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Main article: Food

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 351

Soylent shakes up its executive team, naming Demir Vangelov as its new CEO

00:44 | 14 February

Soylent, the once high-flying Los Angeles-based meal replacement startup that has raised $72.4 million in financing from investors including Google Ventures, Lerer Hippeau and Andreessen Horowitz, has shaken up its executive team.

This week, the company announced in a blog post that the company’s chief financial officer, Demir Vangelov, would be taking over the top spot at the company and current chief executive Bryan Crowley would be stepping down.

“We would like to thank Bryan Crowley for his immense contributions to the company,” wrote Soylent chairman and founder Rob Rhinehart, in a statement.

Vangelov, who’s taking over from Crowley, previously served as an executive at the milk alternative company Califia Foods and at Oberto Foods, so he knows consumer packaged brands.

Crowley came to the company with grand ambitions to revitalize the Soylent brand and product line. The company had introduced a line of snack bars to complement its line of powders and drinks, while updating its drink line with a nootropic beverage containing caffeine and supplements supposedly designed to boost cognitive performance in addition to providing a meal replacement.

Soylent also set up fancy digs in Los Angeles’ arts district and established a Food Innovation Lab, which only a year ago awarded $25,000 to a few food startups working there.

Now, only a year later, the Food Innovation Lab is shuttered and Soylent has moved to a smaller office space. The company declined to comment on the news or its new strategy.

In some ways, Soylent may suffer from being a progenitor of an investment thesis which has passed it by. When the company launched in 2013, it was a fairly novel idea to start a new food brand, as Rhinehart notes in the blog post announcing the executive change:

Soylent started as a movement. In 2013, there was scarcely any innovation or attention to one of the world’s most important product sectors: our food. Today, innovative food companies are performing record-breaking IPOs, new retailers are raising massive growth rounds, and food, agriculture, and ingredient technologies are some of the most disruptive startups in the ecosystem. But we still have a lot of work to do to fulfill Soylent’s mission of nutrition for all.

Today we are making some changes at the company. We are renewing our commitment to being transparent, authentic and science-driven, all while putting the customer first. To do this we are going to re-focus on our core products. We will be improving our current product line as well as bringing some truly innovative ideas off the shelf and into the market, and we will be improving our prices by focusing on quality over quantity when it comes to distribution and marketing.

 


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Spaceflight Industries to sell its satellite rideshare launch business to Japan’s Mitsui & Co. and Yamasa

04:09 | 12 February

Spaceflight Industries, owner of both Spaceflight, Inc. and BlackSky, is selling the Spaceflight, Inc. portion of its business to Japanese industrial megacorporation Mitsui & Co, and Yamasa both of which will co-own the company in a 50/50 joint venture after its closing. The deal will see Spaceflight continue to operate as an independent business based in the U.S. and headquartered in Seattle, with the same mission of providing rideshare launch services for small satellite payloads.

Meanwhile, Spaceflight Industries will use the funds generated from the sale (the terms of the deal were not disclosed) to re-invest in its BlackSky business. BlackSky is an Earth observation company that deals in geospatial intelligence, and that currently operates four satellites in orbit, with eight more planned to join its constellation sometime later this year.

The deal also means that Mistui & Co, which is one of Japan’s largest businesses and which operates in a variety of sectors including infrastructure, energy production, IT, food, consumer products, mining, chemicals and more, will now be in the rocket launch rideshare business as well. Mitsui also has an aerospace arm that includes a space business which provides satellite development, launch and operation services, but noted in a press release that Spaceflight will become “the cornerstone” of its space strategy pending close of the deal.

Spaceflight, Inc. has been offering its services since 2010, and has launched a total of 271 satellites on 29 separate rocket launches, with 10 missions set to take place in 2020 alone. The company’s business seems poised to grow as more launch providers and more small satellite operators enter the market, with many predictions indicating sharp uptakes in orbit-based businesses to come over the next decade.

This arrangement is perhaps indicative of things to come in the space industry, as more young companies look at their overall business and determine how best to delineate things to continue their growth and return funds on investment to stay on mission. SpaceX, for instance, has confirmed it’s looking at spinning out its Starlink business and taking that public, a move that could generate significant funds for it to then funnel back into its core launch business in pursuit of its goals of making humans multi-planetary.

The deal still has to undergo review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) because there’s a national security interest involved, given Spaceflight’s past work. This is expected to take multiple months, and the companies say they anticipate the deal will close sometime during Q2 2020 if everything is approved.

 


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TLcom Capital closes $71M Africa fund with plans to back 12 startups

12:00 | 5 February

VC firm TLcom Capital has closed its Tide Africa Fund at $71 million with plans to make up to 12 startup investments over the next 18 months.

The group —  with offices in London, Lagos, and Nairobi — is looking for tech enabled, revenue driven ventures in Africa from seed-stage to Series B, according to TLcom Managing Partner Maurizio Caio.

“We’re rather sector agnostic, but right now we are looking at companies that are more infrastructure type tech rather than super commoditized things like consumer lending,” he told TechCrunch on a call.

On geographic scope, TLcom Capital will focus primarily on startups in Africa’s big-three tech hubs — Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa — but is also eyeing rising markets, such as Ethiopia.

Part of the fund’s investment approach, according to Caio, is backing viable companies with strong founders and then staying out of the way.

“We are venture capitalists that believe in looking at Africa as an investment opportunity that empowers local entrepreneurs without…coming in and explaining what to do,” said Caio.

TLcom’s team includes Caio (who’s Italian), partners Ido Sum and Andreata Muforo (from Zimbabwe) and senior partner Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria.

Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin in 2018, Johnson offered perspective on next startups in Africa that could reach billion-dollar valuations. “When I look at the African market I suspect it’s going to be a company that’s very much focused on business to business and business to very small business — a company that can that can solve their challenges,” she said.

Omobola Johonson

Omobola Johnson

TLcom’s current Africa portfolio reflects startups similar to what Johnson described. The fund has invested in Nigerian trucking logistics venture Kobo360, which is working to reduce business delivery costs in Africa.

TLcom has also backed Kenya’s Twiga Foods, a B2B food distribution company aimed a improving supply-chain operations around agricultural products and fast-moving-consumer-goods for farmers and SMEs.

Both of these companies have gone on to expand in Africa and receive subsequent investment by U.S. investment bank, Goldman Sachs .

Other investments for TLcom include talent accelerator Andela  — which trains and places African software engineers — and Ulesson, the latest venture of serial founder Sim Shagaya.

The firm’s close of the $71 million Tide Africa Fund comes on the high-end of a several-year mobilization of capital for the continent’s startup scene. Investment shops specifically focused on Africa have been on the rise. A TechCrunch and Crunchbase study in 2018 tracked 51 viable Africa specific VC funds globally, TLcom included.

This trend has moved in tandem with a quadrupling of venture funding for the continent over the past six years. Accurately measuring VC for Africa is a work in progress, but one of the earlier reliable estimates placed it at just over $400 million in 2014. Recent stats released by Partech peg Africa focused VC funding at over $2 billion for 2019.

TLcom’s listed in a number of the larger rounds that made up Partech’s tally.

The fund’s latest $71 million raise, which included support from Sango Capital and IFC, reversed the roles a bit for TLcom founder Maurizio Caio.

The VC principal — who usually gets pitches from African startups — needed to sell the value of African tech to other investors.

“It’s been tough to raise the fund, there’s no doubt about it,” Caio said. TLcom highlighted its past exit record and the viability of the African market and founders to bring investors on board.

“We had the advantage of showing some good exits…The emphasis was also on the gigantic size of these markets that are underserved, the role that technology can play, and the fact that the entrepreneurs in Africa are just as good as anywhere else,” said Caio.

He also referenced African startups being constrained by the social impact factors often placed on them from outside investors.

“The equation is not just about ensuring employment and inclusion, but also about the fact that African entrepreneurs have to be in charge of their own destiny without instructions from the West,” he said.

For those startups who wish to pitch to TLcom Capital, Caio encouraged founders to contact one of the fund’s partners and share a value proposition. “If it’s something we find vaguely interesting, we’ll make a decision,” he said.

 


0

Diet autopilot Thistle raises $5M for health food subscriptions

00:28 | 28 January

What if it was easier to eat salad than junk food? Most diet routines take a ton of time, whether you’re cooking from scratch, making a meal kit, or seeking out a nutritious restaurant. But on-demand prepared food delivery companies like Sprig that tried to eliminate that work have gone bankrupt from poor unit economics.

Thistle is a different type of food startup. It delivers thrice-weekly cooler bags customized with meat-optional, plant-based breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, sides, and juices. By batching deliveries in the less-congested early morning hours and optimizing routes to its subscribers, or by mailing weekly boxes beyond its own geographies, Thistle makes sure you already have your food the moment you’re hungry. Whether you heat them up or eat them straight out of the fridge, you’re actually dining faster than you could even place an Uber Eats order.

The food on Thistle’s constantly rotating men is downright tasty. You might get a sunrise chia parfait for breakfast, a chicken tropical mango salad for lunch, a microwaveable bulgogi noodle bowl for dinner, with beet hummus and kale-cucumber juice for snacks. Thistle’s not cheap, with meals averaging about $14 each. But compared to competitors’ on-demand delivery markups and service fees, wasting ingredients from the grocer, and the hours of cooking for yourself, it can be a good deal for busy people.

“We see Thistle as part of a movement to make health convenient rather than a high will power chore” CEO Ashwin Cheriyan tells me. What Peloton did to shave time off getting a great workout, Thistle does for eating a nourishing meal. It makes the right choice the easiest choice.

Thistle COO Shiri Avneri and CEO Ashwin Cheriyan with their daughter

The idea of button you can push to make you healthier has attracted a new $5.65 million Series A round for Thistle led by its first institutional investor, PowerPlant Ventures . Bringing the startup to $15 million in funding, the cash will expand Thistle’s delivery domain. Dan Gluck of PowerPlant, which has also funded food break-outs like Beyond Meat, Thrive Market, and Rebbl, will join the board.

Currently Thistle delivers in-person to the Bay Area, LA metro, San Diego, and Sacramento while shipping to most of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. Thistle actually held off on raising more since launching in 2013 to make sure it hammered out unit economics to prevent an implosion. It’s also planning broader meal options, additional product lines, and fresh distribution strategies like getting stocked in office smart kitchens or subsidized by wellness plans.

“The reasons that so many food delivery companies have failed likely fall into two buckets: one, a lack of focus on margins and unit economics, and two, premature geographic expansion before proving out the business model” says Cheriyan. “Thistle makes money similar to how a well run restaurant would make money – by having strong gross margins, efficient customer acquisition costs, and solid customer retention / lifetime metrics. We currently deliver tens of thousands of meals on a weekly basis to customers on the West Coast and our annual average growth rate since launch has been 100%+.”

It’s nice that Thistle hasn’t gone out of business because I’ve been eating its salads 6X a week for three years. It’s been the most efficient way for me to get healthier and lose weight after a half-decade of ordering takeout sandwiches and then feeling sluggish all day. I legitimately look forward to each one since they often have 20+ ingredients and only repeat every few months so they’re never boring.

It’s helped me keep my work-from-home lunches to about 20 minutes so I have more time for writing. Thistle is one of the few startups I consistently recommend to people. When asked how I lost 25lbs before my wedding, I point to Peloton cycling, Future remote personal training, and Thistle salads — none of which require me to leave the house.

Cheriyan tells me “We wanted the better-for-you and better-for-planet choice to be the default choice.”

Growing Out Of On-Demand

Thistle has already pivoted past the business model burning tons of cash across the startup world. The company started as an on-demand cold pressed juice delivery service, sending hipster glass bottles of watermelon and charcoal extract to doors around San Francisco. It was 2013, yoga was booming, and people were paying crazily high prices for liquified lemongrass. Health made simple seemed like a sure bet to the founding team of Alap Shah, Naman Shah, Sheel Mohnot, and Johnny Hwin, some of whom run Studio Management, a family office and startup incubator. [Disclosure: Hwin and Shah are friends of mine but didn’t pitch or discuss this article with me.]

Thistle eventually straightened things out with a shift to subscriptions and batched delivery under the leadership of the hired executives, Cheriyan and his wife and COO Shiri Avnery. “I came from a family of physicians – both my parents, brother, and enough aunts, uncles, and cousins are doctors that they could start a small hospital” Cheriyan, a former corporate attorney in M&A tells me. “A common point of frustration was about patients suffering from diet related illnesses who were unable to make a lifestyle change because it was too hard.”

Avenery, a PhD in air pollution and climate change’s impact on agriculture, had become exasperated with the slow pace of policy change and the inaction of governments and corporations. The two quit their jobs, moved to San Francisco, and searched for a point of leverage for positively influencing people diets and interaction with the environment. They teamed up with the founders and launched Thistle v1.

A lack of experience in logistics led to the initial detour into on-demand. But rather than trying to fix the problem with VC money, Thistle stayed lean and discovered the opportunity nestled between UberEats and BlueApron: sending people food they don’t have to eat now, but that takes low or no time to prepare when they’re peckish. Through its app, users can customize their meal plans, ban their allergens, pause deliveries, and see what they’ll eat next.

A sample of Thistle 8 meal plans

The unit economics problem most heavily plagued the early on-demand food companies. Food / labor waste and inefficient deliveries were likely the biggest reasons why the economics were unsustainable without venture life support. We know this personally as Thistle started our delivery service as an on-demand company before quickly realizing that the unit economics couldn’t sustain a healthy business” Cheriyan explains, regarding companies like Sprig, DoorDash, and Grubhub. Beyond unsold food, “the margins very likely did not support ordering a $12-$15 single meal for immediate delivery when average hourly driver wages reached $18-20.”

Meal kits were supposed to make dining healtheir and cheaper, but they proved too much of a chore and led customers to boxes of ingredients piling up unused. Munchery and Nomiku went out of business while giants like Blue Apron have incinerated hundreds of millions of dollars and seen their share prices sink.

“The meal kit companies fared a little better from a gross margin perspective (due to preorders and more efficient deliveries) but suffer most from an easy-to-copy business model. This led to a rise in copycats, and, as a result, heavily rising customer acquisition costs, low switching costs and poor retention” Cheriyan tells me. “Fundamentally the meal kit companies face another challenge, which is that people have less and less time to cook and are increasingly looking for ready-to-eat options.”

Push-Button Health

A slower, steadier approach with less overhead, more convenience, and fewer direct competitors has helped Thistle grow to 400 employees from culinary to engineering to logistics.

Still, it’s vulnerable. It may still be too expensive for some markets and demographics. Logistics experts like Amazon and Whole Foods could try to barge into the market. Cloud kitchens without dining rooms are making restaurant food more affordable for delivery. And another startup could always take the gamble on raising a ton of cash and subsidizing prices to steal market share, especially where Thistle doesn’t operate yet.

Thistle could counter these threats would be further eliminating delivery costs by selling through partners like office smart fridges where employees pay on the spot, or equipping gym lobbies with more than just Muscle Milk.

One opportunity we’re excited to test is attended and unattended retail – it would be great to be able to pick up Thistle products at your local grocery store, gym, or coffee shop” Cheriyan says. As for offices, “Today’s corporate lunchtime solutions often require a tradeoff between health and convenience: either wait in line for 30+ minutes at your favorite salad spot for a healthy option, or opt into catered restaurant meals that leave you feeling sluggish and unproductive.” Thistle could help employers prevent the 3pm energy lull.

The startup’s focus on plant-forward meals also centers it in the path of another megatrend: the shift to environmentally-conscious diets. Almost 60% of of Americans are trying to eat less meat and 50% are eating meat-alternatives like Impossible Burgers. That stems both from interest in the humane treatment of animals and how 15% of green house emissions come from livestock. But 45% of Americans say they hate to cook. That’s why Thistle makes pre-made meals where meat and egg are optional, but the food is healthy and delicious without them.

In the age of Uber, we’ve acclimated to an effortless life. The new wave of ‘push-button health’ startups like Thistle could finally take the hassle out of aligning your actions in the gym or kitchen with you intentions.

 


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WholyMe, which makes natural products for chronic pain, closes Seed round

18:14 | 27 January

WholyMe, a London startup that makes and markets ‘natural relief’ products to manage chronic pain, has closed a £500,000 Seed round from investors Financière Saint James, V1 Capital, Guibor and business angels. The round also includes Joyance Partners, a New York-based VC concentrating on the new science emerging around ‘health and happiness’ which recently expanded to the UK and Europe.

The funding will be used to manufacture WholyMe’s first range of 100% organic supplements and topicals for muscle and joint health, starting with a cannabis-based ointment slated to launch Spring 2020. Formulated in-house and manufactured in Europe, WholyMe products will be sold online and the start-up also has plans to partner with gym clubs to support athletic millennials by preventing injuries.

Its direct competitors include natural health brands like Tiger Balm, BetterYou, Weleda but also adjacent competitors such as Voltarol and Deep Heat.

They say their differentiating factors are that, at the product level, their products “have no adverse effects as opposed to conventional pain killers”, while they say the ingredients are organic and contain no synthetics, petroleum, GMOs etc.

The market they are aiming at is certainly large. The natural medicine products market is now worth €16bn in Europe and has grown +7% CAGR from 2017-2023, according to the latest figures.

Co-Founders Celine Ivari and Quitterie de Rivoyre researched and developed of WholyMe’s first products while trying to solve chronic inflammation problems plaguing family members.

Ivari says: “When my mother suffered from severe inflammation, she was overloaded with painkillers and prescription drugs, which had terrible side effects. Having studied the genetics of human disease, I knew there were alternative solutions to manage her pain. I helped her improve her wellbeing through natural remedies.”

Paolo Pio, European managing director for Joyance Partners, said in a statement: “We’re thrilled to support WholyMe as they push the boundaries of health & pain management to bring greater happiness to the world.”

 


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Nigeria’s Paga acquires Apposit, confirms Mexico and Ethiopia expansion

08:30 | 22 January

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga has acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.

That’s just part of Paga’s news. The Lagos based startup will also launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch

The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally, while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.

Repat founders

Behind the acquisition is a story threaded with serendipity, return, and collaboration.

Both Paga and Apposit were founded by repatriate entrepreneurs. Oviosu did his MBA at Stanford University and worked at Cisco Systems before returning to Nigeria.

Apposit CEO Adam Abate moved back to Ethiopia 17 years ago for an assignment in the country’s Ministry of Finance, after studying at Brown University and working in fintech in New York.

“I put together a team…to build…public financial management systems for the country. And during the process…brought in my best friend Eric Chijioke…to be a technical engineer,” said Abate.

The two teamed up with Simon Solomon in 2007 to co-found Apposit, with a focus on building large-scale enterprise software for Africa.

Apposit partners (L-R) Adam Abate, Simon Solomon, Eric Chijioke, Gideon Abate

A year later, Oviosu met Chijioke when he crashed at his house while visiting Ethiopia for a wedding. It just so happened Chijioke’s brother was his roommate at Stanford.

That meeting began an extended conversation between the two on digital-finance innovation in Africa and eventually led to a Paga partnership with Apposit in 2010.

Apposit dedicated an engineering team to build Paga’s payment platform, Eric Chijioke became Paga’s CTO (while maintaining his Apposit role) and Apposit backed Paga.

“We aligned ourselves as African entrepreneurs…which then developed into a close relationship where we became…investors in Paga and strategically aligned,” said Abate.

African roots, global ambitions

Fast forward a decade, and the two companies have come pretty far. Apposit has grown its business into a team of 63 engineers and technicians and has racked up a list of client partnerships. The company helped digitize the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange and has contracted on IT and software solutions with banks non-profits and brick and mortar companies.

For a decade, Apposit has also supported Paga’s payment product development.

Paga Interfaces

Over that period, Oviosu and team went to work building Paga’s platform and driving digital payment adoption in Nigeria, home to Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

That’s been no small task considering Nigeria’s percentage of unbanked was pegged as high as at 70% in 2011 and still lingers around 60%, according to The Global Findex database.

Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Since inception, the startup has processed 104 million transactions worth $6.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers.  The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support expansion.

Paga plans its Mexico launch in 2020, according to Oviosu.

Adam Abate is now CEO of Paga Ethiopia, where Paga plans to go live as soon as it gains a local banking license. The East African nation of 100 million, with the continent’s seventh largest economy, is bidding to become Africa’s next startup hub, though it still lags the continent’s tech standouts — like Nigeria and Kenya — in startup formation, ISP options and VC.

Ethiopia has also been slow to adopt digital finance, with less than 1% of the population using mobile-money, compared to 73% for Kenya, Africa’s mobile-payments leader.

Paga aims to shift the financial needle in the country. “The goal is straight-forward. We want Ethiopians to use the Paga wallet as their payment account. So it’s about digitizing cash transactions and driving financial services,” said Oviosu.

Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu

With the Apposit acquisition and country expansion, he also looks to grow Paga’s model in Africa and beyond, as an emerging markets fintech solution.

“There are several very large countries around the world in Africa, Latin America, Asia where these [financial inclusion] problems still exist. So our strategy is not an African strategy…We want to go where these problems exist in a large way and build a global payments business,” Oviosu said.

Fintech competition in Nigeria

As it grows abroad, Paga faces greater competition in Nigeria. For the last decade, South Africa and Kenya — with the success of Safaricom’s  M-Pesa product — have been Africa’s standouts in digital payments.

But over the last several years, Nigeria has become a magnet for VC and fintech startups. This trend reached a high-point in 2019 when Chinese investors put $220 million into Opera owned OPay and Transsion backed PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and broader Africa.

That’s a hefty war chest compared to Paga’s total VC haul of $34 million, according to Crunchbase.

Oviosu names product market fit and benefits from the company’s expansion as factors that will keep it ahead of these well-funded new entrants.

“That’s where the world-class technology comes in,” he said.

“We also take a perspective that we cannot build every use-case,” he said — contrasting Paga’s model to Opera in Africa, which has launched multiple startup verticals around its OPay product, from ride-hailing to food-delivery.

Oviosu compares Paga’s approach to PayPal, which allows third-party developers to shape businesses around PayPal as the payment solution.

With its Apposit acquisition and plans for continued expansion, PayPal may become more than a model for Paga.

Founder Tayo Oviosu sees big fintech players, such as PayPal and Alipay, as future competitors with Paga’s planned expansion into more emerging markets.

 


0

Glovo exits the Middle East and drops two LatAm markets in latest food delivery crunch

18:00 | 21 January

The new year isn’t even a month old and the food delivery crunch is already taking big bites. Spain’s Glovo has today announced it’s exiting four markets — which it says is part of a goal of pushing for profitability by 2021.

Also today, Uber confirmed rumors late last year by announcing it’s offloading its Indian Eats business to local rival Zomato — which will see it take a 9.99% stake in the Indian startup.

In other recent news Latin America focused on-demand delivery app Rappi announced 6% staff layoffs.

On-demand food delivery apps may be great at filling the bellies of hungry consumers fast but startups in this space have yet to figure out how to deliver push-button convenience without haemorrhaging money at scale.

So the question even some investors are asking is how they can make their model profitable?

Middle East exit

The four markets Glovo is leaving are Turkey, Egypt, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.

The exits mean its app footprint is shrinking to 22 markets, still with a focus on South America, South West Europe, and Eastern Europe and Africa.

Interestingly, Glovo is here essentially saying goodbye to the Middle East — despite its recent late stage financing round being led by Abu Dhabi state investment company, Mubadala. (It told us last month that regional expansion was not part of Mubadala’s investment thesis.)

Commenting on the exits in a statement, Glovo co-founder and CEO, Oscar Pierre, said: “This has been a very tough decision to take but our strategy has always been to focus on markets where we can grow and establish ourselves among the top two delivery players while providing a first-class user experience and value for our Glovers, customers and partners.”

Last month Pierre told us the Middle East looks too competitive for Glovo to expand further.

In the event it’s opted for a full exit — given both Egypt and Turkey are being dropped (despite the latter being touted as one of Glovo’s fastest growing markets just over a year ago, at the time of its Series D).

“Leaving these four markets will help us to further strengthen our leadership position in South West and Eastern Europe, LatAm and other African markets, and reach our profitability targets by early 2021,” Pierre added.

Glovo said its app will continue to function in the four markets “for a few weeks” after today — adding that it’s offering “support and advice to couriers, customers and partners throughout this transition”.

“I want to place on record our thanks to all of our Glovers, customers and partners in the markets from which we’re withdrawing for their hard work, dedication, commitment and ongoing support,” Pierre added.

The exits sum to Glovo withdrawing from eight out of a total 306 cities.

It also said the eight cities collectively generated 1.7% of its gross sales in 2019 — so it’s signalling the move doesn’t amount to a major revenue hit.

The startup disclosed a $166M Series E raise last month — which pushed the business past a unicorn valuation. Pierre told us then that the new financing would be used to achieve profitability “as early as 2021”, foreshadowing today’s announcement of a clutch of market exits.

Glovo has said its goal is to become the leading or second delivery platform in all the markets where it operates — underlining the challenges of turning a profit in such a hyper competitive, thin margin space which also involves major logistical complexities with so many moving parts (and people) involved in each transaction.

As food delivery players reconfigure their regional footprints — via market exits and consolidation — better financed platforms will be hoping they’ll be left standing with a profitable business to shout about (and the chance to grow again by gobbling up less profitable rivals or else be consumed themselves). So something of a new race is on.

Back in November in an on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Uber Eats and Glovo discussed the challenges of turning a profit — with Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud telling us he expects further consolidation in the on-demand delivery space. (Though the pair claimed there had been no acquisition talks between Uber and Glovo.)

Michaud said then that Glovo is profitable on a per unit economics basis in “some countries” — but admitted it “varies a lot country by country”.

Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo, he also told us, confirming it generates operating profit there. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he predicted.

Glovo’s exit from Egypt actually marks the end of a second act in the market.

The startup first announced it was pulling the plug on Egypt in April 2019 — but returned last summer, at the behest of its investor Delivery Hero (a rival food delivery startup which has a stake in Glovo), according to Michaud’s explanation on stage.

However there was also an intervention by Egypt’s competition watchdog. And local press reported the watchdog had ordered Glovo to resume operations — accusing it and its investor of colluding to restrict competition in the market (Delivery Hero having previously acquired Egyptian food delivery rival, Otlob).

What the watchdog makes of today’s announcement of a final bow out could thus be an interesting wrinkle.

Asked about Egypt, a Glovo spokesperson told us: “Egypt has been a very complex market for us, we were sad to leave the first time and excited to return when we did so last summer. However, our strategy has always been to be among the top two delivery players in every market we enter and have a clear path to profitability. Unfortunately, in Egypt there is not a clear path to profitability.”

Whither profitability?

So what does a clear path to profitability in the on-demand delivery space look like?

Market maturity/density appears to be key, with Glovo only operating in one city apiece in the other two markets it’s leaving, Uruguay and Puerto Rico, for example — compared to hundreds across its best markets, Spain and Italy, where it’s operating out of the red.

This suggests that other markets in South America — where Glovo similarly has just a toe-hold, of a single or handful of cities, and less time on the ground, such as Honduras or Panama — could be vulnerable to further future exits as the company reconfigures to try to hit full profitability in just around a year’s time.

But there are likely lots of factors involved in making the unit economics stack up so it’s tricky to predict.

Food delivered on-demand makes up the majority of Glovo’s orders per market but its app also touts being able to deliver ‘anything’ — from groceries to pharmaceuticals to the house keys you left at home — which it claims as a differentiating factor vs rival food-delivery-only apps.

A degree of variety also looks to be a key ingredient in becoming a sustainable on-demand delivery business — as scale and cross selling appear to where the unit economics can work.

Groceries are certainly a growing focus for Glovo which has been investing in setting up networks of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience style groceries as well as ready-to-eat food — thereby expanding opportunities for cross-selling to its convenience-loving food junkies at the point of appetite-driven (but likely loss-making) lunch and dinner orders.

Last year Michaud told us that market “maturity” supports profitability. “At the end of the day the more orders we have the better the whole ecosystem works,” he said.

While Uber Eats’ general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Charity Safford, also pointed to “scale” as the secret sauce for still elusive profits.

“Where we start to see more and more trips happening this is definitely where we see the unit economics improving — so our job is really to figure out all of the use cases we can put into people’s hands to get that application used as much as possible,” she said.

It’s instructive that Uber is shifting towards a ‘superapp’ model — revealing its intent last year to fold previously separate lines of business, such as rides and Eats, into a single one-stop-shop app which it began rolling out last year. So it’s also able to deliver or serve an increasing number of things (and/or services).

The tech giant has also been testing subscription passes which combine access to a range of its offerings under one regular payment. While Glovo launched a ‘Prime’ monthly subscription offering unlimited deliveries of anything its couriers can bike around for a fixed monthly cost back in 2018.

When it comes to the quest for on-demand profitability all roads so seem to lead to trying to become the bit of Amazon’s business that Amazon hasn’t already built out and swiped.

 


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Soft Robotics raises $23 million from investors including industrial robot giant FANUC

21:29 | 20 January

Robotics startup company Soft Robotics has closed its Series B round of funding, raising $23 million led by Calibrate Ventures and Material Impact, and including participation from exiting investors including Honeywell, Yahama, Hyperplane and more. This round also brings in FANUC, the world’s largest maker of industrial robots and a recently announced strategic partner for Soft Robotics .

The company said in a press release announcing this latest round of funding that the round was oversubscribed, which suggests it isn’t looking to glut itself on capital investors, given that this $23 million follows a similarly sized $20 million round that closed in 2018 which it also referred to as “oversubscribed.” Prior to that, Soft Robotics had raised $5 million in a Series A round closed in 2015. It has plenty of large, global clients already, so it’s probably not hurting for revenue.

Soft Robotics is focused on developing robotic grippers that, as you might’ve guessed from the name, make use of soft material endpoints that can more easily grip a range of different objects without the kind of extremely specific and tolerance-allergic complex programming that’s required for most traditional industrial robotic claws.

With its 2018 funding raise, Soft Robotics said that it was expanding further into food and beverage, as well as doubling down on its presence in the retail and logistics industries. This round and its new partnership with FANUC (which involves a new integrated system that pairs its mGrip robotic gripper with a new Mini-P controller, all with simple integration to FANUC’s existing lineup of industrial robots) will give it strategic and functional access to what is the most influenentioal industrial robotics company in the world.

This round will specifically help Soft Robotics spend on growth, looking to increase its variability even further and work on expanding its food packaging and consumer goods applications, as well as diving into e-commerce and logistics – specifically to help automate and improve the returns process, a costly and ever-growing challenge as more retail moves online.

 


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Codagenix raises $20 million for a new flu vaccine and other therapies

04:11 | 14 January

Coadagenix, a company developing vaccines and viral therapies for illnesses ranging from the flu and respiratory viruses to dengue fever has raised $20 million in a new round of financing.

The company’s new investment round was led by Adjuvant Capital with additional participation from Euclidean Capital and Topspin Partners .

Codagenix will use the funds to support clinical development of its general flu vaccine and the first RSV vaccine for elderly patients — who are more at risk to serious consequences from contracting the virus.

The company uses a technology called “codon deoptimization” to make versions of viruses and viral therapies that are rendered relatively harmless by replacing more virulent pathogens with milder strains.

Codagenix said it will use the new financing to bring its RSV and flu vaccines through Phase 1 trials and move its oncology program for a breast cancer treatment into Phase 1 clinical trials. It will also launch two new vaccine development programs for what the company called “neglected public health challenges.”

“With the potential to develop optimized, more affordable versions of existing vaccines, Codagenix is poised to solve persistent public health challenges where existing vaccines have made enormous improvements, but still fall short of desired disease control objectives,” said Glenn Rockman, managing partner at Adjuvant Capital. “Equally exciting, the Codagenix technology has an opportunity to succeed where other immunization attempts have failed. We are proud to be supporting the further clinical development of the company’s RSV and influenza programs.”

Founded as a spinout from Stony Brook University in New York in 2012, Codagenix has received backing from government institutions like the National Institute of Health, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army for its dengue fever, flu, swine flu, RSV, and food and mouth disease virus vaccines.

In all, the company has raised $38 million from private non-profits, venture capital investors and $11 million in federal funding.

 

 


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Lucky coffee, unicorn stumbles, and Sam Altman’s YC wager

17:00 | 10 January

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we had TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm and

on hand to dig into the news, with
on the dials and more news than we could possibly cram into 30 minutes. So we went a bit over; sorry about that.

We kicked off by running through a few short-forms to get things going, including:

  • Alex wanted to talk about his recent story on Lily AI’s $12.5 million Series A. Canaan led the round into the ecommerce-focused recommendation engine that has a cool take on what people care about.
  • Danny talked about the acquisition of Armis Security to Insight for $1.1 billion, the VC round for self-driving forklift startup Vecna, and an outside-the-Valley round for Houston-based HighRadius.

Turning to longer cuts, the team dug into the latest from SoftBank, its Vision Fund, and the successes and struggles of its enormous startup bets. Leading the news cycle this week were layoffs at Zume, a robotic pizza delivery venture that is no longer pursuing robotic pizza delivery. Now it’s working on sustainable packaging. Cool, but it’s going to be hard for the company to grow into its valuation while pivoting.

Other issues have come up — more here — that paint some cracks onto the Vision Fund’s sunny exterior. Don’t be too beguiled by the bad news, Danny says, venture funds run like J-Curves, and there are still winners in that particular portfolio.

After that, we turned to China, in particular its venture slowdown. The bubble, in Danny’s view, has burst. The story discussed is here, if you want to read it. The short version for the lazy is that not only has China’s venture scene slowed down dramatically, but startups — even those with ample capital raised — are dying by the hundred. But one highly caffeinated Chinese startup continues to find growth in the world’s greatest tea market.

Finally we hit on the Sam Altman wager and the latest from Sisense, which is now a unicorn. All that and we had some fun.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 


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