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Resy and Eater co-founder raises $24M for Blackbird, a restaurant loyalty platform

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Blackbird Labs, a hospitality tech company whose platform helps restaurants stay in touch with guests and incentivize them to dine out more frequently, today announced that it raised $24 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from QED, Union Square Ventures, Shine, Variant and others and restaurant groups Quality Branded, Rustic Canyon Group, Soulva and Brooks Reitz.

Founder and CEO Ben Leventhal says that the proceeds, which bring Blackbird’s total raised to $35 million, will be put toward helping Blackbird scale its operations.

“The restaurant business model is broken,” Leventhal told TechCrunch in an email interview. “It can be really expensive to remain at the top of a sea of competition. Operational costs are also at an all-time high, and restaurants need revenue. There’s only two paths forward: creating new revenue streams or creating regulars who’ll want to come back.”

To Leventhal’s point, a 2022 survey from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) found that 54% of restaurant owners had to reduce the size of their dishes in response to rising food costs. A further 47% of the respondents said that they had to increase menu prices, as well.

And restaurant failure rates aren’t exactly declining. Restaurants have about a 20% success rate, according to the NRA, with about 60% failing within the first year and 80% failing within five years of opening.

Leventhal is perhaps best known for co-founding Eater, the food and drink publication (acquired by Vox in 2013), and Resy, the restaurant reservation service (acquired by American Express — which is also a Blackbird investor — in 2019). He came up with the idea for Blackbird in the early days of the pandemic after noticing that restaurants were finding innovative ways, like rolling out clothing lines and selling pancake mix, to keep customers engaged.

“I was struck by the ingenuity of restaurants, who used their brands and audience to create sales streams that weren’t food,” Leventhal said. “This led me to start thinking about other ways restaurants could combat the serious business challenges of declining margins and eroding direct customer relationships.”

Blackbird is designed to help restaurants both amplify their reach and reward guests, Leventhal says. How? By giving operators a way to not only greet diners by name, but learn their personal preferences, including when they last dined out, their preferred seating and their likes and dislikes.

“With this knowledge, restaurants can serve guests in an unparalleled fashion, making them feel like they’re very important and appreciated regulars, and reward their ongoing patronage with free and appreciated perks,” Leventhal said.

Blackbird does this by having diners touch their phone to a proprietary NFC reader to create a membership or “tap in.” Members can “level up” with each subsequent check-in, Leventhal says, unlocking benefits like off-menu items and a direct message concierge.

Blackbird diners also earn virtual currency each visit, which can be spent on items (e.g. an entree or drink) or tallied toward membership rewards with restaurants via Blackbird’s smartphone app. There’s a web3 component; the currency is technically a cryptocurrency. Blackbird partnered with Privy, a crypto wallet management startup, to provide embedded wallets so users can sign up with a phone number and manage balances alongside their Blackbird membership.

On the backend, Blackbird captures a range of diner data on restaurants’ behalves — including dining history, birthdays and home addresses — so restaurants can target diners with promotions. Restaurants can also use Blackbird to message “top-tier” members with access to a dedicated support line, letting them know when a reservation is made available, for example.

Some customers might not feel comfortable sharing that sort of behavioral data with restaurants. But Leventhal insists that Blackbird is handling data collection in a “transparent” manner, going so far as to give diners control over which specific information (e.g. dining history) restaurants see.

Through Blackbird, restaurants can sell paid memberships to guests, as well. Leventhal says that one restaurateur, a Jewish bistro in Brooklyn, sold founding Blackbird memberships — complete with perks including personalized bomber jackets and a home dinner cooked by a private chef — as a crowdfunding tool before it even opened.

The concept of promoting paid memberships in the restaurant industry — an increasingly common practice — is unavoidably polarizing. For most (including this reporter), dining out is expensive as it is, and having to pay to cut the line to reserve a hot new table or receive better treatment doesn’t exactly feel equitable.

Leventhal, though, assures me that the goal isn’t to foster more ultra-exclusive dining clubs but to give diners at restaurants “of all sizes,” particularly small independent restaurants and restaurant groups, an additional way to support the venues they love.

“With Blackbird’s technology platform, we’ve built a unique, intimate and symbiotic relationship between restaurants and their regulars,” he added.

The question is, can diners be persuaded to use Blackbird in the first place? A 2023 poll by William Blair found that the majority of customers don’t opt into restaurant loyalty programs, and that only 35% consider loyalty programs in deciding which restaurants to visit.

Leventhal believes that they can. And he has some data to back it up: since launching several months ago, New York City-based Blackbird — which has 20 full-time employees — has signed up around 80 restaurants including chef David Chang’s Momofuku chain, 22 of which are actively using Blackbird.

“There’s no one out there that does exactly what we do,” Leventhal said. “We admire the loyalty programs built by Starbucks, Sweetgreen and more, but we’ve created Blackbird to be an easily accessible loyalty platform, empowering restaurants to have an unparalleled ability to engage customers, reward returning patrons and drive new revenue streams.”

Blackbird’s future plans entail rolling out a referral program that’ll let diners invite friends to become members at a specific restaurant for exclusive dishes. Beyond this, Blackbird intends to experiment with its cryptocurrency, potentially offering membership upgrades, rewards for activity like tap-ins and ways to pay for parts of — or whole — meals.

“Those at the forefront are trying to figure out how to achieve a broader diversity of revenue,” Leventhal said. “Blackbird is designed to be this solution for restaurants — driving loyalty, opening up for interesting revenue plays and incentivizing customers to return again and again.”



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Melting Polar Ice Caps Are Making The Days Longer, New Study Finds

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A new research from ETH Zurich indicates that climate change is significantly influencing Earth’s rotation and axis. As polar ice melts and water redistributes towards the equator, the planet’s mass distribution is altered, causing a deceleration in Earth’s rotation and resulting in slightly longer days.

Historically, the primary cause of the gradual lengthening of Earth’s days has been the moon’s tidal friction. However, the researchers discovered that if greenhouse gas emissions persist at their current rate, the impact of climate change could soon surpass the moon’s influence.

The study, led by Professor Benedikt Soja and published in Nature Geoscience and PNAS, draws a parallel between this phenomenon and a figure skater extending their arms to slow their spin. When mass moves away from Earth’s axis, it increases inertia, thus slowing down rotation.

“Human activities are having a more profound effect on our planet than we realize,” Soja stated.

Visual representation of the Artic and the Antarctic. Image: NASA

Additionally, the melting ice sheets are causing shifts in Earth’s rotational axis. By combining physical laws with artificial intelligence, the research team created models to show how interactions within Earth’s core, mantle, and surface influence the axis’s movement.

ALSO SEE: What Is ISRO’s Mission TRISHNA? Here’s All About The Revolutionary Climate Change Monitor

Lead author Mostafa Kiani Shahvandi highlighted that their work provides a comprehensive explanation for long-period polar motion. Their model accurately reconstructed pole movements since 1900 offering predictions for future changes.

“Ongoing climate change could be affecting processes deep inside the Earth and have a greater reach than previously assumed,” Shahvandi said. Although, there shouldn’t be a cause for concern as the changes are very unlikely to pose a risk.

While these changes may seem insignificant in daily life, they hold considerable importance for space navigation. Small deviations in Earth’s rotation can lead to substantial errors over vast distances. Soja stressed that understanding and accounting for these shifts is essential for precise planetary landings.

“We humans have a greater impact on our planet than we realise and this naturally places great responsibility on us for the future of our planet,” the expert said.

ALSO SEE: Scientists Just Spotted Unnerving Melting Beneath The ‘Doomsday Glacier’

(Image: NASA)





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SpaceX Shares Glimpse Of Spacecraft That Will Crash The International Space Station

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SpaceX has been assigned the job to crash the International Space Station (ISS) into the Pacific Ocean in 2030. To get it done, the former will be designing a ‘deorbit vehicle’ that will tug the orbital lab down from its orbit. SpaceX has now shared an illustration of what the said spacecraft will look like.

The picture features the spacecraft which has a similar build like SpaceX’s trademark Dragon capsule. It also has massive solar panels to power the components of the vehicle. According to SpaceX, it will be four times more powerful and have six times the propellant of today’s Dragon spaceceraft.

In a statement in June, NASA said it has awarded the company a contract worth $843 million (excluding launch costs) to design and build the vehicle. The agency plans to retire the station by 2030.

Crashing the ISS will be a lengthy process

During a press conference on July 17, NASA officials shared details about the deorbiting of the space station which will begin when the new spacecraft docks at one of its ports. According to Dana Weigel, ISS program manager, the vehicle will pull the station down 12 to 18 months after it drifts down from its normal orbit.

The official said that astronauts will occupy the station until six months before the station’s reentry and will vacate it after the ISS reaches about 200 kilometres in orbit. It currently circles the Earth at over 400 kilometres.

Sarah Walker, director of Dragon mission management at SpaceX, revealed the key features of the deorbit vehicle. The spacecraft will have an enhanced trunk section that will have additional propulsion tanks along with engines, avionics and power generation purposes, Space.com reported.

ALSO SEE: Astronaut Gives Tour Of The International Space Station In Never Seen Before Video; Watch

The station is currently being managed by five space agencies from the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe. Its replacement will be filled by commercial habitats that will ensure human presence in the low-Earth orbit and continued experiments in microgravity.

Many US companies like Blue Origin and Sierra Space are together building Orbital Reef and Axiom Space is planning to launch the first module of its Axiom Station later this decade. Currently, China is the only country to have its own space station –Tiangong – and Russia is also working toward developing one for itself.

Steve Stich, the manager of the commercial crew program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, reportedly said earlier this year that the ISS wil be “out of the way” only if the commercial ones are successful.

ALSO SEE: SpaceX To Launch Historic Private Mission Polaris Dawn On July 31





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NASA Beams Hip-Hop Song By Missy Elliot To Venus For The First Time Ever

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NASA just beamed a song to Venus at light speed. The agency used the massive Deep Space Network (DSN) to transmit the song by hip-hop star Missy Elliot to Earth’s twin, which happens to be artist’s favourite planet.

The experiment was conducted at 10:35 pm IST on July 12 using the 34-meter-wide (112-foot) Deep Space Station 13 (DSS-13) radio dish antenna, located at the DSN’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California.

According to NASA, the song “The Rain” (Supa Dupa Fly) travelled about 254 million kilometres and it took the signal 14 minutes to reach Venus at the speed of light. The DSN is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and it is used to track space probes, send them commands and communicate with them.

This is the first time NASA has transmitted a hip-hop song into space. The only other instance when DSN was used for such purpose was the transmission of “Across The Universe” by The Beatles in February 2008.

“I still can’t believe I’m going out of this world with NASA through the Deep Space Network when “The Rain” (Supa Dupa Fly) becomes the first ever hip-hop song to transmit to space!,” Elliot stated. She revealed that she chose Venus because it “symbolises strength, beauty, and empowerment.”

ALSO SEE: Despite Titan Tragedy, OceanGate Co-Founder Is Fixed On Sending Humans To Venus; ‘It Is Very Doable’

Although, Venus is named after the ancient Roman goddess of love and beauty.

The idea of sending songs into space is not new and it dates back to the 70s. Arguably the most iconic examples are the Voyager probes which are carrying 27 songs in the Golden Records along with greetings in several languages and sounds from planet Earth.

Meanwhile, Venus has become an interesting subject of exploration and NASA has two missions planned to investigate the planet.

The first is DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) scheduled for launch in 2029 and the other is VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and spectroscopy) which is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2031.

ALSO SEE: New Study Reveals Venus Might Have Hosted Life Billions Of Years Ago





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