UK Recipe Kit Subscription Service Gousto Raises Further $8.3M

Gousto, the UK recipe kit subscription and grocery delivery service that competes with Rocket Internet’s HelloFresh, has announced the closing of £5 million ($8.3m) Series A round, led by Unilever Ventures, with existing investor MMC Ventures also participating. The investment adds to around £2 million previously raised by Gousto and shows how far its come since first being rather publicly turned down for funding on the the BBC show Dragons’ Den two years ago.

It also comes amid increasing competition from Rocket Internet’s HelloFesh, which, although taking a multi-country approach, including the U.S., recently raised a whopping $50 million D round of its own. That said, at least one competitor in the UK has thrown the towel in the ring; Sadly, Housebites quietly dead-pooled early this year, after pivoting a number of times to avoid such fate.

Like other recipe kit services, customers are sent three recipes per-week out of a choice of ten, along with the required fresh ingredients needed, so that they can get busy in the kitchen to make each meal for two. The idea is to tap into the trends of grocery delivery and living a healthier lifestyle.

What’s interesting about these types of startups, however, is that not only are they in effect having to establish a market — being sent a recipe and ingredients, but still actually having to cook, is quite alien to many Brits — the model itself is quite far from a genuine tech play. Scaling the delivery of perishable goods isn’t quite the same as moving around bits and bytes.

To that end, Gousto says it will use the new capital to “significantly” increase investment in innovation and product development, and further improve the customer experience.

In a statement, Timo Schmidt, CEO and co-founder of Gousto, said: “The UK grocery market is worth £200bn ($330bn), and there has been a seismic shift from offline to online. Our extreme focus on quality and the fact that customer can choose the recipes they love, make Gousto completely unique. At £4-5 per meal including delivery this is a phenomenal value proposition that customers love. The funding is amazing news for customers as it will be entirely used to make their lives even easier and better.”

Go here to read the rest: UK Recipe Kit Subscription Service Gousto Raises Further $8.3M

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6SensorLabs Gets $4M To Help People With Food Allergies Test Their Meals

There are 15 million people in the U.S. with food allergies, and until recently they haven’t had a good, reliable, and affordable way to test meals to ensure they don’t eat something they shouldn’t. That results in more than 200,000 hospital visits a year related to food allergies or food sensitivity.

A startup called 6SensorLabs wants to change that, by building an affordable device that will allow them to quickly and easily check foods for allergens. The company is also hoping to build a mobile app that will help its users share the results of their tests with others and educate them about which restaurant items are safe for those with food allergies or food sensitivity.

There are a number of food allergies 6SensorLabs could help detect, but it’s starting with gluten. The company hopes to bring to market its low-cost, portable Canary sensor early next year to help users with Celiac Disease, as well as those who have decided to move to a gluten-free diet for other reasons.

Along with the sensor, which will cost less than $150, users will need to buy disposable, one-time use units that they put their food in for testing. The price of the disposable units has not yet been determined.

Finally, the company will have a mobile app to pair their sensor with a user’s mobile phone. That app could also be used to share the results of tests for various foods with other users so they, too, can know if food is safe to eat without doing the testing themselves.

The company was co-founded by Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor, who first started working on the product at MIT. Yates has been gluten-free for years, and found that it was always difficult to determine which foods were ok for her to eat. She explored the idea of a food-testing device at MIT with Jonathan Kiel, who had received a PhD in chemical engineering.

Sundvor had studied Mechanical Engineering at MIT and had worked in early product dev at Johnson & Johnson before teaming up with Yates. Together they came to San Francisco and began prototyping the device at hardware accelerator and early-stage investment firm Lemnos Labs. Meanwhile, Kiel stepped into an advisory role with the company.

Since then, they’ve raised $4 million in seed funding from a group of investors to accelerate product development and soon bring a product to market. Upfront Ventures led the round, which also included participation from SoftTech VC, Lemnos Labs, Mitch Kapor, SK Ventures, and Xandex Investments.

Excerpt from: 6SensorLabs Gets $4M To Help People With Food Allergies Test Their Meals

On-Demand Home Services Startup Handybook Hires Amazon Exec Jeff Pedersen To Be Its CFO

Customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of booking services on the web and on their phones, so companies like Handybook are taking off. It’s for that reason that the on-demand home services startup has decided to hire former Amazon exec Jeff Pedersen as its new CFO.

It probably seems early for a startup like Handybook to add a CFO with such extensive experience. After all, it’s just two years old and is nowhere near going public. But the company was scaling quickly and CEO Oisin Hanrahan believed it could benefit from having someone to handle its finances.

“We really needed to add some talent in terms of financial operations for the business,” Hanrahan said in a phone interview. “The business has scaled pretty significantly. It’s 10 times bigger than it was on the first day of the year. We’re processing millions of dollars a month and we felt it was time to add some serious horsepower to the team.”

The CFO appointment comes just a few months after Handybook raised a big $30 million round of funding led by Steve Case’s Revolution Growth. Altogether it has raised about $45 million, with other investors that include General Catalyst, Highland Capital, David Tisch, and Bullhorn CEO Art Papas, among others.

With that funding and its new CFO, Handybook will be looking to expand beyond its current base of 27 markets, including increasingly moving into new overseas markets.

Admittedly, Hanrahan says that Handybook is “hiring ahead of the curve,” but believes the hire will help the company pull ahead in an increasingly competitive market. Rival Homejoy recently started encroaching on Handybook’s turf by not just offering cleaning services, but also launching a series of handyman-type services.

Pedersen held a variety of roles while at Amazon, but he served most recently as the company’s head of hardline finance. In that role, he oversaw financial operations for a $30 billion chunk of Amazon’s overall sales. He also held various operational finance roles at Dell and IBM.

According to Hanrahan, it was that combination of operational and financial expertise which attracted Handybook in pursuing Pedersen. And it’s his experience handling high transaction-volume businesses that ultimately led the company to hire him.

“It’s one thing to have a finance background, and it’s another thing to have operational finance background,” Hanrahan told me. “You really want your CFO to be operationally excellent, and Jeff comes with a deep operational finance background at Dell, at IBM, and at Amazon.”

For Pedersen, the decision to join a startup after working in major public companies will be a change. But he also sees promise in the two-year-old startup. In an email to TechCrunch, he wrote:

“I am thrilled to join the Handybook team. As the leader in on-demand home services, Handybook is a great example of a company transforming a traditional industry through the use of technology… In so many ways, the ambitions of Handybook remind me of Amazon’s own beginnings and I look forward to assisting the brand that has emerged as the leader in this space as they grow and scale.”

Excerpt from: On-Demand Home Services Startup Handybook Hires Amazon Exec Jeff Pedersen To Be Its CFO

Twitter’s Timeline Could Get (More) Algorithmic

Twitter has changed significantly over the past 8 years. With every new product manager and leadership cadre there have been attempts to make it more accessible to new users and more sticky for existing ones. But the biggest changes may yet be ahead as Twitter considers altering the core of its product: the timeline.

If you’ve been watching the company for a while — or have been a regular user of the product — then you know Twitter is always experimenting. So much so that It’s become almost a running joke amongst the reporters that cover changes to Twitter. If there is a new thing someone is seeing then it’s most likely a Twitter experiment.

Twitter VP of Engineering finally just wrote a blog post about it that Twitter PR points everyone to when they inquire about new experiments. “It’s rare for a day to go by when we’re not releasing at least one experiment,” he wrote.

I’ve written before about the way that Twitter was collating and interpreting the data from these ongoing experiments, but many of them have been centered around user growth or ‘engagement’ — getting people to interact with tweets and content.

Even now, Twitter is conducting a host of experiments in dozens of ‘buckets’ of thousands of users. Recently, faves of people who users follow began showing up in feeds of activity — effectively curtailing the use of the fav as ‘shorthand’ and placing close to par with the ‘retweet’. And Twitter has already experimented with injecting other content into your timeline, as we reported recently.

Not every ‘fav’ translates into a tweet being shoved into your timeline, instead an algorithm is used to determine the ‘velocity and momentum of interest’ in the tweet. If they’re significant in your network, then Twitter will surface them for you, even if they would not normally have appeared in your feed.

If this sounds familiar, then you may be thinking of the Magic Recs experiment, which turned into a built-in feature that sends you push notifications when a tweet, account or hashtag has gotten a lot of play in your network. But, we’re told, the team behind the fav experiment is separate from Magic Recs — though both have the common thread of using an algorithm (an equation for interest, so to speak) to determine which tweets to surface.

But we’ve been informed by sources that Twitter isn’t done experimenting yet. In fact, a new effort internally will be touching many aspects of Twitter’s consumer products — including the timeline.

Specifically, a more ‘algorithmic’ timeline that chooses things to share with you based on your interests and interactions and those of your network.

Until recently, the Twitter timeline was an inviolate representation of who you chose to follow — and what they chose to share — in reverse chronological order. Then, ads and promoted tweets started getting more prominence, and the ‘reply’ mechanic started mucking around with the chronology of the timeline, bumping up old tweets when they were responded to.

Now, Twitter is set to go further, with a more ‘algorithmic’ approach to users’ timelines

Personally, the first thing I check when I hit Twitter is not my main timeline or the Discover tab but my Notifications tab. This is where the ‘life’ on Twitter is for me. People replying to me, favs being thrown back and forth, people mentioning me when they think there’s something I’d be interested in.

I’d personally be just fine if the main timeline was melded more with things like this, as they make Twitter feel more engaging. I’d be willing to bet that it’s hard for most new Twitter users to get this kind of feeling and experience from the platform, especially with how difficult it has been for them to nail the on-boarding experience.

Years after I first wrote about the poor initial impression Twitter gave to new users, the company just rolled out a new on-boarding process that improves on some things but still misses the mark in others. It still focuses, for instance, on lists of people who it feels you should follow, enforcing a minimum of follows if at all possible.

“Forcing follows like this seems like the wrong approach, since enjoying Twitter is about curating your timeline,” says Owen Williams in a recent piece about Twitter’s new on-boarding method. I agree that forcing follows is a bad idea, but I don’t think that forcing ‘curation’ right from the get go is wise either. Another solution would be to ask about interests and present users with an algorithmically driven timeline that allowed them to get up and running right away — curating their own follows and culling content they didn’t like over time.

Sources inside and outside the company I’ve spoken to emphasized to me repeatedly that the biggest challenge Twitter faces is how to show the ‘good stuff’ of Twitter to people who haven’t built a decent timeline.

As any long-time twitterer knows, the service is very much ‘what you make of it’ and poor choices in initial followers (or difficulty understanding how to make those choices) likely kill off many potential users before they get hooked.

In the on-boarding process, Twitter could use signals (who you picked to follow initially, who your friends are via contacts etc) to generate an automatic timeline of content that showed you stuff that wasn’t completely dependent on your ‘good taste’ in follows.

As one person put it to me, Twitter could see that you followed a particular player from, say, the Yankees — but not one who used Twitter particularly well — and it could show you other, more prolific or ‘engaging’ Yankees players in your timeline without you having to follow them or other people in your feed having to explicitly share them via retweets or favorites.

The key, of course, is all about timeline relevancy.

Twitter’s power comes from the fact that it provides and up-to-the-second snapshot of the world shared over the web. Facebook’s algorithm focuses on the most read (engaged) or most likely to be read content.

Twitter’s should — and I say this hopefully, not factually — focus on delivering content that’s ‘right’ for the right user at the right time. That’s both in content and, more importantly, temporally.

Thresholds for how ‘old’ the packages of content we formerly called tweets can be before they’re no longer ‘relevant’ will have to be tweaked and tuned carefully.

Before you get up in arms about this kind of algorithmic content shifting your timeline around too much remember that retweets, one of the earliest additional functions of Twitter, already offer a mechanism for presenting older content as ‘fresh’ in your feed. The difference being that one is initiated by another human you’ve chosen to follow and the other by a server in a room somewhere.

If Twitter is able to honor the same kind of relevancy in older content that RT’s do (humans believing they’re still current) then its algorithmic timeline could actually make for a more compelling experience. Selfishly, as a Twitter ‘power user’ of sorts, I would love a toggle that gave me the ‘plain Jane’ timeline as it exists now — but that adds complexity so who knows.

This new effort is said to be headed by Twitter’s VP of Product Daniel Graf, a former Googler in the Maps department. I’ve spoken to people inside and outside the company who have had both complimentary and doubtful things to say about Graf’s new approach and his understanding of Twitter. But that’s not out of the ordinary with any incoming product head. Graf was hired earlier this year to replace long-time chief Michael Sippey. A recent Businessweek article from Sarah Frier and Brad Stone reported that ‘user interface’ changes were in the works, driven by Graf.

I’m sure that some will react negatively to the concept of an algorithmic timeline — especially when you consider that the approach will likely be used to show you more ‘promoted’ content as well as organic content. But I think that it’s an important step in making a Twitter that can attract and retain a billion or more users at some point in time.

If you consider the ‘design for the 80%’ philosophy that many companies apply to making a mass appeal product, then Twitter’s current core concepts are in even more need of a rethinking. With billions of potential users out there and only ~280M of them on board so far — who do you design for?

Recent events like Israel and Gaza, Ferguson and even the World Cup have demonstrated to me that there is a real, powerful benefit to a Twitter that can show media and text in conjunction with real-time reporting and news — and that is designed that way from the ground up. The challenge would be to not give up the unique qualities that made Twitter the place to be for those events, not Facebook — mostly the real-time and seemingly ‘unfiltered’ nature of the service.

Will I miss the simple, straightforward timeline? Sure. But am I convinced that this will ‘ruin’ Twitter? No.

Could it? Absolutely. The timeline as a concept was so powerful, so concise, that it powered the first 7 years of Twitter without any real structural changes. That’s extremely rare in a product, especially in today’s pivot-happy startup environment. But it also makes it that much more difficult for Twitter to make large changes without upsetting core constituents.

Selfishly, I don’t want Twitter to change too much, and if it does I want it to emphasize personal conversations and content over something that’s interesting to the rest of the world but not me. But it’s an incredibly tough challenge and there are no easy answers to what’s best for the ‘next billion users’.

Twitter did not respond to inquiries about upcoming changes to its product.

See the original post: Twitter’s Timeline Could Get (More) Algorithmic

If Apple Makes A Move Into Mobile Payments, It Could Not Come At A Better Time

As Apple inches closer to its news event on September 9, there has been growing speculation that mobile payments will be a part of the action. Apple, the reports say, will add NFC technology to the iPhone 6, and it will debut a mobile wallet-style service that could include integrations with American Express, Visa and MasterCard and possibly PayPal to enable physical, in-store payments using the smartphone.

The reports of Apple finally making the mobile payments jump seem to have redoubled this year, boosted by positive payment comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook himself.

If the reports are accurate, a mobile payments service from Apple would have been a long time in the making, coming after years of speculation involving potential acquisitions; lots of patents; a steadily growing pile of consumer credit card data from its (likely over) 800 million iTunes accounts; and as a counterbalance to moves from would-be competitors.

It also could not come at a better time, considering how many other mobile payments promises have fumbled or failed, so far, to live up to the promise.

Carriers have failed to get the ball rolling fast enough. Mobile operators used to be seen as an essential lynchpin in how a mobile payments service could work. That was partly because of their position in the mobile ecosystem — holders of payment details, bank licenses, handset deals, and customer relationships. All this has combined to paint carriers as a likely source from which mobile payment services could flow. It it’s partly because telcos are always on the hunt for more services to complement their stale bread and butter of voice and text revenues. Sure, there have been some successful services in some markets, like Japan. But independent and consortium-based efforts in countries like the U.S. (such as the soon-to-rebrand Isis) and Europe (such as the many years-old Weve in the UK) have been slow to take off.

Interestingly, from what we have heard, Apple may focus on point-of-sale technology initially rather than the wider applications of mobile payments that might involve services like carrier billing. But from what we understand this is also something that Apple is continuing to focus on as well.

Startups that could have been mobile payment leaders appear to have lost their way. For a while, it looked like Square would be the standard bearer of the mobile payments space, riding into the market on the top of Apple’s iPhone. There was a lot of hope and promise around Square’s dongle-based system, a format replicated by competitors near and further afield. Initially catering to small businesses by letting them take card payments easily using smartphones and tablets, Square then started to look much more ambitious after a deal with and investment from cafe chain Starbucks, and then a number of other services subsequently developed around and beyond that basic offering. But something didn’t seem to click, it seems. Now, with a new funding round at a $6 billion valuation on the cards, it seems people are wondering if the margins on these services are just too thin, if growth has simply not come fast enough to make a decent return, and if Square’s other lines of business are going to work out longer term.

And while companies like Square and PayPal have made a lot of inroads with retailers, they are not the only ones. Apple, with its own successful chain of stores and resellers, has a lot of insight into how to build out a retail-based payments service that I suspect gives it a lot of credibility with businesses. Apple’s relationship with IBM could also potentially come into play here as well, especially in relation to integrating systems for larger retailers.

NFC has long been an object of ridicule. As Natasha once pointed out, NFC — the acryonym for near-field communication, or the technology that allows a handset to effectively be transformed into your credit card at a point of sale — actually stands for “Nobody F****** Cares.” But while the technology has long been a niche idea, it appears that we may finally be approaching some kind of critical mass: While there were only some 275 million NFC-equipped phones shipped in 2013, IHS researches predict that by 2018 that number will be 1.8 billion, representing penetration of 64%.  That kind of critical mass will see more services and acceptance come in its wake.

For a company like Apple, what’s interesting is not just the prospect of the company supporting and enabling NFC on the iPhone, but how Apple may choose to link this up with other new technology, from iBeacons for in-store alerts for shoppers, to fingerprint sensors for extra authentication, and its Passbook as a way of aggregating orders and storing receipts, linked up, of course, with Apple’s existing billing information by way of iTunes. Given that so much of this has been put in place already over the the years, the prospect is for a fully-developed product right at launch.

Like it did with the iPhone amidst a range of other existing smartphones, Apple will not the first mover in mobile payments. Just the one that brings everything together the best.

Link: If Apple Makes A Move Into Mobile Payments, It Could Not Come At A Better Time

Tables, Tablets, Data And Eating

Editor’s note: Vladimir Edelman is the chief development officer of NTN Buzztime, a bar and restaurant social entertainment and integrated marketing platform.

Restaurants as we know them have remained the same for over 200 years, and fables about amazing restaurant tech have inevitably leapt to futuristic ideas: robot waiters, food printers, talking refrigerators. Today’s reality is far more interesting and complex than those sweeping visions. A tsunami of technology, both from established industry providers such as POS and IT companies, as well as nimble startups such as olo and NoWait, are changing the way the hospitality industry functions and what consumers will grow to expect.

This new tech creates the “Dorothy Effect”: We are all at once enthralled by the “magic” we now experience on a daily basis, while also being forced to face and fight the lions and tigers and “bugs” that come with it. The role of the restaurateur now involves embracing technology while making sure customers don’t feel like they are overwhelmed or inconvenienced. It’s honestly a very tough job – but here are some insights I have gleaned from my years in the business.

Don’t Fear Big Bad Data

Small and medium businesses are increasingly relying on data to better understand their customers. Innovation in data analytics and business intelligence enable businesses to collect more information than ever before about their customers’ preferences and values. But the trick is not in the collecting data – it’s in how you use it.

Take Pizza Hut, for example. In 2013, the international franchise enjoyed a 12x return on ROI thanks to its partnership with customer analytics company Capillary Technologies. Capillary helped capture, structure and leverage large quantities of customer data, but more importantly, they helped Pizza Hut take its massive customer base and segment it based on expressed characteristics, purchase tendencies and behavioral indicators to better engage each consumer.

By implementing data analytics into their everyday marketing endeavors, Pizza Hut has created 6,000+ customer behavioral groups, empowering the brand to predict future purchases and execute campaigns at preferred times via customers’ preferred engagement channels (direct mail, email, text message and more). Investing in such analysis has shown widespread sales growth across its restaurants and delivery business. Pizza Hut has seen a 38 percent improvement in its customer retention rate.

Customers respond well when their favorite eateries take the time to understand their likes and dislikes. And if you’re not in a position to work with an analytics firm or technology provider that includes data analysis as part of their product, there are alternatives. Whether investing in tabletop tablets, ordering kiosks, mobile apps for food ordering, reservations, or waitlist management, or any of the other myriad solutions – always ask vendors to supply the data generated by customers.

There are plenty of online tools you can feed that data into, such MixPanel or Google Analytics, as these tools provide similar insight into your guests’ dining habits and desires. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, it’s time to start exploring your options and turn thoughts of “big bad data” into “big beautiful data” that can help boost your sales.

Stop wishing for a brain – buy one instead

Americans spend thousands of dollars a year eating out: Restaurants account for one of the largest parts of discretionary spending, with sales expected to hit a record $683.4 billion in 2014. It is a fiercely competitive industry, and yet restaurant owners and managers have been remarkably slow to adopt new forms of technology that could make their business more efficient and attuned to the desires of diners. They spend a lot of time fighting trends instead of exploiting them.

Take mobile devices, for example. Every day there is a new story about how people use phones or tablets at restaurants – whether to play games, text with friends or document a meal. Many restaurants bemoan the days of the somber, quiet meal, wringing their hands about how to engage these consumers, or at very least how to get their patrons to put their devices down.

These devices aren’t going away – not if Apple or Google have anything to say about it, anyways. Since your customers are already tapping away on their smartphones, tablets and computers, why not make these technologies an integral part of each patron’s dining experience, and learn a thing or two?

Major food chains have already recognized this potential, with tablets that allow customers to order food, customize their entertainment, and even pay the bill. By implementing this technology, restaurants can use this established behavior in their interactive environment, complete with brand messaging.

For example, Buffalo Wild Wings is bringing Buzztime’s BEOND tablet-based entertainment platform to all of their North America restaurant locations by the end of 2015. The BEOND tablets let Buffalo Wild Wings Guests order food, request songs and television programming, play games (both multi-player and arcade-style), and, pay the bill. Initial research has shown customers arestaying 75 minutes, compared to the industry average of 50 minutes, and they’re returning at least twice a month compared to other restaurants where guests may visit once a month or less.

Other national chains that have embraced tabletop tech have seen similar success. In the past year, Chili’s Grill and Bar installed 7-inch Android Ziosk tablets at all of their locations; the devices,allow patrons to interactively peruse menu items, order beverages and desserts, play games together, share real-time feedback with the brand, and pay the check at the table. In a six-month trial period, Chili’s saw an increase in per-person spend per check, translating to higher income for both the restaurant and wait staff. Servers also reported seeing more tips, as the system increases the spending on their shift.

These results show that tabletop technology can be beneficial to servers, not a replacement for them. Additionally, these types of tablets can make it very easy for people to join loyalty clubs: “We saw improvements in guest satisfaction and engagement from many different touch points within the restaurant, including Chili’s guest feedback surveys and Email Club,” said Wyman Roberts, CEO and president of Brinker International and president of Chili’s Grill & Bar.

Applebee’s has also rolled out 100,000+ E la Carte Presto tablets in its U.S. restaurants, with emphasis on ease of payments. Customers can use the tablets to view menu items, browse and add items to a cart, (a la online shopping), play some games, and pay the bill. Applebee’s has seen similar positive results, as TechCrunch reported in 2013: “(In) a two-year pilot program where Applebee’s tested the tablets across 30 restaurants around the U.S. During these trials, the company found that having tablets available tableside allowed them to reduce the overall table turn time and transaction time for their guests, and guests who were surveyed about the tablets reported a better overall experience.”

While tabletop tablets are the latest innovation, the customer’s own phone remains an incredibly powerful tool. Countless companies can help restaurants harness social activity, monitor online reviews, create lightweight loyalty programs, help customers check out, and even create in-store games (through augmented reality) to make sure that the restaurant becomes part of their mobile experience – and not just a place to fire up a phone and read some blogs.

Technology can make customers and staff feel warm and fuzzy…

Restaurants have been reluctant to jump on the tech-driven dining experience for a number of reasons. Maybe tablet tech isn’t suitable for a fine dining atmosphere, or the futuristic feel clashes with a retro-themed aesthetic. However, the opportunities to implement technology extend beyond consumer-facing, front-of-house operations. They can also streamline food buying, order taking, and even cooking.

“Many brands and operators are thinking even further outside the box, adding innovative technologies in the kitchen and at the front counter,” QSR’s Keith Loria explained in his article ‘Beyond the Tablet. Panera, having invested in kitchen technology with color-coded screens that deliver orders to the kitchen staff, is one example of such outside the box thinking: A red stripe over an ingredient means leave it off, a green stripe indicates an addition. Other colors signify takeout.

Similarly, in an attempt to keep its kitchen staff from having to memorize recipes and food preparation policies, Tex-Mex style fast food chain Taco Bueno added tablets managed by mobile device management company AirWatch to push recipes to its line cooks.

Put simply, if your staff is happy, customers will (usually) be happy too. Kitchen technology like Panera’s and Taco Bueno’s can help cut down on stress and provide happy meals all around. Companies worried about technology pushing humans out of jobs and making employees more stressed out should instead educate their staff about how it is making their jobs easier, letting them focus on being the heart of the dining experience  – not just a set of arms and legs rushing from table to table.

It’s not just a dream, Dorothy. This is real.

As the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom put it, “Restaurants have been late to the tech party, and many are now scrambling to incorporate tablets, apps, computerized kitchen equipment and data analysis capabilities.” When proper strategy and implementation applied, technology solves problems that are fundamental to how restaurants operate and compete. And late is a lot better than never. A whopping 51 percent of restaurant operators said they will devote more resources to technology this year alone. As this trend continues to gain momentum, technology will become increasingly critical for any restaurant’s success.

At the rate we’re going, tables and tablets will soon share more than a common etymology – both derived from the Latin “tabula,” meaning plank, tablet, list. One will be incomplete without the other, with technology inextricably linked and indispensable to the casual-dining experience. It may be only a matter of time before your tablet is your table (check out this video of Pizza Hut again pioneering the modern dining experience).

While this may seem like a dream scene from a movie, this type of tech is very real and holds great potential for both businesses and customers in streamlining the dining experience and making it more fun. Now is the time for bar and restaurant owners and managers to research and try new technologies, and make the most of the vast trove of data that falls into their laps every day.

IMAGE BY Shutterstock USER Pavel L Photo and Video (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

Read the original: Tables, Tablets, Data And Eating

Amazon Promotes Its Student Program With 50 College Scholarships

Amazon announced this morning that it will be offering 50 full-time, undergraduate students with a college scholarship that includes $5,000 toward their tuition as well as an additional $500 to spend on textbooks at Amazon. The scholarships, which will be merit-based, will be distributed in time for fall semester 2015.

According to Ripley MacDonald, Director of Student Programs at Amazon, the scholarship is designed to “reward students who demonstrate extraordinary ability in leadership and innovative thinking.”

Students who apply will be judged on their GPA, community involvement, leadership experience, and will need to complete an essay in order to advance to the final round – pretty standard college scholarship stuff. Winners will be notified by April 2015, with the scholarship awarded in July 2015.


The announcement is not a purely philanthropic endeavor on Amazon’s part. It’s choosing a selection of the brightest, most engaged and active students in the U.S., and helping them become Amazon brand ambassadors of sorts.

The scholarship’s larger goal is to spread the news and increase sign-ups for Amazon Student, the company’s program designed for college students which is something of a discounted version of Amazon Prime. The program is half the price ($49/year), while still offering free two-day shipping and other Prime benefits like Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, access to the Kindle Lending Library, along with other promotions aimed at students.

In order to qualify for the scholarship, potential candidates have to be Amazon Student members. That’s how they getcha, so to speak.

Students, who must also be enrolled in a two- or four-year school in the U.S., can apply now through November 20.


Read more here: Amazon Promotes Its Student Program With 50 College Scholarships

Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App

Cotap, a startup founded by former Yammer executives Jim Patterson and Zack Parker that launched last year with the premise of becoming a “WhatsApp for the workplace“, is today unveiling a new build of its product, and a wider remit. Cotap is going beyond mobile messaging and moving into file sharing, with integrations with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive; adding web and desktop apps (native to Mac first) to use Cotap when you are not on a smartphone or tablet; and releasing updated mobile apps for iOS and Android.

The moves come as the company passes 10,000 business customers — although it is not specifying what that translates into in terms of individual, active users just yet, says Patterson, who is Cotap’s CEO. The aim is to hit one million users, which has yet to happen.

As a bit of background on Cotap, current customers typically range from between 50 and 100 employees and include businesses like Philz Coffee and the Hyatt chain of hotels. 

And, as we’ve noted before, what’s interesting about Cotap — beyond the Yammer pedigree and backers (which includes the likes of Charles River Ventures, which also backed Yammer before it sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion) — is that it is trying to go beyond the typical enterprise IT product and messaging app by targeting more than just the white-collar segement of office workers and their employers as clients.

In other words, for a client like a cafe or a hotel, users include not just those in the back office, but those working at the front line of the retail experience. “Think of Cotap on a smartphone as replacing and improving on how a large business might have used a walkie-talkie,” Patterson explains.

The Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive integrations that are being announced today are a part of that bigger concept, Patterson tells me, with the idea here being that you can send flyers to staff with information, pictures of lost property, or other communications — as well as the latest marketing strategy.

The integrations are also notable because they are all built on top of Box’s Box View, a standalone service that Box launched earlier this year that lets users upload, convert and view content. After a user has connected up the service in question, sending a file, Patterson tells me, is as easy as sending a photo in a messaging app.

Effectively, what it means is that Cotap sits as the mediation point between the four storage services — imporatant since in many businesses you often end up with a mixture of services between official company accounts and those you have created for your own documents when you are working on a nonwork device. Recently modified files show up first in the service.

Meanwhile, the web and desktop apps are perhaps a tip of the hat to those who are more bound to be sitting in a chair with wheels, Patterson tells me.

“Cotap launched initially with iOS and Android but being mobile first doesn’t mean mobile only,” he explains. “A lot of our usage was driven by people using iMessage before, and they would like to continue to go seamlessly between what they are doing at their desk and what they do on mobile.”

Synchronised notifications between the two will mean that notes that are read on one platform will be marked on the other, and discussions or projects initiated on one can be carried on elsewhere.

ios-screen2-fullThe mobile app updates there for better parity with the desktop app functionality, with users now also able to set up favorites, and groups.

When Cotap first launched last year, I was curious about how it would differentiate from Yammer — another enterprise app and product that taps into the idea of consumerization and social media. The answer I got was that Cotap was “almost the opposite” of Yammer.

While Cotap continues to expand what it is trying to be to its users, Patterson maintains that this is something that has remained constant.

“The difference between us and Yammer is like the difference between Whatsapp and Facebook,” he says. “Yammer is not targeted to anyone specifically while this is very specifically about who you choose to target.”

Similarly, he is less concerned with what a new, buzzy service like Slack might pose as a competitive threat.

“I look at Slack as an internal email replacement,” he says. “It’s topic-based chatrooms that are more similar to IRC or Hipchat.” Which is how Slack’s Stewart Butterfield has also described it. “If you are a small company are are still using email internally, something is wrong. You should change over to something like Slack if you are communicating at  your desk. Especially if you are a dev shop, it’s great for development teams. They are integrated with Github and the other tools that they use.

“But Cotap is about targeting the wider array of businesses. It’s grocery stores and consulting firms. It’s not inside baseball.”

The new apps are available today in the Mac App Store, the iTunes Store and Google Play, with the web app soon to come.

View post: Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App

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