WSJ: Amazon to open new US grocery chain separate from Whole Foods

A report from The Wall St. Journal today claims Amazon is preparing to open a new chain of grocery stores across the U.S. that won’t be associated with Whole Foods. The retailer is expected to open the first of these stores in L.A., possibly by the end of 2019, and has signed leases for at least two other locations opening next year, the report claims.

The stores will be separately operated from Whole Foods, but it’s not clear yet how they’ll be branded or even if they’ll carry the Amazon name. The longer-term plan involves opening “dozens” of these stores in major U.S. cities, and Amazon may even consider an acquisition strategy related to this goal, which would see it pick up regional grocery chains with about a dozen stores under operation, the report said. It may also target retail space vacated by Kmart.

Other cities that could be seeing the new stores in the future include San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, D.C. and Philadelphia.

The stores would carry a different product assortment than Whole Foods, including items at lower price points. They may carry a mix of groceries, health and beauty products, and would include a parking lot area for grocery pickup.

They’ll be smaller than a typical grocery store at 35,000 sq. ft. instead of the usual 60,000 sq. ft., The WSJ said.

The news comes at a time when Amazon’s grocery delivery business is facing steep competition. Its rival Walmart has capitalized on its brick-and-mortar footprint and years of testing. Today, Walmart’s grocery pickup service is available at more than 2,100 locations and delivery is offered at nearly 800. It expects to offer pickup at 3,100 locations and delivery at 1,600 locations by the end of fiscal year 2020. The company even attributed its strong Q4 sales, in part, to the growing online grocery business.

Target, meanwhile, picked up same-day grocery delivery service Shipt for $550 million in 2017, and has been expanding its own drive-up, in-store pickup and next-day delivery services to cater to shoppers’ other household needs.

Amazon also competes on grocery delivery with Instacart, Postmates and services from other grocery chains.

However, its own grocery strategy is a bit mixed. In addition to Whole Foods, which offers grocery pickup and delivery in some locations, Amazon continues to offer delivery service through AmazonFresh and, in select markets, Prime Now.

Meanwhile, it’s simultaneously invested in cashierless, grab-and-go convenience stores, under the Amazon Go brand. For consumers, that means there’s not one single point of access for ordering groceries from Amazon, which can lead to confusion.

Reached for comment about the WSJ report, an Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.

Source: Tech Crunch

Verified Expert Lawyer: Sam Angus

Sam Angus has been a lawyer in Silicon Valley since the 1990s. Today, he represents some of the biggest names in the startup world, from their earliest days through acquisitions and IPOs, and including four acquisitions last year: TSheets, GitHub, Glint and HelloSign.

But his startup experience actually goes back to the 1980s, when he and some friends built a booming calendar publishing business out of their dorm room during college. In the interview below, he tells us about the ups and downs of the tech industry over the decades, how he helps clients through the good times and bad, and how he works within Fenwick & West, one of the leading tech law firms in tech. We also discuss long-term trends, like the shift towards founder-friendly terms in this era versus past decades in the Valley.

On early-stage problems:

“I’ve represented hundreds of early-stage companies. It is not uncommon for companies to have some existing legal issue that needs to be addressed, such as capitalization, documentation and/or employee/IP issues. It is unfortunate, but these issues will frequently — especially with early stage companies — lie dormant and be discovered when the company is contemplating its first financing or a significant transaction, and can take investors or buyers by surprise.

“Sam is one of the most trusted partners that I have ever had and one of the most important people to [the company’s] history.” — A cofounder and CEO of a large unicorn company

“A common mistake is for a company to think that a given issue will not be a concern to an investor or buyers. In my experience, issues that arise on the eve of a financing or other transaction can create risk in the transaction and can be expensive to address quickly. For example, one client I worked with had been operating for years with virtually no documentation and not surprisingly had significant deficiencies in terms of corporate approvals. Very few things are fatal, but the result for this client was a bumpy and more expensive financing process — which required several rounds of explanation to the investors and their counsel.”

On being a startup lawyer:

“What I’ve learned is that the best lawyers for startups bring more than competent legal advice to the relationship – they act like business owners themselves, thinking strategically about the business. The best lawyers have significant experience and a knack for pattern recognition, the combination of which helps identify issues and opportunities in advance of when they become apparent.”

On risk-taking:

“There are some legal risks that early-stage companies will need to take. In my view, my role with earlier stage clients is to position them for success by being practical and focusing them on the issues that are material for a company at their stage of development. Overall, I want to empower clients to push the bounds of what they think is possible, while making wise business and legal decisions that won’t handicap them in the future.

“I would also point out that being able to scale with clients is extremely important. As clients grow, my role evolves to fit their needs – what works for a startup company is different from what a unicorn/growth company will need from their lawyer. With early-stage companies I tend to be more closely involved with the founders and the company’s business, while with later stage companies the relationship becomes more strategic and we tend to support internal legal teams and boards of directors.

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like their pricing and fee structures.

This article is part of our ongoing series covering the early-stage startup lawyers who founders love to work with, based on this survey (which we’re keeping open for more recommendations) and our own research. If you’re a founder trying to navigate the early-stage legal landmines, be sure to check out our growing set of in-depth articles, like this checklist of what you need to get done on the corporate side in your first years as a company.

The Interview

Eric Eldon: To begin with, tell me about Fenwick & West. It’s one of the original law firms that started in Silicon Valley and focused on tech companies, and you’ve been there for years through the various cycles.

Sam Angus: Launching my career in Silicon Valley has provided me with a unique skillset and perspective that now enables me to thoughtfully advise clients who want to scale quickly, no matter where they are located. Working with fast-growing innovators, like those I’ve served since the tech boom of the 1990s, is in my view different from traditional approaches to practicing law. Providing clients with excellent legal advice is table stakes for any advisor to startups. What I’ve learned is that the best lawyers for startups bring more than competent legal advice to the relationship — they act like business owners themselves, thinking strategically about the business. The best lawyers have significant experience and a knack for pattern recognition, the combination of which helps identify issues and opportunities in advance of when they become apparent. Great startup lawyers also have extensive networks of investors, founders and partners and can leverage these networks to help their clients, address material operational issues, fundraise or complete a strategic transaction. They are efficient/cost-effective and move as quickly as their clients, and, most importantly, provide judgment. This entire skill-set is rare for lawyers, but when it comes in one package it is incredibly valuable to emerging companies. That’s one of the reasons why I love working at Fenwick: this approach to advising startups is simply how we practice.

Eldon: The legal industry is seeing real competition from online services and automation — how are you competing?

Angus: It is true that automation is impacting the practice of law, like other sectors of the economy. Because Fenwick works closely with innovative companies across the globe and sees how technology is changing things, we are among the firms leading the way to embrace this change.

For example, Fenwick has an in-house data and technology innovation team. Our innovation team has developed various automation tools and software products to augment and enhance the services we provide our clients. These include automated forms, client portals where clients can access all the data about their companies (i.e. key corporate documents, cap table, contact information for their Fenwick team, etc.), and use of tools such as Kira, an AI platform that automates aspects of document review in M&A deals, allowing us to close deals at a rapid pace while helping control costs.

Another innovation is our budgeting capability. Fenwick’s budgeting team provides our clients with timely and accurate cost estimates for projects and transactions, such as M&A or IPOs. Leveraging our proprietary deal data about hundreds of similar transactions, we are able to more accurately predict legal costs for our clients.

Eldon: Let’s go back to how you got into working with technology companies and startups.

Angus: In the early 1980s, after a short stint playing professional tennis, I was recruited to play tennis at UC Santa Barbara on a tennis scholarship. While at UCSB, I entered the entrepreneur world, starting UCSB’s first entrepreneur club with two friends in 1984. We also launched our own business, a publishing company that produced and distributed wall calendars.

Our growth was rapid: In our first year we did one calendar title, the next year we expanded to five calendar titles, the year after that 25 calendar titles, the year after that 75 titles, as well as a number of posters and other printed products. As our business grew, we started licensing popular culture content, which was something the calendar industry hadn’t really seen before. We were the first to produce the Michael Jackson calendar and the first Madonna calendar.

Eldon: You did all of this while you were in college?

Angus: Yes, though I ended up taking a break from college in 1987, one quarter shy of completing my degree, to pursue the business full time. By 1989, the company had grown to about 150 US salespeople, ten international distributors, and was doing roughly $50 million annually in gross revenue.

In the end, I ended up selling my interest in the company to the lead investor following resolution of various claims with the investor. Through that experience, I learned firsthand what it’s like to be a founder who had bootstrapped and had scaled the company with complex supply chain … and navigated investor issues.

Source: Tech Crunch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon makes its first orbital launch tonight

After years of development and delays, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is ready to launch into orbit. It’s the first commercially built and operated crewed spacecraft ever to do so, and represents in many ways the public-private partnership that could define the future of spaceflight.

Launch is set for just before midnight Pacific time — 2:49 Eastern time in Cape Canaveral, from where the Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon capsule will take off. It’s using Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which previously hosted Apollo missions and more recently SpaceX’s momentous Falcon Heavy launch. Feel free to relive that moment with us, while you’re here:

The capsule has been the work of many years and billions of dollars: an adaptation of the company’s Dragon capsule, but with much of its cargo space converted to a spacious crew compartment. It can seat seven if necessary, but given the actual needs of the International Space Station, it is more likely to carry two or three people and a load of supplies.

Of course it had to meet extremely stringent safety requirements, with an emergency escape system, redundant thrusters and parachutes, newly designed spacesuits, more intuitive and modern control methods and so on.

Crew Dragon interior, with “Ripley”

It’s a huge technological jump over the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been the only method to get humans to space for the last eight years, since the Shuttle program was grounded for good. But one thing Dragon doesn’t have is the Soyuz’s exemplary flight record. The latter may look like an aircraft cockpit shrunk down to induce claustrophobia, but it has proven itself over and over for decades. The shock produced by a recent aborted launch and the quickness with which the Soyuz resumed service are testament to the confidence it has engendered in its users.

But for a number of reasons the U.S. can’t stay beholden to Russia for access to space, and at any rate the commercial spaceflight companies were going to send people up there anyway. So NASA dedicated a major portion of its budget to funding a new crew capsule, pitting SpaceX and Boeing against one another.

SpaceX has had the best of Boeing for the most part, progressing through numerous tests and milestones, not exactly quickly, but with fewer delays than its competitor. Test flights originally scheduled for 2016 are only just now beginning to take place. Boeing’s Starliner doesn’t have a launch date yet, but it’s expected to be this summer.

Tonight’s test (“Demo-1”) is the first time the Crew Dragon will fly to space; suborbital flights and landing tests have already taken place, but this is a dry run of the real thing. Well, not completely dry: the capsule is carrying 400 pounds of supplies to the station and will return with some science experiments on board.

After launch, it should take about 11 minutes for the capsule to detach from the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket. It docks about 27 hours later, early Sunday morning, and the crew will be able to get at the goodies just in time for brunch, if for some reason they’re operating on East Coast time.

SpaceX will be live streaming the launch as usual starting shortly before takeoff; you can watch it right here:

Source: Tech Crunch