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DoorDash, a Y Combinator summer ’13 company, delivers food from restaurants in Palo Alto and Mountain View in an average time of 45 minutes.

Sound familiar?

It’s a crowded space, but while competitors like Seamless and GrubHub offer users an app to order food from any restaurant that has its own drivers and delivery-system setup, DoorDash hires and manages its own drivers, so it can bring you food from restaurants that don’t have their own delivery drivers. That may not seem like a big difference, but for the suburbs and college campuses, it’s a welcome change from having just pizza and Chinese food places offering delivery.

DoorDash charges $6 per delivery with no minimum order size, and currently delivers lunch (11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.) every day. The company currently delivers to Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Mountain View from 50 restaurants in the area.

Fluc, another startup we recently covered, is doing something fairly similar, but is more expensive-Fluc charges $5.95 per order and inflates menu prices a bit, whereas DoorDash charges $6 per order and doesn’t inflate menu prices. DoorDash partners with the restaurants they deliver from, so they take a cut from the restaurant’s side of things, not from the consumer.

DoorDash was founded by four Stanford students: Evan Charles Moore worked on the founding team of Vevo; Tony Xu was at Square and Red Laser/eBay; and Andy Fang and Stanley Tang spent a summer together at Facebook. Moore and Xu were friends in Stanford’s business school, and Fang and Tang are undergrads. Moore and Tang had worked on a project together in a class in the spring of 2012, and later decided to work together on DoorDash, bringing in the other two.

In February, they built a prototype, Palo Alto Delivery, in one day to gauge demand. Half an hour later, they had their first order and soon they were delivering food every day around campus. The four of them did the first 200 deliveries by themselves; they say they learned so much as drivers that they have new team members start as drivers.

I used DoorDash (then called Palo Alto Delivery) several times in the spring and really liked it. On campus at Stanford there aren’t a ton of options for delivery, so I was very willing to pay $6 to get better food delivered every once in awhile.

One of the new features I’m most excited about is Group Order, in which you can split the bill with a group of friends through DoorDash but still have all the food come in one order.

“Our ultimate goal is to enable merchants to deliver locally,” Tang says. He notes that restaurants are a good place to start, as the company has been able to grow really quickly (they doubled total deliveries in the past two weeks), and they hope to grow both geographically and, eventually, beyond just food delivery.

Disclosure: I’m a rising senior at Stanford. Fang and Tang are the same year as me. I’ve meet Fang a couple times, and I haven’t met any of the other co-founders at DoorDash. This doesn’t affect my ability to report on DoorDash.

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 4.31.08 PM

For small businesses, managing health insurance and payroll services can be a huge pain and time-sink. They probably don’t have someone on staff dedicated to these issues, and they themselves would rather be dedicating that energy to building a company. Zenefits launched out of Y Combinator this winter to remove the friction of setting up and managing group health coverage and payroll by automating the process and bringing it online – for free.

As a testament to how much demand there is among startups and small businesses, since expanding its service at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC in April, Zenefits co-founder Parker Conrad tells us that the company has signed on over 110 clients (ranging from 2 employees to over 100) and is now bringing on an average of 10 customers each week. Today, as it looks to continue expanding operations beyond California, Zenefits is announcing that it has raised $2.1 million in seed capital from an impressive roster of venture firms and angel investors.

The new round, which includes the initial $372K chunk of capital the startup raised out of Y Combinator from Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, General Catalyst, Garry Tan, Justin Kan and Alexis Ohanian, was led by Venrock and Maverick Capital. A big reason why Zenefits was keen to bring these two investors on board in particular, Conrad tells us, was that Bob Kocher, who led Venrock’s investment, was a key player in helping to write the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) when he worked at the White House.

As Greg explained in April, at its core, Zenefits is essentially a digital insurance broker, meaning that they help startups automate insurance, benefits and payroll but they also get paid a commission by insurance companies each time a company opens a new plan through its system. Over the next two years, as Obamacare goes into effect, the new regulations and provisions mean big changes for health insurance companies and brokers.

These health players are not only being forced to move operations online but will also see the amount of commissions they can take drop – among other things. Many health insurance brokers are going to drop their small-group clients to focus on bigger-ticket customers as a result – and, as premiums could go up for businesses – Zenefits could stand to benefit big-time by offering their services for free. Plus, having someone who’s intimately familiar with the complex and nuanced provisions and regulations in Obamacare (because he helped write them) is huge.

Maverick Capital is also familiar with the healthcare and health insurance industries itself, having backed some of the bigger startups and players in the market, like OneMedical, Castlight Health and SeaChange Health, for example.

On top of its lead investors and the Y Combinator partners (like Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Harj Taggar, Alexis Ohanian, Paul Bucheit and Justin Tan – who all invested personally), Zenefits also saw a number of recognizable names contribute as angels, including Box co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, former Googler and Twitter VP of Corporate Strategy Elad Gil, Weebly co-founder David Rusenko, former Googler and Badoo COO Ben Ling, Google’s Head of Spam Slamming Matt Cutts and Inkling co-founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis.

With the new capital under its belt, Zenefits has expanded its team to 12 and will look to add more in the coming year. Because the company is considered a broker, it is paid a commission from insurance companies for each new employee and employee added (every month), which is great for its bottom line. But this also requires that it be approved by the government on a state-to-state basis. Currently, regulations limit it (and others like it) to a few states.

But with the changes Obamacare will bring, Conrad expects that digital insurance brokers of its ilk will be allowed to expand to more states beginning in January, at which point, Zenefits will look to move quickly beyond California and New York.

In the meantime, Conrad tells us that, according to BenefitMail, the company has already vaulted into the top 5 percent of insurance brokers (in terms of number of clients) in California, primarily as a result of new company submissions to Blue Cross – not bad for a startup five months from launch.

For those unfamiliar, Zenefits has been growing fast in California by turning a paper-heavy process into a digital one, allowing users to create new plans, while serving up quotes for group coverage across health, dental and vision insurance. The company’s system makes it easier for companies hiring new employees to add coverage for each employee, or, if a company fires someone (or they leave), they can click a button to remove their coverage and take them off the payroll, while starting them on COBRA coverage.

It works for companies regardless of whether they don’t have existing coverage or already are set up, syncing employee coverage data and taking over as your insurance broker for those in the latter camp. The company also recently added payroll services, so that startups and small businesses can just tell Zenefits about a new hire and give them the employee’s information, at which point Zenefits will take care of generating offer letters, IP agreements, onboarding details and then add them to its payroll system. They can also do the same for that employee’s benefits.

As part of its payroll services, Zenefits also sets up deductions employees pay for health insurance and other benefits, which employers would usually have to set up themselves. This is a pain, because salary and pricing can be different for each employee and whenever deductions change (which happens a lot when employees move, get married and so on), the price changes. Traditionally, the price of deductions change every 10 years, but with Obamacare, this will happen every year. This could be a huge boon for Zenefits, as it takes care of this stuff for startups and small businesses, who would be seeing a lot more paperwork as a result.

Furthermore, while services like Zenefits may seem familiar or not particularly disruptive to some, it’s hard to over-state just how old-school (and offline) most of the big, old school health insurance brokers are in the U.S. Some of them are multi-billion-dollar market cap companies, but may have little or no software or online-based solutions for their customers. So many startups and founder say “we’re disrupting and old offline industry” to get you excited about your company, and in a lot of cases that’s only half-true.

Health insurance brokerage is definitely one of those industries that qualifies as ripe for disruption thanks to its archaic procedures, practices and infrastructure. Many are aware of the changes that are coming, but they’re limited in how quickly they can react by responsibilities to shareholders, quarterly earnings and so on. Easier to preserve and protect the current state of things than re-build from the ground up. Zenefits won’t be the only one to benefit – many new companies are going to spring up in this space – but it’s definitely off to a good start.

As Inkling CEO Matt MacInniss (who personally invested in this round) told us:

Zenefits has identified a huge opportunity in the shifting landscape of benefits and healthcare among growing companies. Incumbents aren’t going to move as quickly as smaller, nimble companies – and they’re not technologists – so I think there’s a huge opportunity for new digital health insurance brokers to quickly move out front to take the pole position in what’s essentially a new category

Ubislate

After it’s great success in India, Datawind has released it’s UbiSlate line of tablets to the Canadian market.

There are 3 models to choose from starting at just $37.99:

  • Ubislate 7Ci – $37.99 – Wifi only
  • Ubislate 7C+ – $79.99 – Wifi and Edge
  • UbiSlate 3G7 – $129.99 – Wifi and 3G

You can see the comparison here.

I hope these machines are of decent quality. It will be great to have an affordable tablet option. I have yet to get my hands on one of these, but I look forward to seeing what a sub $50 CDN tablet can do…

MJ

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Standard wallpaper on iPhones is fairly rubbish, let’s be honest! And one of the very first actions that a new owner carries out is changing that bog standard background for something with a personal touch. As well as the standard wallpapers that come free with all iPhones, there are a plethora of free downloads that can add even more choice to the mix. This article takes a look at 3 of these bad boys that have all been optimised to work on the mighty iPhone 5 and all of its derivatives. Please enjoy and maybe you can soon have several thousand more options to choose from.

Cool Wallpapers HD & Retina Free By Kappboom Inc - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/cool-wallpapers-hd-retina/id342643402?mt=8

This App will run on your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and it will require iOS 5.0 or later for smooth running. Okay, our first wallpaper App is a real belter that has more designs than you’ll ever need, but that is not really the point is it? Kappboom have really pushed the boat out here with well over 100,000 excellent background designs that will make any iPhone look like a million bucks! If you like to be able to tweak your wallpaper designs to your own preferences, you will have hours of fun with this application. You can enhance the chosen image, add text, draw over them and basically change them into what you really wanted in the first place. You can also share the revised masterpiece with friends over social media. It’s a great App that you’ll never get bored of.

Pimp Your Screen – Custom Themes and Wallpapers By Apalon Apps - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/pimp-your-screen-custom-themes/id749057895?mt=8

This App will run on your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and it will require iOS 4.3 or later for smooth running. This App has won more than its fair share of awards and once you’ve checked it out, you’ll see why. Instead of the generic styles that most of the freebies seem to follow, you can really mix it up with this bad boy. The whole application is updated on a regular basis and you will seriously enjoy looking for more cool themes to play around with. You can even design a Cork flooring Toronto theme if that’s what floats your boat! Add photos at will and mix them into your latest design and the frames feature is a real winner as far as we were concerned. So whether you want a slick home screen or a widget packet active versions, you get all of that here and then some!

1,000+ HD Colour Splash Wallpapers By rise uP! Labs https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/1-000+-hd-color-splash-wallpapers/id368002213?mt=8

This App will work on your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and it requires iOS 4.3 or later for smooth running. Okay, our final iOS wallpaper wizard is another freebie that has more designs than you can shake a stick at. The navigational qualities are slick and loading up your favourite choice is really so simple. The color splash element makes the whole experience even more fun and once you get the hang of this activity, your iPhone will never look the same again, and we mean that in a good way!

Wallpaper City!

If you can’t find a suitable iPhone 5 wallpaper from this selection, you should probably emigrate!

Nancy Baker, the author of this article, is a freelance blogger who is currently writing for, Alliance Floor Source, a reputable flooring company. She enjoys writing reviews and also loves to help out at the local children’s shelter. You can also follow her on Twitter @Nancy Baker.

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IMG_0359

It is a point of pride and, to an extent, shame that I introduced the TC audience to minimal running shoes aka crazy monkey shoes. Since first reviewing odd shoes back in 2009 I’ve tried to keep up with the trends. The latest stop in my exploration? Adidas Springblade.

Why is this on TechCrunch, you ask? Because these are some high-tech shoes, friends, and I suspect some of you out there in the Valley/Alley enjoy a spot of running now and again, in between complaining about things being on TechCrunch and coding.

While the bright, blaze orange upper alone is enough to turn heads, these shoes have plastic springs instead of a sole. These springs add a bit of “lift” each time you step, essentially springing your foot back into the air after each footfall.

I’ve been a minimalist runner since 2009, first using Vibrams and then trying various models from Brooks, Adidas, and most recently Skora. After a fairly complete and debilitating injury during marathon training, my long-distance running days are pretty much shot, but I still try to get at least 10 miles in a week. It’s not much, but hey, I’m not running for Miss Blog USA. I’m also fairly slow.

That said, running with the Springblade has been, if not a revelation, then quite surprising. I’m a bit more tired running in these than in minimalist shoes, which is normal. These are about 12 ounces and those 16 springs on each foot add just a bit of weight. However, I’ve seen my maximum speed increase from 8 minutes per mile to about 7:50 per mile – a measure taken at my peak speed using a Nike+ GPS watch – an improvement that is fairly important for a slowpoke like me. I also felt less pain in my shins and ankles and a distinct difference in the tiredness I felt after my three-mile runs.

Do I think it’s the shoes? Sure. The soles are far springier than I’m used to and I honestly enjoy them over the last pair of full running shoes I bought, the New Balance M1080v2. They also wore me out far faster and I definitely felt a distinct soreness in my calves that I hadn’t experienced in a while. In short, at the very least these shoes changed my stride slightly.

Would I recommend them over minimalist shoes? I’m not sure. Vibrams helped me out of a bout of plantar fasciitis, which has not flared up to this day. I have fought shin splints and other knee issues that I believe are weight related and I know I could use a more solid pair of shoes to perhaps take some of the strain off the ankles and joints. These could do the trick.

These shoes expel energy forward and work best while running on concrete and less well on soft surfaces like sand or trails. I was worried they’d get caught up in the buckling Brooklyn sidewalks but I noticed no issues. Apparently these are extensively tested to ensure the springs don’t break or buckle and, if anything, they look wild.

The shoes are available for pre-order for $180 – quite pricey for their weight – but they are a fascinating improvement to the standard, mushy thick-soled running shoes that I’ve eschewed for a number of years.

I’ve yet to see many experts weigh in on these shoes, and even Runner’s World is still mum about their opinion. I’m under no illusion that these shoes are more than an interesting gimmick that may shave off a few seconds at your fastest pace. But as a sheer feat of technical improvement to the tired running shoe, I applaud Adidas for attempting something so bold. I would expect these to rise to the level of the Nike Free over the next few months as people try them out simply for the novelty of the design. While I’m not exactly sure if I’ll stick to these over the long run, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

gattaca

“Power tends to corrupt,” said Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The sexism needs updating but the sentiment remains true. That’s been all too obvious this week, during which the powers that be did their damnedest to protect their once-secret surveillance programs…while the NSA responded to Freedom Of Information Act requests with the claim “There’s no central method to search [internal NSA emails] at this time.”

@rezendi In related news, NSA says it's never come across the term “dogfooding” in any of its data trawling, & doesn't know its definition.-
Lun Esex (@LunaticSX) July 24, 2013

The black-comedy message is clear: surveillance is something that the powerful do to the powerless, in their own perfect secrecy. Two-way transparency is but a pipe dream in the minds of civil libertarians. Which puts me in mind of science-fiction guru Charles Stross’s recent blog post A Bad Dream:

Is the United Kingdom a one party state? […] I’m nursing a pet theory. Which is that there are actually four main political parties in Westminster: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Ruling Party. The Ruling Party is a meta-party…it always wins every election, because whichever party wins is led by members of the Ruling Party, who have more in common with each other than with the back bench dinosaurs who form the rump of their notional party […] Any attempt at organizing a transfer of power that does not usher in a new group of Ruling Party faces risks being denounced as Terrorism.

Of course in America this is old news. The one thing that the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have in common is their desire to throw the Ruling Party bums out of Washington. It’s an accepted axiom in American politics that anyone who has been in Washington too long is suspect and probably corrupt. (More than 75% of Americans think their political parties are corrupt.)

The wave of hope that drove Obama into office was fuelled in part by the belief that he wasn’t a member of the Ruling Party. Well, even if he wasn’t then, he sure is now. That’s what usually happens to successful politicians:

The GOP establishment: Obama is a tyrant, except in the areas where we want to give him sweeping unilateral power to exercise in secret.-
Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) July 26, 2013

Nancy Pelosi in 2005: Patriot Act “a massive invasion of privacy” 1.usa.gov/1bOHdyZ Today, she voted to let that invasion continue.-
Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) July 24, 2013

Similarly, the recent spate of antigovernment street protests in Turkey, Brazil, etc., are-arguably-protests against the various international incarnations of the Ruling Party. As Slavoj i ek writes in the London Review of Books:

What we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education. Representatives of the ruling ideology roll out their entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion.

i ek’s a Marxist, and I’m a staunch capitalist, but even I have to admit that he may be on to something there. it’s possible that multiparty democracy suffers from an inherent and fundamental flaw: the eventual installation of an entrenched, parasitical Ruling Party.

So, of course, as a techie who instinctively thinks in terms of hacking and fixing systems, I immediately find myself wondering: is there a technical fix? Can better technology save us from the Ruling Parties, or at least alleviate some of our governments’ more glaring flaws? Or will technology further entrench and empower them?

These days it’s hard for Silicon Valley to look at Washington with anything other than dismay trending towards horror, along with a powerful sense of “there has to be a better way.” I expect that’s why people have seriously called for Google to buy Detroit. I suspect that’s what Larry Page had in mind, at least in part, when he mused aloud about the desirability of a mad science island untrammeled by antiquated laws and politics, where we could experiment with new and better systems:

We’re changing quickly, but some of our institutions, like some laws, aren’t changing with that. The laws [about technology] can’t be right if it’s 50 years old – that’s before the Internet. Maybe more of us need to go into other areas to help them improve and understand technology.

Google is, after all, the apotheosis of the Valley; a company that muses about offering eternal youth to its employees somewhere down the road, a company that oozes scientific method. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than the Ruling Party? Doesn’t it seem like the best thing we could do is import the Google Way to Washington, and turn our government into a genuine technocracy?

Sorry. No. Silicon Valley thinks of itself as built on merit, innovation, iteration, and rational thought, and to some extent it is, but its worldview can be even more blinkered and bubble-bound than that of the Ruling Party. Technology does not solve all of the world’s problems, and it’s dangerous hubris to think that it might. Rational thought is a flawed tool in a world full of irrational people. And most of all, power corrupts; anyone who replaces the Ruling Party will probably eventually become a member.

But on the other hand, avoiding politics and/or pretending that it has nothing to do with us is no longer an option for the tech industry. Edward Snowden has shown us that much. We have become too important and too powerful. As I wrote here almost three years ago:

You probably don’t want to read about political idiocy here, and I can’t blame you. But it may be time for the tech industry to start paying much more attention to the political world, because as Wikileaks vividly illustrates, these days almost every political issue has tech aspects-and hence, down the road, tech repercussions.

Can’t help but think I wasn’t wrong. But that doesn’t mean the tech industry should be trying to directly shape what happens in Washington and Westminster. We provide tools; we don’t dig trenches. That’s not what we’re good at. (Witness FWD.us.) Instead we should collectively be trying to ensure that tomorrow’s technologies, and tomorrow’s networks, support individual authority (and privacy), rather than building centralized panopticons which increase and cement the existing hegemonies.

I realize that this all sounds simultaneously paranoid and na ve. But I believe we’re nearing a crucial point at which, depending on a myriad of separate decisions ultimately made by individual people, tomorrow’s technologies can-and will-either increase or diminish our individual and collective freedoms by a very significant degree. The direction we will take seems finely balanced, and could still go either way. So keep your fingers crossed, and your eyes wide open.

Postscript: I’ll be in Las Vegas this week to cover the Black Hat and DefCon security conferences. I’m not entirely sure yet what kind of reportage I’ll be filing, but if you’re interested in occasional sardonic tweets from Sin City, follow me on Twitter.

tc-meetups-london-event

In preparation for TechCrunch Disrupt Europe I’ve been running around the Continent for more than a month, hitting the Balkans for a huge tour and Warsaw for an amazing meet-up. Now I’m back for a meet up+pitch-off with our own Mike Butcher and the rest of the UK team. Tickets are free so grab yours now.

There will be great networking opportunities, and a battle to the death to see which entrepreneurs can dazzle and excite in under 60 seconds.

PitchOff details:

LONDON INFO HERE

  • Participants interested in competing in the pitch-off will have 60 seconds to explain why their startup is awesome. These products must currently be in stealth or private beta.Application form for London is here or simply enter below.

    ONLY FILL OUT **ONE** APPLICATION.


Office hours details

  • Office Hours are for companies selected for the Pitch-off, these 15 minute 1 on 1 talks will be held on the day of the event. We’ll hear about your company, give feedback, and talk about the best pitch strategy for the 60-second rapid-fire competition. More information on Office Hours will follow in a post on TechCrunch.

Pitch-off winners

  • We will have 3 judges who will decide on the winners of the PitchOff. First place will receive a table in Startup Alley at the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in Berlin. Second Place will receive 2 tickets to the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt. Third Place will receive 1 ticket to the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt.

Venue in London

  • Ground Floor – CAMPUS LONDON, 4-5 Bonhill Street, London EC2A 4BX
  • Event runs from 3 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. on Monday July 29th, 2013
  • We will de-camp to a local bar afterwards, sponsors welcome to support (email sponsors@techcrunch.com)

Remember we are holding our Berlin meetup later this week so if you don’t want to wing your way North we’ll come to you. Application form for Berlin is here.

Questions about the events? Please contact: events@techcrunch.com.

How To Become A Sponsor

  • For more information on sponsorship packages and to discuss becoming a sponsor, please contact sponsors@techcrunch.com.

And whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, dreamer or tech enthusiast, we want to see you at the event, so we can give you free beer and hear your thoughts. Come one, come all.

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