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Flush with funding, Instacart accelerates US expansion

Grocery delivery startup Instacart recently closed a $400 million Series D round of funding at a valuation of $3.4 billion. Now, the company is putting that capital to work by accelerating its expansion across the U.S., and offering free Instacart Express memberships to entice new users wherever it goes.

According to the companys vice president of product, Elliot Shmukler, the company is operating in 41 U.S. markets today and is launching into four new markets this week, including Detroit, Las Vegas, Columbus, Ohio and across Texas Rio Grande Valley. New customers in Texas and the Midwest will be able to try its Instacart Express membership free for one year, he said.

Typical Instacart Express members use the service 4-5 times per month and spend $450 per month on groceries and deliveries through the platform, the company claims. The geographic push and Instacart Express trials will require the company to hire at least 1,000 more shoppers to fulfill orders in the new markets, Shmukler said.

Overall, Instacart aims to make its service available to 80 percent of U.S. households by 2018.When news of Instacarts latest funding round broke, some Silicon Valley observers cried bubble, and compared the company to Webvan, the dot-com-era e-grocery that raised $800 million and went public before eventually going bankrupt.

The two companies both had Sequoia Capital as an investor and Michael Moritz as a board member. But thats about where the likeness stops.Moritz has spoken frequently about the reasons why Instacarts model works today and Webvans didnt back then.

For one, Webvan failed to become profitable in one market before proceeding to new ones, the investor has noted. Plus, Webvans timing was early. Home internet use was growing in the U.S., but e-commerce was barely nascent and mobile commerce still more than a decade away when it first started. Finally, Webvan fulfilled orders for groceries from its own warehouses, which proved more costly than taking advantage of other groceries infrastructure, as Instacart does.

Its still fair to ask if Instacarts latest funding round is excessive, and how the company could possibly deliver returns to investors at such a high valuation. Notably, the Instacart Series D looks outsized compared to on-demand delivery startup Postmates, which raised $140 million at a valuation over $600 million last year.

Postmates, which started before Instacart, has been delivering food from restaurants, as well as groceries, to customers doors. Instacart is focused solely on groceries. Still, the businesses look alike in other ways, with both companies relying on 1099 workers (with vehicles) to fetch and make deliveries to their customers doors. And both companies make a chunk of their revenue from delivery fees.

We asked Instacarts chief of operations and chief financial officer Ravi Gupta why Instacart needs all that scratch, and how the company plans to generate good returns for investors. A condensed version of that interview follows below.

Ravi Gupta

Why did you raise such a massive round of funding?

We really want to expand aggressively, blanketing the country with Instacart. We have found an economic model that works, and now we want the majority of the country to be able to use our service.

Weve never done marketing in the history of the company and only brought on a CMO recently. So we will also invest in telling people about the product and service. And we will be investing in our product, building on the lead that we have already.

How did you convince investors to back you at this level?

Theres a lot beneath the surface here that is exciting to us and to our investors. This market is enormous, as you know. Our investors see both a big opportunity, and a big prize. There was so much demand [for equity in Instacart]we didnt even have to do a road show.

Were you profitable prior to closing the Series D?

We make money both on a gross margin basis and a contribution margin basis.

So, if you take out things like your corporate real estate and engineering salaries, youre profitable?


How do you make money?

This is a good question. People dont always realize how we do this. Whenever a customer places an order on Instacart for groceries delivered through a retailer, we generate multiple streams of revenue.

First, the retailers pay us a revenue share. They use Instacart to offer something their customers want, and expect, which is delivery. This is of real value to people. But we also generate incremental sales for our grocery partners, which is why they are willing to share a piece of revenue with us.

We also generate a fee for the delivery, which is the obvious piece of it.

The third, and fastest-growing piece of our business comes from consumer packaged goods, brands that have a chance to uniquely reach customers at the point of purchase through Instacart.

Do all the stores you work with pay Instacart a share of sales?

We have 135 grocery partners from small local favorites like Bi-Rite or Molly Stones here in San Francisco to Whole Foods and Costco. Eighty percent of the groceries have a revenue share arrangement with us. We drive incremental sales for them. We help them give their customers something of real value, and that customers just expect these days, which is delivery. And when they work with us to offer delivery they can start doing it within days without a huge capital outlay.

What would you say are Instacarts biggest expenses?

Our biggest cost is payment to our shoppers, meaning the labor cost. In addition to that, we factor in credit card fees, transactional costs, insurance we have to pay which is workers comp and auto insurance, Costco memberships we buy and appeasement costs, which are when someone does not get exactly what they wanted and we work to make that right.

Ultimately, how are you going to give VCs thoseblockbuster returns they look for in a deal?

We have a data science and engineering team working to make sure our delivery is super efficient. Thats powerful and improving all the time. And weve been really thoughtful about choosing the markets were in. We know this works, absolutely, throughout the country. Not just the top 10 most populous cities.The funding allows us to go out, take the economic model we built and as we scale we make more money. Its really straightforward.

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53-man roster predictions: Which positions will the Cowboys go long and short at? – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

53-man roster predictions: Which positions will the Cowboys go long and short at?
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Others will depend on many factors including talent, depth, money and suspensions. Where the Cowboys decide to go … Suspensions on defense will help a guy or two make the initial roster but it's hard to see it staying that way. Keep in mind that it's

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Reasons for blogging. Or not blogging. Meow! – ChicagoNow (blog)

ChicagoNow (blog)

Reasons for blogging. Or not blogging. Meow!
ChicagoNow (blog)
Three years ago, blogging and social media shenanigans got kicked down to the bottom of my priorities list for a number of reasons, important reasons and a shifting of priorities. These reasons and priorities took up most of my time. But not all of it

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5 WTF Ways The Future Is About To Change Movies

As anyone who has gotten into a knife fight over an electrical outlet at an airport terminal can attest, computers control our lives now. And while the good ones deliver us funny dog videos and pornography, the bad ones are trying to steal our jobs. But while we tend to associate the threat of automation with factory workers and travel agents, those artistic types in Hollywood ought to be sleeping with one eye open too. That’s because …


Smart Cameras Are Replacing Camera Operators

Being a camera operator requires a steady hand, a bunch of technical know-how, and enough social skills to not bludgeon the director’s head in for his unreasonable demands to “just shoot it upside-down.” It also requires having a camera, we should point out. And while advances in camera technology are making the camera operator’s job easier by the minute, how easy can a job get before it simply stops existing?

Robotic arms aren’t only an issue if you’re an autoworker in Detroit. For Microsoft’s new Surface Studio commercial, the director used KIRA, a robotic arm that handled all of the camera movement:

Rather than relying on crappy humans who shake the camera with their stupid breathing and pulses, the cold, emotionless robot is able to move the camera smoothly and repeatedly to the director’s exact liking. That means every single reshoot will be the same, to the millimeter. Now, this technology isn’t exactly new — the famous dinner scene from Back To The Future II in which Michael J. Fox plays three of the characters was one of the first movies to use a similar technology. The difference now is that instead of using them to shoot scenes that physically cannot be shot by a human, we’re using them for things as mundane as TV commercials. Or Gravity.

But even KIRA needs an human master to operate. The next generation of cameras will be calling the shots with their own cold robot brains. In The Robot Skies was released late 2016, and is the first movie to be shot entirely with drones. So what’s the big deal? Camera operators have been using drones to line up tricky shots since wearing T-shirts under blazers was fashionable. The big deal is that Robot Skies used an entirely new breed of drones. Old drones still had humans operating them, deciding what shots would look good and how the camera should move. Working with an artificial intelligence lab in Belgium, the Robot Skies filmmakers built drones with “cinematic algorithms” that would let the little buggers decide for themselves what angles and lighting would look good, and adjust their flight paths accordingly. With enough research, we could very well be seeing movies in the future from Steven Spielbot, Wes Andercyborg and QuIntel Tarantino.


Even Scripts Are Being Written By Machines

As much as engineers would like to try, it’s impossible to replace all liberal arts majors with a bunch of machines. Take writers, for example. Surely they must be immune to the rise of the machine worker, right? Right? Well, while a robot may never write the next Moby Dick, it wouldn’t take more than a toaster strapped to a typewriter to come up with garbage like Dumb And Dumber To. The machine writer is coming, so you better get your ass in gear and finish that Goonies 2 spec script before it does.

In 2016, an independent filmmaker named Jack Zhang started a Kickstarter for a horror movie called Impossible Things. He claimed that 85 percent of movies don’t make money because studios are taking a mishmash of things and not considering what the audience wants to see, which is an odd criticism to aim at an art form that pays marketing departments to host test audiences. To reintroduce populism into moviemaking, Zhang decided to feed plot points from the most popular horror movies into a computer and create the most popular story arc possible. The result was “a grieving mother who, after the death of her young daughter, succumbs to a severe case of supernaturally induced insanity.” Oh, and the trailer should feature a scene with a piano and a bathtub. If that sounds like a mishmash of every bad horror movie you’ve ever seen, that’s kind of the point.

The Impossible Things trailer was at least enough for the Kickstarter to be fully funded, giving this indie horror a budget of a whopping 30,162 Canadian dollars. Still, and we’re not trying to shit on horror movies, but it might be easier to convince people of computer-generated storytelling by looking at a genre that’s a bit more story-driven. Sci-fi might be a step in the right direction, like the movie Sunspring, a short film experiment made for the 48-Hour Film Festival in London, which was written by an AI program called Benjamin. The producers fed the data of dozens of popular movies into this neural network, and it spat out a script, complete with dialogue, based on the prompts given to it. The producers then made a nine-minute film based on Benjamin’s screenplay:

The movie is amusing, in an uncanny valley sort of way. Most of the dialogue is what could be called “coherent gibberish” — the sentences are grammatically correct (mostly), but they are otherwise incomprehensible. This goes for the directions as well, like this:
“When you think about it, aren’t we all standing in the stars, man?” *bong rip*

Ironically for a sci-fi movie written by a robot, there’s not a lot of science going on in the plot. The dialogue is mostly about misunderstandings, love triangles, and disappointing sex. The movie ends with a nonsensical Gone Girl-esque monologue about the regrets of lost virginity. Despite being utter nonsense, the movie is still kind of engrossing, even if it’s in a cloning-experiment-gone-wrong sort of way. Maybe the problem here is that Benjamin isn’t in the right business. Maybe its true calling is being an electronic songwriter:


We’re Teaching Computers To Be Animators

We’ve talked several times before about how getting into VFX or the CGI industry in Hollywood these days is a bit like getting into the anchor-selling business on the sinking deck of the Titanic. The companies spend so much time undercutting one another that they can’t turn a profit on their work, leading to situations like that of Rhythm and Hues, a VFX company that went bankrupt from working on Life Of Pi two weeks before winning an Oscar for their work on Life Of Pi. So naturally, the industry is working tirelessly to reform and make sure that these artists are properly compensated for their work.

Just kidding. They’re trying to replace the artists with computers, because in addition to being less temperamental, they’re also far less needy. But can they truly distill beauty like a visual artist can?


Since our progress in the field of Frankenstein-like reanimation has been frustratingly slow, Microsoft and ING teamed up to create a machine that can pretend to be dead people. Rembrandt, more specifically. The computer, appropriately called “the Next Rembrandt,” employs complex algorithms to generate an entirely new painting in the style of Rembrandt. And we don’t just mean that the computer generated a digital replica of a Rembrandt; it recreated the brush strokes and textures using a 3D printer. While it might not be enough to fool experts, it’s certainly good enough for your parents to see it and cancel payments for your art school degree.

But this potential revolution is not without its critics. Keisuke Iwata, a Japanese animator and president of a popular anime channel, sees projects like the Next Rembrandt as the harbinger of doom for meatbag animators. Iwata believes that in the near future, computers will be able to compete with humans in terms of creativity and skill, and computers don’t have preposterous demands like “compensation” or “healthcare.”


Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, whom we can reasonably call the god emperor of animation, thinks that this AI animation is some depressing nonsense. During a demonstration of AI animation software, which was being used to generate unusual body movement for a horror game (computers can’t think of a reason not to use a head as a foot), Miyazaki wasted no time in saying that he was disgusted and called the demo “an insult to life itself,” which would be pretty stiff criticism coming from a random YouTube commenter, much less one of the most influential animators of all time. He went on to lament that, in our eagerness to figure out ways to outsource our creativity, “humans are losing faith in ourselves.” He’s not wrong. Using a head as a foot? That’s the wave of the future? A bunch of second-graders came up with that exact same idea in the last five minutes. C’mon humanity, we still got a few good decades left in us.


Cinematography Can Be Done In Post-Production

From the beginning of cinema up to the olden days of the mid ’90s, there wasn’t much dispute over what exactly the director of photography did. While directors were busy yelling at actors, they worked tirelessly on set to make a movie scene look as good as possible, a lot of which involved waiting patiently for the sun to get into the right fucking spot for the perfect lighting. With the onset of digital cinematography, however, it’s become more and more difficult to determine who should accept the Oscar for Best Cinematography — the director of photography or the green screen?

Oscar contenders with a lot of post-production have drawn criticism from all the insufferable artsy cinematographers who insist on doing things the old-fashioned way. For example, in The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson not only decided to shoot everything on traditional film, but they also did all the post-production work like color correction using chemical developing techniques (nearly all modern movies shot on film are still digitized for post-production work). For his work, Richardson was nominated for Best Cinematography in 2015. However, in 2012, Claudio Miranda won Best Cinematography for Life Of Pi, even though most of the movie was made on a computer. While Miranda undoubtedly deserves recognition for his camerawork, we can also see Richardson’s point that there’s a pretty big difference between capturing a gorgeous sunset with the right lighting, lens, film, and camera settings versus just CG-ing a sunset later on.

But even in Life Of Pi, Miranda still had to do stuff like focus the camera and use the right kind of lens for the shot. But we’re quickly making that a thing of the past as well. A company called Lytro has developed a new type of camera which, through science/magic, captures holographic images instead of flat 2D images like most cameras.

If you’re really a huge nerd, here’s a 25-minute video about it.

With a normal camera, you would need to reshoot the same scene with three different focus and aperture settings to capture the three images above. With Lytro’s Cinema camera, you only need to take one picture and then tell a computer what parts of the scene you want in focus and which ones you don’t, as it captures the image in 3D instead of the 2D of a regular camera. You can also completely remove or add background from a certain depth, essentially making even green screens obsolete. With technology like Lytro’s, cinematographers will again have to relearn what the job entails. And if we know greedy studios, that job will entail them learning how to say “Do you want fries with that?” without bursting into tears.


Post-Production Will Be Done By AI

Eventually, film sets will be nothing more than Tom Cruise shadowboxing in the Universal basement, with someone filling in the blanks three months later. Except by that time, even that someone will almost certainly also be a computer.

Post-production, or just “post” if you’re the type who thinks shooting one student short makes you part of show business (or just “showbiz”), encompasses a lot of different things. One aspect is the addition of sound effects, which ranges from T-Rex roars and lightsaber whooshes to mundane stuff like leaves rustling and doors closing. Researchers at MIT decided to see if they could teach a computer to match up sound effects with certain on-screen actions, and what do you know, it worked! Their little silicon-powered editor automatically added sound effects to a series of video clips, and human test subjects were unable to tell the difference between the computer’s work and authentically recorded sounds.

Editing is on its way to being automated as well. It’s an expensive process, making a masterpiece out of miles of film (or hundreds of hard drives) which show the same actor mispronounce the word “spoon” 20 times in a row. Naturally, filmmakers are keen to find cheaper ways to do it. In 2014, a group of researchers working for Disney published a paper on an automatic editing algorithm they created. By calculating the 3D position of the cameras in a scene, computers were able to determine what the cameras were focusing on and used that information, along with some basic filmmaking rules, to determine when to cut to different shots. Here’s a sample video filmed using some smartphones and GoPros:

But this isn’t just for editing your snowboarding fails or sex tapes. In 2016, the producers of the horror movie Morgan decided to outsource their trailer to Watson, the IBM supercomputer that made Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings look like the guy you skip over when picking a team for bar trivia night. Specifically, they wanted to it to be scary, so IBM had to teach Watson about fear, and what humans in particular fear. Then they fed it the movie, which is about an AI that becomes too scary for humans so they try to destroy it, and told Watson to make us shit our pants.

We can’t help but notice that this trailer contains neither a bathtub nor a piano.

It might not be perfect, but for a first attempt, Watson still has a disturbingly good grasp on what gives humans the absolute heebie-jeebies. So thanks to Morgan, we now have an advanced computer intelligence that knows how to manipulate human emotions. But hey, it saved some editor a day’s work, so all in all, a fair trade.

When he’s not teaching Watson how to produce constant low-level anxiety in humans, Chris plays piano in the bathtub on Twitter.

Also check out 5 Automated Jobs That Seem To Suggest We’re Trolling Robots and 5 Real Robots Who Totally Suck At Their Job.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out Why Any Robot Uprising Is Doomed To Fail, and other videos you won’t see on the site!

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How Irene Falcone turned $100 and a small online blog into $20 million natural beauty retailer Nourished Life –

How Irene Falcone turned $100 and a small online blog into $20 million natural beauty retailer Nourished Life
We sell all around the world, but I'm not really doing this to make money. I'm doing it because I have a real passion for the planet, and for Australian women. We get a lot of wonderful products from around the world, but international sales aren't my

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Jaylon Smith taking first team snaps after Anthony Hitchens injury – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Jaylon Smith taking first team snaps after Anthony Hitchens injury
Blogging The Boys (blog)
“We don't in any way want to get away from the game plan that has worked so well for Jaylon, in terms of his pitch counts and what he's going to do and don't want to jeopardize anything that we've done with him. But we do think he can certainly share

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Face recognition app taking Russia by storm may bring end to public anonymity

FindFace compares photos to profile pictures on social network Vkontakte and works out identities with 70% reliability

If the founders of a new face recognition app get their way, anonymity in public could soon be a thing of the past. FindFace, launched two months ago and currently taking Russia by storm, allows users to photograph people in a crowd and work out their identities, with 70% reliability.

It works by comparing photographs to profile pictures on Vkontakte, a social network popular in Russia and the former Soviet Union, with more than 200 million accounts. In future, the designers imagine a world where people walking past you on the street could find your social network profile by sneaking a photograph of you, and shops, advertisers and the police could pick your face out of crowds and track you down via social networks.

In the short time since the launch, Findface has amassed 500,000 users and processed nearly 3m searches, according to its founders, 26-year-old Artem Kukharenko, and 29-year-old Alexander Kabakov.

Kukharenko is a lanky, quietly spoken computer nerd who has come up with the algorithm that makes FindFace such an impressive piece of technology, while Kabakov is the garrulous money and marketing man, who does all of the talking when the pair meet the Guardian.

Unlike other face recognition technology, their algorithm allows quick searches in big data sets. Three million searches in a database of nearly 1bn photographs: thats hundreds of trillions of comparisons, and all on four normal servers. With this algorithm, you can search through a billion photographs in less than a second from a normal computer, said Kabakov, during an interview at the companys modest central Moscow office. The app will give you the most likely match to the face that is uploaded, as well as 10 people it thinks look similar.

Kabakov says the app could revolutionise dating: If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request. The interaction doesnt always have to involve the rather creepy opening gambit of clandestine street photography, he added: It also looks for similar people. So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages.

Some have sounded the alarm about the potentially disturbing implications. Already the app has been used by a St Petersburg photographer to snap and identify people on the citys metro, as well as by online vigilantes to uncover the social media profiles of female porn actors and harass them.

The technology can work with any photographic database, though it currently cannot use Facebook, because even the public photographs are stored in a way that is harder to access than Vkontakte, the apps creators say.

But the FindFace app is really just a shop window for the technology, the founders said. There is a paid function for those who want to make more than 30 searches a month, but this is more to regulate the servers from overload rather than to make money. They believe the real money-spinner from their face-recognition technology will come from law enforcement and retail.

Kukharenko and Kabakov have recently returned from the US, and Kabakov was due to travel to Macau and present the technology to a casino chain. The pair claim they have been contacted by police in Russian regions, who told them they started loading suspect or witness photographs into FindFace and came up with results. Its nuts: there were cases that had seen no movement for years, and now they are being solved, said Kabakov.

The startup is in the final stages of signing a contract with Moscow city government to work with the citys network of 150,000 CCTV cameras. If a crime is committed, the mugshots of anyone in the area can be fed into the system and matched with photographs of wanted lists, court records, and even social networks.

It does not take a wild imagination to come up with sinister applications in this field too; for example authoritarian regimes able to tag and identify participants in street protests. Kabakov and Kukharenko said they had not received an approach from Russias FSB security service, but if the FSB were to get in touch, of course wed listen to any offers they had.

The pair also have big plans for the retail sector. Kabakov imagines a world where cameras fix you looking at, say, a stereo in a shop, the retailer finds your identity, and then targets you with marketing for stereos in the subsequent days.

Again, it sounds a little disturbing. But Kabakov said, as a philosophy graduate, he believes we cannot stop technological progress so must work with it and make sure it stays open and transparent.

In todays world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on peoples movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that.

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When a woman writes – The Hindu

The Hindu

When a woman writes
The Hindu
I see a lot of people jumping into blogging and expecting to make money out of it from day one. The whole approach to blogging has to come from within. You have to be passionate about it.” Charukesi said: “In the earlier days of blogging we used to

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5 Qualities You Need For A Successful Blogging Career – ValueWalk


5 Qualities You Need For A Successful Blogging Career
These are the successful bloggers behind these best earning blogs in the world. If you have a knack for writing and you are passionate about a particular activity, why not turn it into a money-making venture through blogging like these good blogger did?

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The Church Of Scientology Made A Website About Hating Leah Remini’s Show

Leah Remini apparently poked the Scientology bear one too many times, because it is officially poking back with a website created to discredit the actress’ new docuseries about the controversial organization. 

After the premiere of A&E series “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” on Tuesday night, a website apparently operated by the Church of Scientology titled Leah Remini: Aftermath — After Money (the shaaaaade) appeared online to respond to the actress’ allegations about the organization’s rampant abuse and harassment.

Remini, who was raised as a Scientologist from an early age, is one of its most famous detractors. After spending more than three decades in the church, she made a public exit at the age of 43 and has since made it her mission to expose the organization’s wrongdoings. 

“Leah Remini has repeatedly disparaged and exploited her former faith for profit and attention through a series of failed publicity stunts, culminating in her reality TV show featuring a cast of admitted liars who to make a buck have been telling differing versions of the same false tales of abuse for years,” the statement from the group reads.

“Many of their allegations have been reviewed and discredited in courts of law. A&E’s promotion of their agenda smacks of bigotry. It also is sad that Leah Remini attacks and exploits those who tirelessly worked to help her when no one else was willing to tolerate her behavior.”

In the premiere episode, Remini addressed the ways the organization has tried to undermine her in the past, like calling her a “has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career” who’s only out to make money. 

“When you stop f**king with people’s lives and families, I’ll stop too,” she says in a clip from the premiere. “How does it feel?”

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