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.

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