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Singapore’s Grain, a profitable food delivery startup, pulls in $10M for expansion – TechCrunch

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Cloud kitchens are the big thing in food delivery, with ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new business one contender in that space, with Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, a major focus. Despite the newcomers, a more established startup from Singapore has raised a large bowl of cash to go after regional expansion.

Founded in 2014, Grain specializes in clean food while it takes a different approach to Kalanick’s CloudKitchens or food delivery services like Deliveroo, FoodPanda or GrabFood.

It adopted a cloud kitchen model — utilizing unwanted real estate as kitchens, with delivery services for output — but used it for its own operations. So while CloudKitchens and others rent their space to F&B companies as a cheaper way to make food for their on-demand delivery customers, Grain works with its own chefs, menu and delivery team. A so-called ‘full stack’ model if you can stand the cliched tech phrase.

Finally, Grain is also profitable. The new round has it shooting for growth — more on that below — but the startup was profitable last year, CEO and co-founder Yi Sung Yong told TechCrunch.

Now it is reaping the rewards of a model that keeps it in control of its product, unlike others that are complicated by a chain that includes the restaurant and a delivery person.

We previously wrote about Grain when it raised a $1.7 million Series A back in 2016 and today it announced a $10 million Series B which is led by Thailand’s Singha Ventures, the VC arm of the beer brand. A bevy of other investors took part, including Genesis Alternative Ventures, Sass Corp, K2 Global — run by serial investor Ozi Amanat who has backed Impossible Foods, Spotify and Uber among others — FoodXervices and Majuven. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, Raging Bull — from Thai Express founder Ivan Lee — and Cento Ventures participated.

The round includes venture debt, as well as equity, and it is worth noting that the family office of the owners of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — Sassoon Investment Corporation — was involved.

Grain covers individual food as well as buffets in Singapore

Three years is a long gap between the two deals — Openspace and Cento have even rebranded during the intervening period — and the ride has been an eventful one. During those years, Sung said the business had come close to running out of capital before it doubled down on the fundamentals before the precarious runway capital ran out.

In fact, he said, the company — which now has over 100 staff — was fully prepared to self-sustain.

“We didn’t think of raising a Series B,” he explained in an interview. “Instead, we focused on the business and getting profitable… we thought that we can’t depend entirely on investors.”

And, ladies and gentleman, the irony of that is that VCs very much like a business that can self-sustain — it shows a model is proven — and investing in a startup that doesn’t need capital can be attractive.

Ultimately, though, profitability is seen as sexy today — particularly in the meal space where countless U.S. startups has shuttered including Munchery and Sprig — but the focus meant that Grain had to shelve its expansion plans. It then went through soul-searching times in 2017 when a spoilt curry saw 20 customers get food poisoning.

Sung declined to comment directly on that incident, but he said that company today has developed the “infrastructure” to scale its business across the board, and that very much includes quality control.

Grain co-founder and CEO Yi Sung Yong [Image via LinkedIn]

Grain currently delivers “thousands” of meals per day in Singapore, its sole market, with eight-figures in sales per year, he said. Last year, growth was 200 percent, Sung continued, and now is the time to look overseas. With Singha, the Grain CEO said the company has “everything we need to launch in Bangkok.”

Thailand — which Malaysia-based rival Dahamakan picked for its first expansion — is the only new launch on the table, but Sung said that could change.

“If things move faster, we’ll expand to more cities, maybe one per year,” he said. “But we need to get our brand, our food and our service right first.”

One part of that may be securing better deals for raw ingredients and food from suppliers. Grain is expanding its ‘hub’ kitchens — outposts placed strategically around town to serve customers faster — and growing its fleet of trucks, which are retrofitted with warmers and chillers for deliveries to customers.

Grain’s journey is proof that startups in the region will go through trials and tribulations, but being able to bolt down the fundamentals and reduce burn rate is crucial in the event that things go awry. Just look to grocery startup Honestbee, also based in Singapore, for evidence of what happens when costs are allowed to pile up.

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Google just added an insanely useful desktop search shortcut

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Google has quietly rolled out a new search shortcut for desktop users that is deceptively useful during the workday. As of now, users can press a single key on Google’s search results page to pull back open the search field, updating the search term without ever lifting a hand to use the mouse or trackpad.

The new feature was ‘announced’ by a small message box desktop users see in the bottom corner of their search results page, as first spied by 9to5Google; it reads, ‘Press / to jump to the search box.’

When you press the ‘/’ button, your cursor moves to the text field at the end of your search query, enabling you to quickly remove and add terms or scroll down through the suggested search queries. The shortcut key only works when you’re on the search results page, not the home page.

This is ultimately a very small change, but one that proves insanely useful when you’re often using Google for work or school. The amount of time saved by avoiding the mouse entirely adds up over time, not to mention getting you to the search results you want faster.

It’s unclear whether the feature is now available for all Google Search users on desktop or if it is rolling out more slowly. Our own test of the new shortcut found that it worked, though we never saw the shortcut notification on the search results page.

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Amazon may start asking even more of its delivery drivers

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Amazon is reportedly set to trial a new home assembly service for larger items, where delivery drivers would also put together furniture, appliances, or other larger items. The move, which is said to be planned for just a handful of markets as the online retail behemoth gauges popularity and feasibility, could make home shopping even easier, though there are concerns that delivery drivers themselves may face impractical expectations.

Online shopping has surged during the pandemic, and Amazon has seen a considerable share of that extra business. Its subscription plan Amazon Prime, for example, surged by 50 million members in the space of a year, bringing the total to 200 million.

The retailer’s ambitions, however, go beyond dropping items off at the doorstep. While you can currently schedule the delivery of a particularly large item, and even have it left in a specific room, Amazon is said to be preparing an even more hands-on service. The assembly option would see the delivery person actually put the item together in the home, Bloomberg reports.

According to people familiar with the plans, they say, Amazon is looking to trial the premium service in Virginia and two other unnamed markets. Unlike Amazon Home Services – which offers recommended local contractors booked through Amazon’s system – assembly and installation of the purchases would be handled by the company’s own delivery staff.

Still, there’d be a limit to what could be offered. Amazon Home Services, for example, includes options for tasks like installing electric car chargers, something which would be beyond the remit of a delivery driver. Instead, it’s suggested, Amazon sees it more around doing basics like putting together sofas and living room furniture, or installing a straightforward appliance like a washing machine or dishwasher.

Amazon has declined to comment on the leak, but according to Bloomberg there’s some consternation among the company’s delivery drivers about just what might be expected of them. The retailer has already faced criticism about working conditions for delivery staff, with accusations of grueling workloads that leave them little time for bathroom breaks. Among the concerns were just how long Amazon managers might allot for assembly and installation, and the safety of spending extended periods inside customers’ homes during the pandemic which has helped make online shopping so popular.

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Dogecoin goes up and Robinhood goes down

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Some things in life you can count on, and it seems like Robinhood crashing just when the finance market is getting interesting is one of them. The popular finance service – which has seen particular success with first-time and novice investors – has been suffering several periods of downtime during volatility in crypto trading, particularly Elon Musk’s favored Dogecoin.

The cryptocurrency has certainly had a bizarre week – and, for that matter, an equally bizarre few months. Initially begun as a joke, the so-called “meme currency” gained traction when Tesla founder Elon Musk began pumping it on his Twitter account.

This past week, meanwhile, DOGE has surged in price. Although individual coins are still worth just a handful of cents, their value has shot up by almost 200-percent. Combined with the ease of entry, it’s left some holders with a huge return on their initial purchases, which were often made when Dogecoin was only a cent or two.

Problem is, you only see those returns when you sell, and that’s been tricky if you opted to purchase via Robinhood. The service has been encountering periods of downtime which just so happened to coincide with some of DOGE’s peaks over the past day or two.

“We’re experiencing intermittent issues with crypto trading due to heightened volumes,” Robinhood has warned on its support site at several points over the past 24 hours. “Because of this, some crypto trades may not execute right now.”

Within the past hour, Robinhood said that it had restored crypto trading “for most customers.” As for those who aren’t in that group, there’s only an apology to tide them over. “To anyone still affected, we’re sorry for the interruption,” the company added. “We’re working to restore service for everyone as soon as possible.

It’s not the first time Robinhood has left investors floundering. During the GameStop stock surge earlier this year, users suddenly found that they were unable to buy the volatile $GME stock. The limits were subsequently extended to other shares, including AMC. Robinhood defended its decision with an explanation of the mechanisms behind trading, but not before the moves caught the attention of lawmakers who have called for an investigation into whether it acted appropriately.

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