Category Archives: Postmates

Postmates lines up another $100M ahead of IPO

Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, has raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation, as first reported by Recode and confirmed to TechCrunch by Postmates. The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that finally knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

New investor BlackRock has joined the funding round alongside Tiger Global, which served as the lead investor of Postmates’ September financing. Led by co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann, the company has garnered a total of $681 million in venture capital funding from investors, including Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital and Slow Ventures.

In line with several other tech unicorns, Postmates has begun prep for an initial public offering that could come this year, including tapping JPMorgan to advise the float. As Recode pointed out, the $100 million capital infusion was probably less of a necessary funding event but rather an opportunity for existing investors to liquidate stock ahead of an exit.

Postmates, which completes 3.5 million deliveries per month, reportedly expected to record $400 million in revenue in 2018 on food sales of $1.2 billion. The company has not confirmed that figure nor disclosed any other 2018 revenue numbers. The company currently operates in more than 500 cities, recently tacking on another 100 markets to reach an additional 50 million customers.

It will be interesting to see how Wall Street responds to a Postmates public listing. Though it was an early player in what has become an extremely crowded market, Postmates never emerged as the leader in food delivery. Now, with supergiants like Uber dominating via Uber Eats and SoftBank funneling loads of capital into Postmates competitor DoorDash, it shouldn’t count on an oversubscribed IPO.

Order-ahead app Ritual picks up $70M to rethink the social office lunch break

While DoorDash, Postmates and other apps are looking to reimagine what the food delivery experience looks like, Ray Reddy says he wants to figure out what the next generation of a food court looks like. Sort of.

Reddy’s startup, Ritual, aims to remake the whole process of leaving your office and walking around five minutes to a nearby deli or cafe to pick up food for lunch. But Reddy and his founders Larry Stinson and Robert Kim wanted to focus first on getting that experience right for a single building that leaves to go pick up coffee or food — and has that daily ritual of getting lunch with the team, or something along those lines. The whole process boils down to an app for consumers to order food or drinks as well as have coworkers piggyback onto that order to create a more socialized experience around getting up and going around the corner for a snack. Ritual said it has raised a new $70 million round led by Georgian Partners, with existing investors Greylock Partners, Insight Ventures, and Mistral Venture Partners all participating.

“If we [couldn’t] build something that is compelling for the 300 people who work at this single building, it’s not gonna work period,” Redddy said. “That helped us define the problem narrowly. We thought, here are the 12 or 14 spots within a five minute walk of this building, let’s focus on simulating what would happen. Let’s not worry about financials or economics, let’s prove this works. Just like Uber’s a remote control for the real world, we viewed this in a similar way where ultimately the app is a remote control for a real world experience.”

Ritual’s main flow is probably something the typical user is accustomed to at this point when it comes to food. They pick a place they like, place an order for food (or coffee), and then go pick it up. But the whole background process involves not only getting restaurants on board with the specific things they want while still trying to calibrate a consistent experience that users at this point expect when it comes to ordering something online after being trained on that simplicity for years by Postmates, DoorDash, or even apps by companies like Starbucks.

But over the past year or so, the company has increasingly tuned itself to employees jumping aboard the same order when considering what to pick up for a snack or a meal. The whole process aims at emulating that experience of figuring out where you want to eat in a Slack channel or arguing over a Seamless order, and in the end whoever has time to run out and grab something will be able to bring things back for teammates (or, of course, everyone can leave at the same time). That whole process is called “piggybacking,” a feature the company introduced around 18 months ago. The company has around 44,500 teams using the app, Reddy said.

 

All this is aimed to help restaurants adapt to the same changes in user behavior that retail has seen in the past decade, Reddy said. Amazon trained users to buy things online, forcing retailers to shift their strategies, just as Postmates and DoorDash have trained users to order food delivery through apps and immediately have access to a ton of options. With all that comes more and more data, which has helped those industries slowly tune their models over time and try to keep up with the increase in demand that has come with reducing friction around the whole experience.

“What restaurants are seeing are right now the same challenges retailers saw 10 years ago,” Reddy said. “What does it mean to become omni-channel, how do you go from one customer segment to dealing with walk-ins plus digital orders. Retailers faced a lot of those challenges 10 years ago, they faced challenges around pricing, fulfillment, and how do they build new capabilities. They are dealing with a new source of demand, and fundamentally the problem was a lot of stores weren’t designed for accepting multi-channel origins.”

While an order-ahead app might be one way to connect online users to a physical location, there’s still plenty of work to do as most restaurants, coffee shops or typical stores aren’t tuned for a digital-first experience, Reddy said. That extends to even not having enough counter space to hold coffee cups that customers have ordered ahead of time, much less including things like NFC readers or QR codes — the latter of which has proved wildly popular and effective throughout Asia thanks to services like Alipay and WeChat. And that’s largely a result of iOS and Android, the main platforms in North America, not really doing a lot with QR codes for a very long time. Reddy said that North America was making some progress, especially when it came to NFC, but for now the company still has to figure out unique ways to connect users to those restaurants.

That can take a lot of different forms. While Ritual has to figure out how to create a seamless experience that covers a lot of different restaurants or shops, Reddy said the startup still has to offer those same stores some kind of control over the experience. That means giving those customers some value proposition beyond just telling them to sign up for another order-ahead app. Ritual, for example, lets restaurants who onboard Ritual customers themselves keep the full transaction for a purchase, while it takes a small slice off other transactions. That, in addition to other marketing options, helps restaurants control their own destiny, he said.

Of course, at its heart, it’s an order-ahead app — even with that social experience on top of it. And if you’ve ever looked at where to eat nearby with coworkers, you’ve probably checked Yelp or a few other places, and possibly even settled the argument with a giant order on an online ordering platform like DoorDash or Seamless. All these have already tapped that user experience, and it’s not clear if Ritual would be able to clear enough room should any one of them go after a similar experience while already having that customer and user relationship, in addition to being the spot customers go already. In the end, Reddy says that it’ll come down to users having a few apps, and hopes that by offering restaurants flexibility and focusing on the hyper-local idea of just a single office building will help build up that moat.

“The way that things have played out in Asia [with platforms like WeChat] is exactly striking the right balance between a platform and giving stores control,” Reddy said. “When you think of the consumer view, people — for the same reason you don’t have 10 retail apps — don’t have 10 food apps. You’re not gonna download an app for every neighborhood spot. It’s not that these apps are bad or don’t work well, people are just not gonna download 10 apps. There’s gonna be a handful of platforms people are going to use to access their neighborhoods. We have to have a unified platform, but give restaurant partners enough control, not only over being able to speak with their customers, but control for the look and feel of their storefront. That’s the middle ground we’re looking to find, which we think is a win for customers and our storefronts.”

How did Thumbtack win the on-demand services market?

Earlier today, the services marketplace Thumbtack held a small conference for 300 of its best gig economy workers at an event space in San Francisco.

For the nearly ten-year-old company the event was designed to introduce some new features and a redesign of its brand that had softly launched earlier in the week. On hand, in addition to the services professionals who’d paid their way from locations across the U.S. were the company’s top executives.

It’s the latest step in the long journey that Thumbtack took to become one of the last companies standing with a consumer facing marketplace for services.

Back in 2008, as the global financial crisis was only just beginning to tear at the fabric of the U.S. economy, entrepreneurs at companies like Thumbtack andTaskRabbit were already hard at work on potential patches.

This was the beginning of what’s now known as the gig economy. In addition to Thumbtack and TaskRabbit, young companies like Handy, Zaarly, and several others — all began by trying to build better marketplaces for buyers and sellers of services. Their timing, it turns out, was prescient.

In snowy Boston during the winter of 2008, Kevin Busque and his wife Leah were building RunMyErrand, the marketplace service that would become TaskRabbit, as a way to avoid schlepping through snow to pick up dog food .

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Marco Zappacosta, a young entrepreneur whose parents were the founders of Logitech, and a crew of co-founders including were building Thumbtack, a professional services marketplace from a home office they shared.

As these entrepreneurs built their businesses in northern California (amid the early years of a technology renaissance fostered by patrons made rich from returns on investments in companies like Google and Salesforce.com), the rest of America was stumbling.

In the two years between 2008 and 2010 the unemployment rate in America doubled, rising from 5% to 10%. Professional services workers were hit especially hard as banks, insurance companies, realtors, contractors, developers and retailers all retrenched — laying off staff as the economy collapsed under the weight of terrible loans and a speculative real estate market.

Things weren’t easy for Thumbtack’s founders at the outset in the days before its $1.3 billion valuation and last hundred plus million dollar round of funding. “One of the things that really struck us about the team, was just how lean they were. At the time they were operating out of a house, they were still cooking meals together,” said Cyan Banister, one of the company’s earliest investors and a partner at the multi-billion dollar venture firm, Founders Fund.

“The only thing they really ever spent money on, was food… It was one of these things where they weren’t extravagant, they were extremely purposeful about every dollar that they spent,” Banister said. “They basically slept at work, and were your typical startup story of being under the couch. Every time I met with them, the story was, in the very early stages was about the same for the first couple years, which was, we’re scraping Craigslist, we’re starting to get some traction.”

The idea of powering a Craigslist replacement with more of a marketplace model was something that appealed to Thumbtack’s earliest investor and champion, the serial entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calcanis.

Thumbtack chief executive Marco Zappacosta

“I remember like it was yesterday when Marco showed me Thumbtack and I looked at this and I said, ‘So, why are you building this?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you go on Craigslist, you know, it’s like a crap shoot. You post, you don’t know. You read a post… you know… you don’t know how good the person is. There’re no reviews.’” Calcanis said. “He had made a directory. It wasn’t the current workflow you see in the app — that came in year three I think. But for the first three years, he built a directory. And he showed me the directory pages where he had a photo of the person, the services provided, the bio.”

The first three years were spent developing a list of vendors that the company had verified with a mailing address, a license, and a certificate of insurance for people who needed some kind of service. Those three features were all Calcanis needed to validate the deal and pull the trigger on an initial investment.

“That’s when I figured out my personal thesis of angel investing,” Calcanis said.

“Some people are market based; some people want to invest in certain demographics or psychographics; immigrant kids or Stanford kids, whatever. Mine is just, ‘Can you make a really interesting product and are your decisions about that product considered?’ And when we discuss those decisions, do I feel like you’re the person who should build this product for the world And it’s just like there’s a big sign above Marco’s head that just says ‘Winner! Winner! Winner!’”

Indeed, it looks like Zappacosta and his company are now running what may be their victory lap in their tenth year as a private company. Thumbtack will be profitable by 2019 and has rolled out a host of new products in the last six months.

Their thesis, which flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the day, was to build a product which offered listings of any service a potential customer could want in any geography across the U.S. Other companies like Handy and TaskRabbit focused on the home, but on Thumbtack (like any good community message board) users could see postings for anything from repairman to reiki lessons and magicians to musicians alongside the home repair services that now make up the bulk of its listings.

“It’s funny, we had business plans and documents that we wrote and if you look back, the vision that we outlined then, is very similar to the vision we have today. We honestly looked around and we said, ‘We want to solve a problem that impacts a huge number of people. The local services base is super inefficient. It’s really difficult for customers to find trustworthy, reliable people who are available for the right price,’” said Sander Daniels, a co-founder at the company. 

“For pros, their number one concern is, ‘Where do I put money in my pocket next? How do I put food on the table for my family next?’ We said, ‘There is a real human problem here. If we can connect these people to technology and then, look around, there are these global marketplace for products: Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, why can’t there be a global marketplace for services?’ It sounded crazy to say it at the time and it still sounds crazy to say, but that is what the dream was.”

Daniels acknowledges that the company changed the direction of its product, the ways it makes money, and pivoted to address issues as they arose, but the vision remained constant. 

Meanwhile, other startups in the market have shifted their focus. Indeed as Handy has shifted to more of a professional services model rather than working directly with consumers and TaskRabbit has been acquired by Ikea, Thumbtack has doubled down on its independence and upgrading its marketplace with automation tools to make matching service providers with customers that much easier.

Late last year the company launched an automated tool serving up job requests to its customers — the service providers that pay the company a fee for leads generated by people searching for services on the company’s app or website.

Thumbtack processes about $1 billion a year in business for its service providers in roughly 1,000 professional categories.

Now, the matching feature is getting an upgrade on the consumer side. Earlier this month the company unveiled Instant Results — a new look for its website and mobile app — that uses all of the data from its 200,000 services professionals to match with the 30 professionals that best correspond to a request for services. It’s among the highest number of professionals listed on any site, according to Zappacosta. The next largest competitor, Yelp, has around 115,000 listings a year. Thumbtack’s professionals are active in a 90 day period.

Filtering by price, location, tools and schedule, anyone in the U.S. can find a service professional for their needs. It’s the culmination of work processing nine years and 25 million requests for services from all of its different categories of jobs.

It’s a long way from the first version of Thumbtack, which had a “buy” tab and a “sell” tab; with the “buy” side to hire local services and the “sell” to offer them.

“From the very early days… the design was to iterate beyond the traditional model of business listing directors. In that, for the consumer to tell us what they were looking for and we would, then, find the right people to connect them to,” said Daniels. “That functionality, the request for quote functionality, was built in from v.1 of the product. If you tried to use it then, it wouldn’t work. There were no businesses on the platform to connect you with. I’m sure there were a million bugs, the UI and UX were a disaster, of course. That was the original version, what I remember of it at least.”

It may have been a disaster, but it was compelling enough to get the company its $1.2 million angel round — enough to barely develop the product. That million dollar investment had to last the company through the nuclear winter of America’s recession years, when venture capital — along with every other investment class — pulled back.

“We were pounding the pavement trying to find somebody to give us money for a Series A round,” Daniels said. “That was a very hard period of the company’s life when we almost went out of business, because nobody would give us money.”

That was a pre-revenue period for the company, which experimented with four revenue streams before settling on the one that worked the best. In the beginning the service was free, and it slowly transitioned to a commission model. Then, eventually, the company moved to a subscription model where service providers would pay the company a certain amount for leads generated off of Thumbtack.

“We weren’t able to close the loop,” Daniels said. “To make commissions work, you have to know who does the job, when, for how much. There are a few possible ways to collect all that information, but the best one, I think, is probably by hosting payments through your platform. We actually built payments into the platform in 2011 or 2012. We had significant transaction volume going through it, but we then decided to rip it out 18 months later, 24 months later, because, I think we had kind of abandoned the hope of making commissions work at that time.”

While Thumbtack was struggling to make its bones, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest were raking in cash. The founders thought that they could also access markets in the same way, but investors weren’t interested in a consumer facing business that required transactions — not advertising — to work. User generated content and social media were the rage, but aside from Uber and Lyft the jury was still out on the marketplace model.

“For our company that was not a Facebook or a Twitter or Pinterest, at that time, at least, that we needed revenue to show that we’re going to be able to monetize this,” Daniels said. “We had figured out a way to sign up pros at enormous scale and consumers were coming online, too. That was showing real promise. We said, ‘Man, we’re a hot ticket, we’re going to be able to raise real money.’ Then, for many reasons, our inexperience, our lack of revenue model, probably a bunch of stuff, people were reluctant to give us money.”

The company didn’t focus on revenue models until the fall of 2011, according to Daniels. Then after receiving rejection after rejection the company’s founders began to worry. “We’re like, ‘Oh, shit.’ November of 2009 we start running these tests, to start making money, because we might not be able to raise money here. We need to figure out how to raise cash to pay the bills, soon,” Daniels recalled. 

The experience of almost running into the wall put the fear of god into the company. They managed to scrape out an investment from Javelin, but the founders were convinced that they needed to find the right revenue number to make the business work with or without a capital infusion. After a bunch of deliberations, they finally settled on $350,000 as the magic number to remain a going concern.

“That was the metric that we were shooting towards,” said Daniels. “It was during that period that we iterated aggressively through these revenue models, and, ultimately, landed on a paper quote. At the end of that period then Sequoia invested, and suddenly, pros supply and consumer demand and revenue model all came together and like, ‘Oh shit.’”

Finding the right business model was one thing that saved the company from withering on the vine, but another choice was the one that seemed the least logical — the idea that the company should focus on more than just home repairs and services.

The company’s home category had lots of competition with companies who had mastered the art of listing for services on Google and getting results. According to Daniels, the company couldn’t compete at all in the home categories initially.

“It turned out, randomly … we had no idea about this … there was not a similarly well developed or mature events industry,” Daniels said. “We outperformed in events. It was this strategic decision, too, that, on all these 1,000 categories, but it was random, that over the last five years we are the, if not the, certainly one of the leading events service providers in the country. It just happened to be that we … I don’t want to say stumbled into it … but we found these pockets that were less competitive and we could compete in and build a business on.”

The focus on geographical and services breadth — rather than looking at building a business in a single category or in a single geography meant that Zappacosta and company took longer to get their legs under them, but that they had a much wider stance and a much bigger base to tap as they began to grow.

“Because of naivete and this dreamy ambition that we’re going to do it all. It was really nothing more strategic or complicated than that,” said Daniels. “When we chose to go broad, we were wandering the wilderness. We had never done anything like this before.”

From the company’s perspective, there were two things that the outside world (and potential investors) didn’t grasp about its approach. The first was that a perfect product may have been more competitive in a single category, but a good enough product was better than the terrible user experiences that were then on the market. “You can build a big company on this good enough product, which you can then refine over the course of time to be greater and greater,” said Daniels.

The second misunderstanding is that the breadth of the company let it scale the product that being in one category would have never allowed Thumbtack to do. Cross selling and upselling from carpet cleaners to moving services to house cleaners to bounce house rentals for parties — allowed for more repeat use.

More repeat use meant more jobs for services employees at a time when unemployment was still running historically high. Even in 2011, unemployment remained stubbornly high. It wasn’t until 2013 that the jobless numbers began their steady decline.

There’s a question about whether these gig economy jobs can keep up with the changing times. Now, as unemployment has returned to its pre-recession levels, will people want to continue working in roles that don’t offer health insurance or retirement benefits? The answer seems to be “yes” as the Thumbtack platform continues to grow and Uber and Lyft show no signs of slowing down.

“At the time, and it still remains one of my biggest passions, I was interested in how software could create new meaningful ways of working,” said Banister of the Thumbtack deal. “That’s the criteria I was looking for, which is, does this shift how people find work? Because I do believe that we can create jobs and we can create new types of jobs that never existed before with the platforms that we have today.”

DoorDash makes a big push into grocery delivery through a pilot program with Walmart

DoorDash is about to make a huge move into grocery delivery, but instead of going all out as a delivery service on its own, it’s instead going to be working behind the scenes to power delivery networks for larger companies — with Walmart as its first big partner.

While Instacart looks to control the end-to-end customer experience for grocery delivery, and Amazon is off doing Amazon-y things with its Whole Foods delivery system, DoorDash is hoping it can build a network that any company that needs some delivery network can tap without giving up its direct relationship with their customers. DoorDash is rolling out grocery delivery with Walmart in Atlanta in the first of what may be a major move to become a back-end platform for companies like Walmart, which want a delivery button on their website but don’t want to build the entire network themselves. By doing that, it offers DoorDash a potentially nice neutral niche as grocery delivery heats up.

“You can use the term white label, but our drivers still will often wear the DoorDash shirt and have the DoorDash bag,” DoorDash COO Christopher Payne said. “But if you go to Walmart.com, and order from Walmart in Atlanta, you’ll have no idea it’s from DoorDash. We’re very supportive of that scenario, that’s the DoorDash Drive scenario. We’re excited to build a business with them and provide this capability.”

Payne said he hopes this will be one of the first of a major expansion of that DoorDash Drive initiative to become a tool that businesses can start tapping for local delivery. And while DoorDash may partly be giving up that direct relationship with users, it can start getting a lot more data when it comes to deliveries. That data then helps it become more and more efficient, ensuring that it can get deliveries done in the best matter and attract more customers, leading to the need for more drivers, and so on.

DoorDash also basically started the whole last-mile delivery business on hard mode with restaurant delivery, Payne said. What DoorDash loses in that direct user experience is paid back in data, Payne says, and that’s more than valuable enough.

“It turns out restaurant delivery is probably one fo the hardest delivery use cases you have — you have to get a pizza somewhere in 20 or 30 minutes or it won’t be crisp, and you have to get an ice cream cone somewhere before it melts. Grocery delivery tends to be delivered earlier in the day, which is before dinner or before you go to work,” he said. “That works out perfectly for us, actually, because our drivers aren’t busy or are less busy than they would be otherwise. It’s a delivery window, as opposed to one that’s getting something to you at an exact moment and time. That’s actually much easier and less demanding than a real-time delivery.

It’s still a significant step beyond its core competency, which is restaurant delivery. But while that has the potential to be a big business, it’s also going to top out at some point. GrubHub, for example, has a market cap of nearly $9 billion — but Amazon, the backbone of how many consumers engage with physical goods through the Internet, is a $700 billion-plus company. If DoorDash is going to continue to grow, it has to start expanding into new lines of revenue, and figuring out how to take all the data and tools it’s built and bring them to new businesses is going to be critical.

Amazon changed the calculus of last-mile grocery delivery, and it pretty much did it overnight — or at least over the span of a few months, which is the equivalent of overnight for a $700 billion company. Amazon acquired Whole Foods, and all of its locations in major metropolitan areas, for $13.7 billion and very quickly began offering two-hour delivery for prime customers for Whole Foods. On top of that, the company quickly started offering a credit card with an absurdly good reward system that’s tied directly to Prime purchases and Whole Foods (assuming you stay within the Prime ecosystem).

That’s meant that larger companies find themselves trying to figure out how to make such an agile move, and do it as soon as possible. For Walmart, getting this partnership with DoorDash allows it to just add a small segment to its typical customer flow without having to build out a full-on logistics delivery system. The opportunity to expand that to other businesses is pretty natural, and that’s the theme behind the Drive platform, and in theory offers businesses a way to quickly ramp up a delivery network without having to hand off the customer relationship to DoorDash. That may, in the end, be much more palatable for businesses.

“One of the other advantages of partnering with a company like Walmart isn’t just that they’re a leading grocer in the US,” Payne said. “They’re in a lot of other lines of businesses. As they want to expand and deliver more to their customers, they have physical assets to do that, so it provides a nice solution for us to test other items in the future. I would say grocery delivery is very much in its early days, it’s roughly equivalent to where food delivery was four years ago. We’re all going to be learning together, and it also means there’s gonna be a lot of other competition as there is in food delivery. But we believe our merchant operational excellence and quality of delivery will set us apart, and that’ll be proven in time.”

Postmates launches pickup feature

Postmates, the startup that offers on-demand delivery for anything in your city, now lets people order ahead for pickup. This comes about one year after Square’s Caviar expanded into pickups, following the acquisition of OrderAhead’s pickup business.

It’s not clear how many markets this is available in, but TechCrunch has reached out to Postmates to learn more.

Last November, Postmates shipped a revamped version of its app, which added a grocery service and scheduled deliveries to the platform.

Postmates’ pickup functionality comes on the heels of news it may be teaming up with DoorDash in an effort to better compete against Uber, GrubHub and Amazon, Recode reported earlier today.

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