Monday, August 29, 2011

    Food Startups Demo Day at 500 startups

    DSC_0042 demoing

    Two weeks ago, participated in a Food Startups Demo Day at the 500 Startups office. I was able to tag along as the intern and watch the many panels and demos that occurred at the over three hour event. This was my first demo day in the states and I was positively blown away by the quality difference compared to Techyizu in Shanghai.

    Panels and Personalities

    Aki Sano, Founder of

    The event featured panels and personalities that were quite informative, though a little boring at times. In attendance was Aki Sano, the founder of Cookpad, which is the most popular cooking website in Japan boasting a 50% percent penetration rate among middle aged women, was in attendance. Sano provided many cool sound bites, one blasting social gaming as useless and another comparing growing a startup to building a bioweapon. Besides sound bites, however, Sano sadly did not add much value even though the crowd, including me, was dying to know how he managed to grow Cookpad to what it is today.

    When a panel of Google chefs stepped up and explained the food program that Google employees got, it suddenly became even more apparent why people want to work there. Simply put, I would stay on the Google campus all day too if I was being served food like that free of charge. Other notable panels and personalities included representatives from the Mars corporation and Pepsico who gave an idea of what the big players were doing and Will Rosenzweig, an early executive of Odwalla who outlined the main challenges that food startups faced, which were very different from software startups. Based on just panels and personalities alone, it would have been a great event.

    Notable Startups
    Of course, this was a demo day so let us talk about the startups as well.
    Three startups stood out:

    Smart Gardener
    Smart gardener

    A gorgeous looking social network for gardeners centered around helping gardeners connect over gardening! Smart Gardener had tools that appealed to both new and experienced gardeners such as a planning tool that helped users layout their new garden and an automated journal where users can add in pictures and notes. By far the most impressive aspect were the social tools that allowed users to connect with other users who were growing same crops or in the same climate. This way, users could exchange gardening information that was relevant to them, eliminating the noise of Google searches. After the demo, I walked away thinking that if I ever were to start gardening, I absolutely needed to be on Smart Gardener.

    Culture Kitchen
    Culture Kitchen

    Culture Kitchen served some amazing Thai curry made by an immigrant grandmother for their demo. And that is pretty much their whole idea in a nutshell. Culture Kitchen hosts cooking ethnic classes taught by immigrant women. It is a novel idea and I can see myself attending their classes, but it does not seem scalable. I would imagine that there are huge difficulties in finding these immigrant women, especially the “grandmothers” that Culture Kitchen was touting in their presentation, given that they are most likely not online nor listed in some sort of directory. I can see Culture Kitchen being a successful niche cooking school in San Francisco, where they could scrape local community centers, churches, etc. for teachers but I cannot see it scaling to much beyond that.

    Spoon Date

    There is an interesting backstory to this startup as my founders told me that they sat right next to them during’s time in the 500 Startups accelerator program. At the time Spoondate was a dating site for foodies, but they have since pivoted away from that. Or at least that was the story I was told, Spoondate was introduced as a dating site before the founder got up on stage and clarified that it was not. However, many aspects of the site made it seem like a dating site and even in the demo, the founder used dates as the reason for why people would use the site.

    The basic premise behind the site is that you type in a food that you are craving and a restaurant you are craving it at. This information gets deposited into a running feed on the site which other users can see and they can choose to join you to get what you crave. It is an interesting concept and I could see myself using it when I am traveling and have no idea or body to eat with. However, I think I would be too afraid of ending up eating with someone creepy to actually carry through joining or posting a craving.

    Random Take Aways

    Everybody’s site or app was really good looking; it definitely put to shame. There was a strong emphasis design and the user experience, everything was sleek and the right things popped. The next day at office, all of us at Wednesdays knew we had to radically improve the look of our site. After consulting a designer, our redesigned site looks worlds apart from what we used have.

    A live twitter feed of a unique hash tag for the event was displayed during downtimes at the event. This was something that I had never seen before and it was awesome, because it allowed for members of the audience and presenters to see what people around them were thinking about the event. I am definitely going to implement this at the Financial Horizons Conference, which I help organize through the student organization, the Undergraduate Investment Society.

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    "Best Photo From Your Internship" Contest - held a intern photography contest and I just sent in my entry twice with a follow up email because I was not reading instructions. These pictures are definitely not the best that I have to show, but I really want an Ipad and this is my best chance get one for free. I had to really scour my hard drive to find five decent pictures. Out of the ones I submitted and listed below, my favorite is Bootstrapping Business Trip. Ideally, I would have had a picture of me pitching to the Startup Weekend crowd, but you have to work with what you have. Nonetheless, I believe that these five pictures present give a good idea of my internship these past two weeks, so that is why they made the blog.

    A Shoestring Budget Office
    At what you see is what you get. On the first day of my internship, I was surprised to find that our whole office was just four tables pushed together, which we sublet from another startup. It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that you could even do that! This office represents to me what a startup is all about, making due with what you have and building amazing products on a shoestring budget.

    Three is Company
    In a three person company, the work place is very intimate. I sit right across from my two founders/bosses/co-workers and as a result the atmosphere is very casual. Whenever, I have questions I just speak up at the table and ask. In addition, I get to see and partake in pretty much everything that happens in In a close environment like this you have to love the people you work with and thankfully I do.

    Coffee is my religion and Cafes are my church
    Coffee is a vital part of my internship because without it there would be no way I would be able to make the one and a half hour commute to San Francisco and ACTUALLY work once I got to the office. When you rely on coffee as much as I do, there are some strange behaviors associated with it. For instance, every time the coffee pot is empty I curse under my breath whoever left it that way and when there is no more coffee in the office, I die a little inside as I make a cup of tea. Due to the fact that they serve coffee, cafes become the second office, conference room and home whenever we at Wednesdays are on the road or tired of our real office. My internship at Wednesdays has led me to ask where would startups be without coffee!?

    Bootstrapping Business Trip
    When you are an intern on a "business" trip at a startup, there's no corporate credit card that you charge your expenses to. Instead, you bootstrap it like the rest of your company, which means bumming off friends' couches or in this case air mattress. Nonetheless, it was a blast to meet current users and potential users. Getting out into the field was what I was taught in Anthropology and that is what I have found to be most effective for customer development during my time at

    Startups by the beach
    As part of my week long "business" trip, I was able to attend Startup Weekend in beautiful Santa Monica. is partnering with Startup Weekend to create lunch groups for their alumni. As the representative, I was able to meet the CEO of Startup Weekend Marc Nager, and he even pulled me up in front of the crowd so that I could pitch the lunch club. This scene was definitely one of the high points of my internship experience and a perfect way to end my "business" trip.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    It’s the Flow Stupid!

    In my last blog post I talked a little bit about SV legend Robert Scoble coming in and giving us feedback on the flow of Wednesdays’ group creation process. It was quite eye opening because I had never thought that there was thought behind something as basic as registering a group. This was a classic case of “devil in the details.”

    Creating a group is a fairly simple process. You go through the steps and filling out the who, what, where, when and how fields in succession. However, according to Scoble, the secret sauce in getting people to get through all your fields lies in which order you present these questions. As users are inherently lazy and have a tendency to stick with what they know, they need to coaxed through the entire process. The biggest competitor is not another company or service rather the back button and the thought of business as usual. At all costs the user must be prevented from going “F--- this I am just going to send an email like last time.”

    Scoble talked about “keeping the dream alive” and he gave us an example of a user's thought process setting up a lunch group. It went something along the lines of this:

    Ok so I want to start a lunch club. Well what are we going to meet about? I do love and startups and want to meet other entrepreneurs! *names group Startup Lovers* Then who would I invite? Hugh and Andy definitely have to come *adds their emails*. Oh I am always free on Wednesdays let’s do lunch at noon on the first of every month. I cannot wait till next week!

    By asking the who, what, when, why questions in the correct order, the dream of the lunch club is kept alive. The user is being walked through their desire and each step is not only logical but delightful as it helps the dream grow and brings it closer to life in the mind of the user.

    It was a pretty cool lesson to round off my first week. I am going to ask my friend who majors in Cognitive Science to explain more about this as it seems applicable to all kinds of things. There is sure to be an Anthropological angle to this as culture shapes people’s thought processes.