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Everyone at the office needs lunch (or in some cases dinner) — but for salespeople trying to entice a potential lead or convince an architect to pick up their project, they might need to use a free meal as a bit of a lure to get them in the room to make that pitch.
It was a problem that Stefania Mallett, CEO of ezCater, and co-founder Briscoe Rodgers ran into plenty of times — and decided to turn it into a full company. ezCater gives all those sales people, or financial advisors, or anything along those lines a way to quickly set up a catered meal and have an expectation that it’ll work without any kinds of bottlenecks all across the country. The company said it has raised a new round of funding led by Wellington Management Company, with existing investors ICONIQ capital and Insight Venture Partners also participating among others. This round brings ezCater’s total funding to around $170 million, at a valuation of $700 million, according to a source familiar with the matter.
“It’s a high stakes event, you’re ordering food for a sales call, you only get an hour with that customer,” Mallett said. ” When you’re ordering food for a company meeting, you have 1.5 hours. You have to make this work on time and make sure if there are any problems that you can jump in with really high class customer service. More than half of our staff are in customer service and we have a tremendous amount of automation that makes the customer service be effective for us. But without that, you’re not gonna get very far.”
Like the rest of the companies trying to woo offices looking for catered meals, ezCater looks to collect as much data as it can. That could be an analog situation, like one in its own office where employees tried to find the best setup to remove as many bottlenecks as possible for lunch on a Thursday — even timing the process with stopwatches. As more information comes in, like reviews or critiques of the whole process, ezCater can turn around and use that to adapt to any changing environments or office cultures and figure out how to provide the best experience.
Mallett says the company has more than 60,000 restaurants signed up to the service, and the hope with this new round of funding is to continue to expand that — especially as the company eyes growth abroad. While they’re able to sign on plenty of chains, ezCater also has to hit the ground to find high quality local restaurants and make sure they do a quality check on them before they end up on the catering platform. That certainly requires a lot of manpower, and Mallett said more than half of the company is centered around customer service. That, too, is still a pretty analog process even as the company looks to put out more of its tools and automate all these processes.
“We need to reach out to [independent restaurants] one at a time, and our marketing department has done a good job of turning the phones around,” Mallett said. “We still don’t accept many of the inbounds, we’re looking for people whom we believe can deliver quality. We curate for reliability, not for a price point or a type of food. Another thing we have to offer them is a catering management suite that allows them to handle all the orders we send them, as well as other orders they might get through other channels.”
Still, there’s plenty of activity when it comes to catering. Startups like ZeroCater are raising money to expand beyond just daily lunch orders and own other parts of the office dining experience, like providing snacks. Delivery apps like DoorDash too might see the opportunity for catering as a significant business model. But Mallett’s argument is that those organizations are either still pretty local, or they won’t have the kind of restaurant overlap that ezCater has as they look to capture business from larger clients that need to put together a quick meal for the office. ezCater, too, offers options for daily lunches or other meals with a white glove service.
“We can’t expand into the consumer business very fast, and they can’t expand into catering very fast,” Mallett said. “Restaurants have an internal flow that makes sense for being a restaurant, and in many restaurants if you fill in with a catering order for 25 people, the kitchen wants to kill you. They don’t even have space in the storage room for the big trays. If you take all the restaurants that DoorDash or GrubHub or any of the guys who are doing the individual orders, and you take all our restaurants, and you map them on top of each other, there will be a small amount of overlap.”
Because business cards refuse to die.
Veriff, the Estonian startup that wants to become something akin to the ‘Stripe for identity’, has raised $7.7 million in Series A funding.
Leading the round is Mosaic Ventures, joining an impressive list of backers that include Taavet Hinrikus, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Buchheit, Elad Gil, SV Angel, ACE Ventures, and Superangel. Mosaic’s Simon Levene, and Hinrikus, who co-founded and is chairman of TransferWise, have joined the Veriff board.
Founded by 23 year old Kaarel Kotkas — who is now on his third startup and has garnered quite a bit of publicity in his home country — Veriff has developed a SaaS and underlying technology to make it easy for companies, such as banks and fintechs, to easily verify a person’s identity online. In fact, Kotkas previously spent some time at TransferWise, where he solidified the idea, before founding the startup and going through Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator as part of its W18 batch.
Offered as a developer-friendly API — hence the Stripe comparison — Veriff says its solution can be implemented “in minutes”. It costs €49 per month, plus €2 per verification.
The aim, says Kotkas, is to make premium identity verification available to smaller companies and not just large corporations that can easily absorb high integration costs of incumbent offerings. However, what really sets Veriff apart from a number of competitors is its use of live video to verify you are who you say you are.
“Veriff has created an online identity verification service that is more secure than physical face to face verification and now we’re making it available to everyone,” he tells me. “We’re the first ones that understood that pictures never do them justice. It’s all about building up trust online and our service uses a unique video based approach to make sure the verification is done in real-time and voluntarily by the right person”.
Off the record, Kotkas divulged some of Veriff’s “secret sauce,” which — understandably — he wants to keep secret. The startup uses hundreds of data points collected through analysing the live video feed, including frame by frame, and from a user’s device and network. It then uses machine learning to sift through this data and, individually and in aggregate, spot patterns and anomalies that might otherwise be missed by a human.
“We know that pictures never do the justice so instead of analysing only pictures we record everything as a video and analyse frames from the video. Our fraud prevention has been built up combining device information, user behaviour, document validation & face comparison,” he says.
As a result of its video-based approach, Kotkas claims that Veriff has the highest conversion rate on the market, without compromising security. “We’ve created an online verification flow that is all about building up trust, so honest users can go through the flow conveniently, but fraudsters will drop”.
To that end, Kotkas says Veriff remains at least two steps ahead of fraudsters. Then, after an uncomfortably long pause and following prodding from me, he attempts to explain how the startup comes up with new techniques and tests them in the wild, again without disclosing too much information. “It’s a good question but a hard one to answer!” he says knowingly.
Meanwhile, Veriff says it has over 40 paying customers globally. They include financial enterprises, marketplaces, sharing economy companies and e-commerce sites. The company has its development and customer service team based in Tallinn, Estonia, and will soon move sales and marketing operations to the U.S.