Aug
31
2021
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Owner.com serves up $10.7M so that independent restaurants can get cooking

Independent restaurants don’t typically have the luxury to create their own online food ordering and delivery capabilities or negotiate for lower rates from legacy ordering platforms like the large restaurant chains do.

Here’s where Owner.com comes in. The Palo Alto-based company provides a free online ordering, delivery and marketing platform for independent restaurants that puts them on similar playing fields with the big guys. And unlike the legacy food delivery services, Owner.com restaurants own their customer data and can automate marketing campaigns.

Adam Guild is the company’s 21-year-old co-founder and CEO, a high school dropout and a Thiel Fellow, who originally started by assisting his mother’s dog grooming business that was having difficulties attracting customers. After stepping in with some online marketing methods, her business grew, and is now looking to expand into multiple locations. Guild then wanted to work with a bigger group of people and stumbled across restaurants while helping some clients create online landing pages.

With consumer demand shifting to primarily online ordering and delivery over the past 18 months, online ordering revenue is expected to double from $248 billion in 2020 to $449 billion by 2025. Ordering platforms like Doordash, Uber Eats and Grubhub control 80% of orders and typically charge between 20% and 30% per order to restaurants and additional fees to consumers.

In contrast, Owner.com is free for restaurants and charges customers a 5% convenience fee when they order from the website. Guild explained that larger restaurant chains have the buying power to negotiate lower rates, while independent restaurants do not. With the inability to keep up, some 110,000 restaurants in the U.S. closed in 2020.

Guild initially bootstrapped his company, working with large restaurant chains, like P.F. Chang’s, drive in-store orders. Then the global pandemic hit. He ended up losing all of his revenue and had to let all of his employees go but one. To add to his bad luck, he was then rejected from Y Combinator and other accelerator programs.

“For the first three days, I was depressed,” Guild told TechCrunch. “I had spent two years building a company and now it was dead. In the same way we were disrupted, I began to think there was no better position to be in than a scrappy startup. I didn’t know what the next business would look like, so I started cold-calling restaurant owners, asking how I can be helpful and what type of technology they were looking for. Many of them told me that online ordering sucked, but if they didn’t solve it soon, they would go out of business.”

One pivot and a year later with co-founder Dean Bloembergen, Owner.com closed on $10.7 million in seed funding led by SaaStr Fund, with participation from Redpoint Ventures and Day One Ventures, as well as a group of individual investors including Naval Ravikant, CNBC’s The Profit host Marcus Lemonis, The Kitchen Restaurant Group’s Kimbal Musk, DoNotPay founder Joshua Browder, Figma founder Dylan Field, The Chainsmokers and independent restaurant owners and customers of Owner.com.

Jason Lemkin, founder of SaaStr Fund, said restaurant SaaS was a space in which his firm was interested in investing, but thought it was a bit boring — there were already quite a few vendors in the space, like Toast and Grubhub, and most were just technology solutions. However, when he heard that Owner.com was a break-out company from the monotony, he said he had to take a look.

“The ability to own the customer relationship is that ultimate differentiation,” Lemkin said. “Their ultimate goal is to provide a robust technology platform to increase margins, have people order more and come back often.”

Meanwhile, Guild intends to use the new funding to continue product development and add new features like landing pages, the ability to make reservations and native apps for white-label service.

Since the launch last year, the company has reached a seven-figure run-rate and over 105% monthly revenue retention across over 700 restaurant locations, Guild said. To date, Owner.com has transacted over $18 million and helped its restaurant customers avoid paying $3 million to online order platform fees annually.

“It’s all about empowering the 40% of the restaurant industry that is run by people who started off in entry-level positions, and over the years, worked their way up to own the ‘American Dream,’ ” he added.

 

Aug
25
2021
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Forward Kitchens cooks up $2.5M to transform existing kitchens into digital storefronts

Forward Kitchens was working quietly on its digital storefront for restaurants and is now announcing a $2.5 million seed round.

Raghav Poddar started the company two years ago and was part of the Y Combinator Summer 2019 cohort. Poddar told TechCrunch he has been a foodie his entire life. Lately, he was relying on food delivery and pickup services, and while visiting with some of the restaurant owners, he realized a few things: first, not many had a good online presence, and second, these restaurants had the ability to cook cuisine representative of their communities.

That led to the idea of Forward Kitchens, which provides a turnkey tool for restaurants to set up an online presence, including food delivery, where they can create multiple digital storefronts easily and without having to contact each delivery platform. The company ran pilot programs in a handful of restaurants, and this is the first year coming out of stealth.

“It’s an expansion of what they have on the menu, but is not immediately available in the neighborhood,” Poddar added. “Kitchens can keep the costs and headcount the same, but be able to service the demand and get more orders because it is fulfilling a need for the neighborhood, which is why we can grow so fast.”

Here’s how it works: Forward Kitchens goes into a restaurant and takes into account its capacity for additional cooking and the demographic area, as well as what food is available near it, and helps the restaurant create the storefront.

Each restaurant is able to build multiple storefronts, for example, an Italian restaurant setting up a storefront just to sell its popular mac n’ cheese or other small plates on demand. A couple hundred digital storefronts were already created, Poddar said.

A group of investors, including Y Combinator, Floodgate, Slow Ventures and SV Angel and angel investors Michael Seibel of YC, Ram Shriram and Thumbtack’s Jonathan Swanson, were involved in the round.

The new funding will be used to expand the company’s footprint and reach, and to hire a team in operations, sales and engineering to help support the product.

“Forward Kitchens is empowering independent kitchens to create digital storefronts and receive more online sales,” Seibel said via email. “With Forward Kitchens, a kitchen can create world-class digital storefronts at the click of a button.”

Oct
07
2020
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DoorDash introduces a new corporate product, DoorDash for Work

Delivery service DoorDash is giving employers a way to feed their remote employees through a new suite of products called DoorDash for Work.

There are four main products, starting with DashPass for Work, where employers can fund employee memberships to DashPass, a program that eliminates delivery fees on orders from thousands of restaurants. In fact, DoorDash says it already worked with Mt. Sinai to offer free DashPass subscriptions to 42,000 healthcare employees, and that other DashPass for Work customers include Charles Schwab, Hulu and Stanford Research Park.

DoorDash for Work also includes the ability for employers to provide credits for meal orders — there are options for day and time restrictions, so employers can be sure they’re paying for food while someone is working. For teams that are working in-person, there’s the ability to combine individual meal orders into a larger group order. And the service also includes employee gift cards (Zoom, for example, is providing these on employee birthdays).

In a blog post, Broderick McClinton, the head of DoorDash for Work, noted that COVID-19 has had “a profound impact on our daily routines, including the way we eat.”

“Instead of meeting our favorite barista on the way into the office or socializing with our colleagues in the lunch room, we’re spending a lot more time in the kitchen and eating solo at home, missing out on those moments to engage with peers and support our favorite restaurants,” McClinton wrote. “In this new normal, companies are adapting and looking for ways to support their employees’ wellbeing and productivity through new work-from-home corporate wellness benefits, including food perks.”

While free food might seem relatively low on the list of priorities during the pandemic (at least for those of us who have been fortunate enough to keep our jobs), DoorDash says it conducted a survey of 1,000 working Americans last month and found that 90% of them said they miss at least one food-related benefit from the office.

So DoorDash for Work is designed to help employers continue offering benefits in this area, and also it opens up a new source of revenue for DoorDash.

 

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.

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