stickers, water bottles, or more unusual items — often with the company name or logo on them).

To get a sense of how different companies handle their kits, we talked to four successful startups about their welcome kits in the article below, followed by our look at a dozen more:

Table of Contents:

This article is based on the personal welcome kit collection of Vladimir Polo, founder of AcademyOcean. AcademyOcean is a tool for interactive onboarding and training (and Vladimir Polo is a fan of welcome kits).

Dropbox

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Emma Comeau

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.

Protein replacement startups are coming for food additives as Shiru launches from Y Combinator

By Jonathan Shieber

Shiru, a new company that’s launching from the latest batch of Y Combinator-backed startups, is joining the ranks of the businesses angling for a spot at the vanguard of the new food technology revolution.

The company was founded by Jasmin Hume, the former director of food chemistry at Just (the company formerly known as Hampton Creek) and takes its name from a homophone of the Chinese shi rou (which Hume has roughly translated to an examination of meat). At Just, Hume was working with a team that was fractionating plants to look at their physical properties to identify what products could be made from the various proteins and chemicals researchers found in the plants.

Shiru, by contrast, is using computational biology to find the ideal proteins for specific applications in the food industry.

The company’s looking at what proteins are best for creating certain kinds of qualities that are used in food additives, things like viscosity building, solubility, foam stability, emulsification, and biding, according to Hume.

In some ways, Hume’s approach looks similar to the early product roadmap for Geltor, a company backed by SOSV and IndieBio that was also looking to make functional proteins. The company, which has raised over $18 million to date, shifted its attention to proteins for the beauty industry and cosmetics instead of food — potentially leaving an opening for Shiru to exploit.

 Still in its early days, Shiru doesn’t have a product nailed down yet, but the company the science the company is exploring is increasingly well understood, and Hume says it’s looking at several different genetically engineered feedstocks — from yeasts to undisclosed strains of bacteria and fungi to make its proteins. 

“We use the power of molecular design and machine learning to identify protein structures that are more functional than existing alternatives,” says Hume. “The proteins that we are screening for are inspired by nature.”

Hume’s path to founding Shiru involves quite the pedigree. Before Just, she received her doctorate in materials chemistry from New York University, and she’d spent a stretch as a summer associate at the New York-based frontier technology-focused investment firm Lux Capital.

Hume expects to begin pilot production of initial proteins later this year and be producing small but repeatable quantities by the end of 2020.

The company hasn’t raised any outside capital before Y Combinator and is currently in the process of raising a round, Hume said.

WW launches Kurbo, a hotly debated ‘healthy eating’ app aimed at kids

By Sarah Perez

Kurbo Health, a mobile weight loss solution designed to tackle childhood obesity which was acquired for $3 million by WW (the rebranded Weight Watchers), has now relaunched as Kurbo by WW — and not without some controversy. Pre-acquisition, the startup was focused on democratizing access to research, behavior modification techniques and other tools that were previously only available through expensive programs run by hospitals or other centers.

As a WW product, however, there are concerns that parents putting kids on “diets” will lead to increased anxiety, stress and disordered eating — in other words, Kurbo will make the problem worse, rather than solving it.

*If* you are worried about your child’s health/lifestyle, give them plenty of nutritious food and make sure they get plenty of fun exercise that helps their mental health. And don’t weigh them. Don’t burden them with numbers, charts or “success/failure.” It’s a slippery slope.

— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) August 14, 2019

The Kurbo app first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014. Founder Joanna Strober, a venture investor and board member at BlueNile and eToys, explained she was driven to develop Kurbo after struggling to help her own child. Mainly, she came across programs that cost money, were held at inconvenient times for working parents or were dubbed “obesity centers” — with which no child wanted to be associated.

Her child found eventual success with the Stanford Pediatric Weight Loss Program, but this involved in-person visits and pen-and-paper documentation.

Together with Kurbo Health’s co-founder Thea Runyan, who has a Master’s in Public Health and had worked at the Stanford center for 12 years, the team realized the opportunity to bring the research to more people by creating a mobile, data-driven program for kids and families.

They licensed Stanford’s program, which then became Kurbo Health.

FoodSystem Phone

The company raised funds from investors, including Signia Ventures, Data Collective, Bessemer Venture Partners and Promus Ventures, as well as angels like Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Greg Badros, former VP Engineering and Product at Facebook; and Esther Dyson (EdVenture), among others.

At launch, the app was designed to encourage healthier eating patterns without parents actually being able to see the child’s food diary. Instead, parents set a reward that was doled out simply for the child’s participation. That is, the parents couldn’t see what the child ate, specifically, which allowed them to stop playing “food police.”

ProfileStreak Phone

Unlike adult-oriented apps like MyFitnessPal or Noom, kids wouldn’t see metrics like calories, sugars, carbs and fat, but instead had their food choices categorized as “red,” “yellow” and “green.” However, no foods were designated as “off limits,” as it instead encouraged fewer reds and more greens.

The program also included an option for virtual coaching.

As a WW product, the program has remained somewhat the same. There are still the color-coded food categorizations and optional live coaching, via a subscription. Parents are still involved, now with updates after coaching calls or the option to join coaching sessions. The app also now includes tools that teach meditation, recipe videos and games that focus on healthy lifestyles. Subscribers gain access to one-on-one 15-minute virtual sessions with coaches whose professional backgrounds include counseling, fitness and other nutrition-related fields.

However, there are also things like a place to track measurements, goals like “lose weight” and Snapchat-style “tracking streaks.”

Home Tracked Phone

While the original program was designed to be a solution for parents with children who would have otherwise had to seek expensive medical help for obesity issues, the association with parent company and acquirer WW has led to some backlash.

CoachingChat Phone

Today, body positivity and fat acceptance movements have gone mainstream, encouraging people to be confident in their own bodies and not hate themselves for being overweight. The general thinking is that when people respect themselves, they become more likely to care for themselves — and this will extend to making healthier food and lifestyle choices.

Meanwhile, food tracking and dieting programs often lead to failure and shame — especially when people start to think of some food as “bad” or a “cheat,” instead of just something to be eaten in moderation. And excessive tracking can even lead to disordered eating patterns for some people, studies have found.

In addition, WW has already been under fire for extending its weight loss program to teens 13-17 for free, and the launch of what’s seen as a “dieting app for kids” as part of WW’s broader family-focused agenda certainly isn’t helping the backlash.

That said, when positive reinforcement is used correctly, it can work for weight loss. As TIME reported, the red-yellow-green traffic light approach was effective in adults in one independent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and another presented at the Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference worked in children, with 84% reducing their BMI after 21 weeks.

“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” said Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, in a statement about the launch. “As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective,” she said.

KURBO.

I thought that I hated Weight Watchers. I have not hated them as much as I do right now.

Making weight loss trendy for children is making the development of eating disorders easier and trendier. I am not here for this.

— Anna Sweeney MS, CEDRD-S (@DietitianAnna) August 13, 2019

That said, it’s one thing for a parent to work in conjunction with a doctor to help a child with a health issue, but parents who foist a food tracking app on their kids may not get the same results. In fact, they may even cause the child to develop eating disorders that weren’t present before. (And no, just because a child is overweight, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suffering from an “eating disorder.”)

Weight Watchers has a new dieting app for kids as young as 8 and it is truly disturbing https://t.co/GjPl4PHwSv pic.twitter.com/ZMkZmFr9X6

— Dr. Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) August 14, 2019

There can be many other factors that could be causing a child’s unexpected weight gain, beyond just their interest in eating high-calorie foods. This includes health ailments, hormone or chemical imbalances, medication side effects, puberty and other growth spurts (which can’t always be determined through BMI changes, which are tracked in-app), genetics, and more.

Parents may also be part of the problem, by simply bringing unhealthy food into the house because it’s more affordable or because they aren’t aware of things like hidden sugars or how to avoid them. Or perhaps they’re putting money into a child’s school lunch account, without realizing the child is able to spend it on vending machine snacks, sodas or off-menu items like pizza and chips.

The child may also suffer from health problems like asthma or allergies that have become an underlying issue, making it more difficult for them to be active.

In other words, a program like this is something that parents should approach with caution. And it’s certainly one where the child’s doctor should be involved at every stage — including in determining whether or not an app is actually needed at all.

This startup is helping food app delivery workers start their own damn delivery companies

By Connie Loizos

Following many months of pressure, DoorDash, one of the most frequently used food delivery apps in the U.S., said late last month that it was finally changing its tipping policy to pass along to workers 100% of tips, rather than employ some of that money toward defraying its own costs.

The move was a step in the right direction, but as a New York Times piece recently underscored, there are many remaining challenges for food delivery couriers, including not knowing where a delivery is going until a worker picks it up (Uber Eats), having just seconds to decide whether or not to accept an order (Postmates) and not being guaranteed a minimum wage (Deliveroo) — not to mention the threat of delivery robots taking their jobs.

It’s a big enough problem that a young, nine-person startup called Dumpling has decided to tackle it directly. Its big idea: turn today’s delivery workers into “solopreneurs” who build their own book of clients and keep much more of the money.

It newly has $3 million in backing from two venture firms that know the gig economy well, too: Floodgate, an early investor in Lyft (firm co-founder Ann Miura-Ko is on Lyft’s board), and Fuel Capital, where TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque is now a general partner.

We talked with Dumpling’s co-founders and co-CEOs earlier this week to learn more about the company and how viable it might be. Nate D’Anna spent eight years as a director of corporate development at Cisco; Joel Shapiro spent more than 13 years with National Instruments, where he held a variety of roles, including as a marketing director focused on emerging markets.

National Instruments, based in Austin, is also where Shapiro and D’Anna first met back in 2002. Our chat, edited lightly for length, follows:

TC: You started working together out of college. What prompted you to come together to start Dumpling?

JS: We’d stayed good friends as we’d done different things with our careers, but we were both seeing rising inequality happening at companies and within their workforces, and we were both interested in using our [respective] background and experiences to try and make a difference.

ND: When we were first started, Dumpling wasn’t a platform for people to start their own business. It was a place for people to voice opinions — kind of like a Glassdoor for workers with hourly jobs, including in retail. What jumped out at us was how many gig workers began using the platform to talk about the horrible ways they were being treated, not having a traditional boss and not being protected by traditional policies.

TC: At what point did you think you were onto a separate opportunity?

ND: We knew that a mission-driven company that’s trying to do good by people who’ve been exploited by Silicon Valley companies has to be profitable. I was an investor at Cisco, and I was very clear that the money side has to work. So we started talking with gig workers and we asked, ‘Why are you working for a terrible company where you’re getting injured, where you’re getting penalized for not taking the next job?’ And the response was ‘money.’ It was, ‘I need to be able to buy these groceries and I don’t want to put them on my own credit card.’ That was an epiphany for us. If the biggest pain point to running these businesses is working capital and we can solve that — if business owners will pay for access to capital and for tools that help them run their business — that clicked for us.

TC: A big part of your premise is that while gig economy companies have anonymized people as best they can, there’s a meaningful segment of services where a stranger or a robot isn’t going to work.

JS: Shoppers for gig companies often hear, ‘When you [specifically] come, it makes my day,’ so our philosophy was to build a platform that supports the person. When you run a business and build a clientele that you get to know, you’re incentivized for that [client] to have a good experience. So we wondered, how do we provide tools for someone who has done personal shopping and who not only needs funds to shop but also help with marketing and a website and training so they can promote their services?

ND: We also realized that to help business owners succeed that we needed to lower the transaction cost for them to find customers, so we created a marketplace where shoppers can look at reviews, understand different shoppers’ knowledge regarding when it comes to various specialties and stores, then help match them.

TC: How many shoppers are now running their own businesses on Dumpling and what do they get from you exactly?

JS: More than 500 across the country are operating in 37 states.  And we want to give them everything they need. A big part of that is capital, so we give [them] a credit card, then it’s effectively the operational support, including order management, customer relationship functionality, customer communication, a storefront, an app that they can use to run their business from their phone. . .

TC: What about insurance, tax help, that sort of stuff?

ND: A lot of VCs pushed us in that direction. The good news is a lot of companies are coming up to provide those ancillary services, and we’ll eventually partner with them if you want to export your data to Intuit or someone else. Right now, we’re really focused on [shoppers’] core business, helping then to operate it, to find customers, that’s our sweet spot for the immediate future.

TC: What are you charging? Who are you charging?

JS: A subscription model is an obvious way for us to go at some point, but right now, because we’re in the transaction flow, we’re taking a percentage of each transaction. The [solopreneuer] pays us $5 per transaction as a platform fee; the shopper pays us 5% atop the delivery fee set by the [person who is delivering their goods]. So if someone spends $100 on groceries, that customer pays us $5, and the shopper pays us $5 and the shopper gets that delivery fee, plus his or her tip.

The vast amount goes to the shopper, unlike with today’s model [wherein the vast majority goes to delivery companies]. Our average shopper is bringing home $32 in earnings per order, roughly three times as much as when they work for other grocery delivery apps. I think that’s partly because we communicate to [shoppers] that they are supporting local businesses and local entrepreneurs and they are receiving an average tip of 17% on their orders. But also, when you know your shopper and that person gets to know your preferences, you’re much more comfortable ordering non-perishables, like produce picked the way you like. That leads to huge order sizes, which is another reason that average earnings are higher.

TC: You’re fronting the cost for groceries. Is that money coming from your venture funding? Do you have a debt facility?

ND: We don’t. The money moves so fast. The shoppers are using the card to shop, then getting the money back again, so the cycle time is quick. It’s two days, not six months.

TC: How does this whole thing scale? Are you collecting data that you hope will inform future products?

ND: We definitely want to use tech to empower [shoppers] instead of control them. But [our CTO and third co-founder Tom Schoellhammer] came from Google doing search there, and eventually we [expect to] recommend similar stores, or [extend into] beauty or pet other local services. Grocery delivery is one obvious place where the market is broken, but where you want a trusted person involved, and you’re in the flow when people are looking for something [the opportunity opens up]. Shoppers’ knowledge of their local operation zone can be leveraged much more.

DoorDash is buying Caviar from Square in a deal worth $410 million

By Megan Rose Dickey

DoorDash has reached an agreement with Square to purchase on-demand food delivery and catering business Caviar . DoorDash has agreed to pay Square $410 million in cash and preferred DoorDash stock.

Square bought Caviar about five years ago in a deal worth about $90 million. Now, Caviar has found a new home with DoorDash, the on-demand delivery startup that had been under fire for months regarding how it pays its delivery workers. DoorDash finally did right by its workers just last week.

“Today’s announcement is another important step forward on our mission to empower local economies,” DoorDash CEO Tony Xu (pictured above) said in a statement. “We have long-admired Caviar, which has a coveted brand, an exceptional portfolio of premium restaurants and leading technology. The acquisition further enhances the breadth of our merchant selection, enabling us to offer customers even more choice when they order through DoorDash. We look forward to welcoming the Caviar team to DoorDash and expanding our partnership with Square in the future.”

With Caviar joining DoorDash, Square’s Caviar lead, Gokul Rajaram, along with all the other Caviar employees will join DoorDash once the acquisition closes. The deal is expected to close sometime this year.

“Caviar has built a trusted brand with customers and many of the best restaurants,” Rajaram said in a statement. “DoorDash has national scale, complementary restaurant selection, a tremendous logistics platform, and a team that shares our passion and commitment to better serve restaurants, couriers, and customers. I’m incredibly excited to be joining, with the rest of the Caviar team, to help build the future of local commerce.”

For Square, this deal provides the company with an opportunity to focus more on its products for businesses and individuals, Square CEO Jack Dorsey said.

“We are increasing our focus on and investment in our two large, growing ecosystems — one for businesses and one for individuals,” Dorsey said. “This transaction furthers that effort, and we believe partnering with DoorDash provides valuable and strategic opportunities for Square.”

Meanwhile, Square just reported its Q2 2019 earnings with net revenues of $1.17 billion (44% y/o/y growth), adjusted revenues of $563 million (46% y/o/y growth) and a net loss of $7 million.

This story is developing…

Amazon-backed food delivery startup Deliveroo acquires Edinburgh software studio Cultivate

By Ingrid Lunden

As two of the largest players in online-food ordering and delivery in Europe work on a $10 billion merger to expand their footprint and economies of scale, one of its biggest rivals has made an acquisition to expand its own tech muscle.

Deliveroo, the London-based food delivery startup backed by Amazon that is itself valued in the billions, has acquired a small Scottish startup called Cultivate, a software development and user experience design house that has worked with a number of big names, including Deliveroo itself.

Deliveroo — which today has 80,000 restaurants and 60,000 riders on its books across 500 cities in 14 markets in Europe and beyond (Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the United Kingdom) — is subsequently creating a new fintech hub in Edinburgh, where Cultivate is headquartered. It will be run by Andy Robinson, currently chief commercial officer for Cultivate.

“We have a fantastic relationship with Deliveroo, supporting them through an amazing period of growth. We were attracted by the array of interesting problems being tackled by their team, and how they are addressing them using modern and emerging technology,” Robinson said in a statement. “We’re proud to have built such a great team here in Edinburgh, and today’s announcement is a testament to their hard work and expertise in building world-class software. We are excited to continue this work, create highly skilled jobs, and build a centre of tech excellence here in Edinburgh.”

The plan will be to expand the team to 50 in the next three years, hiring engineers, product managers, user researchers, and designers and data scientists. (It’s worth pointing out too that Amazon has been a major employer in Edinburgh, where it also has a key R&D operation working in various areas including AI and search.)

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed but it’s likely to be a modest deal.

Cultivate itself was a small (likely around only 15 employees) but profitable business, from the looks of its filings with Companies House. It was also off the radar somewhat as a startup. Originally founded in 2007, Cultivate was initially acquired in 2009 ago by Texas firm EdgeCase, which was then itself acquired by Canadian web firm GroupBy in 2017 in a bid to take on Shopify and rebranded to become Neo. Subsequent to that, Cultivate was amicably spun out again. In that time it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from unnamed investors.

Deliveroo, founded in 2013 by William Shu and Greg Orlowski, was most recently valued at over $2 billion, although that was before Amazon put $575 million into the company earlier this year. It has raised around $1.5 billion in funding to date.

Cultivate — which had worked for many of clients — will now be working for just one, its owner. The two had already built Deliveroo’s payments technology, but as Deliveroo continues to work on ways to differentiate itself from its competitors through tech, it will be investing more in this area.

In addition to building new (not yet launched) services, some of the other areas of focus for the new Edinburgh operation will be to create more efficient payment systems for riders (which today use a Cash Out feature to access earnings quickly) and restaurants; to expand Deliveroo’s analytics for restaurants to figure out how to better plan for surges and to figure out what is popular and what is not; and (for both restaurants and riders) to better manage finances.

Cultivate had been involved in a number of social enterprise community initiatives to promote technology education alongside its paid work and Deliveroo said these efforts will continue.

“Cultivate have always been at the centre of the tech scene in Edinburgh and have supported events and initiatives across the board,” said Stephen Coleman, CEO of CodeBase, the tech campus in Edinburgh where Cultivate was based. “We are really pleased for the Cultivate team and Deliveroo’s plans to grow here in Scotland and are looking forward to having one of Europe’s top tech companies based here at CodeBase.”

News of this acquisition comes in the same week that Takeaway.com and Just Eat announced that their respective boards had agreed on the basic terms of a merger to create an expanded footprint across Europe.

The deal, if it completes, will not only give the two more economies of scale, and thus a better return on their own tech investment, but the aim will be to help them compete better against the likes of Uber Eats (a major priority for now-public Uber) as well as Deliveroo, which is now continuing its growth now with the might and will of Amazon behind it.

In that context, the Cultivate acquisition is demonstration not just of Deliveroo’s own investments into its tech, but specifically into what is a sizeable and important tech hub in the region, where Amazon has also been very active.

“Deliveroo is proud to be investing in Edinburgh and creating more high skilled jobs in the UK,” said Dan Winn, Deliveroo VP of engineering, in a statement. “Edinburgh is one of the UK’s fastest growing tech hubs, with access to an excellent talent pool of highly skilled people and university graduates. Deliveroo is committed to offering riders flexible, well-paid work and helping restaurants to grow their businesses. Building on Cultivate’s expertise, we are excited to create new products and services that will help us achieve this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes to Editors

 

 

Deliveroo is one of the UK’s leading tech unicorns and a British tech success story. Its investment in world-leading proprietary technology yields substantial benefits for customers, restaurants and riders. The Frank algorithm – which finds the optimal way to deliver food from restaurant to customer – has cut the average delivery time by nearly 20%, significantly reducing customer wait times. Frank’s machine-learning capabilities improves the allocation of orders and reduces restaurant waiting times for riders, helping them to earn higher fees without riding longer hours. And Deliveroo’s innovative products and tools give restaurants unique insights into their customer base, allows them to provide in-app offers to customers and improves their efficiency when preparing meals.

A photo of Andy Robinson (Chief Commercial Officer, Cultivate), Dan Winn (VP of Engineering, Deliveroo) and Paul Wilson (Managing Director, Cultivate) is available here.

For the next month, the Impossible Whopper will be available at Burger Kings across the country

By Jonathan Shieber

Starting in one week, the Impossible Foods plant-based Impossible Burger will be available at Burger King restaurants across the country.

The world’s second largest fast food chain is rolling out the Impossible Whopper nationwide at all of its 7,200 U.S. locations for the next month as it tests the potential demand for the meaty-tasting meatless patty.

Burger King first launched the Impossible Whopper at 59 restaurants in the St. Louis area on April Fool’s day. But the joke seems to be on the restaurant chain for not trying to make the nationwide rollout happen sooner.

Foot traffic to restaurants that sold the Impossible Whopper soared a whopping 18.5%, according to the market analysis firm, inMarket Insights. Over the same period, foot traffic to the company’s restaurants elsewhere in the U.S. declined 1.75%, according to the study, which analyzed location data of 50 million Comscore-verified users.

It’s been a busy week for Impossible Foods, which announced only yesterday that it had inked a partnership with a manufacturer to boost supplies of its heavily in-demand patties. The company also cleared the final regulatory hurdle it faced to bring its Impossible Burgers to grocery stores around the country. So just as Burger King wraps up its trial run, customers across the country will be able to find the patties on store shelves.

Burger King wasn’t the first chain to see the value in adding Impossible Burgers to the menu. Roughly a year ago, White Castle became the first major fast food chain to offer an Impossible Slider on its menu. The burgers can also be found at more upscale fast-casual restaurant chains like Bareburger, Applebee’s, Red Robin, and Five Napkin Burger joints.

While the other chains may have been first, the Burger King rollout is by far the largest.

“From the launch of our test in St. Louis, we knew that our guests really enjoyed the taste of the flame-grilled Impossible Whopper,” said Chris Finazzo, President, North America, Burger King Corporation, in a statement. “We’re now making the Impossible Whopper available for our guests across the country at an unbeatable price for a limited time only so visit one of our restaurants before they sell out.”

One day after the in-store launch, Burger King and DoorDash will offer an “Impossible Taste Test” where customers can order an Impossible Whopper and the original sandwich for $7. For orders of $10 or more, DoorDash will waive the delivery fee.

Suggested retail price for the Impossible Whopper is $5.59, which also puts the burger at a lower price point than many of the other fast food chains slinging Impossible products.

While the Impossible Whopper may be made entirely of plants, it’s not much healthier than eating a regular burger. The patties, made of water, soy protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil and leghemoglobin (that’s the company’s secret ingredient) aren’t designed to be healthier option than a burger — they’re just designed to be a more environmentally conscious replacement for beef.

Impossible Foods’ recent wins come as its chief rival, Beyond Meat, is raking in piles of cash as a publicly traded company and building up a sizable war chest to conduct research and development for new products.

Impossible Foods has raised nearly $700 million to date as a private company. Its backers include  Khosla Ventures,  Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.

The ‘world’s largest internet restaurant company’ quietly raised $125 million this month

By Connie Loizos

In May, venture capitalist Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital warned in a Financial Times column that Amazon’s recent $575 million investment in the London-based delivery service Deliveroo could prove ominous for local restaurants. Wrote Moritz: “Amazon is now one step away from becoming a multi-brand restaurant company — and that could mean doomsday for many dining haunts.”

Moritz was right to attract more attention to the deal. Deliveroo has begun operating shared kitchens from which it will not simply transport food to customers but eventually prepare it, too. His warning may even have played a role in the recent decision of Britain’s competition regulator to halt work on Amazon’s investment so it can first investigate whether the deal poses competitive concerns.

Moritz knows the playbook because of Sequoia’s early investment in Rebel Foods, formerly known as Faasos, a once-small Pune, India-based company that now prepares a variety of foods in its cloud kitchens. As he says in the same column, Faasos largely pioneered the trend.

The growth of the nine-year-old company is a bit breathtaking — and instructive. According to Bloomberg, Rebel — which this month raised $125 million in fresh capital from the Indonesian delivery service Go-Jek, Coatue Management and Goldman Sachs — now operates 235 kitchens across 20 Indian cities. And it’s processing two million orders a month. (It calls itself the “world’s largest internet restaurant company.”)

While it began life as a chain of kebab restaurants, that original concept, Faasos, is now just one of eight other brands that Rebel operates, including a tea brand called Kettle & Kegs; a Chinese concept called Mandarin Oak; a pizza brand called Oven Story; and a brand called Behrouz, through which Rebel makes and sells slow-cooked biryani rice dishes.

Rebel Foods isn’t the only fast-moving operator using cloud kitchens to offer every kind of cuisine imaginable under one roof. Competitors of the company — which tells Bloomberg it is now valued at $525 million — include UberEats and the food delivery company Zomato, which itself has plans to open more than 100 cloud kitchens by the end of this year.

Zomato says it isn’t getting into the food preparation business — yet — but rather renting facilities, kitchen equipment and software to restaurants.

Still, it’s little wonder that Rebel is racing headlong into new markets as fast as it can. According to Bloomberg, the company is currently planning to build 100 cloud kitchens in Indonesia over the next 18 months, with Go-Jek’s help. It also expects to open 20 cloud kitchen facilities in the United Arab Emirates by December.

Rebel was founded by Jaydeep Barman, a native of Mumbai with an MBA from INSEAD who spent nearly four years with McKinsey before joining forces with business school classmate Kallol Banerjee to launch Faasos.

Despite raising money early on from Sequoia, the company was once at risk of going out of business, in part owing to high rents and employee turnover. As Moritz tells the story, things turned around dramatically when the duo closed their restaurants and opened their first centralized kitchen.

That decision would prove pivotal. Not only did Rebel survive, but today, the company tells Bloomberg, the entire operation runs the equivalent of 1,600 restaurants.

Impossible Foods goes to the grocery store

By Jonathan Shieber

After receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Impossible Foods has cleared the last regulatory hurdle it faced to rolling out in grocery stores.

The company is targeting a September release of Impossible products to join its competitor Beyond Meat on grocery store shelves.

The news comes as the company said it inked a major supply agreement with the OSI Group, a food processing company, to increase the availability of its Impossible Burger.

Impossible Foods has been facing shortages of its product, which it can’t make fast enough to meet growing customer demand.

The supply constraints have been especially acute as the company inks more deals with fast food vendors like Burger King, White Castle and Qdoba to supply its Impossible protein patty and ground meal to a growing number of outlets.

Impossible Foods products are now served in more than 10,000 locations around the world.

Earlier this year, the company hired Dennis Woodside and Sheetal Shah to scale up its manufacturing operations and help manage its growth into international markets. The company began selling its product in Singapore earlier this summer.

May not only saw new executives joining the Impossible team, but a new capital infusion as well. Impossible Foods picked up $300 million in financing from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.

With the new FDA approval, Impossible Foods will now be able to go head to head with its chief rival, Beyond Meat. The regulatory approval will also help to dispel questions that have swirled around the safety of its innovative soy leghemoglobin that have persisted since the company began its expansion across the U.S.

Last July, the company received a no-questions letter from the FDA, which confirmed that the company’s heme was safe to eat, according to a panel of food-safety experts.

The remaining obstacle for the company was whether or not the company’s “heme” could be considered a color additive. That approval — the use of heme as a color additive — is what the FDA announced today.

“We’ve been engaging with the FDA for half a decade to ensure that we are completely compliant with all food-safety regulations — for the Impossible Burger and for future products and sales channels,” said Impossible Foods Chief Legal Officer Dana Wagner. “We have deep respect for the FDA as champion of U.S. food safety, and we’ve always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100% confidence in our product.”

NakedPoppy launches curated beauty marketplace for wellness junkies

By Kate Clark

NakedPoppy co-founders Jaleh Bisharat and Kimberly Shenk are an impressive duo. Bisharat, the startup’s chief executive officer, is a commanding presence and a bona fide marketing savant. The perfect compliment to Shenk, a reticent and data-focused chief product officer.

Together they’re building a cosmetics startup, NakedPoppy, where people can purchase high-quality “clean” makeup, or sustainable, ethically-made and cruelty-free products produced without harmful chemicals. It launches today with $4 million in venture capital backing from top investors, including Cowboy Ventures (the seed-stage fund led by Aileen Lee), Felicis Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Maveron, Polaris Ventures and Slow Ventures.

“Conventional makeup is considered hazardous waste by the EPA,” Bisharat tells TechCrunch. “You can look better and go clean.”

But NakedPoppy isn’t just another website for buying makeup. Like all companies today, it’s a tech company. NakedPoppy’s patent-pending personalization algorithm helps customers quickly find makeup that matches or complements their skin tone. To do this, customers are asked to complete a three-minute assessment and submit a photo of their wrist, which is used to pinpoint their base skin color.

NakedPoppy assessment

“I’m not the person that is up to trends or is keeping up with the YouTube stars,”  NakedPoppy’s product chief Shenk tells TechCrunch. “When I walk into Sephora my stomach drops … I am the kind of woman that wants to set it and forget it. Just give me the right thing and let’s move on.”

Bisharat adds that NakedPoppy targets the busy woman: “The one for whom it’s not entertainment to go shopping for makeup.”

The NakedPoppy team hopes its algorithm expedites the makeup shopping process for those who view the task as a chore not a hobby. Accounting for skin type, skin color, skin undertone, age, eye color, hair color, allergies, sensitivities and more, the startup presents each customer a filtered and tailored list of the 400 items its carries, ranging from lipsticks to foundation to blush and more. Cosmetic chemists screen all NakedPoppy products to ensure they were made with only clean ingredients.

Alongside its official launch, NakedPoppy is announcing its debut original product: Liquid eyeliner. The product was screened and tested by a number of clean beauty experts and even a VC: “This is a hero product, no doubt about it,” BBG Ventures’ managing partner Susan Lyne said in a statement. Lyne, of course, is a NakedPoppy angel investor. “Most eyeliners start drying out after a few weeks and get harder to apply. This one is still as supple as the day I got it. It looks natural, lasts all day and washes off easily with soap. It’s pretty perfect.”

For the record, I tried out the NakedPoppy eyeliner too and can attest to its greatness.

NakedPoppy founders

NakedPoppy co-founders Jaleh Bisharat (CEO, left) and Kimberly Shenk (CPO, right).

The women behind NakedPoppy, as I alluded to earlier, know what they’re doing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they could’ve paired their marketing and data science expertise to build just about anything. Makeup, however, was their shared passion.

“For us, it’s a personal passion and an area of information asymmetry, like most people know that with the food you eat, you should try to eat organic or as healthy as you can, but you’d be surprised how few women — they just assume the FDA protects them,” Bisharat said. “The idea is to educate the world and help women move toward new solutions.”

Bisharat got her start in marketing two decades ago. Shortly after the e-commerce giant went public, she served as the vice president of marketing at Amazon . A career peak for many, Bisharat went on to lead marketing efforts at OpenTable, Jawbone, UpWork and, most recently, Eventbrite, where she met Shenk.

Before moving into the private sector, Shenk got her start as a data scientist in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately ending up as the director of data science at the now-public ticketing and events business, Eventbrite .

10 NakedPoppy Pouch

Bisharat and Shenk remained mum on what marketing tactics they’ll deploy to capture the attention of potential customers. Will they partner with social media influencers to spread the word? Double down on Instagram ads? Open brick-and-mortar shops? They wouldn’t say. Additional original products are definitely in the works, though, as is a foray into skincare and ultimately, a full-fledged dive into all self-care products.

The hope is to making buying clean makeup easy. Historically, the big makeup brands have been owned and operated by one of a dozen or so large companies dominating the space. Increasingly, however, direct-to-consumer brands and startups, most notably Glossier, have attracted customers that prioritize ease-of-access.

As the beauty industry adjusts, an influx of digital-first upstarts, NakedPoppy included, will be poised to steal market share from the long-reigning giants. Perhaps NakedPoppy’s push toward transparency in ingredients and production will encourage the big brands to do the same.

Ordermark, the online-delivery order management service for restaurants, raises $18 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Los Angeles-based Ordermark, the online delivery management service for restaurants founded by the scion of the famous, family-owned Canters Deli, said it has raised $18 million in a new round of funding.

The round was led by Boulder-based Foundry Group. All of Ordermark’s previous investors came back to provide additional capital for the company’s new funding, including: TenOneTen Ventures, Vertical Venture Partners, Mucker Capital, Act One Ventures, and Nosara Capital, which led the Series A funding.

“We created Ordermark to help my family’s restaurant adapt and thrive in the mobile delivery era, and then realized that as a company, we could help other restaurants experiencing the same challenges. We’ve been gratified to see positive results come in from our restaurant customers nationwide,” said Alex Canter, in a statement.

A fourth generation restauranteur, Canter built the technology on the back of his family deli’s own needs. The company has integrated with point of sale systems, kitchen displays, and accounting tools, and with last mile delivery companies.

As the company expands it’s looking to increase its sales among the virtual restaurants powered by cloud kitchens and delivery services like Uber Eats, Seamless/Grubhub and others, the company said in a statement.

Although the business isn’t profitable, Ordermark is now in over 3,000 restaurants. The company has integrations with over fifty ordering services.

SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek

By Ingrid Lunden

Grab — the on-demand transportation app worth $14 billion that is the Uber of Southeast Asia — today announced how it would be using some of the $7 billion or so that it has raised to date: $2 billion provided by SoftBank is being earmarked Grab’s operations in Indonesia — the biggest economy in Southeast Asia — over the next five years, to help it go head-to-head with local rival Gojek.

Specifically, Grab said it and SoftBank met with Indonesian government officials and have agreed to use the money to help modernise the country’s transportation infrastructure and economy with the development of an electronic vehicle “ecosystem”, new geo-mapping solutions, and the establishment of a second headquarters for Grab in Jakarta focused on R&D for Indonesia and the wider region, to sit alongside its existing HQ in Singapore.

Grab has confirmed that this investment news does not affect the company’s valuation as it’s not fresh funding — although it looks like it might lead to another, new SoftBank injection in Grab, too.

“I’d like to invest more… We would invest (in) Grab more, and also encourage to invest more in other companies,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said in a press conference earlier today. “We will create a second headquarters of Grab in Indonesia, and become 5th unicorn and also invest $2b through Grab. On top of that, we will invest more.”

Grab last raised money just four weeks ago, $300 million from Invesco as part of a larger, ongoing Series H that it wants to use in part for acquisitions. That round is already at around $4.5 billion, with SoftBank having already put in just under $1.5 billion. This $2 billion is on top of that previous round, the company said today.

The company’s last reported valuation from a couple of months ago was around $14 billion, a figure that we have been able to confirm remains the same today.

“With our presence in 224 cities, Indonesia is our largest market and we are committed to long-term sustainable development of the country,” said Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab, in a statement. “We are delighted to facilitate this SoftBank investment, as we believe by investing in digitizing critical services and infrastructure, we hope to accelerate Indonesia’s ambition to become the largest digital economy in the region and improve the livelihoods of millions in the country.” Indonesia accounts for the lion’s share of Grab’s business in terms of total footprint: its in 338 countries overall, meaning this country accounts for two-thirds of the whole list.

The news puts Grab head to head with another big on-demand transportation startup Gojek: the two were already rivals in the region, but GoJek is based out of Jakarta and has been the dominant player in that specific market up to now.

Indeed, the deal is notable not just for the amount, but for how it casts both Grab and SoftBank as allies of the government, not just accepted as businesses but endorsed as key players in helping improve the Indonesian economy and how the country is able to deliver critical services like healthcare and transportation, as well as give more services to drive the growth of “micro-entrepreneurs” by way of Grab-Kudo, the payments startup in the country that Grab acquired in 2017 for less than $100 million.

Given the track record that companies like Uber have had in locking horns with regulators, this puts Grab immediately into a strong position in terms of introducing and running with new services in the future. Its restaurant delivery business, GrabFood, is already the largest in the region, it claimed today.

Grab said the financial commitment was the result of a meeting between Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group, Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab and Ridzki Kramadibrata, President of Grab Indonesia, at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

“Indonesia’s technology sector has huge potential,” said Son in a statement. “I’m very happy to be investing $2 billion into the future of Indonesia through Grab.”

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan also had words supporting the deal: “Supported by the growing economy, Indonesia has a good investment climate where we are working together to boost the ease of investment in Indonesia,” he said. “This investment is evidence that Indonesia has been on the radar of investors, especially in the technology sector. We look forward to working with Grab, the fifth unicorn in Indonesia, and SoftBank to empower SMEs, accelerate tourism, and improving health services.”

This deal is a win on a couple of levels for Grab.

Most obviously, it’s giving the company a huge injection of capital to continue expanding its business aggressively in what is the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP of around $1 trillion annually.

A well-worn strategy by on-demand transportation companies — typified by others like Uber, Lyft and Didi — is to go big and go fast in order to establish a market presence among drivers and passengers, which can be used as a foothold to expand into other areas like food or package delivery and to then increase prices to improve margins.

Given that Indonesia is Gojek’s home country, and given that Indonesia is one of the biggest markets in the region, this makes it one of the most important territories for Grab to — err — grab.

“Grab is an Indonesia-focused company,” said Ridzki Kramadibrata, president of Grab Indonesia, in a statement today. “Having our second headquarters in Jakarta will allow us to better serve the needs of all Indonesians and those from emerging economies in the region. As a technology decacorn, Grab very well understands the needs and challenges we have here. We are also well positioned to support more high tech industries and infrastructure companies originating from Indonesia.”

On another front, this is an important strategy for the company on the regulatory and government front.

In a climate where it’s not unusual to see companies banned from operating in markets where they have run afoul of officials and the public, Grab is essentially buying its way into working with the state, and actually taking a commercial role in building its infrastructure. This — offering help with building infrastructure and simply passing on some of its experience and learnings — is a route that Didi has also been taking to make its way into new markets.

Grab said that it has invested $1 billion to date in Indonesia before now, and it said that its contribution to the economy in 2018 was $3.5 billion (48.9 trillion Indonesian rupiahs).

Updated to clarify that this is NOT a new infusion of capital, but a specification of how existing investments will be used. Meanwhile, Grab is still raising money and SoftBank said it wants to invest more.

Using the same tactics as ‘Big Tobacco,’ Juul may have intentionally targeted teens

By Jordan Crook

After a hearing this week, members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform said that Juul, the ultra-popular e-cigarette brand, may have intentionally targeted teens in schools and online.

Based on 55,000 non-public documents out of Juul Labs, the subcommittee said that Juul’s Youth Prevention Plan recruited schools into a program that put Juul representatives and students in the same room. Schools received payment for participating in the program.

According to the release, one testimony put before the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy described a Juul representative telling students that vaping was “totally safe,” and recommended that one already nicotine-addicted student use Juul.

The subcommittee also reported that Juul spent $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp for 80 children through a charter school, according to documents obtained for the hearing. The camp was meant to be a “holistic health education program.”

Dr. Robert Jackler, Stanford University School of Medicine, testified about his conversations with Juul co-founder James Monsees, who said the use of Stanford’s tobacco advertising database was “very helpful as they designed JUUL’s advertising,” according to information provided by the subcommittee.

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“The Subcommittee found that: JUUL deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children; JUUL also targeted teenagers and children, as young as eight years old, in summer camps and public out-of-school programs; and JUUL recruited thousands of online ‘influencers’ to market to teens,” the memo states.

The company also turned to more modern methods. Using an influencer marketing program to “curate and identify 280 influencers in LA/NY to seed JUUL product” and find social media “buzzmakers” with “a minimum of 30,000 followers” to attend launch events for the company’s products.

Juul shut down its social media marketing program in November of last year. While it closed its Facebook and Instagram accounts, the company’s products still circulate on social media through hashtags from users themselves.

Documents delivered to the subcommittee show that Juul was aware that its prevention programs were “eerily similar” to those used by the big tobacco companies (which were ultimately forced to pay states and the U.S. government  $27.5 billion in a master settlement agreement over their marketing and sales practices).

Juul also took steps to stop selling flavored products in response to FDA criticism.

As we reported:

Juul currently sells eight different flavors of pods. Pods that don’t come in existing tobacco flavors — Virginia Tobacco, Classic Tobacco, Mint and Menthol — will only be available online effective immediately. In other words, the only place to buy Creme, Fruit, Cucumber and Mango (Juul’s most popular flavor) is on the Juul website.

There, the company verifies that customers are 21+ by either cross-referencing information, such as DOB and the last four digits of a Social Security number, with publicly available data, or asking users to upload a scan of their driver’s license.

Responding to pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, JUUL has taken other steps to limit access and curb underage use of its products.

Juul also targeted Native American populations, where smoking rates are higher than the general population. Rae O’Leary, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, testified that Juul targeted Native American tribes to use as “guinea pigs.” According to O’Leary’s testimony, in exchange for a $600,000 investment, Juul solicited tribal medical professionals to provide their devices to tribal members for free and collect information on the tribal members.

Juul declined to comment at the time of publication.

Planted joins the meatless meat melee with its pea-protein ‘chicken’

By Devin Coldewey

Imitation meat is poised to expand its presence in our diets exponentially, if the success of dueling faux burger companies Impossible and Beyond are any indication — but where’s the chicken? Planted is a brand new Swiss company that claims its ultra-simple meatless poultry is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, better in other ways, and soon, cheaper.

Made from only pea protein, pea fiber, water, and sunflower oil, the company’s first product, which they call planted.chicken, imitates the texture and flavor (or lack thereof) of chicken meat very closely.

There are no exotic substances or techniques involved, which keeps production simple and vegans happy. It’s created by making a sort of fibrous dough using the ingredients mentioned, then using a carefully configured extrusion machine to essentially recreate the structure of the muscle fibers that make up meat. These are reassembled into larger pieces with a similar texture to a piece of chicken breast.

planted dishesOf course it has different properties than real chicken — having no fat, collagen, or other complex animal substances, it won’t cook the same and can’t be simply substituted in any recipe. But for the innumerable dishes where something like a simple grilled and/or chopped chicken breast is  called for, the Planted product could be a great fit.

Strangely enough, it all began with perhaps the most unpalatable substance conceivable (don’t worry, it doesn’t go in the food): hagfish slime. This strange substance secreted by the deep-dwelling creatures has interesting properties that attracted the attention of Lukas Böni and Erich Windhab in the food sciences labs of ETH Zurich.

“This amazing natural hydrogel and [Lukas’s] biomimetic approaches strongly contribute to our understanding of meat-like structures today and how they can be mimicked and eventually even improved from a biomaterials perspective,” said co-founder Christoph Jenny.

Böni soon connected with his other co-founders, Eric Stirnemann and Pascal Bieri, who shared an interest in reducing the waste and ecological costs associated with meat production. Though they are not opposed to meat-eating fundamentally, they deplore the enormous amounts of land required for it, unethical production methods, and other unhealthy byproducts of the industry. Their hope is to convince meat-eaters to choose less wasteful alternatives without asking them to compromise on the quality of the food.

Planted as a company was only started last week, though the team has been working for a year and a half on their first product. Böni brought the food science and biological materials knowledge, and Stirnemann is an expert in extrustion techniques; together they were able, after much experimentation, to produce a truly chicken-like substance.

From hagfish slime to chicken-like substance — it doesn’t really sound palatable. But leaving aside that little about food production is really table conversation, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting, and tests along those lines have gone very well.

At tests in restaurants across Switzerland, reception has been great, with some consumers unable to tell it apart from the real thing. And this isn’t being substituted for ground chicken in a stew or something — it’s front and center.

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“We put a lot of research into the product to make it extremely close to chicken,” said Jenny. “Hence we price around a premium chicken at this stage. We do see strong potential to produce our product at a lower cost mid-term, given strong economies of scale.”

Getting to that mid-term is the problem, of course, but given the frenzy of demand around fake meat and growing investment in alternative proteins, it probably won’t be hard to find investors. Though the company declined to detail its current funding, its FAQ says it is at the “seed stage” and although it is independent from ETHZ, it’s hard to imagine Planted will be leaving the nest without a bit of help from the university that spawned it.

Currently Planted’s chicken substitute is only available at a handful of restaurants while they work out the rest of the business and prepare to scale up. The company is planning on expanding its commercial presence next year, so until then keep an eye on the location list and drop by if you’re in Zurich or Bern.

Meituan, Alibaba, and the new landscape of ride-hailing in China

By Rita Liao

Instead of switching between apps to secure a ride during rush hour, people in China can now hail from different companies using a single app. Some of the country’s largest internet companies — including ride-hailing giant Didi itself — are placing bets on this type of aggregation service.

The nascent model is reminiscent of a feature Google Maps added in early 2017 allowing users to hail Uber, Lyft, Gett and Hailo straight from its navigation app. A few months later, AutoNavi, a maps app owned by Alibaba, debuted a similar feature in China. Other big names like Baidu, Hellobike, Meituan and Didi subsequently joined forces with third-party ride-booking services rather than building their own.

The trend underscores changes in China’s massive ride-hailing industry of 330 million users (in Chinese). The government is tightening rules around vehicle and driver accreditation, leading to a widescale driver shortage. Meanwhile, established carmakers including BMW and state-owned Shouqi are entering the fray, offering premium rides with better-trained fleet drivers, but they face an uphill battle with Didi, which gobbled up Uber China in 2016.

By corraling various ride-booking services, an aggregator can shorten wait time for users. For new ride-hailing players, riding on a billion-user platform like Meituan opens up wider user acquisition channels.

These ride-hailing marketplaces let users request rides from any number of third-party services available. At the end of the trip, users pay directly through the aggregator, which normally takes a commission of about 10%, although none of the players have disclosed how revenue is exactly divided with their mobility partners.

In comparison, a ride-hailing operator such as Didi charges about 20% from each trip since they take care of driver management, customer support and other dirty work which, to a great extent, helps build the moat around their business.

Here’s a look at who the aggregators are.

Fish replacement may be the next big wave in alternative protein development

By Jonathan Shieber
Brian Kateman Contributor
Brian Kateman is President and Cofounder of the Reducetarian Foundation.

Fish make up 16% of animal protein consumed globally, and demand is set to rise, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, largely thanks to rising disposable incomes.

But overfishing is hugely problematic – and it’s not sustainable to continue with the way things are. Fish populations are being decimated – including the Pacific bluefin tuna, which is now at four percent of its original size. Industrial fisheries are using large machinery to trawl oceans, which traps and kills many other animals, including whales and dolphins.

In China alone, where demand for seafood dwarfs any other country, demand is rapidly growing. This is partly due to the African Swine Fever outbreak hitting pig farms affecting pork, and causing people to turn to other sources of protein. In addition, the country’s huge long-distance fishing industry continues to expand, depleting fisheries and causing conflicts.

But most of the fish we eat will be farm-raised by 2030. Poorly managed fish farms can cause chemical contamination of water and promote bacteria and diseases that end up in wild ecosystems. Farmed salmon poses a huge risk to the environment when it mixes with wild populations, as this can disturb important ecosystems.

Fish is a hugely important source of protein as we face a growing population and the challenges of food insecurity. But supplying fish sustainably, without depleting natural resources and harming the aquatic environment, is a continuous challenge. Fish is contaminated with plastics, mercury and antibiotics. And fish farming isn’t doing much to tackle food insecurity, as it isn’t reaching the places where it’s most needed.

There is also a long and ongoing debate about fish welfare, and whether fish species are sentient and can feel pain when they’re fished and killed. But research is putting this debate to rest and showing that a number of species demonstrate having long-term memory, social bonding and parenting skills, use tools, learn traditions and cooperate with other species. Most experts agree that fish also have the ability to experience emotions, including pain and fear.

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IZMIR, TURKEY – APRIL 25 : An aerial view of fish farm, raising a new breed ‘Egeli’ fish, in Izmir’s Karaburun district, Turkey on April 25, 2019. ‘Egeli’ fish, cross breeding of sea bream and dentex, are expected to be put on sale in a year. (Photo by Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

But while fish farms in some countries must follow humane slaughter guidelines, there are no standards for wild fishing. And these guidelines are a far cry from their name. The traditional method for killing farmed fish is letting them asphyxiate in air or on ice, which is a prolonged and distressing processes, and is sometimes followed by a stun. The fish are often crowded into one small space, living in poor conditions and often starving. Overcrowded fish are more prone to disease, stress and aggression, which can cause them to lash out at each other and cause injuries. The pens can be a breeding ground for sea lice and disease, and parasites. And there are so man fish subject to this that we’ve lost count. Estimates suggest up to 120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food every year.

Although plant-based alternatives for red meat – like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger – and poultry – like The Imposter Burger – have been on the rise, when it comes to fish – we’ve fallen behind. Fish is as much a part of our diets as meat from land animals, so it only makes sense for there to be plant-based seafood options available for those who want to cut back on conventional products.

But the tide is starting to change, and we’re now seeing a promising focus on plant-based fish substitutes. Impossible Foods says plant-based fish alternatives are a ‘high priority’ for the start-up, while other companies are developing a number of fish products that are getting closer to mimicking the real thing. Good Catch offer plant-based tuna, Ocean Hugger Foods have developed a plant-based raw tuna, and New Wave Foods have come up with plant-based shrimp – while restaurants are starting to offer plant-based sushi.

There are also innovations with cell-based meat. Start-up Wild Type has developed lab-grown salmon by taking stem cells from salmon and grown them in lab conditions. The company is hoping to get its price down and start selling to consumers. Singapore-based Shiok Meats is developing cell-based crustaceans, including shrimp, crab and lobster, Blue Nalu is growing cell-based seafood and Finless Foods is focusing on growing bluefin tuna in the lab. The start-up says it was the first to produce a cell-based fish in 2017, and hopes to bring its fish to high-end restaurants this year. It also has the added benefit of being mercury-free.

There’s much work to be done around making fishing more humane and sustainable, but this must go alongside efforts to dampen demand. Plant- and cell-based meat companies continue to encourage and support those looking to reduce their red meat and poultry intake – and now there’s growing attention on doing the same for fish. We must make sure there are alternatives available to catch people who have woken up to the damage caused by our growing demand for fish.

Google finance head joins Postmates board ahead of anticipated IPO

By Kirsten Korosec

Google’s vice president of finance, has joined Postmates’ board of directors, the latest sign that the on-demand food delivery startup is prepping to take the company public.

Postmates announced Friday that Kristin Reinke, vice president of Finance at Google, will join the San Francisco startup as an independent director.

Reinke has been with Google since 2005. Prior to Google, Reinke was at Oracle for eight years. Reinke also serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Economic Advisory Council.

Her skill set will come in handy as Postmates creeps towards an IPO.

Earlier this year, the company lined up a $100 million pre-IPO financing that valued the business at $1.85 billion. Postmates is backed by Tiger Global, BlackRock, Spark Capital, Uncork Capital, Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and others. Spark Capital’s Nabeel Hyatt tweeted the news earlier Friday.

Happy to welcome Kristin to the board of @Postmates. 🚀 Great times ahead. https://t.co/nEqu3A2YkE

— Nabeel Hyatt (@nabeel) June 28, 2019

“Postmates has established itself as the market leader with a focus on innovation and route efficiency in the fast‐growing on‐demand delivery sector. Given their strong execution, accelerating growth, and financial discipline, they are well positioned for continued market growth across the U.S.,” said Reinke. “I’m thrilled to join the board.”

The startup has been beefing up its executive quiver, most recently hiring Apple veteran and author Ken Kocienda as a principal software engineer at Postmates X, the team building the food delivery company’s semi-autonomous sidewalk rover, Serve.

Kocienda, author of “Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s  Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs,” spent 15 years at Apple focused on human interface design, collaborating with engineers to develop the first iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

Walmart now accepts SNAP for online grocery orders at all 2,500+ pickup locations

By Sarah Perez

Walmart has been working to address the needs of low-income shoppers for some time. More recently, it’s been introducing new ways to serve customers on public assistance. In fall 2017, the retailer began a small test allowing customers to pay for online grocery orders using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — more casually known as food stamps. Today, Walmart says SNAP is now accepted for online grocery orders at all of the company’s 2,500-plus pickup locations.

For SNAP customers, the process of placing an online order is as simple as it is for those paying with debit or credit. They put in their zip code on the Walmart Grocery website to select their local store, then shop for groceries online by adding items to their cart. At checkout, they select a pickup time and choose “EBT card” as their payment option.

When they arrive at the store, they’ll park in the customer spaces marked for Grocery Pickup orders and give their EBT benefit card to the store associate who brings their order to the car.

As Walmart and other retailers have explained, online shopping should not be considered a luxury. Low-income shoppers can often save money by going online where there can be better deals available than at local stores. In Walmart’s case, however, online groceries are priced the same as they are in store.

In addition, be able to shop online can be a huge time saver for those working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Walmart says it’s planning to accept the SNAP payment option at over 3,100 Walmart stores by the end of the year.

The SNAP at Pickup program isn’t the only way Walmart is serving low-income customers.

The retailer also announced in April its participation in a USDA pilot program designed to test the acceptance of SNAP payments directly on retailers’ websites for both grocery pickup and delivery. Walmart is one of several retailers who agreed to participate in the pilot, along with Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Safeway, and Wright’s Markets.

Another pilot we recently spotted is focused on bringing down the cost of grocery delivery by offering customers the option to pay an annual subscription fee of $98, instead of per-delivery charges which can add up over time. Though not aimed at the low-income shopper, it is a viable alternative to rival grocery delivery programs from Target (Shipt), Amazon, and Instacart.

Millennials don’t want to get drunk. What do they want? Apéritifs.

By Kate Clark

Gen Z doesn’t want to get drunk. Millennials are tired of the obligatory after-work drinks.

Haus, a new startup selling apéritifs online, has a solution for them. The company’s beverages have a lower alcohol content than standard hard liquors on the market, which means you can drink one, even a few, without getting wasted. Made from distilled grapes, fresh herbs and botanicals, its natural ingredients and A-plus branding are sure to appeal to the younger demographic.

Launching today with pre-seed backing from venture capital funds Combine, Haystack and Partners Resolute, customers can begin ordering Haus’ citrus & flower-flavored debut apéritif (15% ABV), priced at $70 apiece. The goal, co-founder Helena Price Hambrecht explains, is to be the first fully direct-to-consumer player in an industry dominated by digitally-novice incumbent alcohol brands and distributors.

Haus enters the market at an opportune time. VCs — more than ever — are funneling cash to innovative beverage projects. This year, Bev, a canned wine business, raised $7 million in seed funding from Founders Fund. Liquid Death, which sells canned water for the punk rock crowd, attracted nearly $2 million in funding from angel investors like Away co-founder Jen Rubio and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. And More Labs, the company readying the launch of Liquid Focus, is backed with $8 million in VC funding, among others.

Haus is run by co-founders and husband-and-wife duo Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht. The former has established herself in Silicon Valley, developing the brands of consumer-facing companies including the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Facebook, Fitbit and Instagram. Woody Hambrecht, for his part, has been a bona fide “booze guy” since a young age, making wine and managing 67 acres of wine grapes at the pair’s Sonoma County, Calif. ranch, where Haus is also headquartered.

Haus co-founders and husband-and-wife duo Helena Price Hambrecht (right) and Woody Hambrecht.

We joke that it must have taken a Silicon Valley type to marry a wine & spirits guy because no one has done this before, it’s crazy,” Price Hambrecht tells TechCrunch. “I can make something that gets a shit load of users and press in my sleep and I married this wine & spirits guy who understands the compliance, fulfillment, legal and finance elements. The amount we can do together is insane.”

By “this,” she means launch a direct-to-consumer apéritif brand. It’s generally illegal to sell spirits online D2C aside from a small subset of liquors with lesser alcohol contents. Knowing this loophole, many restaurants across the U.S. have begun making cocktails using only this subset of liquors (thus avoiding the steep fees required to obtain a liquor license) but Price Hambrecht says no one has thought to create an online store for apéritifs for fear of going up against the old guard of the alcoholic beverage market.

Because Haus handles every part of the process, including a patent-pending production model, the old guard isn’t an issue, nor is scaling. Currently, Haus is making and bottling the beverages in a 3,000 square foot warehouse just North of the couple’s farm, with plans to purchase another 2,800 square foot warehouse as orders increase. Unlike wine or whiskey, which must age years before going to market, it only takes hours to make apéritifs, simplifying one of the more complex features of the wine & spirits business.

Later this year, Haus plans to raise additional seed capital to launch a subscription product in 2020, begin constructing brick-and-mortar apéritif shops for the millennial and Gen Z cohort and release a second and thid product line. Ultimately, Haus wants not only to disrupt the liquor business but provide alternative beverages to young people looking for better options.

“I was going through my own dilemma of drinking,” Price Hambrecht said. “If you’re a person that is career-focused, you’re possibly drinking 4-plus nights per week. I love how it brings people together; it’s a foundation of society, but you’ve got all these downsides. I never want to be drunk, I never want to be hungover.”

“It’s a cultural problem that we are solving.”

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