China’s grocery delivery battle heats up with Meituan’s entry

Fast, affordable food delivery service has been life-changing for many working Chinese, but some still prefer to whip up their own meals. These people may not have the time to pick up fresh ingredients from brick-and-mortar stores, so China’s startups and large companies are trying to make home-cooked meals more effortless for busy workers by sending vegetables and meats to apartment doors.

The fresh grocery sector in China recorded 4.93 trillion yuan ($730 billion) in total sales last year, growing steadily from 3.37 trillion yuan in 2012 according to data collected by Euromonitor and Hua Chuang Securities. Most of these transactions still happen inside wet markets and supermarkets, leaving online retail, which accounted for only 3 percent of total grocery sales in 2016, much room for growth.

Ecommerce leaders Alibaba and JD.com have already added grocery to their comprehensive online shopping malls, nestling in the market with more focused players like Tencent-backed MissFresh (每日优鲜), which has raised $1.4 billion to date. The field has just grown a little more crowded with new entrant Meituan, the Tencent-backed food delivery and hotel booking giant that raised $4.2 billion through a Hong Kong listing last year.

meituan grocery

Screenshots of the Meituan Maicai app / Image: Meituan Maicai

The service, which comes in a new app called “Meituan Maicai” or Meituan grocery shopping that’s separate from the company’s all-in-one app, set out in Shanghai in January before it muscled into Beijing last week. The move follows Meituan’s announcement in its mid-2018 financial report to get in on grocery delivery.

Meituan’s solution to take grocery the last mile is not too different from those of its peers. Users pick from its 1,500 stock keeping units ranging from yogurt to pork loin, fill their in-app shopping carts and pay via their phones, the firm told TechCrunch. Meituan then dispatches its delivery fleets to people’s doors in as little as 30 minutes.

The instant delivery is made possible by a satellite of physical “service stations” across neighborhoods that serve warehousing, packaging and delivering purposes. Placing offline hubs alongside customers also allows data-driven internet firms to optimize warehouse stocking based on local user preferences. For instance, people from an upscale residential area probably eat and shop differently from those in other parts of the city.

Meituan’s foray into grocery shopping further intensifies its battle with Alibaba to control how Chinese people eat. Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket has been running on a similar setup that uses its neighborhood stores as warehouses and fulfillment centers to facilitate 30-minute delivery within a three-kilometer radius. For years, Meituan’s food delivery arm has been going neck-and-neck with Ele.me, which Alibaba scooped up last year. More recently, Alibaba and Meituan are racing to get restaurants to sign up for their proprietary software, which can supposedly give owners more insights into diners and beef up customer engagement.

As part of its goal to be an “everything” app, Meituan has tried out many new initiatives in the lead-up to its initial public offering but was also quick to put them on hold. The firm acquired bike-sharing service Mobike last April only to shutter its operations across Asia in less than a year for cost-saving. Meituan also paused expansion on its much-anticipated ride-hailing business.

But grocery delivery appears to be closer to Meituan’s heart, the “eating” business, to put in its own words. Meituan is tapping its existing infrastructure to get the job done, for example, by summoning its food delivery drivers to serve the grocery service during peak hours. As the company noted in its earnings report last year, the grocery segment could leverage its “massive user base and existing world’s largest intra-city on-demand delivery network.”

Alibaba and Amazon move over, we visited JD’s connected grocery store in China

Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

Shef 

Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent week over week thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

rct studio

Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

Interprime

Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

Nabis

Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck has secured $4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes trains,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak

Failed meal-kit service Munchery owes $6M to gift card holders, vendors

Several weeks after a sudden shutdown left customers and vendors in the lurch, meal-kit service Munchery has filed for bankruptcy. In the Chapter 11 filing, Munchery chief executive officer James Beriker cites increased competition, over-funding, aggressive expansion efforts and Blue Apron’s failed IPO as reasons for its demise.

Munchery owes $3 million in unfulfilled customer gift cards and another $3 million to its vendors, suppliers and various counterparties, the filing reveals. The company’s remaining debt includes $5.3 million in senior secured debt and convertible debt of approximately $23 million. Munchery says its scrounged up $5 million from a buyer of its equipment, machinery and San Francisco headquarters.

The business had raised more than $100 million in venture capital funding, reaching a valuation of $300 million in 2015 before ceasing operations on January 22 and laying off 257 employees in the process. Munchery was backed by Menlo Ventures, Sherpa Capital, e.Ventures, Cota Capital and others.

The company, which failed to notify its vendors it was going out of business, has been scrutinized for failing to pay those vendors in the wake of its shutdown. To make matters worse, emails viewed by TechCrunch show Munchery continued aggressively marketing its gift cards in emails sent to customers in December, weeks before a final email to those very same customers announced it was ceasing operations, effectively immediately.

An email advertising Munchery gift cards sent to a customer weeks before the startup went out of business.

The latest court filings shed light on Beriker’s decision-making process in those final months, touching on Munchery’s frequent pivots, the company’s 2017 layoffs, its plans to scale sales of Munchery products in Amazon Go stores and failed attempts at a sale. Beriker is the sole remaining Munchery board member. He has not responded to several requests for comment from TechCrunch.

In the third quarter of 2018, Munchery, at the recommendation of its board, hired an investment bank to find a buyer for the startup, to no avail. Beriker suggests the lack of a buyer, coupled with industry trends like larger-than-necessary venture capital rounds and inflated valuations, were cause for the startup’s failure to deliver.

“The company expanded too aggressively in its early years,” the filing states. “The access to significant amounts of capital from leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms at high valuations and low-cost debt from banks and venture debt firms, combined with the perception that the on-demand food delivery market was expanding quickly and would be dominated by one or two brands– as Uber had dominated the ridesharing market– drove the company to aggressively invest in its business ahead of having a well-established and scalable business model.”

Increased competition from well-funded competitors drove the startup off course, too, and the epic failure that was Blue Apron’s IPO, which had a “material negative impact on access to financing for startups in the online food delivery business,” was just the cherry on top, according to Beriker’s statements.

Munchery’s vendors, who were not notified or paid following Munchery’s announcement, have provided outspoken criticism to the company and venture capital’s lack of accountability in the weeks following Munchery’s shutdown. Lenore Estrada of Three Babes Bakeshop, among several vendors owed thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices, orchestrated a protest outside of Munchery investor Sherpa Capital’s offices in January. She said she has spoken with Beriker and founding Munchery CTO Conrad Chu in an attempt to pick up the pieces of the failed startup puzzle.

“None of us who are owed money are going to get anything,” Estrada told TechCrunch earlier today. “But [Beriker], after fucking it all up, is still getting paid.”

Beriker, indeed, is still earning a salary of $18,750 per month, one-half of his pre-bankruptcy salary, as well as a “success fee based on the net proceeds recovered from the sale of the company’s assets up to a maximum of $250,000,” the filing states.

View the full bankruptcy filing here:

Hola Code tackles the real migration crisis

After spending eight months in an immigration facility in the United States, Abimael Hernandez made the tough decision to return to Mexico.

He had spent 14 years in Florida and was leaving behind his wife and three children to return to Mexico so he could go through the process of returning to the United States legally.

Hernandez didn’t want to live in fear of being pulled over by police; he longed to own a car in his name and he didn’t want his immigration status to be illegal any longer.  

Upon his return to Mexico, Hernandez had worked in construction, call centers and sold CDs before finally being given an opportunity that made a return to the United States less appealing. Hernandez now works as a software developer at Ignite Commerce in Mexico and has integrated well into the country that he at first struggled to identify as home.

Hernandez’s struggle to adjust and adapt to life in a new country mirrors that of other migrants who are returning to Mexico. And ongoing U.S. government attempts to put an end to the DACA program instituted under President Barack Obama, an initiative which protected as many as 800,000 unauthorized migrants that had come to the United States as children, are pushing many others along the same path.

For the people facing an increasingly hostile environment for migrants who choose — or are forced — to return to Latin America, little support awaits.

What tends to lie in store for these deportees and returnees in Mexico is usually low-paying service employment. For those with an undocumented status especially, no collateral in Mexico leads to problems in accessing finances, whilst having spent the majority of their lives in the United States, barriers in the Spanish language mean some returnees fail to be accepted into the Mexican education system. 

Though there are some government initiatives aimed at supporting deportees by providing shelter and food, this usually bilingual cohort is prone to unemployment, as well as the mental struggle assigned to the frustrations of reintegrating into a country with which many can’t identify.

It is the hardship of reintegration that inspired the foundation of Hola Code, the only Mexican startup of its kind that currently runs in the country. Founded by CEO Marcela Torres just last year, Hola Code is coined as hackers without borders and is a startup that offers a coding bootcamp for migrants, ensuring that this young generation, new to Mexico, does not slip under the radar.

Geared at supporting the integration of deportees, the startup is prepping Mexicans to enter into a high-demand sector through an intensive five-month software development training program that gives the students qualification, even though many have started from scratch.

‘‘We don’t know of any social enterprises or even regular startups that are actually tackling migration in Mexico,’’ Torres recently told TechCrunch. Although migration and deportations continue to make headlines, it appears that Hola Code might be the only Mexican startup trying to do anything about it.

Backed by San Francisco-based Hack Reactor, the Mexican organization costs nothing until graduates have secured a full-time job, and pays their students a monthly stipend without any bureaucratic red tape.

Collectively venturing into Mexican society with peers in a similar position, most Hola Code students also don’t plan to return to the United States and want to use their skill set in the ever-growing Mexican tech ecosystems. For former student Hernandez, he remains grateful for the support network that Hola Code became for him.

‘‘If Mexico had more opportunities like Hola Code I think returnees would definitely think about not going back to the United States and other countries,’’ he said.

The question now remains as to how international policies will continue to affect Latin American families in the future.

‘‘You create the program in the hopes that one day that you will run out of work,’’ CEO and co-founder Marcela Torres ambitiously explained.

MISSION, TX – JUNE 12: A Central American immigrant stands at the U.S.-Mexico border fence after crossing into Texas on June 12, 2018 near Mission, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants’ country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The bittersweet reality is that Hola Code has, in fact, blossomed within the past year, with now more than 400 monthly applications from Mexicans and Central American migrants that are seeking refuge in the country. Although the organization celebrates the achievements of their alumni, who tend to quickly ascend into well-paid tech jobs across Mexico, the coding bootcamp is never short of work, and is now looking to open an office in Tijuana to be closer to the border.

The journey for the startup’s female founder, one of a small number of women in Mexican tech leadership, has also not been an easy feat.

‘‘It’s very difficult for a woman that has designed a business plan and has ideas to be taken seriously,’’ Torres explains. ‘‘It took me a long time to find the original investors that would believe in my idea and in my capacity, as well, to run the organization because this is the first startup that I have executed.’’

The cultural burdens that still exist in Mexico is a reality that deters many women from entering into the entrepreneurial scene within the country. From finding investors to promoting an idea, it is the issue of being taken seriously that is most effective at stalling Mexico’s female entrepreneurs.

‘‘I think that it’s important for younger women to start seeing us out there trying to take risks and thinking that they can do it as well. Even if they’re not successful, that it’s something that is available and achievable for them.’’

Confronted by her own hurdles in becoming the tech leader of Hola Code today, however, her organization does much more than just in-depth coding. From encouraging young Mexican women to leap into business and tech, to helping each student find a job, Torres speaks of the hope, security and routine that every Hola Coder gathers as they become immersed in Mexican life through this community.

‘‘Helping them navigate the expectations of how to start a career in tech is one of the things that we work on and therefore it means that they develop the right skill set, and once they finish the program, to be able to successfully jump into big areas such as banking.’’

MCALLEN, TX – JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait for transport while being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants’ country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Former student Miriam Alvarez is now a software engineer for SegundaMano. Growing up in the United States, Mexican Universities did not accept her U.S. documents and she too began working in a call center before hearing about the project, applying just days before the application deadline. ‘‘It’s OK to not know everything, but you should always be open to trying new things and learning something new,’’ Alvarez said, speaking of the broader messages that Hola Code delivers.

The overwhelming lessons that all Hola Code’s alumni praise is how the bootcamp delivers more than just coding, but also important life skills that allow for the transition to Mexico to be easier. Through reasoning and problem solving, many are grateful for the structure and direction that Hola Code provides Mexicans new to the country.

Though many of their students had joined Hola Code feeling “American,” the values that the group provides adds to the larger picture of Mexico’s growing tech scenes.

‘‘The biggest challenge for the tech sector in the country is access to human capital and the second one is retaining the talent.’’ By fine-tuning the country’s coding talent pools with bicultural young developers that speak English, Spanish and also JavaScript, the organization contributes to growing tech hubs such as Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mexico City, which are increasingly gaining global attention.

Hola Code is one of just a few life-changing organizations filling the gap in an immigration story that is seldom covered by the media.

Providing social mobility to people that have been forced to return through education, employment and exposure to tech pioneers, Hola Code’s alumni are spreading the message of integration through education far and wide across the globe.

As long as the fragility of migration continues to be tested, however, Torres and her team have work to do in their mission to produce Mexico’s next pioneering coding generation.

Uber Eats test lets restaurants trade discounts for ranking boost

Uber Eats has effectively invented its own native ad unit. Uber confirmed to TechCrunch that a test quietly running in markets around India allows restaurants to bundle several food items together and sell them at a discounted price in exchange for promoted placement by Uber Eats in a featured section of local “Specials”. In some cases, restaurants foot the cost of the discount, while in others Uber pays for the discounts.

The Uber Specials feature demonstrates the massive leverage awarded to food delivery apps that aggregate restaurants. Users often come to Uber Eats and its competitors without a specific restaurant in mind. Uber can then point those customers to whichever food supplier it prefers. The suppliers in turn will increasingly compete for the favor the aggregators — not just in terms of food quality, speed, and review scores, but also in terms of discounts. The aggregators will win users if they offer the best deals, creating a network effect makes restaurants more keen to play ball.

TechCrunch first learned of Uber’s ambitions in the space from a mock-up of the Promoted Items Value Section feature spotted in its app by mobile researcher and frequent TC tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The fictional food items included “Best Beer” that “is made from only the finest gutter swill” and “Weird Fries” that “will so utterly decimate your sense of good food that you will be permanently reduced to a whimpering shell of your former self!” This jokey text that seemingly was never meant for public viewing also noted that the fries are so good you should “throw all your other food in the garbage right now!” Uber assured us these weren’t real.

But what it did confirm is that the discounts for promoted placement test is live in India. “We’re always experimenting with ways to make it easier to find your favorite foods on Uber Eats”, according to a statement provided by an Uber spokesperson.

The feature allows restaurants to create a bundled meal at certain price point, such as a chicken sandwich, french fries, and a drink at a price that’s less than the sum of its parts. The company tells me the goal is to take the friction out of ordering by giving people pre-set meals at a better price prominently available in the app. Attracting more customers that have plenty of other options could offset the discount. Businesses could also use it to bundle high margin items like soft drinks in with meals, or to get rid of overstock.

Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory describes how power accrues to aggregators that match supply with demand

It’s already common for restaurants to make ‘specials’ out of food they have too much of. That butternut squash ravioli might only be featured because they can’t get rid of it. In that sense, you could think of Uber Specials as the inverse of surge pricing. When supply is too high, restaurants can offer discounts to gain more demand. It’s also not far off from Google Search’s keyword ads where business pay for more visibility.

Uber wouldn’t discuss whether it plans to bring the strategy to other markets, but it makes sense to assume it’s considering expansion. Done wrong, it could look a bit like Uber Eats is pressuring restaurants to surrender discounts if they want to be discoverable inside its app. If restaurants within Uber Eats get into heated competition to offer discounts, it could drive down their profits. But done right, Specials could look like a triple-win. Restaurants can offload surplus and bundle in high margin items while scoring new customers from enhanced placement, customers get cheaper food options, and Uber Eats becomes people’s go-to app for easy-to-order discounted meals.

Canters restaurant royalty raises $9.5 million for Ordermark, a takeout order management service

Alex Canter knows the restaurant business.

The scion of Los Angeles’ famous first family of the deli business — the owners of the eponymous Canters restaurant — Canter has been in the food business longer than many seasoned restauranteurs twice his age.

While some people had a Bar Mitzvah party, the thirteen year old Canter had section four of his family’s restaurant. But as technology started making its way inside the restaurant business, Canter realized that the delicatessen on Fairfax would need to upgrade to keep up with the times.

The younger Canter upgraded the menu, brought in a point of sale system and renovated the bar. “I was the guy in the restaurant to pitch whenever there was a service or product,” Canter says. “All of a sudden online ordering started up. All of these different ordering services began to pop up and each one added more customers and incremental revenue, but each one brought challenges into our staff.”

At one point, Canters had nine tablets, two laptops and a fax machine, all managing incoming delivery orders. “It was a complete train wreck and I realized restaurants shouldn’t have to work like that” says Canter. Indeed, his staff was begging Canter to shut down online ordering, but given that online delivery orders had become a third of Canters business, that was an impossibility.

The answer came when Canter met Mike Jacobs, a former federal investigator turned entrepreneur who had launched a company called TapInto which was managing mobile orders for stadium concession stands and food trucks.

Jacobs pitched Canter on the idea of a single unified hardware system that would aggregate all of a restaurant’s online orders in a single place and Canter bought in immediately. Thus, Ordermark was born. The deli proprietor also knew which place would be a great first beta test for the software.

After rolling out in Canters, the company reached out to other mom and pop restaurants in the Los Angeles area. “What’s crazy is that when we were first building this business i had gone out to my own network of restaurants and my friends. The first ten restaurants that i approached all want to sign up immediately,” said Canter.

The next stop for the company was capital to build out the technology. Ordermark raised from local Los Angeles investors including Mucker Capital, TenOneTen Ventures and Act One Ventures. After securing that $3.1 million in funding Ordermark moved to the big leagues — the Western Food Service and Hospitality Expo.

“It was an expo that i had grown up going to every year. It was interesting to be on the other side of the table,” says Canter. “One of the first restaurants to sign up was a franchisee of Johnny Rockets… that’s when we decided that we needed to ramp up our tech.”

So Canter went back out to the market. This time securing $9.5 million from the company’s previous investor and new lead investor Nosara Capital. Additional new investors included Vertical Venture Partners, RiverPark Ventures (an investment firm from the founder of Seamless, Andy Appelbaum), Techstars Ventures, and Matchstick Ventures.

Currently, with the fundraising in hand, Canter’s business has managed to sign up 500 restaurant brands including Sonic, Qdoba, and TGIFridays. The company has 35 people on staff and is looking to hire more.

“We built a standalone independent online ordering fulfillment solution. Rather than integrating with the POS service we started by building a fully standalone system. So that we can work with any restaurant of any shape at any size including restaurants that have robust older point of sale systems that don’t integrate very well with others,” said Canter. 

With the new capital the company is looking to expand into most of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S. Ordermark’s system is already live in 20 states — including Hawaii .

Ordermark isn’t alone in its quest to ease restaurants’ online ordering pain. Companies like Chowly in Chicago, and Checkmate in New York that are both competing for restaurant owners’ hearts and minds.

Canter isn’t too worried about the competition. “Right now we’re just laser focused on making as much of an impact on restaurants across America,” Canter says. 

Kencko wants to help you eat more fruit and vegetables

People don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables today, that’s despite an embarrassment of options today that include fast grocery delivery and takeout services with a focus on health.

A study from the U.S-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last November found that just one in ten adults in America “meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations” each day. The bar isn’t that high. The recommendation is just 1.5-2 cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day, but failing to meet it can put people at risk of chronic diseases, the CDC said.

The problem is universal, but perhaps more acute in the U.S, where finding healthy food is easier than ever. Amazon’s same-day grocery deliveries, make-it-at-home services like Blue Apron and various healthy takeout services have helped some people, but no doubt there’s much more to be done for standards to be raised across the nation and beyond.

That’s where one early-stage startup, Kencko, is aiming to make a difference by making fruit and vegetable more accessible. Its thesis is that wholly organic diets are daunting to most, but packaging the good parts in new ways can make it easier for anyone to be more healthy.

The company’s first offering is a fruit drink that can be made in minutes using just a sachet, water and its mixer bottle.

Kencko currently offers five different organic fruit and vegetable mixes

Just add water

Unlike other ‘instant’ mixer options, Kencko uses freeze-drying to turn fruit and vegetable mixes into sachets without compromising on health. That process — which is similar to how NASA develops food for astronauts — retains minerals, protein, vitamins and all the other good stuff typically lost in healthy drinks, the startup said. The fruit and vegetables used are organic and sourced from across the world — that’s broken down into more details on the Kencko website — while the mixes don’t contain sugar or other additives.

Kencko customers make their drink by mixing the sachet with water and shaking for one minute. Each sachet is 20g and, when combined with water, that gets you a 160g serving that has a 180-day shelf live. There are six different combinations, each one is a mixture of six fruit and vegetables.

Unlike others that pair with water, Kencko actually includes fruit pieces and seeds — I tested a batch. That’s pretty unique, although it is worth noting that some of the more berry fruit heavy combinations mix less efficiently than the plant-based ones, at least from my experience. As someone who lives in a city where fresh fruit and vegetables are easily found — thank you, Bangkok — I’m not the target customer. But I can readily recall living the busy 9-6 office live in London a decade ago, and back then I’d have been curious enough to at least take Kencko for a spin in my quest to be a little healthier.

Kencko is also affordable when compared to most health food options, which tend to be positioned as premium.

Packs are priced at $29.90 for ten sachets, $74.50 for 30 and $123.50 for 60. The startup offers a ‘Lifetime Founding Member’ package that gives 30 percent off those prices for an initial charge. That’s $32 for those wanting 10 sachets packages, $79.90 for 30 and $129 for 60.

Two of my Kencko mixes

More than pressed juice

Kencko — which means health in Japanese — is the brainchild of Tomás Froes, a former tech worker who got into veganism after being diagnosed with acute gastritis.

Froes, who is from Portugal and once ran an artisanal hot dog brand in China, was told that his ailment was treatable but that it would require a cocktail of pills for the rest of his life. Seeking an alternative, he threw himself into the world of alternative health and, after settling on a 90 percent fruit and vegetable diet, found that his condition had cleared without medicine.

Keen to help others enjoy the benefits of his journey, he began talking to nutritionists and experts whilst trying to figure out possible business options. In an interview with TechCrunch, Froes said he settled on a new take on the existing ‘health drink’ space that he maintains is inadequate in a number of ways.

“The end goal is to help consumers reach the recommendation of five servings/portions of fruit a day,” he explained. “That would be impossible to do if we excluded the seeds and bits of fruits like cold-pressed juice companies do. They press the juice out of the fruits, leaving the most nutritional part from pulp and the seeds out.”

“We blast freeze fruit and vegetables at -40 degrees which allows us to maintain the same nutritional properties as fresh fruit for longer periods. We then use a slow heat process of 60 degrees to evaporate only take the water-based parts without damaging nutrition,” Froes added.

Added that, Froes said, Kencko helps cut down on the use of plastic by using the same mixer, return customers only require new sachets.

As proof of Kencko’s versatility, he brought his mixer and sachets along to the vegan cafe we met at earlier this year when I visited London, putting me to shame for buying the cold pressed option — which was no doubt more expensive, to boot.

Kencko is based in New York but with a processing facility in Lisbon, Portugal. It is heavily focused on the U.S. market where it offers delivery in 24-48 hours, but it also covers the UK and Canada. There are plans to increase support, particularly in Asia.

Kencko’s Apple Watch app is in beta with selected users

Building a health food brand

Kencko was formed in 2017 and, after landing undisclosed seed funding, it launched its product in March of this year. Already it has seen progress; the startup recently entered the TechStars accelerator program in London as one of a batch of ten companies.

“I’m excited to work with Tomas and the Kencko team,” Eamonn Carey, who leads TechStars in London, told TechCrunch. “I first read about them on ProductHunt and bought into their mission straight away. Once I tasted the product for the first time, I was sold — both as a subscriber and an investor.”

Froes told TechCrunch that drinks are just the first phase of what Kencko hopes to offer consumers. He explained that he wants to move into other types of food and consumables in the future to help give people more options to get their daily portion of fruit and vegetables.

Up next could be Apple-based snacks. Foes shared — quite literally — a new batch of snack that’s currently in development and is made from the fruit. He believes it could be marketed a healthier option than crisps and other nibbles people turn to between meals. Further down the pipeline, he said, will be other kinds of food that maintain the 100 percent organic approach.

Beyond food, Kencko wants to build a close bond with its customers. It is developing iOS and Apple Watch apps that help its users to track their fruit and vegetable consumption, and more generally make their diet and routine healthier.

With the membership package and apps, it becomes clear that Kencko aspires to build a brand and not just sell a product online. That’s double the challenge (at least), and that makes the company one to watch.

Already it has found some success within tech circles such as TechStar’s Carey — people who aspire to eat and drink better but are pushed for time — but if Froes is to even begin to deliver on his mission then Kencko will need to go beyond the tech industry niche and attract mainstream consumers. For now though, the product is worth close inspection if you think your lifestyle is in need of a fruit boost.