Courier lands $35M to build a service for app notifications

App notifications, well-intentioned or no, have become a part of daily life. A 2018 study out of Duke University estimated that — aside from email and work app alerts — the average person receives between 65 and 80 mobile app notifications per day. Unsurprisingly, the result is frustration. One recent survey found that half of app users consider push notifications annoying, while another suggests that 57% will take steps to avoid brands that bombard them with “poorly-targeted” communications, including notifications.

Executing a successful notification strategy requires forethought. Moreover, it requires technical know-how and infrastructure. That’s where Courier comes in, argues CEO Troy Goode. Courier, which today closed a $35 million Series B funding round led by GV, provides an API and “studio” to send and build notifications across multiple channels, including email, text, web, and mobile.

“I founded Courier in 2019. As a former engineer and engineering executive, I experienced the pain involved with building and scaling notification infrastructure at every company I was involved with,” Goode told TechCrunch in an email interview. Previously, Goode was VP of engineering at political campaign organizing platform EveryAction and a senior manager at Eloqua, a marketing automation startup. “Every time I was tasked with building a new notification system for a new product, I wished there was a service I could reach for to free up my engineering team and avoid the future headache that I knew would follow. That’s why I founded Courier.”

Apps can be programmed to emit events, which Courier can receive via the platform’s API or SDK. An event contains data for the notification’s content (e.g., a message) and a receiver (e.g., a user). Courier generates a notification template and routes it to one or more supported channels or “providers,” which include Postmark, Slack, Twilio, or Sendgrid. Lastly, each provider delivers the template from Courier to the end-user and Courier receives and logs delivery, open, and engagement data.

Courier can proactively notify users when their action is required. And it can send dynamic, customized digests created using Courier’s notification designer tool.

“[Many] user entrances to business-to-business software-as-a-service applications are driven by notifications, so getting this experience right is critical to delivering a great user experience as well as driving user engagement,” Goode said. “Courier helps its customers deliver a better user experience, reduce their total cost of ownership by not needing to maintaining their own notification infrastructure, and achieve a far greater amount of agility because new notifications can be shipped live in minutes.”


Using Courier to send notifications with segment.

Soon, Goode said, Courier will gain new functionality aimed at making it easier for mobile app developers to send push notifications. A new API will allow developers to deliver an ostensibly more consistent notification experience across devices, while a notification “inbox” for apps will let users access all the notifications they’ve received from an app in one place — even if they’ve opted out of push notifications altogether.

“Mobile push notifications are often the most disruptive types of notification users receive on a daily basis. The multitude of devices, operating systems, and permission protocols also means that they are the most complex to build from an engineering and product standpoint,” Goode added. “These tools are essential building blocks to delivering a less disruptive, more personalized mobile notification experience.”

Courier is by no stretch the first plug-and-play notification platform for apps. There’s MagicBell and Notifo, the latter of which was founded way back in 2010. MagicBell is particularly competitive with Courier, offering a notification inbox that’s embeddable into existing software and provides real-time notification delivery.

But Goode asserts that Courier has managed to hold its own, attracting over 150 paying customers and raising $47.5 million to date. Goode expects the company’s workforce will grow from 40 employees to 65 by the end of the year.

“Notifications are a complex and ubiquitous technical challenge and the use cases vary widely by industry. The biggest challenge is delivering a platform that can solve for customers across industries,” Courier said. “Notifications are an essential part of every software product. Courier has a usage-based pricing model, so as our customers user bases grow and they send more notifications, we are able to grow revenue. As long as overall software adoption continues to grow Courier is positioned well to grow.”

Bessemer Venture Partners, Matrix Partners, Twilio Ventures, Slack Fund, and Y Combinator also participated in the Series B.

With ride-hail and delivery launch, Fenix wants to be the Bolt of the Middle East

Abu Dhabi-based mobility startup Fenix has added ride-hail and courier services to its portfolio of mobility products.

The company launched “Fenix Taxi” in Manama, Bahrain, on Monday and says it’s planning to add two additional markets this summer. At the same time, Fenix launched its “Fenix Genie” service, which allows users to “buy anything and get anything delivered” within minutes in select neighborhoods of Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Mersin and Doha, according to the startup. Couriers deliver goods using a combination of Fenix’s shared e-scooters and internal e-mopeds.

Since Fenix’s founding as a shared e-scooter operator in 2020, the company has regularly added business lines, from 10-minute grocery delivery to micromobility subscriptions to, now, ride-hail. It’s a similar playbook to the likes of Bolt in Europe and Yandex in Russia and Israel, one that “leverages what we think is the superpower of micromobility, which is a great way to get customers onto the platform and organically adopt us and then offer complimentary services,” Jaideep Dhanoa, co-founder and CEO of Fenix, told TechCrunch.

Fenix launches ride-hailing service in Bahrain

Fenix launches ride-hailing service in Bahrain. Image Credits: Fenix

“Having worked in the industry for about eight years now, I know that one product can’t solve all mobility needs because our needs are diverse as a populace and even on a per trip basis,” continued Dhanoa.

All of Fenix’s products and services are available in the same app, the goal being to create one “mobility super app” to serve the greater Middle East. Aside from Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, Fenix also has a presence in Saudi Arabia, specifically with its shared and subscription scooter service.

“Our mission is to unleash urban potential and propel communities forward,” said Dhanoa. “We start with mobility, which is an enabler for opportunity. Mobility, it gets people to work, to school, to the mall, it gets you home. When people move and do more, it drives economic activity and quality of living, so we’re really focused on how we can reduce that friction to move.”

Dhanoa says piling on the products and services has been the strategy from the get-go. The CEO’s co-founder, IQ Sayed, was formerly the head of engineering at Careem, a Middle Eastern ride-hailing service that Uber acquired. That experience taught Sayed to think about the technological architecture of Fenix’s product as something that could continually be added to, rather than re-engineered every time the company decided to add a new business line.

“We incorporated those lessons into how we’ve built up the tech at Fenix from day one, and it’s really paying dividends as we’re now able to spin out new products basically every quarter with a very lean, high-velocity tech team,” said Dhanoa.

Publicly, Fenix has only raised $5 million, most, if not all, of which probably went toward the company’s purchase of Turkish e-scooter operator Palm. Dhanoa says Fenix has raised more money that it hasn’t yet announced to help it scale and expand. Otherwise, the company is mainly relying on profits from its core micromobility business to fund these new business lines.

Fenix launches Genie, a courier delivery product

Delivery workers for Fenix Genie ride Fenix’s shared e-scooters. Image Credit: Fenix

“We are profitable in all five of our markets on a unit economic basis,” said Dhanoa. “I think market selection is also important. The Gulf specifically has a really large profit pool for ops-intensive businesses just due to labor arbitrage. We have developed market pricing with emerging market costs and low competitive intensity.”

In the near term, Fenix is focused on bringing its full portfolio of mobility and delivery products to the footprint where it currently operates shared e-scooters so it can leverage existing brand stickiness. Dhanoa says Fenix is also working to expand its e-scooter presence in current markets.

Looking further out, Fenix wants its footprint to cover the greater Middle Eastern region, from Morocco to Pakistan.

“This is a region with similar characteristics to Southeast Asia — large population but diverse and highly fragmented — that requires tremendous management attention to unlock, creating the opportunity for a regional champion,” said Dhanoa.

Flytrex raises $40M to build its drone-based delivery service across suburbs in the U.S.

Flytrex, the Israeli startup working with Walmart, Chilli’s, and others in North Carolina in pilots for a drone-based delivery service targeting suburban consumers, has picked up $40 million in funding to continue developing its hardware and software, and more business partnerships, as it awaits regulatory nods to expand its service to more markets in the U.S.

While others like Amazon are looking at building their own drone services (Amazon’s service called Prime Air), Flytrex claimes that its drone pilot in the North Carolina is the biggest of its kind at the moment. But it’s just the start of a bigger delivery service and fleet that Flytrex is hoping to build, taking the approach of getting its drones certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as commercial aircraft to give it the most flexibility in how it can design and run its business in the long run.

“We estimate that we’ll have national approval by the first half of next year,” said Yariv Bash, Flytrex’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. “We are in the process with the FAA, which we started more than a year ago.” The first part of its efforts was taking part in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) (UAS: unmanned aircraft system, which includes dronts) which concluded in October 2020; now it’s continuing that with another initiative, BEYOND, and it is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation “to help tackle the remaining challenges of UAS integration.”

Currently Flytrex approved to fly in North Carolina for a distance of 1 nautical mile (just over 1 land mile), he said, but the aircraft that the company has designed have a range of three miles in each direction currently, so that will be part of what it hopes to offer in future.

This is a Series C that brings the total raised by Flytrex to $60 million. BRM Group is leading the round, with participation also from OurCrowd (the SoftBank-backed, Israel-based crowdfunded investor); Lukasz Gadowski; and previous investors Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV), btov, and BackBone Ventures. In a list mostly filled with financial backers, there is one interesting strategic name: Gadowski is the founder and chairman of Delivery Hero, a big player in online food delivery around the world using land-based transportation.

Delivery Hero is not working with Flytrex now, but Bash said that more generally the startup believes that existing on-demand delivery platforms like DoorDash, Delivery Hero and the rest could be potential partners and customers: in cases where established delivery brands want to complement their own fleets with an air-based mode, they might integrate with Flytrex rather than trying to build it themselves.

‘We are producing commercial airplanes, not drones’

Flytrex was founded and is finding traction with early customers and investors on the back of a fairly simple premise.

On-demand delivery services using bikes and four-wheeled vehicles are just about starting to work out the positive unit economics of providing services in dense, urban areas: the key is to double or triple up orders, or make them short enough loops that drivers can fit in many in the space of a day of work.

That formula doesn’t quite fly, so to speak, when we are talking about people in more spread-out residential areas, such as suburbs — especially when the cargo, in Bash’s words, “is just a $5 burrito.” It costs too much to send people out, both to restaurants and to customers, which each pay fees to keep the cost of that burrito from looking too ridiculous, and couriers also end up carrying costs that eat into their own margins. “It’s a lose-lose-lose situation,” he said.

Flytrex believes that in these cases, a drone-based system, which zips around and is managed remotely and deposits whatever the cargo happens to be into a customer’s backyard, is the solution.

The opportunity is a huge one in a market like the U.S., where some two-thirds of the population lives in suburban areas. “The major cities” — where so much of on-demand delivery has focused up to now — “are basically niche,” Bash said.

Flytrex is taking a very vertical — no pun intended — approach in its business model, starting first with the hardware and how the service is designed.

Drawing on the breadth of experience you get in Israel in building hardware, computer vision and other AI technology, and cloud services, the startup has designed its own drones and software that is used to control them.

Given the FAA process that it’s going through to get that hardware certified as aircraft — “I am standing in line with Lockheed, Boeing, and Amazon. Everyone has to stand in line,” Bash told me — strictly speaking, he doesn’t refer to his aircraft with the D-word.

We are producing commercial airplane, not drones,” he said, a process that has added, he estimates, three to five years to its timeline for getting approval. There are many, many companies making drones today, so much so that you could argue it has become commoditized. Bash doesn’t completely rule out the idea of using hardware made by others one day, but notes that this lengthy timeline, and the software that it has built around its hardware, will make this unlikely anytime soon.

“In the future if I can get a more affordable airplane than producing my own, we are more than happy to do that,” he said.

Around the “drone” — or whatever you might call it — is a bigger tech stack and database that Flytrex is building. It’s mapped out backyards in the communities it serves, so that it knows where to fly and drop off packages so that they are relatively safe for drop-and-go deliveries so that people can walk out of the back of their houses to pick them up. Bash said that Flytrex has amassed data on more than 80 million backyards. Google Maps and the others that power the mapping services for the various delivery companies in the market today might have figured out all the front doors, “but we’ll have the back doors.”

Added to this is a wider fleet system design that sits in the cloud to manage where and when drones are operating. The idea is that Flytrex doesn’t operate these directly all the time, but works with its equivalent of “couriers” to do so: these can be the same people who today delivery packages via bikes or cars, and they will be trained to become “flight operators” who will work via third-party companies to operate the drones. (As an equivalent, this would not be unlike how some on-demand transport platforms contract with individuals, but also local fleets that use the platform to pick up business.)

The early version of the service so far seems to have found willing customers on both sides of the marketplace. Flytrex’s first-ever service was launched in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2017, but the first U.S. pilot started only about a year ago, in September 2020 in Fayetteville, NC. It has since expanded to a second location, Raeford, NC. Flytrex said that since February 2021, the volume of orders has increased more than tenfold, with thousands of deliveries to date.

That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing, though. Flytrex’s service has been years in the making already, and Bash admits nothing is easy. Even others like Amazon have seen ups and downs: the company also passed a key FAA hurdle recently, too, but in recent weeks has seen the co-founder of Prime Air leave the company, and moreover it seems to be mothballing some of its R&D efforts for the project.

And beyond these specific businesses, there is a strong degree of skepticism around anything involving autonomous transportation of any kind.

But while some indeed may see drone delivery services as still something of a moonshot — ironic considering Bash’s previous entrepreneurial effort as the founder of SpaceIL — but there are enough shortcomings with existing delivery services, and enough advances in autonomous systems, that might well merit at least some bets being taken here for strong rewards ahead, as far as investors are concerned.

And if big companies like Amazon will be doing something in the space — either for itself or just as likely as a service for third parties — it’s definitely important for there to be alternatives and choice in the market for those that opt not to go the Amazon route.

“We are committed to supporting companies that have the potential to change people’s lives for the better, and Flytrex’s impact on retailers and consumers alike fits that mission perfectly,” said Eran Barkat, Partner at BRM Group, in a statement. “Drones are playing a key role in revolutionizing last mile delivery for communities around the world, and we are thrilled to support the Flytrex team as they take the future of food and household delivery to new heights.”

Tyltgo’s same-day delivery platform lets small businesses compete with Amazon

Tyltgo wants to make it easier for restaurants and small businesses to compete with same-day delivery services offered by the likes of Amazon and HelloFresh. The Canadian company, which recently raised CAD $2.3 million (USD $1.8 million) in a seed round, is akin to a white label Uber Eats, providing businesses an on-demand delivery platform under their own branding that connects them to gig economy couriers.

“I think about us as a post-purchase experience company,” co-founder and CEO Jaden Pereira told TechCrunch. “The recipient goes directly onto the merchant’s platform and places orders through them, so it feels like they’re interacting with the brand they purchased from throughout the entire experience. Our messages, notifications, tracking pages and delivery are all customized under the merchant’s brand name, but it’s powered by Tyltgo.”

The necessity of having products delivered during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders combined with the massive reach of e-commerce giants like Amazon has created a society that expects same-day deliveries. Tyltgo recognized the exclusionary nature of that reality on smaller businesses with less time and fewer resources, and contrived to remedy the situation with some innovative tech and gig economy couriers.

In July 2018, Pereira, 22, co-founded the company with fellow student and developer Aaron Paul while studying at the University of Waterloo. Pereira originally did deliveries himself as a side hustle, while building up a consumer-facing service on Shopify. In October 2019, Pereira and Paul shifted focus to B2B, identifying the real problem as merchants struggling to offer quality same-day delivery at an affordable price.

From December 2019 to December 2020, Tyltgo’s revenue grew 2000%, says Pereira. The company started 2020 with two staff members and ended with nine, including former head of Uber Eats Canada’s marketplace operations, Joe Rhew, and former director of engineering at Goldman Sachs-acquired fintech company Financeit, Adnan Ali.

Aided by funding from VC firm TI Platform Management, Y Combinator and angel investor Charles Songhurst, Tyltgo projects another 1500% revenue growth for 2021. The company’s goal is to expand its team, develop an API and app-based platform, and add 100 more merchants across Ontario.

Pereira said Tyltgo originally focused on florists, and occasionally pharmacies, but demand from the restaurant industry led to the company’s new target — meal kit deliveries.

Meal kit services that provide the culinarily challenged with perfectly portioned ingredients and cooking instructions were already gaining popularity in the before times. When the pandemic hit, services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron saw even more growth. As restaurants struggled to keep their businesses open, many started to get in on the action, delivering restaurant-quality meals with instructions for heating and serving.

The global meal kit delivery services market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2027, with heat-and-eat options taking a large share of that market. Tyltgo is counting on the success of this industry. It has already secured partnerships with restaurants like General Assembly Pizza and Crafty Ramen, as well as with more traditional meal kit delivery services from grocery stores and organic farms.

Pereira said working in the “quasi-perishable space” of flowers and meal kits is both a challenge and a differentiator for the company. Depending on the contents of the delivery, Tyltgo will determine its perishability window and make sure to match that window with a driver. It’s also got an advanced fleet management platform that assigns a number of deliveries to suit the size of a courier’s vehicle.

“In the earlier days, the hardest part was being able to match those perishability windows without causing damage to the products,” said Pereira. “We all know that in logistics, you have to account for traffic, weather conditions, all these other things, but you have an eight hour delivery window to get out 35 deliveries.”

Another challenge is ensuring the top quality service Tyltgo advertises while working in the gig economy. Selecting for reliable couriers has slowed the company down at points, but Tyltgo aims to grow capacity only if it can simultaneously maintain a low error threshold.

“We won’t bring on a merchant if we don’t think we have the capacity to handle their deliveries and meet those expectations,” said Pereira.

Whether or not Tyltgo’s meal kit focus will end up driving scalability in the long run, the platform itself has legs. Pereira’s goal is to see Tyltgo become a part of every post-purchase customer experience for all retail trade categories, and that includes expanding into customer service, branding and transactions on top of delivery.

“The main reason why we’re doing this is because a lot of these smaller, brick-and-mortar retailers don’t have the time and resources to be able to compete with the Amazons of the world,” said Pereira. “We want to be able to put that power in their hands.”

Courier raises $10.1M Series A to help developers integrate multi-channel notifications

Courier is an API platform with a no-code twist that helps developers add multi-channel user notifications to their applications. The company today announced that it has raised a $10.1 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Matrix Partners, Twilio and Slack Fund also participated in this round.

Previously, the company raised a $2.3 million seed round led by Matrix Partners, with participation from Y Combinator. That round, which closed in April 2019, was previously unreported. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter and Matrix Partners’ Patrick Malatack, the previous VP of Product at Twilio, will join Courier’s Board of Directors.

“While at Twilio, I saw developers wrestling with integrating multiple channels together into a single experience,” says Malatack in today’s announcement. “Courier’s vision of a single platform for connecting and managing multiple channels really compliments the channel explosion I was seeing customers struggle with.”

Image Credits: Courier

Courier founder and CEO Troy Goode previously led an engineering group at marketing automation firm Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and as the CTO and Head of Product at logistics software provider Winmore. Eloqua is clearly where he drew his inspiration for Courier from, though, which he built out during his time at Y Combinator.

“And one of the things that I noticed and became very frustrated by was that with Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, there were a ton of different tools for marketing teams to use to communicate with prospects and our leads,” Goode told me. “But as soon as somebody became a customer, as soon as somebody became a user, we weren’t using those platforms. All of a sudden, we were manually plugging in infrastructure level systems like SendGrid and Twilio.”

The idea behind Courier is to provide development teams with a one-stop service for all their notification and communication infrastructure needs without having to build it from scratch. As Goode noted, large companies like Airbnb and LinkedIn can afford to build and maintain these systems to send out transactional emails to their users, often with teams that have dozens of engineers on them. Small teams can build less sophisticated solutions, but there’s really no need for every company to reinvent the wheel.

Today, Courier integrates with the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SendGrid, Postmark, Mailgun, MessageBird, Twilio and Nexmo, among others.

One thing that makes the service stand out is that it offers both a no-code system for users to build their massaging flows and templates, as well as the APIs for developers to integrate these into their applications. That means anybody within a company can, for example, build rules to route messages through specific channels and providers based on their needs, on top of managing the content and the branding of the messages that are being sent.

Image Credits: Courier

“You’ve got this broad array of potential providers,” Good said. “And what you need to do is figure out, okay, which provider am I going to use? And sometimes, especially at large organizations, the answer is multiple providers. And or email, you might need a backup email service in case your primary goes down, or you need to warm up an IP pool for SMS . You might have different providers per geography for both deliverability and price reasons. That’s really hard stuff to build yourself.”

But in addition, different recipients also have different preferences, too, and while users can build rules around that today, the company is looking at how to automate this process over time so that it can, for example, automatically ping users on the channel where they are most likely to respond (or purchase something) at a given time of the day.

Goode noted that it may be hard to convert big businesses to move to its platform given that they have already invested a lot into their own systems. But like Stripe, which faced a similar problem given that most potential users weren’t waiting to rip out their existing payment infrastructure, he believes that partnering with companies early and having patience will pay off in the long run.

China’s logistics titan YTO nets close to $1B from Alibaba in overseas push

E-commerce has brought in a logistics boom in China over the last decade, transforming small-town delivery businesses into multinational corporations. One leading player, YTO, is gearing up for international expansion after it secured 6.6 billion yuan or $970 million from its long-time ally and client, Alibaba.

20-year-old YTO announced this week it will sell 379 million shares to Alibaba at a price of 17.4 yuan per share, lifting Alibaba’s stakes in YTO from 10.5% to 22.5%. The founding couple of YTO owns a controlling stake of 41% via their wholly-owned firm after the transaction.

The new investment, according to the notice, will allow Alibaba and YTO to deepen collaboration on areas including delivery, air freight, global network and supply chains and digital transformation as part of their ambition to beef up their global reach.

An Alibaba spokesperson said the company is “pleased to further strengthen the strategic partnership with YTO, focused on digitization and globalization to enhance the customer service capabilities.”

YTO, which commands a 14% share of China’s express delivery market, is among the five logistics behemoths that hail from eastern China’s rural county of Tonglu. Along with rivals STO, ZTO, Best Express and Yunda, YTO’s rise is inseparable from Alibaba, which relies on third-party logistics services rather than building its own infrastructure like Amazon and

The e-commerce giant has over the years invested various amounts in all five major couriers from Tonglu, a relationship that anchors its logistics arm Cainiao, which matches vendors and express couriers to handle 50 billion parcels a year.

The duo was already partnering on international expansion back in 2018 when a Cainiao-YTO joint venture began building a digital logistics center at Hong Kong International Airport, the world’s busiest cargo airport. State-owned airline China National Aviation Corporation also holds a stake in the joint venture, and the center is due to begin operation as soon as 2023.

As of 2019, YTO had set up 18 entities and 53 service stations worldwide that support its distribution in 150 countries and regions. The overseas push plays into its larger goal to tap the enormous export potential brought by the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s grand plan to build rail lines, telecommunication networks and other forms of infrastructure around the world.

Deliveroo criticized over “inadequate” PPE provision and income support for riders risking coronavirus exposure

UK food delivery giant Deliveroo has been called on to do more to protect riders’ incomes and safety during the coronavirus crisis. The ‘meals-on-wheels’ service couriers provide makes them key workers in a pandemic characterized by social distancing and ‘shelter in place’ lockdowns, is the key argument.

More than forty MPs from across the political spectrum — including the former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and veteran Conservative MP, Sir Peter Bottomley — have co-signed a letter urging the company to provide all riders with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), given the risks faced to those who keep working doing deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter also calls for riders who contract the disease or need to self isolate because of exposure risk to be given “full pay” — rather than the £100 per week Deliveroo has sets aside for riders via a coronavirus emergency fund.

The MPs argue the fund “is simply not enough to compensate a courier for having to self-isolate and forces many to work through potentially early symptoms in the hope of it not being COVID-19″.

The fund has also proven to be inaccessible for many riders as they are not able to meet the eligibility criteria, as they have not completed the numbers of orders required. The fund should be there to assist everyone during this testing time; self isolation should not be a privilege,” they add.

The letter also calls for a “minimum standards guarantee” — given couriers’ key worker role delivery food during the crisis — arguing they should be provided with “a real living wage plus costs, holiday pay and sick pay”.

Another demand is for Deliveroo to allow “high risk” couriers — such as those who have pre-existing health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to the virus — to self isolate for 12 weeks with “full pay”.

Regular testing for riders is another demand.

The MPs also call for a halt to terminations until the end of the crisis, arguing: “It is clear that Deliveroo headquarters staff is stretched and does not have adequate time and resources to investigate customer and restaurant complaints which could lead to riders being unfairly terminated.”

Contacted for a response to the MPs’ demands, Deliveroo aggressively rejected accusations it has been lax in providing riders with adequate PPE.

The MPs argue the company’s current opt-in system for PPE provisions is “inadequate and ineffective” — urging it to take a proactive approach instead by providing “necessary safety equipment to all”.

The letter also claims some riders that have opted in the system have not been provided with the promised PPE. “The riders ordered this PPE from Deliveroo on the 26th of March and have not yet received any provisions (14th of April),” they write. “Your negligence is putting your riders and your customers at risk, especially now that you are encouraging hospital staff to order from your platform.”

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB), which has been campaigning for Deliveroo couriers to gain workers rights — and has today launched a petition in support of the MPs’ demands to Deliveroo — told us that many riders still haven’t received any PPE after requesting it on March 26, querying how much PPE has been despatched by the company to its ‘30,000’-strong workforce to date.

The union also said it’s heard from riders who have received PPE who told it the amount provided — four masks and four small bottles of hand sanitizer — would only last them for around a week.

Asked about this, Deliveroo told us it has ordered 135,000 masks and 145,00 hand sanitizers for UK riders to date — though it did not provide a figure on how many items have actually been delivered to riders, saying only that it has delivered “tens of thousands” of masks and hand sanitizers.

Additionally, it said it has reimbursed all riders “up to £20” to cover any PPE and hand sanitiser they procure and pay for themselves — as an interim policy.

On pay, Deliveroo claimed the £100 per week emergency provision it offers for COVID-19 sick (or isolating) riders, via its emergency fund, is higher than the rate of Statutory Sick Pay available to employees.

On the call for a minimum standards guarantee, Deliveroo reiterated its long-standing argument that riders value the flexibility afforded by its business model which involves them working as independent contractors, not contracted workers.

It also disputes that the IWGB’s campaign for riders to gain workers’ rights has widespread support among Deliveroo riders. But it noted that it has continued to call for updates to UK employment law which would enable it to provide more support for riders without jeopardizing flexibility.

It also told us it was involved in providing input to the government when it was working on support measures for self employed people during COVID-19. This support can cover riders, per Deliveroo, which notes that anyone who has been self employed for more than a year will receive three months of their average earnings based on previous years under this national government scheme.

Even if riders continue to ride and earn during the crisis the support still applies, it added. On vulnerable people, its line is therefore that it would never suggest such people ride during this time.

Rather it suggests they seek support under the government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme, as well as the wider UK social security system.

On rider terminations, Deliveroo disputed that it is unable to properly focus on this area during the pandemic, arguing that contract terminations are an important safety tool at this time — such as in instances where riders have ignored public health requirements to be socially distant when making deliveries.

The company added an option for customers to request so-called ‘contactless’ deliveries early on in the crisis in Europe, removing the requirement that couriers hand food packages direct to customers. Though it was only optional at that point.

On testing, Deliveroo said it has worked closely with the government to ensure riders are entitled to claim free COVID-19 tests — noting that riders were in the first group of people outside of the National Health Service and care home staff able to be able to access these tests.

However the company is not itself sourcing and making tests available to riders. Rather it’s indicating they do the leg work of ordering them via the government’s online self-service portal.

The UK government, meanwhile, has faced weeks of sustained criticism for failing to provide enough tests for people who need them, with accusations of inadequate provision and inaccessible test centre locations which require people to have a car to access a test continuing to trouble Boris Johnson’s government.

So Deliveroo’s message that riders essentially ‘fall back’ on government testing provision may offer little comfort for workers at a front line of exposure to the virus.

In a statement responding to the MP’s letter Deliveroo added:

At Deliveroo, riders are at the heart of everything we do and we are working hard to support them during this unprecedented time. This includes distributing PPE kit to riders across the UK, supporting riders financially if they are unwell and keeping riders safe through contact-free delivery.

We are incredibly grateful and proud of the vital role riders are playing in their communities, helping the public, including the vulnerable and isolated, receive the food they need and want. We have dedicated teams on hand to support riders every step of the way through this crisis.

The London-based food delivery giant has raised some $1.5BN in venture capital to date, according to Crunchbase, including a whopping $575M round led by Amazon last year.

Just Eat cuts its take for 30-days to help restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis

UK takeout marketplace Just Eat has announced a 30-day emergency support package for restaurants on its platform to help them through disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis.

From tomorrow (March 20) until April 19 the package — which Just Eat says is worth £10M+ — will see funds directed back to UK partner restaurants in the form of a commission rebate of one third (33%) on all commissions paid to Just Eat by restaurants; and via the removal of commissions across all collection orders which it intends to help reduce pressure on restaurants’ delivery operations, where collection is still available.

Just Eat also said it’s waiving all sign-up fees for new restaurants joining its platform (which must still meet its standard conditions, such as being registered with the relevant local authority as a food business and having the required hygiene rating); and relaxing any existing arrangements that may be in place with partners to enable them to work with delivery aggregators — “regardless of existing contractual terms”.

It added that it will continue to pay restaurants weekly, including the rebate now in place.

Currently Just Eat has around 35,700 restaurants on its platform in the UK, with delivery available to 95% of UK postcodes.

Commenting in a statement, Andrew Kenny, Just Eat’s UK MD, said:

These are some of the most challenging times the restaurants we work with have ever been through. We want to show our support and help them to keep their doors open, so they can focus on doing what they do best — delivering food to people across the UK every day. We know our Restaurant Partners are worried about their teams — from chefs to delivery drivers — and these measures will go some way to helping them maintain their operations and support their people.

The food delivery industry has a crucial role to play at this time of national crisis and it is only right that as the market leader in the UK Just Eat steps up to help our independent partners so they can keep delivering for the communities that need them.

In the UK and elsewhere there is rising concern about the economic impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality sector as people are told to stay away from social spaces.

On Monday the UK government advised people not to go to bars and restaurants or other social spaces in a bid to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. Although, unlike many other European countries, it has not yet issued strict quarantine measures such as ordering hospitality industry businesses to close their doors and citizens to work at home where possible.

On-demand food delivery remains one of the services that continues to operate even in locked down EU Member States. However with gig economy business models not typically offering platform workers an employment safety net of benefits such as sick pay the entire sector has come under fresh scrutiny for the legal status it assigns to delivery couriers, given the heightened risks posed to them by the novel coronavirus. In a nutshell it they need to self isolate they won’t be able to earn. 

In its press release today Just Eat said it’s working on other unspecified support initiatives for couriers, as well as for groups including the vulnerable and isolated, and frontline workers.

These will be announced in due course, it added. 

Although it also notes that the vast majority of orders placed through its network are delivered by restaurants with their own delivery capability. Its commission for such orders is a maximum of 14%, it added.

Some on-demand food delivery startups operating in Europe which do rely on gig workers to make deliveries have already announced emergency support funds to help platform workers who fall ill or need to self isolate during the COVID-19 crisis — including UK-based Deliveroo and Spain’s Glovo.

Although there has also been some criticism of how easy it is for couriers to access claimed support.

Europe’s Deliveroo and Glovo switch on contactless delivery during COVID-19 pandemic

European on-demand food delivery startups are starting to add ‘contactless’ deliveries in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Earlier this month U.S. startups including Postmates and Instacart added an option for customers to choose not to have their meal handed to them by the courier — and instead have it dropped off at their door without the need for human contact. In China similar services began adding contactless deliveries last month.

Today UK-based Deliveroo said it will launch a no-contact drop-off option early next week.

“At Deliveroo we are taking action to keep our customers, riders and restaurants safe. To make our delivery service even safer we are introducing a no-contact, drop-off service,” it told us.

Currently, Deliveroo customers not wanting to expose themselves — or, indeed, the courier delivering their food — to unnecessary human contact can add a note to an order to request a no-contact drop off.

According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) situation report on Covid-19 the UK had 373 confirmed cases and six deaths as of yesterday.

Deliveroo told us it has plans in place to respond should a rider be diagnosed with the virus or be told to isolate themselves by a medical authority. This includes a multi-million pound fund that it said will be used to support affected riders by paying in excess of the equivalent of UK statutory sick pay for 14-days.

Other steps it’s taking include ordering hand sanitizer for riders and setting up a dedicated support team in each market to answer any queries or questions riders have.

“Riders’ safety is a priority and we want to make sure those who are impacted by this unprecedented virus and cannot work are supported. Deliveroo will provide support for riders who are diagnosed with the virus or who are told to isolate themselves by a medical authority,” the company added.

In yesterday’s budget the UK chancellor set out measures intended to support gig workers during the Covid-19 crisis, announcing a £500M boost to the benefits system and steps to make it quicker and easier for self employed people to access social security — a move unions were quick to characterize as a sticking plaster atop the systemic problem of precarious gig work. 

“It is unfortunate that it takes a global health pandemic for this government to recognise that precarious workers need some form of sick pay,” said the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s general secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee, in a statement. “Rather than half-baked proposals on benefits, the government should be ensuring that all workers have properly enforced worker rights, including full sick pay from day one. The unaffordability of becoming ill or injured is something precarious workers face on a daily basis, and it needs a permanent solution.”

Over in the European Union, Spain’s Glovo also told us it’s implementing new measures globally from today — including recommending ‘no contact’ deliveries and removing the requirement for couriers to obtain a mobile signature from the customer.

Italy, the European country most severely affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak thus far, is one of Glovo’s biggest markets.

This month the government announced a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of the virus.  Per the WHO, Italy had 10,149 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of yesterday morning and 631 people had died.

Yesterday the Italian prime minister announced a further tightening of quarantine rules, closing all bars and restaurants to the general public but allowing for home delivery — leaving the door open for meal delivery startups to continue operating. Food stores in Italy have also not been shut.

A report by UBS today looking at the impact of Covid-19 on online food delivery across multiple markets suggests there is a general uptick in meal delivery demand in most markets, including Italy. Though the investment bank cautions this could change — highlighting the risk of supply disruption and the consumer safety concerns related to eating pre-prepared meals during a health crisis, as it says has been the case in China (with grocery delivery growing as meal delivery orders slumped).   

It’s not clear how Glovo’s on-demand business is weathering the coronavirus storm. A spokesman told us it’s unable to share any data regarding the rise/fall of orders in Italy during the quarantine.

It’s worth noting the startup has never been solely focused on meal delivery — with the app supporting requests for anything (practicable) to be delivered by bike courier in the urban centers where it operates.

Groceries have also been a growing area of focus for Glovo which has been building out a network of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience shop groceries.

When we asked it about support for riders, Glovo told us it will be covering courier incomes for 2-4 weeks during the Covid-19 outbreak if they report being sick.

“The health and wellbeing of our couriers and customers is our top priority and we think these practices will help give some peace-of-mind to our fleet, while also decreasing the interaction and contact between both parties,” said the spokesman.

We also asked Uber Eats — which operates a meal delivery service in multiple markets across Europe — what measures it’s taking to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A spokeswoman told us it’s currently working to inform customers of an existing ability to communicate with delivery people via the app to give them specific guidance on where and how they’d like deliveries made — such as leaving a note to say ‘leave at door’ or ‘leave in lobby/reception’.

“Safety is essential to Uber and it’s at the heart of everything we do. In response to the ongoing spread of coronavirus, we’ve reminded Uber users that they can request deliveries be left on their doorsteps,” Uber Eats said in a statement.

“We’re simultaneously at work on new product features to make this process even smoother, which we hope will be helpful to everyone on the platform in the coming weeks,” it added.

Uber also confirmed it will compensate drivers and delivery people who have to go into quarantine for up to 14 days — provided they are able to show documentation confirming the diagnosis; or if they have to self isolate or get removed from the app at the direction of a public health authority.

The company added that it has a dedicated global team, led by SVP Andrew Macdonald and advised by a consulting public health expert and public health organizations, working on its Covid-19 response.

The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

Y Combinator, the genesis for many of the companies that have shaped Silicon Valley including Airbnb, PagerDuty and Stripe, has minted another 200 some graduates. Half of those companies made their pitch to investors today during Day 1 of Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 Demo Day event and we’re here to tell you which startups are on the fast-track to the unicorn club.

Eighty-four startups presented (read the full run-through of every company plus some early analysis here) and after chatting with investors, batch founders and of course, debating amongst ourselves, we’ve nailed down the 11 most promising startups to present during Day 1. We’ll be back Tuesday with our second round of top picks.