Since its launch earlier this summer, Palo Alto-based Fluc, one of what's now many, many food delivery startups, has been targeting the majority of restaurants that don't offer delivery. Today, the company is officially announcing an expansion beyond its initial service areas of Palo Alto and Menlo Park to San Francisco and Mountain View. The company has also added more than 85 restaurants to the platform in the months following its debut, and with the new expansions, it will reach nearly 140. Fluc has released an updated iPhone application, too, which is now iOS 7-optimized. The startup was founded earlier this year by Tim Davis, Adam Ahmad and Pako Magdaleno, who were living together in a hacker house in Palo Alto with a messy kitchen and had no time to cook. Fluc (aka Food Lovers United Corp), was inspired by this idea that there should be a "Lyft for food." That is, instead of trying to sign deals with restaurants to take commissions, Fluc uses an army of independent contractors who fulfill orders. The company had just a few people on board when it got off the ground, and now has around 30, and is growing at a rate of 3 to 5 new hires per week. (Full-time, however, there are just four.) Because of its early-stage and current fundraising activities, Fluc isn't talking about order volume or revenue, but Ahmad would say that on both fronts, it's growing by 20 percent week-over-week. Food delivery, to put it mildly, is a crowded space that today includes a number of companies like EAT Club, Chewse, Munchery, Plated, PlateJoy, Blue Apron, SpoonRocket, OrderAhead, Caviar, Fresh Dish, ZeroCater, Eat24, DoorDash, Delivery.com, ChowNow, and many others, not to mention larger players like recently merged Seamless and GrubHub. So to differentiate itself from the pack, Fluc focuses on a few things. For starters, its business model involves onboarding restaurants by snapping photos of menus and then using OCR and other technologies to input that data into its system. This allows it to quickly scale its presence without waiting for restaurants to sign up. It also focuses on having full menus from a range of popular and high-rated and reviewed restaurants (sourced via Yelp and customer requests), including everything from low-end fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell to 5-star establishments. As its green-shirted drivers start showing up at restaurants after Fluc's "food genies" call in orders using customer names, the businesses begin to take notice. Some have told Fluc what they like about the service is that they don't have to do anything differently on their part. There aren't new point-of-sale systems or other technologies, like iPads, to install, for example. "We don't change any process on the backend," Ahmad explains, saying that restaurant owners can find that kind of change frustrating. Fluc's new iPhone app is now working to get Fluc on restaurants' radar even more. It's offering a feature called "I so hungry" (yes, really) that offers free delivery at one featured restaurant per day for orders over $10. The idea is that the restaurant will see the influx of Fluc orders, and will then reach out to the company to find out more. This leaves room for potential cross-promotion activities or other advertising opportunities further down the road. Fluc's system lets diners customize their meals, too. Instead of having them leave a comment that can get overlooked, they can do this in the app itself, explains Ahmad. "We make it no different than you actually walking into the store and placing an order," he says. Currently, the company charges $5.95 per delivery and has slightly inflated menu prices (around 5-10 percent) to make a small margin on sales. Contractors keep the delivery charge and any tips, and make themselves available to pick up orders in blocks of time to meet demand. Fluc has only just launched in San Francisco, initially in parts including the Castro and SOMA areas, but is expanding coverage to neighboring areas soon. It will also be live in Mountain View in fewer than 24 hours. In these new markets, Fluc will operate from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at first before expanding to the lunch crowd. Area residents can check out Fluc online or download the app here.
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