StartUp Podcast: Kitchen Confidential (Season 3, Episode 6)
May 27, 2016 8:34 AM - Subscribe

Two men decide to start a company. Everything is going well… until it’s not. That’s the moment they decide to start recording their conversations—painful, awkward, emotional conversations.

Jason and Vincent launched Bento about a year ago. Their goal was to make Pan-Asian food fresh, tasty, and on-demand. They joined the food tech swell just as it was winding down, just as the funding was drying up, just as the smaller players were being weeded out. With only a year under their belt and a quickly draining bank account, Bento’s odds don’t look good. We listen in on the co-founders as they try to decide whether their setbacks are just bumps on the road to success or a sign to shut things down.
posted by noneuclidean (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For everyone who has been dismayed by this season not sounding like "classic" StartUp, I think this episode was a good return to the style of the first season. As much as I've been enjoying this season in general, I do very much appreciate the kind of conversations (i.e., recorded in the moment) in this episode. This episode also felt like there was a lot more of a will-they-or-won't-they succeed story to it.
posted by noneuclidean at 11:40 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree. This was my favorite episode this season so far.

Although, how on earth do you decide to launch a food industry startup without knowing--or bothering to learn up front--anything at all about the food industry? Like, say, costing?
I've heard of tech myopia before, but this is a level of stupidity I never would have expected.
posted by Superplin at 5:30 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Superplin - I agree completely, I was baffled at their lack of preparation and lack of analytics. Everyone in tech-land is into "data" these days.

I really enjoyed this episode, but I didn't find myself "pulling" for the founders the way I did with, say, the last episode. I just couldn't make myself care about the business. Many of the businesses profiled on StartUp seem really unique or interesting, and the founders are really invested in the business because they believe in the mission. This one...they just seemed like they didn't want it to fail because they didn't want a failure.

I live in San Francisco and there are so many of these on-demand food companies. They are largely indistinguishable, and many of them seem really inefficient. Sprig supposedly just has people driving around all day waiting for a delivery -- what a waste of gas!
posted by radioamy at 9:09 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

46 minutes listening to restaurant founders without a single mention of how the food tastes‽ And the first thing they do when they run out of cash is fire the kitchen staff? These seem like nice people, and I enjoyed getting to hear about the company. But it's astonishing they're still able to raise money from anybody.

Stories like this make me glad I work in a field where being a "subject-matter expert" isn't optional.
posted by eotvos at 10:10 AM on May 29, 2016

I think it's really easy to criticise starting a business without knowing what you're doing -- in this case not having any experience in food seems to be a bad way to start -- but isn't that just part of starting a business? Nobody can be an expert in everything and so, unless you have the funding to start with a team of experts already on your payroll, starting any business is going to be a bit of "fake it till you make it".

In the case of bento, they hired a chef so it is not insane to suppose that having a chef on staff would cover that area of expertise.

I used to work as a consultant with several oil and gas companies where the founders were definitely not SMEs, they were just the business side and hired the experts they needed. That seemed to work out for most of them. So it's not a crazy way to start a new business.
posted by selenized at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2016

selenized - I think it's maybe a bigger critique of Silicon Valley in general. There are so many "tech" companies that think way more about the apps than the actual product/service they're delivering. The app may be the innovative part, but the customer ultimately cares about what they're eating, or the ride they're getting, or what's delivered.
posted by radioamy at 9:42 PM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am not sure about the feasibility of a single-use app as your only ordering mechanism. I'm tech literate but rather a holdout when it comes to smartphone usage, so I would find it a barrier to just trying out the food if I first had to download and install an app instead of doing a trial order through the website. As far as I can tell, online (or phone or text) ordering wasn't possible - I'm assuming that it never was, even before the app was switched off, as the app links are still all over the website.

Then, if I liked the food and the service, I daresay I might install an app, but I'd still prefer a sort of umbrella app which lets me order from a range of services. I'm unlikely to have enough loyalty to any one service to keep ordering from it all week.

But maybe they do things differently in California. Are there comparable services which have done well in San Francisco and beyond?

In any event, it's an instructive example (to me) of the 'when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail' syndrome and I'm a bit surprised that they managed to get as much initial funding as they did. It doesn't even feel particularly scaleable, seeing as they have to run physical kitchens with all the crazy quality control required, and (I imagine) a customer base which demands fresh, well-sourced ingredients. Maybe they were hoping to become the Amazon of food delivery?
posted by tavegyl at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I agree, this was a far more compelling episode than the last few.
posted by tavegyl at 4:37 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

tavegyl - I can't think of any food ordering apps in SF that are app-only, one restaurant only.

The only on-demand food app I use is FastBite (which actually has Bento as an option)...but it's intentionally limited in order to make it operationally efficient. Lunch and dinner time only, in central/downtown SF, with 5 item options, each from a different restaurant.

The only single-restaurant app I use is Specialty's, which is a bakery/salad/sandwich chain. However you can also order in-store or online.
posted by radioamy at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bento just popped up in my FastBite email today...which reminded me why I have never picked their lunch option. I am not a super-cautious eater, but I prefer that my raw fish be kept at a consistent (cold) temperature. I don't know if I'd trust sushi that's been in a bike courier's pack for a while. It's probably fine but...
posted by radioamy at 11:42 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved that this episode finally had more financial detail.
posted by bq at 5:29 PM on June 3, 2016

I liked this episode. It felt very real to me, and reminded me (painfully) of my own failed startup in the 2000 era. It's remarkably difficult to know when to quit, and one of my main takeaways looking back is I'm glad we quit as cleanly as we did. At the end of the podcast I felt really bad that they managed to scrounge up another $100,000. No one is going to disrupt the local catering market with venture capital.
posted by Nelson at 3:42 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Movie: White Line Fever...   |  Orphan Black: The Antisocialis... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments