No. 313: The Secret Sauce


On McDonald’s, Uber Eats, and the effort to systemize last mile commerce in food retail. On a Wednesday night at home, I was looking to repeat order a frequent order at a local restaurant. For years, it’s been my go-to for a healthy dinner. Ohio’s Northstar Cafe is a fixture within the community, the food is great and trustworthy. It’s the rare meal that tastes great when delivered. But on that day, it was no longer present within the Postmates app. Neither were my second and third choices. A Postmates faithful, I chose to walk to a local restaurant instead. There is something interesting happening in the food delivery space. Vendor fragmentation is increasing and companies like Postmates and DoorDash seem to be positioning for their own eventual exits. Let me explain.

A four or five star hotel would prefer that you booked through their own channels rather than booking through HotelTonight. After polling 72 hotels that use HotelTonight, 2PM found that only nine viewed the partnership as “very positive”, the majority characterized the partnership as “fair.” The order communications between HotelTonight (now Airbnb) and the hotel venue is still analog and far from instantaneous (some hotels receive confirmation via fax). HotelTonight receives a margin of the sale that many hotels don’t believe should go to the booking app. This is also how many restaurants view food delivery apps. And rather than cooperate with Postmates, GrubHub, DoorDash or others – these restaurants often ask removal from the app or close their businesses to internet orders. Uber has found multiple solutions for this supply and demand issue. From No. 293:

By building digitally vertical restaurants, Uber has gained the ability to engineer product loyalty that competing platforms cannot yet compete against. Uber Eats’ explosive growth between 2017 and 2018 is a result of the logistics company incentivizing its regular drivers to become delivery hands and also by incentivizing Uber users to become Uber Eats users. By increasing supply and demand-side economics, Uber Eats has leverage to that Postmates cannot yet manufacture. This is essential when approaching existing restaurants and offering them a private label product opportunity.

This is just one of two recent developments in Uber’s competition for delivery market share. The partnership between McDonald’s and Uber may be one of the consequential deals in all of eCommerce by the end of 2019. Uber will provide the logistics to help McDonald’s build an efficient and sustainable direct-to-consumer sales business. This is a sales effort that both companies will need. Uber’s deal with McDonald’s will lay the groundwork for, what I believe will be the race to land exclusive restaurant deals. Here is a wonderful deep dive into Uber’s unit economics by Aswath Damodaran. A standout excerpt:

The first is that Uber is not a pure ride sharing company, since it derives revenues from its food delivery service (Uber Eats) and an assortment of other smaller bets (like Uber Freight). It is worth noting this table while suggests that while some of Uber’s more ambitious reaches into logistics have not borne fruit, its foray into food delivery seems to be picking up steam. Uber Eats has expanded from 2.68% of Uber’s net revenues to 13.12%.

Often characterized as the largest IPO of the year, Uber will go public in May to fanfare and, potentially, that glorious day one pop that will solidify gigantic returns for early and preferred investors. Like any public offering, there will be an initial discomfort on behalf of the retail investors when Uber’s stock settles. But this conversation isn’t about the IPO, or Uber’s uphill battle to achieve profitability (at the expense of public transportation – according to critics). This is about the long-term potential of its delivery business. With the $100 million raise that may allow the $90-100 billion brand to further invest in long-term partnerships like the one with McDonald’s. Uber’s market performance will be tied to the value proposition of Uber Eats. And for companies like Postmates, though it has raised nearly $700 million, Uber’s post-IPO advantages will be a concern within their San Francisco boardroom.

In 2019, Uber’s key partner will be McDonald’s. If successful, exclusive restaurant relationships will begin to place Uber Eat’s delivery competitors in regrettable positions.

More than two-thirds of McDonald’s business is earned through its drive-thru operations. And internal figures suggest that nearly ten percent of many franchisee’s 2018 sales were attributed to third-party deliveries from: Uber, Amazon, Delivery Hero, Zomato, Postmates, Deliveroo, Swiggy, DoorDash, and Grubhub. Of these services, Uber is best positioned to compete for the long game. To accomplish this, McDonald’s will:

  • streamline kiosk and drive thru order response and processing
  • cut hourly human capital in favor of kiosks and third-party delivery
  • and speed up delivery by using artificial intelligence to speed drive thru and kiosk orders.

With this context, McDonald’s acquisition of Dynamic Yield shouldn’t be a shock to those who’ve followed these developments. I’ll summarize why a bargain-driven fast food chain like McDonald’s would pay $300 million to acquire an artificial intelligence company. McDonald’s revolutionized the kitchen. With Uber’s partnership, McDonald’s is aiming to revolutionize the speed of order processing and delivery while shifting labor costs to Uber.

Dynamic Yield’s AI-powered omni-channel personalization engine helps businesses personalize every customer interaction to improve performance and overall customer satisfaction.

Dynamic Yield

To do this, store owners are on the hook for a redevelopment effort that will take time and trust between McDonald’s corporate and their franchisees.  McDonald’s is essentially building infrastructure for omnichannel excellence at scale. With net sales being affected by smaller margins typical of third-party delivery, McDonald’s management is positioning to offset those shrinking margins by equipping store owners with artificial intelligence and automation to cut their own payroll liabilities. This, while increasing third-party sales from 10% to 30% per store.

With McDonald’s prioritizing technological redevelopment at kiosks and the drive thru, it casts a new light on the potential of a McDonald’s partnership with Uber Eats. And Uber will mostly benefit by establishing a growth path that may be as lucrative as the app’s digitally vertical restaurants (DVR). For Uber, DVRs may earn the company a higher margin than what’s typical but Uber’s partnership with McDonald’s will drive critical market share.

2PM summary:

Key takeaway no. 1: McDonald’s Corp will partner exclusively with Uber. Other delivery apps will no longer be able to sell McDonald’s products within their apps.

Key takeaway no. 2: McDonald’s Corp will invest and promote Uber’s value. With institutional support from one of America’s greatest consumer brands, retail investors will be assured that Uber is a long-term value despite its glaring profitability concerns.

Key takeaway no. 3: Uber will negotiate for more national restaurants to agree to category exclusivity. This will increase pressure on DoorDash, Postmates, and GrubHub to do the same.

On the night of April 14, Postmates earned a bit of social media buzz with an easter egg promo for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Founder and CEO Basti Lehmann retweeted praise from droves of users who admired the savvy brand gamesmanship. To celebrate the premiere of HBO’s last season of Game of Thrones, Postmates added an illustration of a dragon flying over your in-app mapping experience. It was clever and it will likely earn major media for the effort. But flying dragons are not trademarked, so it’s not clear that HBO had any role in the marketing promotion.

In this way, we’re witnessing another contrast between Uber and Postmates. One company is solidifying exclusive, long-term relationships with strategic growth partners. The other is still shifting away from driving growth with flimsier marketing and logistical decisions like featuring restaurants without signed agreements in place. Postmates is growing up and I remain a frequent user but it’s hard to ignore the infrastructure that Uber Eats is building, in anticipation of its May IPO. By capturing the most well-known restaurants in America, Uber Eats is positioning to be the preferred food marketplace of middle America. And it just might work.

Read the no. 313 curation here.

Report by Web Smith | About 2PM 

No. 298: Retention is the new currency

Contributor. The much mused about sharing economy jump started by disruptors like AirBnB, Rent The Runway, Netflix and Uber is running past its adolescence. In 2019, both Uber and its rival Lyft expect to go public.

According to Fortune, Uber alone could be valued at as much as $120 billion, higher than the valuations of Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler combined.

It’s also close to double Uber’s valuation at a fundraising round two months ago and would be the biggest debut since Alibaba went public in 2014.

AirBnB, too, is expected to file as early as 2019, bringing some of the biggest disruptors of the last decade to Wall Street. But their impact has already been felt beyond their Silicon Valley offices.

The sharing economy has given rise to the subscription economy:

  • An economy preferred by investors for it’s stability.
  • An economy loved by consumers for its accessibility.
  • An economy coveted by entrepreneurs for it’s long-term customer relationships.
2PM, Inc. contributor: Tracey Wallace

The rise is thanks to the ubiquity of internet access and smartphones in the U.S. across nearly all segments. “Customers, the ultimate endpoint of any business, are today just as connected as the employees of any large enterprise,” writes Ben Thompson on The Stratchery.

This gives consumers and businesses alike endless access to on-going services that don’t function like gym-memberships of old. Instead, modern subscription models are gym-like in execution and participation.

  • They are based on service, not product: The product is the means not the ends.
  • They build convenient communities of like-minded individuals with end-goals in mind: Think Shopify users want to be seen as successful entrepreneurs. Spotify users want to be seen as having the best playlists and musical tastes.
  • They rinse and repeat the experience: The service begets the product, the product begets the goal, the goal begets the service.

Retention is the new currency

Costco – perhaps the longest standing subscription business around – has perfected the model. Amazon evolved it online with Amazon Prime. Giants like Apple and Google are touting their subscription services as differentiators for their products.

  • Google is offering six month free YouTube Premium subscription for all Google Home devices (and varying YouTube Premium subscription access for nearly all Google devices).
  • Apple is packaging their streaming music service and phone care services into single packages –– selling you a full suite of services that beget a product.

The success of the model is clear. You need only look at Dollar Shave Club on the consumer side to see the impact on the industry (or look at newer DNVBs like Quip following similar paths). Or, on the B2B side, look at the stock prices of Adobe (up 770% since 2012), Microsoft (up 320%) or Autodesk (up 360%), which have shifted to offer internet cloud-based software for a monthly or annual fee.

Indeed,  many DNVBs are putting their own spin on the subscription model business. In retail alone, there are more than 5,000 brands offering clothing, cosmetic or the like “subscription boxes” each month.

“It is totally faddish right now,” says Robbie Kellman Baxter, a consultant with Peninsula Strategies and author of The Membership Economy. “Most of them are going to fail. How many ties does dad need?”

But in technology, the rent-rather-than-own trend is holding stronger. In health care, too, it is growing in popularity with brands like SmileDirectClub and MDVIP, a direct primary care service, gaining more and more subscribers.

In media is where we will see the most pronounced shifts. After all, subscriptions are the easiest way around an unforgiving advertising world inhabited by Google and Facebook’s duopoly.

That duopoly began hitting media brands as early as 2015, when many considered the “gold standard” of online content to be free and commoditized. Many digital media brands have yet to recover from this mistake.

According to CNBC:

Vice Media has been the gold standard, earning a valuation of $5.7 billion in June 2017. Earlier this month, Disney wrote down some of its investment in Vice by 40 percent, suggesting a declining overall valuation.

Buzzfeed has built itself into a company that tops $1 billion in value. Still, Buzzfeed missed its 2017 revenue forecast by up to 20 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported last year, pushing back hopes of an initial public offering indefinitely. Vox Media, the owner of sites including SBNation, Eater and The Verge, also missed internal revenue forecasts and is not planning to go public any time soon, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the company’s financials are private.

Separately, media companies including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Quartz, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Vanity Fair and Wired have all returned back to media’s subscription business model roots by completely paywalling, introduced paywalls or hardening their paywalls beginning in 2018.

We’re living in an environment where Facebook, Google, and Amazon are sucking up so much of the advertising revenue,” says Sterling Auty, software analyst at J.P. Morgan. “Subscriptions and ecommerce are an antidote to that.”

These media companies are looking to lower their reliance on Facebook and Google algorithms and return to their service roots through subscription payments –– adding yet another monthly subscription to consumers’ bank accounts.

On paid subscription tolerance

According to eMarketer, 71% of U.S. consumers with internet access subscribe to at least one streaming video service. However, the number for all other verticals drop dramatically beyond video.

This leaves ample room for other verticals to grow their subscription services, especially as consumers become more accustomed to the model and testing out various offerings. Paid subscriptions through Apple’s App Store reached over 330 million last quarter. That’s up 50% year over year and includes both Apple and third-party services like Netflix.

Consumers are downloading. They are trying. They are testing. And there will be winners. Some analysts like Eddie Yoon, a consultant and author of the book Superconsumers, see the subscription economy as a 20-year trend –– just now beginning to hit its growth stage.

But there are caveats:

“All brands will try to offer subscriptions, but only a few will take,” he added. “Consumers will push back if they feel overwhelmed with subscription services,” Yoon says. “People won’t tolerate a world where everything is subscriptionized,” he said. “For the things that you really care about, you’ll definitely subscribe.”

The experience economy edges in

This is where the experience economy matters most. Subscription business models create desirable P&Ls, forecasting models and enable brands to act in the best interest of their most dedicated subscribers (rather than advertisers), but fail to provide the experience and you’ll lose your list and your recurring revenue.

Ben Thompson from The Stratechery pulled out this quote from Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP, on this challenge on an investor call:

There are millions of complaints every day about disappointing customer experiences. This is called the experience gap. Businesses used to have time to sort this out, but in today’s unforgiving world, the damage is immediate, disruption is imminent. This has shifted the challenge from a running a business to guaranteeing great experiences for every single person.

It’s best here to remember that subscription and membership are separate things. Membership provides experience and community. Subscription just gets you access to something behind a gate.

Take a look at Peloton, for example. The company has long argued that it’s bike ($2,000) and subscription program ($39 monthly) are a bargain compared to regularly attended SoulCycle classes. And SoulCycle is hard to beat. Similar to fitness organizations like CrossFit, Inc., it has a hardened fanbase and community.

But where Peloton succeeds is its content –– the ability to stream classes on your bike, forgoing a trip to a physical class. All for substantially lower costs than regular in-person classes anyway. Peloton reports its churn at less than 1%.

You have to do delightful things and leave money on the table,” says Peloton CEO and co-founder John Foley.The monthly service is what you really buy. That was the flaw with the old models. It was just hardware.

Of course, not every company can be a Peloton. The subscription model itself does not lower the cost of doing business. It cannot, on its own, generate demand.

As subscriptions proliferate, investors need to dig deeper into the dynamics of their models,” says Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor and valuation specialist at New York University’s Stern School of Business.Many venture capitalists and public investors are pricing user-based companies on user count, with only a few seriously trying to distinguish between good, indifferent, and bad user-based models.

What’s next in the subscription era is a dwindling down to those brands, media packages, and services which can offer the experience worth paying for –– the service that begets the product, and the product that begets the consumer’s goal. A subscription model, alone, won’t be enough. Consumers will seek membership and the benefits that come with it: experience, community, and camaraderie. For the product companies, the software companies, and media companies that figure it out – the prize is recurring revenue and stability until the next preferred model comes along.  

Read the rest of your No. 298 curation here.

Additional reading. Member Brief: The Subscription Economy

By Tracey Wallace | Edited by Web Smith | About 2PM

Editor’s Note: Tracey serves as the Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce and a public speaker. She is launching a DtC pillow brand, this spring. She is a paid contributor of 2PM, Inc. 

No. 293: Uber Eats vs. Postmates


If your family is like mine, you’ve grown to depend on the last mile delivery industry. On any given week, we’ll receive Amazon Prime Now deliveries for grocery, meal kits from HelloFresh, or the occasional prepared meals from Postmates.  As last mile becomes a way of life for more consumers, the platform influence for these companies have grown.

For last mile delivery, 2019 will be a significant year. According to Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann, Postmates will IPO after a $300 million late stage investment by Tiger Global at a $1.2 billion valuation. This raise was finalized just months after the news of DoorDash raising nearly $800 million (led by the embattled Softbank) at a $4.2 billion valuation.  According to data by RSG, Inc. the real battle for last mile delivery is between Postmates and Uber Eats.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 9.46.04 AM
Market share of last mile drivers: February 2018 (Source: RSG)
Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 9.46.15 AM
Growth: 2017 v. 2018 (Source: RSG)

Between 2017 and 2018, Postmates’ market share of delivery contractors rose from .5% to 8.7% and Uber Eats‘ share of the same measure has grown from .5% to 22.5%. In a recent report by Bloomberg, Uber’s quiet initiative to build virtual restaurants was revealed:

Uber Eats is still a secondary player in this segment, but it’s expanding the fastest. It kicked off in December 2015 in Toronto, following various food delivery experiments including Uber Fresh. The virtual restaurant program began quietly in early 2016, and by March it had spread to 10 cities. Today the company works with 1,600 virtual restaurants around the world in the 300 or so cities in which Uber Eats operates.

In a manner similar to Amazon’s growing private label catalogue, Uber Eats is employing consumer data to deploy new brands within their delivery app. According to Bloomberg, there is a unit of 300 employees focused on leveraging order data and supply gaps to build in-app restaurants. This accomplishes a few things for the Silicon Valley titan, one that’s struggled to find a path towards profitability.

  • This move increases delivery margins: by partnering with a restaurant and leveraging demand, Uber can negotiate a higher margin of the sale. Rather than delivery, service fees, and 10-15% share on each sale: Uber Eats can demand a 40-50% share of that delivery’s revenue (on top of delivery and service fees).
  • For the restaurants, they are generating a higher volume of orders and spreading fixed costs over new business.
  • This circumvents consumer dependence on Yelp and Foursquare rankings by instituting its own an-app system. Uber Eats can repackage mediocre restaurants into great first impressions.

By building digitally vertical restaurants, Uber has gained the ability to engineer product loyalty that competing platforms cannot yet compete against. Uber Eats’ explosive growth between 2017 and 2018 is a result of the logistics company incentivizing its regular drivers to become delivery hands and also by incentivizing Uber users to become Uber Eats users. By increasing supply and demand-side economics, Uber Eats has leverage to that Postmates cannot yet manufacture. This is essential when approaching existing restaurants and offering them a private label product opportunity.

The value of groceries to Uber is connecting consumers with retailers and in turn, identifying the optimal strategy for monetizing the platform and services Uber can provide across each transaction to match supply with demand.

Uber Wants To Deliver Groceries

Uber Eats is benefiting from their parent company’s top funnel to grow the consumer demand for these types of products. This will translate well to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s commitment to reenter the grocery market. Using the aforementioned restaurant model and the vertical branding that Uber has instituted, Uber Eats is one step closer to distributing its own unique brand of meal kits. This is an efficient path to regaining a foothold in the hyper-competitive market of grocery delivery.

Read the rest of your curation here.

By Web Smith | About 2PM