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Costa Coffee says it best with new Director of Love

Costa Coffee has launched a new campaign with pop star Ronan Keating, who has become the UK coffee chain’s first ‘Director of Love’. Costa Coffee said the former Boyzone singer would use his ‘prowess as a national heartthrob to spread love across the UK’ as it embarks upon a roll-out of free coffee giveaways across the country. As part of the collaboration, Keating will tour Costa Coffee stores across the UK to help consumers ‘re-connect over a Costa coffee’.

Oatly dishes out Thanksgiving support

Oatly has launched a special hotline to provide support for plant-based consumers struggling with ‘heavily meat and dairy-based’ Thanksgiving celebrations. The Oatly Emotional Support Hotline For Plant-Based Eaters offers consumers a range of conversational tools, including positive affirmations, statistics, and even ‘a blank audio void in which to scream’. The oatmilk maker also believes the marketing launch could direct dinner conversations towards the climate-friendly and dietary benefits of plant-based food. World Coffee Portal research found that half of US industry leaders surveyed in the believe dairy-free to be the health-based trend with the most longevity, consistent with the promotion of milk alternatives by leading coffee chains across the country.

Football Australia kicks off World Cup with coffee

Football Australia staff have flown a barista to Doha to serve coffee to the country’s Socceroos throughout the World Cup in Qatar. Operated by Alexia Ralevski, the team café in Australia’s training base at the Aspire Academy is importing coffee beans from Australian specialty coffee roaster Toby’s Estate. Ralevski said she is making 80 coffees a day, adding that some of the players have helped work in the café between training sessions. The Australian Olympic team introduced a similar concept at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Absolut shakes up fashion world with espresso martini handbag

Premium alcohol brand Absolut has collaborated with New York-based designer Nikolas Bentel to produce a limited-edition handbag in the shape of an espresso martini. Selling online for $199, Matt Foley, Vice President of Marketing for Absolut, said the product ‘demonstrates the power of mixing different people, perspectives and cocktails’. The launch is part of a wider Born to Mix marketing campaign, which Absolut says is focused on bringing diverse people together to create ‘world that is more open, free and fun’.

Peet’s Coffee gives ski resort café a trial run

 

Peet’s Coffee has launched a pop-up café at the Beidahu Ski Resort in Jilin, China. The site is located within an outlet of outdoor apparel company Arc’teryx, which will also collaborate with the California-based coffee chain on a canned RTD coffee range. Peet’s Coffee has also launched beverages exclusively for the Beidahu pop-up store: a Coconut Snow Mocha and Wild Lemon coldbrew.

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Amid the AI hype, don’t forget about no-code

No-code startup Softr, which allows its customers to build apps from their existing data, announced Tuesday that it has added Google Sheets to its integration list.

Previously, Softr focused on Airtable databases. Its move to support data from Google’s spreadsheet product likely expands its potential customer pool. Even before that expansion, CEO Mariam Hakobyan told TechCrunch+ that her company grew its annual recurring revenue 3x from December 2021 to December 2022.

 

Softr’s quick revenue expansion is a good reminder that while the tech world seems completely consumed by all things AI, there’s quite a lot of work going on in other areas that are worth keeping an eye on.

That said, there is an interesting connection between AI and no-code worth writing down: Both are potentially great expanders of human capability. AI tooling could operate as a second brain of sorts for the digitally busy, and no-code services may allow nondevelopers to build the tools they need to complete their work. In both cases, the genres of new tech development have a shot at helping regular folks do a lot more, more quickly and often at a low cost.

Something else that modern AI tooling and no-code share is accessibility. Softr, for example, grew its base of signed-up users from 35,000 to 150,000 in 2022. That’s really quite a lot for a service that was, until recently, Airtable-specific. On the AI side, I don’t need to reiterate just how much market demand there is for modern LLM tooling.

Let’s dig into Softr’s progress since we last covered the company and chat about what we can learn about no-code progress as a method of building more accessible software.

Softr, no-code and empowering the regulars
Ask anyone who works at a company that builds software and isn’t part of the engineering or product orgs how long it will take them to get something built for their own needs. Without even making Jira ticket jokes, we all know what the answer will be. And to a degree, the standard situation makes sense: What nondeveloper employees need is often pretty basic software, and expensive engineers need to focus on the company’s core offering not internal tooling.

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Twitter’s legacy blue checkmark era is officially over

Twitter appears to have officially killed off its legacy blue checkmarks, one of the last remaining vestiges of the pre-Elon Musk owner era.

The legacy blue checks, which Twitter doled out to journalists, celebrities and other public officials for free to help curb impersonations and spam, were supposed to end April 1.

Musk took to Twitter on April 11 — days after the legacy checkmarks should have disappeared — to shift the end date to April 20 or 4/20. Yes, that’s the day when folks honor weed because Twitter is now owned by a middle schooler.

With the legacy checkmarks gone, Twitter will have verification marks only for paid users and businesses as well as government entities and officials. Now, if a user sees a blue checkmark and clicks on it, the label reads: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

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Autotech Ventures’ new $230M mobility fund adds fintech, circular economy to its investment strategy

Autotech Ventures will use its newly closed $230 million fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility.

Fintech, logistics, supply chain and the circular economy are at the top of the list.

The $230 million fund, its third since launching in 2017, will be used to invest in seed through Series C mobility-related startups, according to the company. A mixture of financial and corporate LPs, including Allison Transmission, American Axle, Iochpe-Maxion and Shell participated in the fund.

“We’re still a ground transportation-focused firm and we have a very similar strategy [with this fund],” Alexei Andreev, Autotech Ventures managing director told TechCrunch. “On a high-level, it’s same as Fund 1 and Fund 2. However, one of the fastest areas of growth is SaaS-enabled fintech. Auto commerce is inefficient and there are large pockets of profit to capture.”

The firm is particularly interested in transportation-related fintech ventures that are poised to grow during a recession.

“We made a prediction that sooner or later there will be a recession and we identified areas that benefit when the economy softens, Andreev said, noting that this latest fund invested in Yendo, a Dallas-based startup (formerly known as Otto) that lets customers borrow against their vehicles at the same interest rate as standard credit cards.

Autotech Ventures’ previous fintech investments include U.K.-based buy now, pay later startup Bumper and Carpay, a buy here, pay here loan servicing SaaS platform for car dealers.

Andreev said the firm is also investigating investment opportunities in the circular economy, a nascent industry focused on finding ways to reuse materials and products. Circular economy startups have garnered an increasing amount of attention and investment as automakers transition away from gas-powered vehicles and towards EVs.

Autotech Ventures is also cautiously wading into generative AI, although Andreev was quick to note that the company has not made any investments in that area.

Autotech has more than $500 million under management and has invested in more than 40 companies.

Some of the firm’s investments include computer vision startup DeepScale (which was acquired by Tesla), Lyft, used vehicle marketplace operator Frontier Car Group, Drover, Outdoorsy, Swvl, parking app SpotHero and Xnor.ai, which Apple acquired in January 2020. Five of those startups have gone public, including indie Semiconductor and Volta Charging.

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