D1 Capital Partners has led the $600 million round for Instacart.
Instacart chief executive officer Apoorva Mehta wants every household in the U.S. to use Instacart, a grocery delivery service that allows shoppers to order from more than 300 retailers, including Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club, using its mobile app.
Today, the company is taking a big leap toward that goal.
D1 Capital Partners, a relatively new fund led by Daniel Sundheim, the former chief investment officer of Viking Global Investors, has led the round.
Instacart is raking in cash aggressively but spending it cautiously. The company still has all of its Series E, which ultimately totaled $350 million, and the majority of its $413 million Series D in the bank, a source close to the company told TechCrunch. That means, in total, Instacart has $1.2 billion at its fingertips. Currently, according to the same source, the company is only profitable on acontribution margin basis, meaning it’s earning a profit on each individual Instacart order.
In a conversation with TechCrunch, Mehta said the company didn’t need the capital and that it was an “opportunistic” round, i.e. the capital was readily available and Instacart has ambitious plans to scale, so why not fundraise. Instacart plans to use the enormous pool of capital to double its engineering team by 2019, which will include filling 300 open engineering roles in its recently announced Toronto office, he said.
As far as an initial public offering, it will happen — eventually.
“It will be on the horizon,” Mehta told TechCrunch.
“2018 has been a really big year for us,” he added. “The reason why we are so excited is because the opportunity ahead of us is enormous. The U.S. is a $1 trillion grocery market and less than 5 percent of that is bought online. It’s an enormous category that’s highly under-penetrated.”
Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles. The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA. For Shopify, Los Angeles […]
Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles.
The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA.
For Shopify, Los Angeles is the ideal place to debut a physical storefront showing off the company’s new line of hardware products and the array of services it provides to businesses ranging from newly opened startups to $900 million juggernauts like the Kylie Cosmetics brand.
The city is one of the most dense conglomerations of Shopify customers with over 10,000 merchants using the company’s technologies in the greater Los Angeles area. 400 of those retailers have each earned over $1 million in gross merchandise volume.
In the Los Angeles space, which looks similar to an Apple store, patrons can expect to see demonstrations and tutorials of how Shopify’s tools and features work. Showrooms displaying the work that Shopify does with some of its close partners will also show how business owners can turn their product visions into actual businesses.
Like Apple, Shopify is staffing its store with experts on the platform who can walk new customers or would-be customers through whatever troubleshooting they may need. While also serving as a space to promote large and small vendors using its payment and supply management solution.
“Our new space in downtown LA is a physical manifestation of our dedication and commitment to making commerce better for everyone. We’re thrilled to be able to take our proven educational, support, and community initiatives and put them to work in an always-on capacity,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify, in a statement. “We know that making more resources available to entrepreneurs, especially early on, makes them far more likely to succeed, and we’re happy to now be offering that through a brick-and-mortar experience in LA.”
Kanwar and Shopify chief operating officer, Harley Finkelstein, envision the new Los Angeles space as another way to support new and emerging retailers looking for tips on how to build their business in the best possible way.
“The path to being your own boss doesn’t need to be lonely or isolating,” said Finkelstein, in a statement. “With Shopify LA we wanted to create a hub where business owners can find support, inspiration, and community. Most importantly, entrepreneurs at all stages and of all sizes can learn together, have first access to our newest products, and propel their entrepreneurial dreams.”
Everyone loves a tale of a bootstrapped startup founder’s journey to an eight-figure exit. The team at Toronto-based Cluep have a good one. The founders of the adtech startup raised less than $500,000 from angel investors before selling their company to Impact Group for $40 million ($53 milllion CAD) this week. Founded in 2012, Karan Walia, Sobi Walia […]
Everyone loves a tale of a bootstrapped startup founder’s journey to an eight-figure exit.
The founders of the adtech startup raised less than $500,000 from angel investors before selling their company to Impact Group for $40 million ($53 milllion CAD) this week.
Founded in 2012, Karan Walia, Sobi Walia and Anton Mamonov were just 21, 17 and 16 years old, respectively, when they started the digital advertising platform, which uses artificial intelligence to help brands connect and engage with people based on what they are sharing, how they are feeling and the places they’ve been.
They, being teenagers, struggled initially to get the company off the ground. At one point, the trio hacked into computers at a university in Toronto to train the neural networks on large amounts of data sets because they didn’t have enough money to buy their own tech. On a shoe-string budget, they would split meals at Popeyes to get by.
“No one wanted to give us money at that time so we had to live off of my student loans,” Walia told TechCrunch . “We did pretty much everything, whether it was programming and building the product, or going out and selling. I was our first sales rep and I was pretty bad early on but I learned.”
Ultimately, Cluep was able to raise enough from angels to pay themselves a salary, hire a few engineers and sales representatives, and move into an actual office. From that point, their revenue began growing significantly YoY.
2015: $2 million CAD in revenue
2016: $6 million CAD in revenue
2017: $14.5 million CAD in revenue
2018: On track to bring in ~$30 million CAD
They fielded offers from VCs toward the end of 2015 and considered raising a proper Series A round of capital, but ultimately decided staying independent would lead to the best exit.
“This way allowed us to basically maintain control and exit on our terms,” Walia said.
Impact Group, a Boise, Idaho-based grocery sales and marketing agency, will operate Cluep independently.
The on-demand network that connects people with “taskers,” or others willing to do their household chores or errands for a fee, is kicking off its Canadian expansion in the greater Toronto area before rolling out in Vancouver in October and Montreal sometime in 2019.
This is the first major move abroad for the company in some time, as well as its first move under IKEA’s ownership. TaskRabbit first expanded beyond the U.S. in 2014, when it launched its app in the UK.
Otherwise, the service is only available in North America.
IKEA bought TaskRabbit 1 year ago as part of a deal that has allowed the company to operate independently from the Swedish furniture retailer under CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot. TaskRabbit, before its exit, had raised $38 million from investors including Founders Fund, First Round Capital and Floodgate.
Months after an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, the ride-hailing giant has announced it’s adding a new engineering hub in Toronto and expanding its autonomous research team as it refocuses its self-driving car efforts.
Months after an Uber self -driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, the ride-hailing giant has announced it’s adding a new engineering hub in Toronto and expanding its autonomous research team as it refocuses its self-driving car efforts.
In his first visit to the Canadian tech hub since becoming CEO of Uber last year, Dara Khosrowshahi announced plans to invest $150 million in Toronto over the next five years. Uber will bring on 300 new employees, bringing the company’s total headcount in Toronto to 500. The new engineering hub is expected to open early next year.
We’ve reached out to Uber for comment.
“At Uber, we recognize Canada’s commitment to innovation and the vibrancy of Toronto’s tech ecosystem,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement provided to the Toronto Star. “We want to support the innovation coming out of this great, diverse region.”
“Toronto is a place where we as a company innovate, and innovation is really what Uber is all about.” Our CEO @dkhos is in Canada today to announce the opening of @uber’s newest engineering hub, and the expansion of the @UberATG self-driving R&D centre in Toronto.
Instacart has teamed up with Walmart Canada to bring shoppers in Toronto and Winnipeg same-day grocery delivery. The agreement is part of a pilot program for the two companies that will allow Instacart users to order groceries from 17 different Walmart locations across the two cities. This is the first time shoppers in Winnipeg will […]
Instacart has teamed up with Walmart Canada to bring shoppers in Toronto and Winnipeg same-day grocery delivery.
The agreement is part of a pilot program for the two companies that will allow Instacart users to order groceries from 17 different Walmart locations across the two cities. This is the first time shoppers in Winnipeg will have access to the grocery delivery service and the first time Toronto residents will have the option for same-day delivery.
Interestingly, Instacart doesn’t have a partnership with Walmart in the U.S. Walmart, rather, has relationships with several other grocery delivery companies including DoorDash and Postmates. Instacart does have a deal with Sam’s Club, a subsidiary of Walmart. That partnership was announced in February and gives Sam’s Club members same-day delivery via Instacart.
Instacart initially launched in Canada in September 2017 and will continue expanding throughout the country to meet demand.
The company, which has raised $350 million at a $4.3 billion valuation this year alone, is available in 5,000 different stores in the U.S. and Canada and in more than 4,000 cities. As of late August, the business says it’s available to 70 percent of U.S. households.
Helping businesses bring more firepower to the fight against AI-fuelled disruptors is the name of the game for Integrate.ai, a Canadian startup that’s announcing a $30M Series A today. The round is led by Portag3 Ventures . Other VCs include Georgian Partners, Real Ventures, plus other (unnamed) individual investors also participating. The funding will be […]
Helping businesses bring more firepower to the fight against AI-fuelled disruptors is the name of the game for Integrate.ai, a Canadian startup that’s announcing a $30M Series A today.
The round is led by Portag3 Ventures . Other VCs include Georgian Partners, Real Ventures, plus other (unnamed) individual investors also participating. The funding will be used for a big push in the U.S. market.
Integrate.ai’s early focus has been on retail banking, retail and telcos, says founder Steve Irvine, along with some startups which have data but aren’t necessarily awash with AI expertise to throw at it. (Not least because tech giants continue to hoover up talent.)
Its SaaS platform targets consumer-centric businesses — offering to plug paying customers into a range of AI technologies and techniques to optimize their decision-making so they can respond more savvily to their customers. Aka turning “high volume consumer funnels” into “flywheels”, if that’s a mental image that works for you.
In short it’s selling AI pattern spotting insights as a service via a “cloud-based AI intelligence platform” — helping businesses move from “largely rules-based decisioning” to “more machine learning-based decisioning boosted by this trusted signals exchange of data”, as he puts it.
Irvine gives the example of a large insurance aggregator the startup is working with to optimize the distribution of gift cards and incentive discounts to potential customers — with the aim of maximizing conversions.
“Obviously they’ve got a finite amount of budget for those — they need to find a way to be able to best deploy those… And the challenge that they have is they don’t have a lot of information on people as they start through this funnel — and so they have what is a classic ‘cold start’ problem in machine learning. And they have a tough time allocating those resources most effectively.”
“One of the things that we’ve been able to help them with is to, essentially, find the likelihood of those people to be able to convert earlier by being able to bring in some interesting new signal for them,” he continues. “Which allows them to not focus a lot of their revenue or a lot of those incentives on people who either have a low likelihood of conversion or are most likely to convert. And they can direct all of those resources at the people in the middle of the distribution — where that type of a nudge, that discount, might be the difference between them converting or not.”
He says feedback from early customers suggests the approach has boosted profitability by around 30% on average for targeted business areas — so the pitch is businesses are easily seeing the SaaS easily paying for itself. (In the cited case of the insurer, he says they saw a 23% boost in performance — against what he couches as already “a pretty optimized funnel”.)
“We find pretty consistent [results] across a lot of the companies that we’re working with,” he adds. “Most of these decisions today are made by a CRM system or some other more deterministic software system that tends to over attribute people that are already going to convert. So if you can do a better job of understanding people’s behaviour earlier you can do a better job at directing those resources in a way that’s going to drive up conversion.”
The former Facebook marketing exec, who between 2014 and 2017 ran a couple of global marketing partner programs at Facebook and Instagram, left the social network at the start of last year to found the business — raising $9.6M in seed funding in two tranches, according to Crunchbase.
The eighteen-month-old Toronto based AI startup now touts itself as one of the fastest growing companies in Canadian history, with a headcount of around 40 at this point, and a plan to grow staff 3x to 4x over the next 12 months. Irvine is also targeting growing revenue 10x, with the new funding in place — gunning to carve out a leadership position in the North American market.
One key aspect of Integrate.ai’s platform approach means its customers aren’t only being helped to extract more and better intel from their own data holdings, via processes such as structuring the data for AI processing (though Irvine says it’s also doing that).
The idea is they also benefit from the wider network, deriving relevant insights across Integrate.ai’s pooled base of customers — in a way that does not trample over privacy in the process. At least, that’s the claim.
(It’s worth noting Integrate.ai’s network is not a huge one yet, with customers numbering in the “tens” at this point — the platform only launched in alpha around 12 months ago and remains in beta now. Named customers include the likes of Telus, Scotiabank, and Corus.)
So the idea is to offer an alternative route to boost business intelligence vs the “traditional” route of data-sharing by simply expanding databases — because, as Irvine points out, literal data pooling is “coming under fire right now — because it is not in the best interests, necessarily, of consumers; there’s some big privacy concerns; there’s a lot of security risk which we’re seeing show up”.
What exactly is Integrate.ai doing with the data then? Irvine says its Trusted Signals Exchange platform uses some “pretty advanced techniques in deep learning and other areas of machine learning to be able to transfer signals or insights that we can gain from different companies such that all the companies on our platform can benefit by delivering more personalized, relevant experiences”.
“But we don’t need to ever, kind of, connect data in a more traditional way,” he also claims. “Or pull personally identifiable information to be able to enable it. So it becomes very privacy-safe and secure for consumers which we think is really important.”
He further couches the approach as “pretty unique”, adding it “wouldn’t even have been possible probably a couple of years ago”.
From Irvine’s description the approach sounds similar to the data linking (via mathematical modelling) route being pursued by another startup, UK-based InfoSum — which has built a platform that extracts insights from linked customer databases while holding the actual data in separate silos. (And InfoSum, which was founded in 2016, also has a founder with a behind-the-scenes’ view on the inners workings of the social web — in the form of Datasift’s Nic Halstead.)
Facebook’s own custom audiences product, which lets advertisers upload and link their customer databases with the social network’s data holdings for marketing purposes is the likely inspiration behind all these scenes.
Irvine says he spotted the opportunity to build this line of business having been privy to a market overview in his role at Facebook, meeting with scores of companies in his marketing partner role and getting to hear high level concerns about competing with tech giants. He says the Facebook job also afforded him an overview on startup innovation — and there he spied a gap for Integrate.ai to plug in.
“My team was in 22 offices around the world, and all the major tech hubs, and so we got a chance to see any of the interesting startups that were getting traction pretty quickly,” he tells TechCrunch. “That allowed us to see the gaps that existed in the market. And the biggest gap that I saw… was these big consumer enterprises needed a way to use the power of AI and needed access to third party data signals or insights to be able to enabled them to transition to this more customer-centric operating model to have any hope of competing with the large digital disruptors like Amazon.
“That was kind of the push to get me out of Facebook, back from California to Toronto, Canada, to start this company.”
Again on the privacy front, Irvine is a bit coy about going into exact details about the approach. But is unequivocal and emphatic about how ad tech players are stepping over the line — having seen into that pandora’s box for years — so his rational to want to do things differently at least looks clear.
“A lot of the techniques that we’re using are in the field of deep learning and transfer learning,” he says. “If you think about the ultimate consumer of this data-sharing, that is insight sharing, it is at the end these AI systems or models. Meaning that it doesn’t need to be legible to people as an output — all we’re really trying to do is increase the map; make a better probabilistic decision in these circumstances where we might have little data or not the right data that we need to be able to make the right decision. So we’re applying some of the newer techniques in those areas to be able to essentially kind of abstract away from some of the more sensitive areas, create representations of people and patterns that we see between businesses and individuals, and then use that as a way to deliver a more personalized predictions — without ever having to know the individual’s personally identifiable information.”
“We do do some work with differential privacy,” he adds when pressed further on the specific techniques being used. “There’s some other areas that are just a little bit more sensitive in terms of the work that we’re doing — but a lot of work around representative learning and transfer learning.”
Integrate.ai has published a whitepaper — for a framework to “operationalize ethics in machine learning systems” — and Irvine says it’s been called in to meet and “share perspectives” with regulators based on that.
“I think we’re very GDPR-friendly based on the way that we have thought through and constructed the platform,” he also says when asked whether the approach would be compliant with the European Union’s tough new privacy framework (which also places some restrictions on entirely automated decisions when they could have a significant impact on individuals).
“I think you’ll see GDPR and other regulations like that push more towards these type of privacy preserving platforms,” he adds. “And hopefully away from a lot of the really creepy, weird stuff that is happening out there with consumer data that I think we all hope gets eradicated.”
For the record, Irvine denies any suggestion that he was thinking of his old employer when he referred to “creepy, weird stuff” done with people’s data — saying: “No, no, no!”
“What I did observe when I was there in ad tech in general, I think if you look at that landscape, I think there are many, many… worse examples of what is happening out there with data than I think the ones that we’re seeing covered in the press. And I think as the light shines on more of that ecosystem of players, I think we will start to see that the ways they’ve thought about data, about collection, permissioning, usage, I think will change drastically,” he adds.
“And the technology is there to be able to do it in a much more effective way without having to compromise results in too big a way. And I really hope that that sea change has already started — and I hope that it continues at a much more rapid pace than we’ve seen.”
But while privacy concerns might be reduced by the use of an alternative to traditional data-pooling, depending on the exact techniques being used, additional ethical considerations are clearly being dialled sharply into view if companies are seeking to supercharge their profits by automating decision making in sensitive and impactful areas such as discounts (meaning some users stand to gain more than others).
The point is an AI system that’s expert at spotting the lowest hanging fruit (in conversion terms) could start selectively distributing discounts to a narrow sub-section of users only — meaning other people might never even be offered discounts.
In short, it risks the platform creating unfair and/or biased outcomes.
Integrate.ai has recognized the ethical pitfalls, and appears to be trying to get ahead of them — hence its aforementioned ‘Responsible AI in Consumer Enterprise’ whitepaper.
Irvine also says that raising awareness around issues of bias and “ethical AI” — and promoting “more responsible use and implementation” of its platform is another priority over the next twelve months.
“The biggest concern is the unethical treatment of people in a lot of common, day-to-day decisions that companies are going to be making,” he says of problems attached to AI. “And they’re going to do it without understanding, and probably without bad intent, but the reality is the results will be the same — which is perpetuating a lot of biases and stereotypes of the past. Which would be really unfortunate.
“So hopefully we can continue to carve out a name, on that front, and shift the industry more to practices that we think are consistent with the world that we want to live in vs the one we might get stuck in.”
The whitepaper was produced by a dedicated internal team, which he says focuses on AI ethics and fairness issues, and is headed up by VP of product & strategy, Kathryn Hume.
“We’re doing a lot of research now with the Vector Institute for AI… on fairness in our AI models, because what we’ve seen so far is that — if left unattended, if all we did was run these models and not adjust for some of the ethical considerations — we would just perpetuate biases that we’ve seen in the historical data,” he adds.
“We would pick up patterns that are more commonly associated with maybe reinforcing particular stereotypes… so we’re putting a really dedicated effort — probably abnormally large, given our size and stage — towards leading in this space, and making sure that that’s not the outcome that gets delivered through effective use of a platform like ours. But actually, hopefully, the total opposite: You have a better understanding of where those biases might creep in and they could be adjusted for in the models.”
Combating unfairness in this type of AI tool would mean a company having to optimize conversion performance a bit less than it otherwise could.
Though Irvine suggests that’s likely just in the short term. Over the longer term he argues you’re laying the foundations for greater growth — because you’re building a more inclusive business, saying: “We have this conversational a lot. “I think it’s good for business, it’s just the time horizon that you might think about.”
“We’ve got this window of time right now, that I think is a really precious window, where people are moving over from more deterministic software systems to these more probabilistic, AI-first platforms… They just operate much more effectively, and they learn much more effectively, so there will be a boost in performance no matter what. If we can get them moved over right off the bat onto a platform like ours that has more of an ethical safeguard, then they won’t notice a drop off in performance — because it’ll actually be better performance. Even if it’s not optimized fully for short term profitability,” he adds.
“And we think, over the long term it’s just better business if you’re socially conscious, ethical company. We think, over time, especially this new generation of consumers, they start to look out for those things more… So we really hope that we’re on the right side of this.”
He also suggests that the wider visibility afforded by having AI doing the probabilistic pattern spotting (vs just using a set of rules) could even help companies identify unfairnesses they don’t even realize might be holding their businesses back.
“We talk a lot about this concept of mutual lifetime value — which is how do we start to pull in the signals that show that people are getting value in being treated well, and can we use those signals as part of the optimization. And maybe you don’t have all the signal you need on that front, and that’s where being able to access a broader pool can actually start to highlight those biases more.”
Uppercase is launching out of stealth with $3.5 million in VC funding to help direct-to-consumer brands expand into the physical world. Lerer Hippeau has led the round, with participation from CRV and SV Angels.
People like to say that brick-and-mortar retail is dead, but direct-to-consumer businesses continue to dabble with physical stores all the same.
To help the next generation of digitally native stores expand into the physical world, Uppercase, formerly known as thisopenspace, is launching out of stealth with $3.5 million in venture capital funding. Lerer Hippeau has led the round, with participation from CRV and SV Angels.
Uppercase works with real estate agents, architects and designers to build stores for online brands in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Co-founder and CEO Yashar Nejati started the company after noticing that online brands were experimenting with pop-up shops then establishing permanent storefronts.
“Anyone can launch an online brand,” Nejati told TechCrunch. “Brands truly stand out from the crowd once they grow beyond digital — we’re seeing this with Warby Parker, Casper and Indochino, who will have over 350 stores by the end of 2018. Uppercase is part of a modern growth strategy, providing tech-enabled flexible retail stores for brands to launch, analyze, and grow their retail presence.”
So far, Uppercase has built stores for furniture company Joybird and Venus et Fleur, which sells artfully arranged roses.
Early-stage investor Lerer Hippeau has backed a number of direct-to-consumer brands, including the aforementioned Allbirds and Casper.
“We’ve seen the importance of an omnichannel strategy as companies scale,” Lerer Hippeau Graham Brown told TechCrunch. “Uppercase is the perfect partner for brands born online looking to expand into the physical world.”
The Wing is bringing the physical world it’s created for professional women through its co-working spaces to the digital world, with the launch of a social networking app, slated to become available later this month.
The co-working company created the app to connect its members and keep them up to date on The Wing’s programming. For now, the app will only be available to paying Wing members.
The Wing is bringing the physical world it’s created for professional women to the digital world with the launch of a social networking app, slated to become available later this month.
The co-working company created the app to connect its members and keep them up to date on The Wing’s programming. For now, the app will only be available to paying Wing members.
“Our team has been hard at work on ways for members to carry the connections they make with them wherever they go,” The Wing co-founder and CEO Audrey Gelman told TechCrunch. “Through the app, members will have access to features that make The Wing experience even more valuable and efficient and will have access to thousands of incredible women at their fingertips.”
Founded in 2016, The Wing provides co-working and community space to women. It’s raised $40 million in venture capital backing from top-tier investors like Kleiner Perkins and NEA. WeWork has also noticed the value in The Wing’s female-first model; the co-working behemoth led its $32 million Series B last November. As it stands, the company has just four locations in two states: New York and Washington, DC. A San Francisco location is expected this October, and West Hollywood, London, Toronto, Seattle and Chicago locations are all in the pipeline.
To enjoy The Wing’s many perks—brass & millennial pink decor, shelves of color-coordinated books and exclusive access to events featuring Hillary Clinton or New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example—it’s not cheap. Wing members pay $215 per month for access to a single location. But compare that to the price of a desk at a San Francisco WeWork, about $400, and it’s not so bad.
The Wing also provides lactation rooms, “beauty rooms,” a library, food and drinks, and more.
In addition to being founded by two women, Gelman and Lauren Kassan, the company also boasts an all-female staff—a rarity for a company backed by venture capitalists. That includes Lina Dorkhman, who The Wing hired six months ago to lead development on the app. She’d spent the last 3.5 years at BlackRock as an associate.
“I was actually a member first and when I saw that they were hiring a product manager I thought it was a perfect fit,” Dorkhman told me.
She says The Wing wanted to create a product that recognized women as not only professionals, or parents or friends or siblings, but all of those things.
“With products like Linkedin, there is this separation of this is my personal self and my professional self,” Dorkhman said. “What we see at The Wing is there isn’t necessarily a separation of your personal self and your professional self. We want to acknowledge that—that is the future of work. You bring your whole self to work.”
The idea for the app stemmed from member feedback, which asked that the company provide more digital components.
“We hear from our members that there is this really special feeling of entering The Wing,” Dorkhman added. “That feeling that you get in the physical space is something we really wanted to translate into the product.”