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Lunchbox raises $20M to help restaurants build their own ordering experiences

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With many restaurants forced to rely entirely on the delivery and takeout business during the pandemic, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the industry can survive while paying hefty fees to delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Grubhub.

Lunchbox, on the other hand, is a startup that allows restaurants to build ordering experiences on their own websites and apps. Today, it’s announcing that it’s raised $20 million in Series A funding.

CEO Nabeel Alamgir knows the industry well, having served as Bareburger’s CMO — a position he rose to after starting out as a busboy at New York City chain’s first location. He told me that he isn’t expecting restaurants to abandon third-party delivery platforms. But if they can handle more online orders themselves, they’ll make more money while also maintaining a direct relationship with their most loyal customers, for example by offering them personalized promotions.

“You don’t want to lose a customer to these marketplaces,” Alamgir said. “You should be on these channels, but you should also invite your customers to order from you directly.”

That’s why Alamgir founded Lunchbox with Andrew Boryk and Hadi Rashid last year. He said that it took them more than 100 days to build ordering systems for for their first customers — which put them ahead of other restaurant ordering platforms, but they’ve been working hard to speed up that on-boarding process, which is now down to 44 days.

And next year, he’s hoping to move to a self-serve model, which would make Lunchbox accessible to small, independent restaurants, not just the chains and restaurant groups like Bareburger, Clean Juice and Fuku that it currently works with.

The startup says that when a customer starts working with Lunchbox, it usually sees a 30% increase in sales. And the startup’s own customer base has grown 925% over the last year.

Alamgir also noted that Lunchbox allows restaurants to embrace new business models, like delivery via cloud kitchens. In fact, one of Lunchbox’s partners is Ordermark, which just raised $120 million as it moves to a cloud kitchen model. The startup has also been experimenting with autonomous delivery through partnerships with Sodexo and Kiwibot, and it recently partnered with sbe to create a “virtual food hall” where diners can combine food from different restaurants into a single order.

Alamgir predicted that as investors look at new restaurant businesses post-pandemic, one of their key questions will be, “Can we open this on the third floor [where the rent is more affordable]? Can this be a delivery-only experience?” At the same time, he’s not suggesting that those will ever fully replace the in-person dining experience.

“The outfit and the mindset you have when go out to eat is different from when you eat at home and watch Netflix in your pajamas,” he said. “Those different kinds of dinners, and with off-premise dining, there’s an opportunity to innovate significantly.”

The round was led by Coatue, with participation from 645 and Primary Ventures, as well as chef Tom Colicchio, Behance founder Scott Belsky, former Venmo COO Michael Vaughan, HelloFresh founder Bryan Ciambella, Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani. Coatue’s Rahul Kishore and Bennett Siegel are joining Lunchbox’s board of directors.

“Local businesses have been hard hit this year, but we think Lunchbox can help enable these businesses to move online, engage with their customers digitally, and build back stronger than ever,” Kishore said in a statement.

According to Alamgir, the new funding will allow Lunchbox to bring on more restaurants, improve its product (one of his big goals is to become agnostic next year with regards to point-of-sale systems) and to expand the team.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Uber officially completes Postmates acquisition

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Uber today announced the official completion of its Postmates acquisition deal, which it announced originally back in July. The all-stock deal, valued at around $2.65 billion at the time of its disclosure, sees Postmates join Uber, while continuing to operate as a separate service with its own branding and front-end – while some backend operations, including a shared pool of drivers, will merge.

Uber detailed some of its further thinking around the newly combined companies and what that will mean for the businesses they work with in a new blog post. The company posited the move as of benefit to the merchant population they work with, and alongside the official closure announced a new initiative to encourage and gather customer feedback on the merchant side.

They’re calling it a “regional listening exercise” to be run beginning next year, wherein they’ll work with local restaurant associations and chambers of commerce to hear concerns from local business owners in their own communities. This sounds similar in design to Uber’s prior efforts to focus on driver feedback from a couple of years ago in order to improve the way it works with that side of its double-sided marketplace.

Focusing on the needs of its merchant population is doubly important given the current global pandemic, which has seen Uber Eats emerge as even more of a key infrastructure component in the food service and grocery industries as people seek more delivery options in order to better comply with stay-at-home orders and other public safety recommendations.

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Facebook-backed Libra Association rebrands as Diem

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The Libra Association, a consortium created by Facebook to support its Libra cryptocurrency efforts, announced this morning that it has a new name — the Diem Association — and made some key hires ahead of its launch.

This is just the latest course correction since the Libra project was announced last year. In an attempt to appease financial regulators around the world, the association shifted its strategy away from creating a global stablecoin and will instead launch multiple stablecoins, each tied to a different fiat currency (such as the U.S. dollar and the euro).

The project has also seen some high-profile departures, with announced partners like Visa and Stripe leaving the project. And Facebook has rebranded its cryptocurrency wallet, changing the name from Calibra to Novi.

In a statement, Diem Association CEO Stuart Levey more-or-less acknowledged that the new name is an attempt to distance the group from Facebook, and from its earlier controversies.

“The Diem project will provide a simple platform for fintech innovation to thrive and enable consumers and businesses to conduct instantaneous, low-cost, highly secure transactions,” Levey said. “We are committed to doing so in a way that promotes financial inclusion – expanding access to those who need it most, and simultaneously protecting the integrity of the financial system by deterring and detecting illicit conduct. We are excited to introduce Diem – a new name that signals the project’s growing maturity and independence.”

As for the new hires, they include Chief Technology Officer Dahlia Malkhi, Chief of Staff Christy Clark, Chief Legal Officer Steve Bunnel and Executive Vice President for Growth and Innovation/Deputy General Counsel Kiran Raj. Diem Networks, the subsidiary that will actually operate the Diem payment system, has also hired James Emmett as managing director, Sterling Daines as chief compliance officer, Ian Jenkins as chief financial and risk officer and Saumya Bhavsar as general counsel.

While today’s announcement doesn’t include any specifics about timing, it suggests the association is positioning itself for an imminent launch — albeit one that will “proceed only upon receiving regulatory approval, including a payment systems license for the operational subsidiary of the Association from FINMA.”

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Loop Team wants to give remote workers an in-office feel

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As we’ve moved to work from home during the pandemic, it’s been challenging for remote workers to feel connected. Loop Team, a new entrant into the enterprise communications space, thinks the way we are communicating needs improvement. That’s why the startup is releasing Loop Team today, a tool that is trying to use software to reproduce the in-office experience.

Company founder and CEO Raj Singh says that he learned about the problems of feeling disconnected first-hand at a previous remote-first company, but in spite of his best attempts to use technology to produce that in-office feel, he said he continued to feel out of the loop (so to speak). That’s when he decided to build the solution he wanted.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the interactions that happen when you’re physically in an office — the visual communication, the background conversations, the hallway chatter, the serendipitous bumping, things like that. And we built an experience that effectively is a virtual office. And so it tries to represent the best parts of what a physical office experience might be like, but in a virtual form,” Singh explained to me.

While he created this company prior to COVID, the pandemic has highlighted the need for a tool like this. Before he created the software, he interviewed hundreds of people who worked from home to understand their issues working outside of the office and he heard a lot of common complaints.

“There was an office and they didn’t necessarily know what was going on. They didn’t know who was available. They didn’t know who was around. It was difficult to connect. Everything was scheduled through calendar. They were missing some of that presence — and they were feeling lonely or out of touch or out of the loop,” he said.

His company’s solution tries to reproduce the office experience using AI, good, old-fashioned presence awareness and other tech to let team members know what you’re doing and if you’re available to chat. So just as you would wander down the hall and see your colleague on the phone or deeply involved with work on the laptop, and know to leave them be, you could get that same feel with Loop.

Loop Team Highlights

Image Credits: Loop Team

It gives the current status of the person, and you can know from looking at the list of people on your team, who’s available to talk and who’s busy. As you go into virtual discussions, the team can see who’s having meetings and individuals can pop in too, just as you might do in the office.

What’s more, you can set up rooms (like in Slack), but these are designed to give you a more personal connection using video and audio for actual discussion. You can work on projects via screen share and people who miss these meetings because of other obligations or time zone differences, can always review what they missed.

While you can do all of these things in Slack and Zoom, or in some combination of similar tools, Loop’s layout and presentation is designed to help you see the conversations in a clear way and expose what you want to see, while hiding parts of the day that don’t interest you.

The product is available for free starting today, but Singh wants to introduce a pricing model sometime next year based on team size. He expects there will always be a freemium version for teams under 10 people.

The company was founded in 2018 and nurtured at the Stanford SRI Institute. It has raised $4.75 million so far. Today it starts on its journey as a startup with its first product, and it’s one that comes with good timing as more teams find themselves working remotely than every before.

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