Restaurants Disintermediated by New Sites That Make and Deliver Food

There is a new front in the food delivery wars: food delivery companies that make and deliver their own food. Sites such as Blue Apron, Munchery and Sprig are focused on on disintermediating restaurants and the food delivery companies that rely on them. including GrubHub/Seamless, Yelp’s Eat 24, Groupon’s OrderUp and PostMates.

In a macro way, the restaurants are being made to realise they are only brands in a broader “food at home” category. As Business Week’s Brad Stone reports in a great new article, the only question is whether the new food prep and delivery companies will serve the food hot (like Sprig) or require that it be heated up (like Munchery).

Stone’s report focuses on Munchery, which now runs mega-kitchens with $50,000 industrial overs in San Francisco, LA, New York and Seattle. Munchery – a Y Combinator reject in 2012 now valued at over $300 million — makes about two dozen gourmet items every day, centrally directed by star chefs. The high volume of orders lets the food scale and means lower costs for consumers. Stone notes that a salmon dish that was $22 when first introduced, for instance, currently sells for $11, which seems to be the average price.

Munchery has also proved to be an activist in on demand labor issues facing many of the on demand companies. When Hilary Clinton recently visited, Stone notes that the CEO lobbied her on the need to find a middle ground between full time employees and part time workers. Munchery’s workers are all fulltime and enjoy full benefits. But a new classification between contractors and full-time hires wouldn’t require employers to shoulder the full burden of health and retirement benefits. It would also allow companies to employ more people to work a few hours a day around dinnertime.

Photo from Forbes

‘Print SEO’ Efforts Drive Digital Traffic for Traditional Media Advertisers

Digital conversion services have played a key role in getting print advertisers online. But in a “digital first” world, advertisers want to do more than simply replicate their ads.

Some of the real value is taking the content from their ads; making it searchable; and adding it to new channels, including social media, new display ads, directories and event listings.

ShopLocal and Wanderful Media (which took over Travidia) have played a key role here. Similarly, PaperG and its “Flyerboard” pushed the envelope in working broadly with local advertisers to automatically create new online ad formats.

OwnLocal continues to push hard in this direction, working with 2,400 newspapers in the U.S. and recently, Europe, for its “print SEO” efforts. While digital conversion still represents a large portion of the Austin and New York-based company’s revenue, it is now broadly diversifiying.

Co-founder Jeremy Mims sees an opportunity to broadly collect the data found in print ads to create business profiles, where they can be recirculated for SEM, SEO and business data syndication. Typical placements can be in marketing messages, emails and Facebook pages.

OwnLocal has also begun working in a slightly different way with broadcast TV and radio partners. For instance, with TV stations, it is working to disseminate ad spots across all the video platforms, such as YouTube, Vimeo and MetaCafe.

Getting from Search to ‘Close the Loop’: Chatting with FreshLime’s Jay Bean

SEO remains key for SMBs in 2016, but the goalposts have moved. With a surfeit of “close the loop” technologies being added to Big Data analytics, search has become just the tip of the iceberg.

Companies like SignPost are working closely with SMBs to provide close the loop information and action for SMBs. Service lead platforms such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor, Thumbtack and others are also providing transaction marketing behavior. So are loyalty and customer acquisition plays such as Empyr Networks.

Another platform is FreshLime, a Utah-based company launched by OrangeSoda founder Jay Bean. The company has been testing results with several hundred customers.

“Getting to the transaction enables us to help the SMB gain actionable insights about their customers,” says Bean. “Transparency past the transaction enables us to see the bigger picture and completely understand the consumer. Now we provide real data to predict future success.”

Some companies focus entirely on real time data from the Point of Sale forward, but Bean notes that real time data is only part of the picture. Seeing the data from a five year period gives a fuller picture. For example, Quickbooks can offer a ton of useful data, since SMBs enter all their transactions there. So do other feedback mechanisms, such as online reviews and channels of feedback (i.e. email, phone or text). This data is largely lost when SMBs focus on signing new customers instead of analyzing previous transactions that can show them where they can win repeat business and higher revenues.

To create a predictive analytics program, “we look at customers who are not coming back; and at past transactions,” says Bean. “We see where the leads are coming from, and the cost of leads. We are mining actionable data that can actually be used. The results show SMBs exactly where they should boost spending on the most relevant types of marketing channels, such as postcards and other offline engagement.

Lots of different players continue to hold on to different data elements. “There are big pools of data that no one wants to give up, despite the fact that the more valuable data is right there and available” says Bean. “It is like Google Analytics in 2000.”

Automation of all the inputs helps make it a win-win for all partners. “SMBs are tired of clicks and calls that don’t convert,” says Bean. To help them succeed, “it is important to not only focus on the front-end of engagement, but on the longer-term marketing side as well.”

FreshLime CEO Jay Bean

Milking the Big Data Around Local Events

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No one has really been able to build much of a business around “events.” While Zvents, Eventful, GoldStar and others have built great, increasingly granular databases of events, business models have never really been developed to leverage that data.

What if the focus was on the meta data around an events database? With mobile based geolocation and wallet information, that’s the quest for Gravy, a northern Virginia company founded in 2011 that has won investments from Gannett and others.

Gravy’s thesis: consumers reveal a great deal about their behavior and psychographics in in their search for events –and that marketers generally don’t leverage event searches.

CEO and Founder Jeff White told us that Gravy never thought of itself as an events discovery platform. “We didn’t want to get into the crowded ocean of events,” he said. But Gravy is set up to capture everything associated with an events search, from points of interest to very precise times of their location and activity.

“This is for the real world,” added White. “It is no different than a Web cookie in the Web world. Sometimes, you are understanding competitive locations. Other times, you are understanding the interests and behaviors of your most loyal customers.”

“Marriott wants to understand when customers are going to competitive properties,” said White. “Wal-Mart wants to understand yoga apparel. Sirius XM wants to market a country music channel to people who have attended country events.”

Gravy, of course, doesn’t have these types of insights to itself. It faces off against a host of Big Data, mapping and mobile search companies that are also providing consumer insights (Ground Signal provides similar insights with its location based data). But what Gravy does have is an integrated offering with the Gannett papers and websites, and other partners.

Local Onliner Bookshelf: ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’

We’ve all seen that the true tech visionaries defy conventional wisdom to define and create new markets. If Steve Jobs is the Michael Jordan of tech visionaries, than perhaps Elon Musk is the Steph Curry.

Musk has caught everyone’s attention, focusing on the big things that change people’s lives (payments, transport and power). At this point, he’s largely responsible for building everyone’s favorite electric car (Tesla), revolutionizing space transport (Space X), playing key roles in the new generation of electronic transactions (PayPal) and he’s also played, on the side, in solar power (Solar City). His vision for “Hyperloop” supersonic travel recently earned him a 90 minute audience with President Obama.

Business Week Writer Ashlee Vance’s new biography, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” is quite a read. Based on over 200 interviews, Musk is shown as a true innovator who paired good timing with a relentless drive and work ethic. The book also details how Musk, like so many tech leaders, was slowed by personal issues and a super competitive nature that seemingly doesn’t know when to stop.

The dual stories of modern space transport and electric car development are properly the focus here. But, of course, I wish the book spent more time on the early Zip2 years from 1995-97, when Elon and his younger brother Kimbal were just out of school and launching Zip2 in Vancouver’s Gas Light tech district with $28,000 of their father’s savings. Zip2 was a pioneer in integrating maps with business listings.

While the Zip2 section is a short part of the 400 page book, many of us in the local community got to know Musk at this time, and some of his signature characteristics (i.e. his charm, his micromanagement of projects, his reputation as a strict taskmaster). Desperate to keep his company afloat, Musk is described by Vance during this period as something less of a visionary than a “huckster.”

After a merger with Barry Diller’s Citysearch derailed amidst angry accusations of misrepresentation on both sides, Zip2 jumped deeper into the arms of its newspaper partners. The newspapers bet on Zip2 to help them become the next generation’s Yellow Pages for local SMBs.

The newspapers’ sales staff was basically unprepared to tackle low-priced digital listings, however, and the papers were also unable to drive enough traffic to the listings. Musk and the VCs and newspapers luckily were able to unload the failing operation to Compaq Computers for $250 million. (Compaq naively thought it would succeed in local sales by leveraging its computer sales network to moonlight as local ad sales people.)

But from nothing comes something. Musk took some of his $22 million share from the Compaq sale and moved on to develop what eventually became PayPal. And then, almost simultaneously, Space X and Tesla.

The book fascinatingly details the deceit and treachery of the VC community and executive colleagues. It also breaks new ground in detailing how Musk went to the brink, spending his $200 million + PayPal fortune on Space X and Tesla. Indeed, he was so broke, he took to flying on Southwest Airlines and had papers drawn up to sell Tesla to Google (Larry Page is said to be a best friend). It was only at the last minute that he was rescued by a major deal with NASA to use Space X rockets.

The book may not have the fluency of the greatest Innovator bios. Some of these would include James Gleick’s Genius about Richard Feynman, Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs, and Brad Stone’s The Everything Store about Jeff Bezos. But it’s a fascinating, well written and well researched tome, confirming that what it takes to be successful at the highest levels is a thick skin, a mission to rapidly succeed, important champions, independence, and immense capital.

My Podcast Predictions for 2016: I’m on ‘The Digital CMO with Mike Orren’

Can the daily deals model recover? Will beacons be big in retail? Why is the home services space set to soar? How will custom deals be more sophisticated in the new year? And how can marketers decide which “unicorns” to bet on and which to ignore?

Speakeasy CEO and social and hyperlocal media pioneer Mike Orren interviews me — The Local Onliner — about what’s happening in local and media in 2016 for his new show, The Digital CMO. It runs about 34 minutes….Here’s the podcast link.

The Rise of Google Now and Deep Linking: Few Rules, Big Opportunities

Deep linking was originally thought of as sordid play by Google to bypass information providers. Yelp would certainly think so. But deep linking has taken on a new context, as Google, Apple and a host of search startups seek to re-engineer the search ecosystem to get consumers want they really want. It also acts the anchors for linkable tech that ties together platforms (i.e. Internet, video), commerce and content.

At BIA/Kelsey Next in Hollywood Dec. 8-9, speakers reflected on deep linking as a new opportunity to get consumers to engage with Apps, rather than bypass them. Google’s Vera Tzoneva noted that people are only engaging with a quarter of the 36 apps they’ve typically downloaded (i.e. 9)

Google Now— –Google’s deep linking service – is seeking to energize usage with deep linking. We are “looking at your needs” and “giving you useful information at the right moment, said Tzoneva. Google has come a long way from simply posting a number of relevant search links. “We are not just telling you what is out there,” she said.

Button CRO Mike Dudas said he sees a whole new business model of connecting searched content sites to commerce. Button, for instance, connects sites such as Foursquare to a number of related commerce partners, such as Uber. Connecting to ecommerce “is an additional revenue stream, “ he said. “It’s very accurate.

But are we there yet? Not according to Yellow Pages and search Vet Paul Ryan, who is the founder and CRO of, a new mobile search site. “It’s still wide open” with few rules, he said. “Android is the Wild, Wild West.”

“We’re back to 1999,” when it was still about search and discovery, added Ryan. “There’s buffers of content, but everyone is going to the home page. The major part is getting people to the content or action they want accomplished.”