Before Growing, Know Who Is “In Your Boat”: Foodee’s Ryan Spong
Many startups grow by first dominating a small niche and then expanding. Foodee’s story began this way – but their expansion is anything but mass-market focused. Instead, Foodee has expanded by focusing further on non-chain restaurants large enough to handle catering orders, but small enough to remain local, sustainably-run, or organic.
Founded in 2013, Vancouver headquartered Foodee has 70 employees in offices across North America. As they expand, the company is staying true to their original goal: bringing fresh, delicious meals from locally-owned restaurants, into every office.
Identify an underserved niche
As the online food delivery app space was evolving throughout the early 2010’s, Spong noticed an opportunity. During the lunch rush on a business day, restaurants have to bring workers in for a full shift – but are really only busy for an hour and a half. The opportunity was obvious: staff could use downtimes to prepare for corporate catering. However, many local restaurateurs were left out of the game simply because they were not large enough to support a full-time catering business.
Spong noticed the required expertise and resources to launch a catering division were often too much for some smaller restaurants – so that’s what Foodee focused on.
“At Foodee, we provide all offline and online services so that restaurants can leverage off-peak times of the day and turn that excess supply into a corporate catering business,” explained Spong. “Our software platform connects corporate buyers to restaurants. Our logistics module allows us to create and leverage a massive delivery fleet to get the food from restaurants to offices.”
The food delivery space is a competitive one. To carve out their space, Spong and Foodee focused on the great restaurants that businesses couldn’t easily otherwise order catering from, such as boutique restaurants or restaurants with only a couple locations.
Growing in a changing space
Once the company got started and showed some initial success, the team joined the GrowLab accelerator (later HIGHLINE.vc).
An accelerator like GrowLab offered Foodee more than just investment and the occasional opportunity to pitch. Foodee received mentorship, including input from Highline BETA founding partner Marcus Daniels, and additional resources the company needed to succeed. When they were ready to launch an office in Toronto, Foodee even moved into the HIGHLINE.vc office space in the city.
This support helped the Foodee team take advantage of what Spong sees as an exciting upcoming change in the food industry.
“The food ordering space is going through what happened to other industry like travel and hotels 10 years ago,” Spong explained. “Increasingly, people want to order food online.”
“This is all a reflection of modern life; how busy we are, how much we fit in, and how much we want access to high quality, sustainable, organic, or locally sourced foods. It’s becoming a focal point for people.”
Assemble the right team
Looking ahead, Foodee’s mission is to become a major player in the corporate catering space. As their circle of investors and advisors have grown, they have focused on bringing on strategic partners – a sourcing process that Spong says any entrepreneur should go through regardless of what level they are at in their business.
“Thinking in short-term time periods is ok, but if you don’t align on big vision with your investors, advisors, and team, then that could be a problem,” said Spong. “You have to know who is in your boat.”
For Spong, the right investor or advisor is someone who aligns with Foodee’s vision to be a bespoke one-stop-shop for high-quality local restaurants, not big national chains.
“After you satisfy the ‘economic buyer’ by offering them the service they need – corporate catering – you have to satisfy the ‘human buyer,’ and that buyer makes values-based decisions,” said Spong. “Our best clients use and stay with us because we provide access to corporate catering from restaurants they can’t find elsewhere.”
When speaking to other entrepreneurs about finding the right team around you, whether that’s advisors or investors, Spong’s advice is always to ‘know who is in your boat’, and to validate their claims.
“Every investor or advisor will tell you they are a value-add,” he said. “The only way to vet that is to talk to others who have worked with them in the past or to ask questions that would weed individuals out from a culture or values standpoint. Building a business has taught me that the seas will get rocky at several points. If you have investors or advisors who flinch when things get rough, that’s another level of complexity you don’t want to deal with while you’re steering the ship.”