Oct
05
2020
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GrubMarket raises $60M as food delivery stays center stage

Companies that have leveraged technology to make the procurement and delivery of food more accessible to more people have been seeing a big surge of business this year, as millions of consumers are encouraged (or outright mandated, due to COVID-19) to socially distance or want to avoid the crowds of physical shopping and eating excursions.

Today, one of the companies that is supplying produce and other items both to consumers and other services that are in turn selling food and groceries to them, is announcing a new round of funding as it gears up to take its next step, an IPO.

GrubMarket, which provides a B2C platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, and a B2B service where it supplies grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products that they resell, is today announcing that it has raised $60 million in a Series D round of funding.

Sources close to the company confirmed to TechCrunch that GrubMarket — which is profitable, and originally hadn’t planned to raise more than $20 million — has now doubled its valuation compared to its last round — sources tell us it is now between $400 million and $500 million.

The funding is coming from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Reimagined Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment, Celtic House Venture Partners, Marubeni Ventures, Sixty Degree Capital and Mojo Partners, alongside previous investors GGV Capital, WI Harper Group, Digital Garage, CentreGold Capital, Scrum Ventures and other unnamed participants. Past investors also included Y Combinator, where GrubMarket was part of the Winter 2015 cohort. For some context, GrubMarket last raised money in April 2019 — $28 million at a $228 million valuation, a source says.

Mike Xu, the founder and CEO, said that the plan remains for the company to go public (he’s talked about it before), but given that it’s not having trouble raising from private markets and is currently growing at 100% over last year, and the IPO market is less certain at the moment, he declined to put an exact timeline on when this might actually happen, although he was clear that this is where his focus is in the near future.

“The only success criteria of my startup career is whether GrubMarket can eventually make $100 billion of annual sales,” he said to me over both email and in a phone conversation. “To achieve this goal, I am willing to stay heads-down and hardworking every day until it is done, and it does not matter whether it will take me 15 years or 50 years.”

I don’t doubt that he means it. I’ll note that we had this call in the middle of the night his time in California, even after I asked multiple times if there wasn’t a more reasonable hour in the daytime for him to talk. (He insisted that he got his best work done at 4:30 a.m., a result of how a lot of the grocery business works.) Xu on the one hand is very gentle with a calm demeanor, but don’t let his quiet manner fool you. He also is focused and relentless in his work ethic.

When people talk today about buying food, alongside traditional grocery stores and other physical food markets, they increasingly talk about grocery delivery companies, restaurant delivery platforms, meal kit services and more that make or provide food to people by way of apps. GrubMarket has built itself as a profitable but quiet giant that underpins the fuel that helps companies in all of these categories by becoming one of the critical companies building bridges between food producers and those that interact with customers.

Its opportunity comes in the form of disruption and a gap in the market. Food production is not unlike shipping and other older, non-tech industries, with a lot of transactions couched in legacy processes: GrubMarket has built software that connects the different segments of the food supply chain in a faster and more efficient way, and then provides the logistics to help it run.

To be sure, it’s an area that would have evolved regardless of the world health situation, but the rise and growth of the coronavirus has definitely “helped” GrubMarket not just by creating more demand for delivered food, but by providing a way for those in the food supply chain to interact with less contact and more tech-fueled efficiency.

Sales of WholesaleWare, as the platform is called, Xu said, have seen more than 800% growth over the last year, now managing “several hundreds of millions of dollars of food wholesale activities” annually.

Underpinning its tech is the sheer size of the operation: economies of scale in action. The company is active in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, Michigan, Boston and New York (and many places in between) and says that it currently operates some 21 warehouses nationwide. Xu describes GrubMarket as a “major food provider” in the Bay Area and the rest of California, with (as one example) more than 5 million pounds of frozen meat in its east San Francisco Bay warehouse.

Its customers include more than 500 grocery stores, 8,000 restaurants and 2,000 corporate offices, with familiar names like Whole Foods, Kroger, Albertson, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Raley’s Market, 99 Ranch Market, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Fresh Direct, Imperfect Foods, Misfit Market, Sun Basket and GoodEggs all on the list, with GrubMarket supplying them items that they resell directly, or use in creating their own products (like meal kits).

While much of GrubMarket’s growth has been — like a lot of its produce — organic, its profitability has helped it also grow inorganically. It has made some 15 acquisitions in the last two years, including Boston Organics and EJ Food Distributor this year.

It’s not to say that GrubMarket has not had growing pains. The company, Xu said, was like many others in the food delivery business — “overwhelmed” at the start of the pandemic in March and April of this year. “We had to limit our daily delivery volume in some regions, and put new customers on waiting lists.” Even so, the B2C business grew between 300% and 500% depending on the market. Xu said things calmed down by May and even as some B2B customers never came back after cities were locked down, as a category, B2B has largely recovered, he said.

Interestingly, the startup itself has taken a very proactive approach in order to limit its own workers’ and customers’ exposure to COVID-19, doing as much testing as it could — tests have been, as we all know, in very short supply — as well as a lot of social distancing and cleaning operations.

“There have been no mandates about masks, but we supplied them extensively,” he said.

So far it seems to have worked. Xu said the company has only found “a couple of employees” that were positive this year. In one case in April, a case was found not through a test (which it didn’t have, this happened in Michigan) but through a routine check and finding an employee showing symptoms, and its response was swift: the facilities were locked down for two weeks and sanitized, despite this happening in one of the busiest months in the history of the company (and the food supply sector overall).

That’s notable leadership at a time when it feels like a lot of leaders have failed us, which only helps to bolster the company’s strong growth.

“Having a proven track record of sustained hypergrowth and net income profitability, GrubMarket stands out as an extraordinarily rare Silicon Valley startup in the food technology and ecommerce segment,” said Jay Chen, managing partner of Celtic House Venture Partner. “Scaling over 15x in 4 years, GrubMarket’s creativity and capital efficiency is unmatched by anyone else in this space. Mike’s team has done an incredible job growing the company thoughtfully and sustainably. We are proud to be a partner in the company’s rapid nationwide expansion and excited by the strong momentum of WholesaleWare, their SaaS suite, which is the best we have seen in space.”
Updated with more detail on the valuation.

Oct
01
2020
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Microsoft enhances customer data platform as pandemic drives need for personalization

When Microsoft introduced its customer data platform last February, the focus was on simply connecting silos of data to help customers get the data into the system. But as the pandemic has taken hold this year, customers need deeper insight into their customers, and Microsoft has made some enhancements to the platform today.

James Phillips, president of Microsoft Business Applications Group, says the goal of the platform is about understanding customers at a deeper level. “From that depth of understanding our customers can engage their customers through the entirety of the customer lifecycle,” Phillips told TechCrunch.

That could involve a variety of activities, such as personalizing offers, speaking to them in a way that they know their customers want to be spoken to, offering them new products and services that better meet their needs or supporting them better, he said.

He adds that COVID-19 has changed customer priorities and forced them to make adjustments to the way they do business and how they interact with customers. “As everything’s gone digital, the need to deeply understand your customer and to increase the efficacy of those engagements has really been heightened through this pandemic,” he said.

The company is announcing several new components to the customer data platform product to help customers build that understanding. The first is called Engagement Insights, which, as the name implies takes, all that data they’ve pushed to the CDP to help understand how the company is engaging with the customer better and deliver more meaningful interactions. That goes into preview today.

“Engagement Insights is about directly funneling web, mobile and connected product data back into Customer Insights to help continue to enrich that understanding of the customer in order to better serve them,” he said.

The next piece is about putting AI to work on all that data to allow marketers to make more educated predictions about the customers based on what they know about them. This takes advantage of Azure Synapse Analytics and provides a set of pre-built AI templates to help customers with elements like predicting customer churn, automating product recommendations and estimating customer lifetime value.

In addition, the company is offering a data governance product to help protect that data, and it’s integrating with Microsoft Customer Voice, the company’s survey tool to give customers the ability to fill in the blanks in the data by asking the customers when all of the data doesn’t provide an answer.

Phillips says all of these capabilities are about helping customers be more agile, so that as the world shifts, as it has so dramatically this year, businesses can be in a better position to react to those changes more quickly and meet the changing customer requirements.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft clearly isn’t alone in this type of offering, as every big company that sells marketing tools from Adobe to Salesforce to SAP is offering similar products for similar reasons.

Oct
01
2020
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SAP continues to build out customer experience business with Emarsys acquisition

SAP seemed to be all in on customer experience when it acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018. It continued on that journey today when it announced it was acquiring Austrian cloud marketing company Emarsys for an undisclosed amount of money.

Emarsys, which raised over $55 million according to PitchBook data, gives SAP customer personalization technology. If you spoke to any marketing automation vendor over the last several years, the focus has been on using a variety of data and touch points to understand the customer better, and deliver more meaningful online experiences.

With the pandemic closing or limiting access to brick and mortar stores, personalization has taken a new urgency as customers are increasingly shopping online and companies need to meet them where they are.

With Emarsys, the company is getting an omnichannel marketing solution that they say is designed to deliver messages to customers wherever they are, including e-mail, mobile, social, SMS and the web, and deliver that at scale.

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics a couple of months ago, just 20 months after buying it, it left some question about whether SAP was fully committed to the customer experience business.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that the acquisition shows that SAP is still very much in the game. “This illustrates that SAP is serious about CX and competing in a highly competitive space. Emarsys adds industry-specific customer engagement capabilities that should help SAP CX customers accelerate their efforts to provide their customers with the experiences they expect as their needs change over time,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As an ERP company at its core, SAP has traditionally focused on back-office kinds of operations. But Bob Stutz, president, SAP Customer Experience, sees this acquisition as a way to continue bringing back-office and front-office operations together.

“With Emarsys technology, SAP Customer Experience solutions can link commerce signals with the back office and activate the preferred channel of the customer with a relevant and consistently personalized message, allowing customers the freedom to choose their own engagement,” Stutz said in a statement.

The company, which is based in Austria, was founded back in 2000, when marketing was a very different world. It has built a customer base of 1,500 companies with 800 employees in 13 offices across the globe. All of this will become part of SAP, of course, and come under Stutz’s purview.

As with all transactions of this type it will be subject to regulatory approval, but the deal is expected to close this quarter.

Jul
14
2020
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New Acquia platform looks to bring together developers, marketers and data

Acquia, the commercial company built on top of the open source Drupal content management system has pushed to be more than a publishing platform in recent years, using several strategic acquisitions to move into managing customer experience, and today the company announced a new approach to developing and marketing on the Drupal Cloud.

This involves bringing together developers and marketers under the umbrella of the new Acquia Open DXP platform. This approach has two main components: “What we’ve been working on is deep integration across our suite and pulling together our new foundational Drupal Cloud offering, and our new foundational Marketing Cloud offering,” Kevin Cochrane, senior vice president of product marketing at Acquia said.

The offerings bring together a set of acquisitions the company made over the last year including Mautic for marketing automation in May 2019, Cohesion for low-code developing in September and AgileOne in December for a customer data platform (CDP).

Cochrane says that the company is leveraging these acquisitions along with tools they developed internally and the upcoming release of Drupal 9 to offer a platform approach for customers where they can build content on the Drupal Cloud side and leverage customer data on the Marketing Cloud side.

On the Drupal Cloud, the company is offering a set of tools that includes an integrated development environment (IDE) where developers can build services, while marketers get a low code offering, where they can drag and drop content and design components from a library of offerings that could come from internal sources or the open source community. It also includes other components like security and content management.

The Marketing Cloud is the data layer where companies collect and manage data about customers with the goal of offering a more personalized and meaningful experience in a digital context.

Marketing automation tooling has shifted in recent years with the goal of providing customers with a unique and meaningful experience using the vast amount of data available to build a more complete picture of the customer and give them what they need, when they need it in a digital context. This has involved building a digital experience platform (DXP) and a customer data platform (CDP).

By pulling together these different elements, Acquia is attempting to put itself in a position to compete directly with big players in this space like Adobe and Salesforce offering a similar unified approach.

Vista Equity Partners bought Acquia last September for $1 billion. At the time, company founder Dries Buytaert said one of the advantages of being part of Vista was to get the resources to compete with larger companies in this space, and today’s announcement could be seen in that light.

May
14
2020
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Adobe announces AI toolbox for Experience Platform

Most companies don’t have the personnel to do AI well, so they turn to platform vendors like Adobe for help. Like other platforms, it has been building AI into its product set for several years now, but wanted to give marketers a set of tools that take advantage of some advanced AI capabilities out of the box.

Today, the company announced five pre-packaged AI solutions specifically designed to give marketers more intelligent insight. Amit Ahuja, VP of ecosystem development at Adobe, says even before the pandemic, customers were struggling to deal with the onslaught of data and how they could use it to understand their customers better.

“There is so much data coming in, and customers are struggling to leverage this data — and not just for the purpose of analytics and insights, which is a huge part of it, but also to do predictive optimization,” Ahuja explained.

What’s more, we’ve known for some time that when there is so much data, it becomes impossible to make sense of it manually. Given that AI deals best with tons of data, Adobe wanted to take advantage of that, while packaging some popular data scenarios in a way that makes it easy for marketers to get insights.

That data comes from the Adobe Experience Platform, which the is designed to pull data not only from Adobe products, but from a variety of enterprise sources to help marketers build a more complete picture of their customers and get answers to key questions.

Customer Insights AI helps users understand their customers better. Image Credit: Adobe

The company is announcing a total of five AI tools today, two of which are generally available with the remainder in Beta for now. For starters, Customer AI helps marketers understand why their customers do what they do. For instance, why they keep coming back or why they stopped. Attribution AI helps marketers understand how effective their strategies are, something that’s always important, but especially in this economy where effectively deploying spend is more important than ever.

The first of the Beta tools is Journey AI, which helps marketers decide the best channel to engage customers. Content and Commerce AI looks at the most effective way to deliver content and finally Leads AI looks at the visitors most likely to convert to customers.

These five are just a start, and the company plans to add new tools to the toolbox as customers look for additional insights from the data to help them improve their marketing outcomes.

May
07
2020
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VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.

Apr
15
2020
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Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch . What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”

Apr
13
2020
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How Adobe shifted a Las Vegas conference to executives’ living rooms in less than 30 days

Adobe was scheduled to hold its annual conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to make alternate plans. In less than a month, its events team shifted venues for the massive conference, not once, but twice as the severity of the situation became clear.

This year didn’t just involve Adobe Summit itself. To make things more interesting, it was also hosting Magento Imagine as a separate conference within a conference at the same time. (Adobe bought Magento in 2018 for $1.6 billion.)

Originally, Adobe had more than 500 sessions planned across four venues on the Las Vegas Strip, with more than 23,000 attendees expected. Combining all of the sponsors, partners and Adobe personnel, it involved more than 40,000 hotel rooms.

Once it became clear that such a large event couldn’t happen, the company reimagined the conference as a fully digital experience.

Plan A

VP of Experience Marketing Alex Amado is in charge of planning Adobe Summit, a tall task under normal circumstances.

“Planning Summit is a year-round endeavor,” he said. “Literally within weeks of finishing one of those Las Vegas events we are starting on the next one, and some of the work actually is on an 18 or 24-month cycle because we have those long-term hotel contracts and all of that stuff.

“For the last 12 months, basically, we had people who were working on what we now call Plan A — and we didn’t know that we needed a Plan B and Plan C — and the original event was going to be our biggest yet.”

2019 Adobe Summit stage in Las Vegas. Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

After the team began to wonder in January if the virus would force them to change how they deliver the conference, they started building contingency plans in earnest, Amado said. “As we got into February, things started looking a little scarier, and it very quickly escalated to the point where we were talking really seriously about Plan B.”

Apr
07
2020
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HubSpot unveils new content management system aimed at marketers

HubSpot, the Boston-based inbound marketing firm, announced today it is launching a standalone content management system designed to make it easy for marketing personnel to add and update content.

While content management, in a sense, has been core to HubSpot from the beginning — many companies use their blogging platform, for example — the company built this one from the ground up for marketers, says chief marketing officer Kipp Bodnar.

“For me, the marketer owning the website is one of the most thankless jobs you have. There’s a lot of pain associated with it. Your CEO asks you to update a bio or your legal team needs a new terms of service. Everybody’s coming at you from everywhere and the actual management of websites has just a huge amount of pain associated with it,” he said.

Angela DeFranco, the company’s director of product management, says that HubSpot wanted to address that problem with a product designed specifically for the marketing team. “We wanted to build a content management system and a suite of tools that could stand on its own and take away the pain of content management, not only from the marketer but also from the developer and the people that help the site run,” she said.

The product is built on the notion of themes that allow the marketer and developer helping to build the site to get the look and feel they want, while balancing what De Franco calls “the paradox between powerful and easy-to-use.”

It allows developers to use the languages they want to build the site, while taking advantage of the HubSpot CMS’s modular structure. At the same time, the modules give marketers a friendly interface to make frequent changes required in a modern website.

“When you actually get into the editor and you’re dragging in, for example, your event registration theme module, it inherits the styling and the characteristic, the look and feel of that theme overall that the developers had set up and custom built for your team,” she said.

“The theme module is really the crux of how we were able to achieve some of these more complex functionality features and power, while also allowing that with drag-and-drop ease of use to build a full site as a marketer,” DeFranco added.

HubSpot was founded in 2006. It raised over $100 million, according to Crunchbase data, before going public in 2014.

Jan
27
2020
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Pantheon bets on WebOps as it charts a course to an IPO

It has been 10 years since Pantheon launched. At the time, it was mostly a hosting service for Drupal sites, but about six years ago, it added WordPress hosting to its lineup and raised more VC money as some of its competitors did the same. After its 2016 Series C round, things started quieting down, though the company has clear ambitions to become a public company in the next few years. To chat about those plans and the overall state of the business, I sat down with Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen and new Pantheon board member Elissa Fink, former CMO of Tableau.

Maybe the biggest change at Pantheon is that when it launched, its team was almost solely focused on the developer experience. And while Pantheon was essentially a hosting service and offers personal plans, its focus was never on individuals who wanted a WordPress blog (which a lot of companies focused on, especially in the pre-Twitter days). Its efforts always revolved around businesses, large enterprises and the agencies that serve them.

“Back then, our overriding focus was really around the developer experience — the practitioner experience — of using our product,” Rosen explained. “And frankly, at the time, we actually really didn’t know what to call it. It really didn’t have a category, but we always felt it was something new.” He noted that over the last few years, Pantheon started talking to a lot of marketers and realized that the needs of these marketing leaders are driving this space.

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