I was listening to Dan Primack’s podcast on Pro Rata and he was interviewing Senator Klobucher who is now publicly and vocally speaking out against Uber purchasing Grubhub and has tried to mobilize against this.
Her argument is that if Uber buys Grubhub (which itself once merged with Seamless) it would mean that Uber Eats / Grubhub would control half the market and that with DoorDash the two together would control 90% of the market. I think that’s a largely flawed fight to be picking and of all the uses of Senator Klobuchar’s I could think of some much more productive fights to be having.
For starters Uber itself has had to lay off 27% of its workforce due to the pandemic and has been severely impacted financially from the crisis with no immediate respite in sight. Its core business was already struggling to become profitable, so having tertiary businesses like food delivery that can deliver needed profits would be welcome to their financial stability. And the market would still have DoorDash and PostMates duking it out as well as the potential that players like Instacart broaden their business one day or Amazon gets into food delivery.
Even more likely is eventual technology disruption where drones deliver foods and make it hard for existing car delivery services to compete. It won’t happen right away but I’ve seen some innovative companies doing exactly this in places like Australia where they are taking a more liberal approach to allowing drone deliveries. Therein lies the advantages of free markets and competition and if we really believed it were that easy to buy off your largest competitor and be a monopolist we’d all be surfing on AOL TimeWarner portals.
But the broader issue that hasn’t garnered much press attention is how the restaurant industry itself is being transformed and what tools a modern restaurant will need to compete. What is the Shopify of the restaurant industry? I have some compelling data that suggests it may just become ChowNow.
We know that the restaurant business already operates on thin margins and many struggle to survive. So when delivery services came along many were willing to pay the fee to try and increase business. It was only about 10–15% of their actual total revenue per month so for many it wasn’t a battle worth fighting — they just put up with the food delivery company fees. Customers were happy and restaurants focused on their in-store business.
The problem for the restaurants is that the more successful the “aggregators” of customer demand become over time, the less power the restaurants themselves have individually. This will largely be true whether you have 2 strong competitors or 5 because unless a delivery company can make a profit it won’t continue to stay in business.
The delivery companies own the customer relationship and can drive traffic to the most profitable restaurants for them. Obviously if you have a great restaurant brand with differentiated food people search for you by name but for many people looking for pizza, sushi, Mexican food, Thai food, whatever, you might go with the choice put in front of you if it’s being recommended or delivered more quickly. The delivery companies also own many of the assets like the photography so they can make certain options look much more attractive.
So just like when Groupon came out many small merchants welcomed the uptick in traffic, without owning the customer you lose the most valuable asset — the ability to re-market to your customer base and encourage them to become more loyal and more frequent customers. You lose the ability to up-sell and cross-sell products. And just like with Groupon the small businesses ended up having many unprofitable customers.
At Upfront we always took the approach that we wanted to back startups that enabled merchants to own the customer relationship and to increase profits by becoming excellent at marketing and serving ones most loyal customers.
So several years ago we backed a company called ChowNow that enables restaurants to offer self-service ordering for pick-up or delivery and the restaurant owns all of the customer information and relationship — ChowNow is simply a SaaS enablement product.
The company has done well over the past several year but never really captured the same press mindshare as the food delivery companies because when a company shows up at your house you get to know that brand rather than the tech that enables restaurants.
Covid-19 has changed all of that. Whereas pickup & delivery may have been 10–15% of a restaurant’s business before it’s currently 100% and when it’s your entire business the thought of paying huge commissions to a third-party delivery service becomes much less attractive. So while many restaurants knew they eventually needed to invest in better order management software, many had been putting it off.
But just as many product or apparel companies were happy selling at Amazon, Walmart or Nordstrom in the past and have lately realized the importance of Shopify and serving customers directly — so, too, are restaurants. Enter ChowNow.
What data do I have to make the case?
- ChowNow now has 17,000 restaurants using its SaaS platform for take-out and delivery and is adding more than 2,000 / month right now (and trending up)
- 10 million diners now use the ChowNow ordering platform vs. 24 million for GrubHub, so like Shopify while they built the customer base slowly and with capital efficiency they are now rivaling the bigger players in footprint
- Last year they were serving 50,000 customers / day through their platform and did approximately $500 million in GMV (the value of the orders placed), this year they are on track to do $3 billion (with a B) and expect to end the year at a revenue run rate that may top $100 million (yes, I asked for permission to publish these numbers).
If you want to see a short spot that outlines the importance of the restaurant industry arming itself with better software tools to serve and market to their customers you may enjoy this 60-second video that makes it clear why it matters. It speaks volumes to why we all love our local restauranteurs and want to see them survive …
Or if you want to see the argument laid out clearly by a customer, look no further than Motorino Pizza in NYC who posted this note that appears before you enter their website:
Driving traffic to your Shopify Store
by Laura McLoughlin
It is easy to feel daunted by the competition. You are one among hundreds, maybe thousands, of
Shopify and other eCommerce stores. Although you are pleased with your site and your products
convince you, you must find some way of standing out in the crowd.
Encouraging a regular footfall is at the heart of selling. It will help if you were visible if you want to
be successful. Here we guide you through some of the essentials of driving traffic to your Shopify
store. At the heart of these ideas is that the more people who visit, the higher the number of
customers that click “complete purchase”.
Search Engine Optimisation
SEO is mainstream now across the internet. Most successful sites understand that Google has a set
of criteria that you must employ to be visible on search engines and so on the internet. These
criteria aim to provide the user of Google with the best experience as possible, as only the most
relevant sites with the most significant authority are listed on that first page.
While this can feel threatening and exclusive, it is also an opportunity. If you research your keywords
and phrases, those that your customers would type into a search engine, and litter these through
your site, then you have a chance to be seen. Your SEO keywords should be in your product
descriptions, in your headings and the backend of your website – so don’t forget the alt text for your
images and the meta descriptions.
You might also want to include a well-written paragraph at the bottom of each of your product
pages. While your customer is unlikely to read this paragraph, you will have an opportunity to
include the key phrases some more. Be aware; keyword stuffing draws penalties that drops you
down the list. Make sure everything on your site is high-quality and of apparent worth to your
reader. Just think: would the customer want to read this?
Improve your ranking some more
There are other ways to improve your ranking on search engines. Imagine your realistic target is to
get on the first page of a list of results, as you realise nobody clicks on that “see more” at the bottom of the
page. Your ambition is to be in the top three, as these are the sites that get a significant proportion
of the clicks.
However, you are up against a lot of competition for this prime internet real estate.
Option 1: you can pay for your place. If you know your target market and can clearly define the
demographics, you can opt to pay for Google AdWords. This service places you at the top of the
page for the people you define and for the search terms you identify.
Option 2: you can improve your domain authority even more by posting to other sites. Writing guest
posts and including an internal link acts as a testimonial for the reliability and quality of your
website. The most links to your site from other quality content providers, the better your ranking. If
you are someone who sells garden benches and you are guested on Home and Country Garden
website, then that link is going to be unbelievably valuable.
Gain traction on social media
Social media is a great way to build a following. Regularly posting the blogs that you write and the
products you sell, as well as other updates, will help gather some traffic. However, getting noticed
on social media is as challenging as drawing traffic to your Shopify store. Therefore, you are going to
have to do more than setting up a page on Facebook and Instagram. And, you certainly can’t follow
your way to a broad audience.
One way to gain some traction on social media and boost your profile is through an influencer. A
social media influencer has worked to achieve a following from the thousands through to the
millions. While you might not be able to afford someone with tens of millions of followers, you could
get someone specialising in your niche with a few thousand friends to start to spread the word.
Studies suggest that these followers will not only encourage visits to your store but also prompt a
more significant proportion of conversions. It could offer genuine value for money.
Once you start to get noticed on social media, you need to be a consistent presence. You need to
stay relevant by posting regularly and at the same time. Again, think about your audience. When will
they be browsing through social media? Is it when they are lining up for coffee in the morning? Is it
in the hour just after the kids have gone to bed? Whatever the perfect time, always post at this time
of day. Social media is a powerful marketing tool, but it doesn’t work by magic. Be sure to maintain
your profiles and be a regular contributor.
What does all this mean?
To encourage footfall to your eCommerce store you have to work hard to make it visible on the
internet. Using search engines and social media you can direct customers to the start of sales funnel
and from there your talent for selling will drive purchases.
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives
“I gotta say it was a good day.”
I’m so fricking pumped today. Really, truly. Yeah, Valence announced > $5 million in funding led by GGV and Upfront. That IS a big deal, but I’ll get to that. But Kamala Harris was picked to be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. That means she’ll be the first female Vice President of the United States, the first female Black Vice President and the first Indian-American Vice President. I don’t take this for granted, be ready for a fight. But let’s be clear. WE WILL WIN. We might have to fight for it after the votes go our way but let’s get ready for the fight.
So let’s get it.
Valence. It is a company with a mission to create better access and more funding for Black entrepreneurs and executives. Valence is led by a talented CEO, Guy Primus and was the brainchild of my partner, Kobie Fuller. If you want to follow two great Black executives who work at the intersection of technology and venture capital make sure to click on those links and follow them on Twitter.
So what exactly is Valence and why does it matter?
18 months ago, my partner Kobie Fuller was inspired to build a solution for a problem he faced regularly: as one of the few Black partners at a VC firm (an estimated 3% of GPs in venture are Black vs 14% of the US population), he was consistently asked for warm intros to Black professionals, to Black VCs, and to talented Black operators and entrepreneurs.
Venture firms wanted to meet talented Black founders but didn’t know where to start to find them. And Black entrepreneurs wanted access to decision makers but didn’t always have the easy connections. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms I personally get when I suggest that founders should “get introductions to VCs” is that this might reinforce existing racial imbalances by providing easier access to White professionals than people of color.
An imbalance clearly exists in access and networks that has resulted in a tech industry where an estimated only 1% of venture dollars go to Black founders and only 3% of the workforce is Black and a country where Black individuals hold a disproportionately low amount of the wealth — only 3%. As Kobie says, he didn’t have a “magical database” of great Black talent, so he set out to build a solution not just for himself, but also for the community.
Personally I believe that to fund more people of color you need to put check-writing authority in their hands the same way that if you want to see more women funded you need more women GPs. My greatest criticism of our industry is that women and people of color feel the need to leave larger VCs to create their own firms. We have a responsibility to help propel them to the top ranks of our biggest firms to make our check writers more representative of our society overall.
There is a very clear economic rational and strategic advantage for doing so. There are amazing Black entrepreneurs, Indian entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, gay entrepreneurs and so forth. OBVIOUSLY! If 90% of the check writers are White, straight men then it’s clear if you are different than that you’re going to have an advantage. As I always say, being great as an investor is about having “edge” and edge means knowing somebody or something that very few others know. It’s about swimming in lanes where others aren’t present. Being diverse in the VC industry is a VERY LOW bar and a clear differentiator.
At Upfront we believe in improving access for founders and entrepreneurs to networking, professional development, and economic opportunities, and that’s what Kobie set out to do with Valence, which he incubated in our offices. Huge hats off to Kobie for the idea, energy, direction, evening hours and the foresight and salesmanship required to bring on Guy to take the helm.
Building a mission into a business
By the time Valence launched in late 2019, the team had built the necessary systems and technology to seamlessly engage and onboard the community — not just the users, but also some pilot corporate partners who also believed in the mission and opportunity and who wanted to leverage and support this amazing database of talent. It was also important to Valence to not only connect users, but also to celebrate the successes and spotlight great Black leaders through high-quality content and design.
As soon as Valence launched in November 2019, the business quickly had proven demand from the community, not only from senior business leaders but also from so many young, talented professionals who could benefit from the inter-generational networking that Valence supported so seamlessly. Since launch, the Valence platform has supported more than 5,000 micro-mentoring sessions (AKA Boosts)— allowing the kind of invaluable network support that’s so critical to success and advancement for even the most talented founders and operators.
You can hear more about the importance of mentoring from Kobie Fuller, Valence advisor James Lowry, and John Legend — yes, THE John Legend — in this video from the 2020 Upfront Summit.
So things were going well for Valence in 2020, amazingly even in a pandemic. And then in May the world was galvanized by the tragic murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Rayshard Brooks. And the many Black women and men before them whose lives were taken at the hands of the police.)
When the mission meets a movement
In these months, not only did we see widespread civic protests but so many industries, including ours, faced a reckoning that despite even the best intentions, lip service wasn’t enough. We all needed to take action to address the imbalance of access, and to literally put our money where our mouths are. Suddenly a spotlight was put on everything that the Valence team had been building, and there was even more energy around the business.
I always say that you can judge a startup’s future based on how fast they’re able to execute when it counts. Well, I can tell you that within weeks of the civil unrest, Valence had:
- Introduced the Valence Funding Network, where GPs from more than 30 of the top venture funds representing more than $60B in assets under management joined Valence with the goal of linking Black entrepreneurs on the platform directly to venture decision makers.
- Increased membership by more than 20%
- Hired a CEO, Guy Primus, who was previously the CEO of The Virtual Reality Company as well as the COO of Overbrook Entertainment. He’s been a leader at the intersection of media and tech for many years and we’re grateful to partner with him.
- Announced their Series A funding round, which Upfront participated in and which was led by Hans Tung from GGV. Hans has been a great peer and collaborator on other portfolio boards and we’re excited for him to join Valence at this pivotal time. We have worked closely with GGV for years and they were a natural fit for helping to build a network like this given their investment in Chief (for women) and The Mighty (which helps families with people facing health challenges).
Since day one we have anticipated great things for Valence and with this groundswell of support at the civic level as well as the industry level, we hope to see meaningful improvements in access and dollars for Black professionals. Please join me in congratulating Guy, Kobie and the team for what they’ve built so far, and what’s to come.
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The world can’t afford entrepreneurial extinction
We’ve seen more than our share of changes in the last six months, but one of the most disturbing has been the rapid disappearance of small businesses. While large corporations consolidate their power (and the stock market rises in response), entrepreneurs are becoming an endangered species. This has widespread implications for our economic future and the health of our world, and we need all hands on deck to reverse the trend.
Most people have no idea how much value entrepreneurs bring to the US economy. Before the pandemic hit, 44 percent of economic activity in the US came from smaller businesses. Since the pandemic, 42 percent of small business owners have reported shuttered operations.
That’s a recipe for stagnation. Innovation suffocates when the dominant force is an oppressive, controlling government or a handful of monopolistic companies. It thrives when entrepreneurs have the freedom to explore ideas, create innovation and jobs, and change the world. Entrepreneurs—especially minority entrepreneurs—are the key to getting us out of this tailspin. To use a more timely metaphor, entrepreneurs are the economic vaccine that’s going to prevent future illnesses and get us back to health.
Here are three strategies to protect you from endangerment and keep your innovative ideas, jobs and businesses alive and thriving:
1. Put your mask on first—figuratively speaking.
You’ve probably heard it a million times: When you’re leading in any crisis, you need to take care of your primary needs before you can take care of others’ needs.
In terms of navigating the entrepreneurial world during the pandemic, your top priorities should be keeping yourself healthy, positive and motivated. Only then will you have the strength and energy to be empathetic and compassionate to those around you.
Staying healthy includes checking in mentally, too. Ask yourself if you’re truly committed to navigating this crisis as an entrepreneur. Don’t simply ask yourself, “Do I have what it takes?” Make yourself answer the bigger question: “Do I want to do what it takes?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to get moving.
2. Don’t overlook the importance of virtual meeting strategies.
When the world went virtual in early 2020, companies with existing strong meeting strategies transitioned operations online with relative ease. Those without them floundered.
This aspect of entrepreneurship might seem like a trivial detail, but it’s not. Meetings dominate our professional lives. Unfocused and out-of-control meetings chew up everyone’s valuable time and energy, and they can send your business spiraling.
To avoid this, focus on the structure, organization and frequency of all your meetings. Share your expectations and ground rules with attendees before every event. For instance, you may ask Zoom participants to turn off their cellphones and limit distractions. You may also want to make better use of chats, polls and breakout discussion rooms to promote involvement and avoid monopolizing every session.
3. Tap unrealized potential by getting serious about combating racial and social injustice.
COVID-19 isn’t the only disease we’re fighting right now. It’s nice to say that you’re all about inclusivity, but you have to back up your words with actions. Doing so isn’t just “PC” or politically wise. If you want to remain competitive and nimble, it’s the right thing to do and a vital business strategy.
For example, a Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have innovation revenue that is 19 percentage points higher. As an entrepreneur, you need to tap the full spectrum of talent and potential for your business. When you do that, you also fight injustice. A win-win!
One step toward more inclusivity is to rethink your traditional methods of recruitment and hiring, as well as your onboarding processes and policies. Invest in unconscious bias training for yourself and everyone on your team, and use what you learn to make interviews and job descriptions as nondiscriminatory as possible. Then generate an action plan that sets up diversity as a core belief in your organization.
Don’t just talk about equity; live it. You might be surprised to see how many customers (and talented employees) come your way when you align your corporate values with their personal ones.
The silver lining
We’ve never seen this kind of fear, uncertainty or health and economic stress felt around the world simultaneously. But here’s the silver lining: Many entrepreneurs are realizing that the ways they’ve been forced to collaborate and communicate during COVID-19 are actually an improvement. I’ve heard several say, “We should have been operating this way all along.”
Whether you’re already an entrepreneur or are taking the first steps into business ownership, stay the course. The road may be rocky at the moment, but survival isn’t just for the lucky few. It’s for leaders like you with the foresight to acknowledge the changing landscape and pivot with confidence.
At this point, you might be a little tired of hearing, “we’re all in this together,” but it remains true. It’s been a rough year, but we’re all figuring it out together. Now more than ever, we must keep supporting one another and moving forward. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world depends on it.
Pam Kosanke is the global marketing leader for EOS Worldwide and a Professional EOS Implementer®. She has experience at both the corporate and small business levels and is eager to help entrepreneurial leadership teams and companies learn to champion brand skills, gain more control, and experience real traction in their business.
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