About The Guest
Kishan has worked in the food-tech industry since 2011. He’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Spoonshot an AI and food science-powered insights company helping the industry uncover the future of food by predicting consumer needs trends and innovation opportunities. Before starting his own venture Kishan worked in two leadership roles for three-plus years at a global online food ordering giant Just Eat. Also since 2008 Kishan has been the Co-Founder and Chairman of One Cause an education-focused nonprofit that has raised over 1 million to date for grassroots institutions.
Key Takeaways and Talking Points
-the unique insights that can be provided through the combination of food science and AI
-how his company pivoted several times to find the right product-market fit
-the harsh realities of being a tech startup founder
-why Nutella and soy sauce (!) go together as a flavour combination
-which entrepreneur Kishan would have dinner with and what they’d eat
Watch on YouTube
Karen Swyszcz 00:42
You’re listening to the bacon bits and bytes podcast, and I’m your host, Karen Swyszcz, This is the podcast where a bit of business and a bite of technology come together. Every month I interview entrepreneurs, investors, startup founders and people in tech to learn about what drives them and what makes them tick. Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Bacon Bits ‘n’ Bytes Podcast and today with me I have Kishan Vasani. Kishan has worked in the food-tech industry since 2011. He’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Spoonshot an AI and food science-powered insights company helping the industry uncover the future of food by predicting consumer needs trends and innovation opportunities. Before starting his own venture Kishan worked in two leadership roles for three-plus years at a global online food ordering giant Just Eat. Also since 2008 Kishan has been the Co-Founder and Chairman of One Cause an education-focused nonprofit that has raised over 1 million to date for grassroots institutions. Welcome to the show Kishan.
Kishan Vasani 02:02
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Karen Swyszcz 02:03
Oh, no problem. I’m really excited to chat today with you about your journey and food. So I feel like, during this conversation, I may end up getting hungry.
Kishan Vasani 02:04
Karen Swyszcz 02:16
So first off, I’d like to talk about your journey. So growing up, were you always like entrepreneurial? I creeped on your LinkedIn profile. I know you went to school for business. But yeah, if you could share what your upbringing was, like, you know, did it revolve around food and business at all.
Kishan Vasani 02:32
Actually, it was only recently that I kind of made that conscious connection to childhood. So my father had a grocery store, a local independent grocery store, in the UK where I’m from. And we spent a lot of time there as a young child, just hanging out watching the deli counter or whatever it was that me sitting there, having the chips and just enjoying all the sweets and chocolates that were available to me. That was definitely one part of it. I’m guessing there’s a connection there to food. He’s always enjoyed being an entrepreneur himself in the retail world, and then I think, as I was growing up at school, it was a case of just I kept seeing opportunities with opportunities. For example, I used to sell books, to students who had very expensive textbooks. I sourced them from other places, other markets where the prices were different and sort of just, you know, offer them at a cheaper price. I think I perhaps have always had some sort of drive towards business opportunities, whether it’s food or otherwise.
Karen Swyszcz 03:41
Oh, that’s really interesting. So as mentioned in your bio, prior to starting up Spoonshot, you were at Just Eat? And did you feel your experience in those leadership roles at Just Eat like translated over to Spoonshot?
Kishan Vasani 03:54
Definitely, definitely. There’s a huge direct connection. I mean, it was so lucky to be part of just the I know, it’s not mostly famous on maybe of your side of the, of the Atlantic. But it is essentially the Grub Hub of Europe and other places like Australia as well. When I joined the company, just after Series B. And, you know, I was originally Head of International Marketing, they’re responsible for eight of the 12 markets and growth in digital and brand. And it was just phenomenal experience. You know, when I joined, it was not nobody knew who Just Eat was really, by the time I left, three and a half years later, we’ve done the IPO in London, hugely successful IPO. And we’re just growing the brand everywhere. It was like on every like road, you can see local takeouts and restaurants with the banner, Just Eat Everywhere. It was a phenomenal story to be part of and lucky to be part of. And in the second half of my time there I was at the Chief Operating Officer specifically for India. So I moved in here at that point. This was back in like 2014 and it was just that sort of deep dive into what I would call the world of digital food. And that was for the first generation, you get these marketplaces, these aggregators of restaurants as one example, Open Table being another, you know, that first iteration of companies, that journey for companies has been an eye opener for me, you know I sat there thinking, Oh, they definitely do this or do that. And when I exited the business, early 2015, I sort of sat there and said, Well, you know, maybe I need to do something about it, maybe, you know, there are areas that I feel passionate about, that I really wanted to jump into. And so you know, six months later, after, after leaving, Just Eat, that’s when I started, what was originally called Dishq, which is a slightly different business to what it is now.
Karen Swyszcz 05:45
Yeah, I came across that at a talk you were referring to your company as Dishq. And then recently, you had rebranded to Spoonshot. So what made you guys decide to rebrand?
Rebranding Dishq as Spoonshot
Kishan Vasani 05:57
Yeah, I think it was the journey. It was, you know, we started with this journey of, you know, one of the things I personally believe having offered the experience I had at Just Eat was it, it surprised me that, you know, food is a, as you know, obviously, everyone knows food is a choice that we make, three, four times a day, what to eat when you’re hungry. And, you know, we do it every single day of our lives. And that is a very personal choice for various reasons. And yet, in the, in the technology side of the digital world of food, there was nobody who really had sort of taken that and thought about that. And so how can I make the experience better for users and consumers of food? You know, there was Netflix for movies and Spotify for music, and Amazon for obviously, general shopping and e-commerce. But no one had really done anything in the food universe.
And that was the original idea. So we’re like, we wanted to build a food recommendation engine that would understand your personal sort of tastes, using food science and AI, and then make a prediction and that recommendation to you whenever you open an app. So our first business Dishq, when we launched it that we started at the end of 2015, was a B2C mobile app on Android. It was originally because we were launching the business out of India for the Indian market originally. And we spent the first year 15 months on that business. It was actually a really interesting experience. But of course, B2C apps, you know, there’s so many of them. And it was a very crowded market space, there were lots of small companies like myself doing this, or various forms of this. And you know, things like finding the right revenue model, user acquisition, user retention, all these things come up. And it just didn’t feel like… We had nailed it from a technology perspective, but we probably hadn’t nailed it from a business model perspective at that point in time. And so we thought that was where we decided to pivot. So we’ve done kind of two pivots in our, in our journey in this sort of five and a bit years that I’ve been doing this, that was the first pivot was taking Dishq a B2C app and making it a B2B product. And so what essentially what we did is we turn the technology, the personalized food recommendations into an API, which then we started to sell to other food technology companies or restaurant chains, and those kinds of free delivery platforms so that they can plug in our technology into their app. So if you were using, let’s say, the music, the briefs, or whatever, you see a dish recommendation that theoretically could be it could have been powered by us. And that’s kind of what we do. And we actually got more traction in that avenue. We did that for about another year to year and a bit.
And it was also very difficult to in get these other companies to integrate our API, like the room love the idea in theory, and we have quite a few paying customers. But actually, you know, they’ve signed a contract, let’s say, in January, and they wouldn’t necessarily integrate within it, within six months of scaling the business became really tricky. And so we just felt like they were obviously have other problems going on whether the operational and logistical fires that we’re dealing with the user experience issues, or whatever it was, you know, building restaurant partnerships themselves.
And this was in the spring of 2018. And hard pivoted away from this entirely, essentially, and dropped that business, the only thing that perhaps was left or the two elements of that business that kind of remained- one was the principle of the idea, the principle that AI could be leveraged in this industry, but in a different use case. And the principle of using food science domain knowledge, again in a different use case. So not necessarily thinking about individual consumer recommendations around food. But what if you could understand what consumers needed and wanted in aggregate in larger groups. And of course, therefore, you’re getting into the world of consumer insights and analytics and market research, right? And that’s where we went to an original, the original idea when we did that pivot was to build a menu innovation, sort of analytics platform. So it helped theoretically, the problem statement was, could we help McDonald’s build the next burger in each of their markets, because everywhere in the world, they have a localized menu. Now, obviously, a few hero dishes like filet o fish, and Big Macs, but outside of that they have obviously, these special edition burgers everywhere, which are very different. And based on local tastes. So we said, could we do that using the same sort of principles of technology. And once we got into it, once we started researching the space a lot more, it became quickly evident to us that actually, yes, there is a problem in this space that restaurant chains, we help with innovation, and testing and experimentation. But the pain point is much stronger for CPG companies who can’t or not, aren’t necessarily as agile as flexible, have long innovation cycles. High product launch failure rates, all other sorts of problems there. So yeah, we essentially started building an innovation platform data innovation platform for CPG Companies, as opposed to for food service and restaurants.
The Processing of Many Sources of Data
Karen Swyszcz 11:27
Yeah, that’s really fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Because it’s really interesting, a lot of times, you know, many companies, they start off with one thing, and you know, they put it out there, and then they realize it either, you know, it’s not what the customers want, or it’s not getting as much traction and causing to pivot. So it’s very interesting to see how you went from, like consumer base, and now you’re focusing more on like food innovation for, like the larger companies and the industry as a whole. So yes, speaking, regarding your platform, your AI and I love the name too Foodbrain, it’s just sounds so clever, because it’s no it has to do with all this data regarding food. So it’s mining an insane amount of data, like your your data sources include like articles, blogs, social conversations, ingredients, recipes, can you speak a little bit more as to like how that data is, is processed?
Kishan Vasani 12:18
Sure, absolutely. So I think, you know, one of the interesting things that we learned in this last two and a half years ago of the Spoonshot journey, where we feel that most companies are, you know, has obviously, every company has some form of data, whether it’s internal sales data, obviously, their own product data, their ingredient data, whatever it may be. And you know, some of them have gone out to external vendors or public domain data, mostly, that’s in this world of social media. That’s where most people live in as we get social media monitoring. And mining has been going on for a decade plus now. But what we noticed is, that’s just part of the story, right? So when you look at the world of data, and you know, just as we know, growing exponentially, there are three real domains, consumer data, generated by consumer, generated by business and generated by institutions like government or academic, academic institutions. So when you look at that most focus in terms of the public domain happens in the consumer realm. But actually, it’s fascinating the stories that come out of the other two rounds, like think about it from a new innovation, new technology, patents, intellectual property, research papers in the institutional domain. And think about on the business side of things, of course, you know, outside of the obvious recipes, menus, on recipes, menus and products, you’ve got on top of that, of course, blogs, expert conversations, key opinion leaders, all these things happening, reviews, by businesses as well.
So there’s lots of little places where you can go and, and most companies only have some part of that, like all of that data, they’ll have certain purposes, but they won’t have the complete view, they don’t have a full 360 view in terms of that open data. And that’s one of our key things. So Spoonshot is built on the idea, of course, that having data diversity can give you a lot more competence around every innovation decision that you could make. So but of course, because of that diversity, because of the high volume, because of the high velocity of data, and it’s good to build it on those levels, because your AI models work better. The downside is the complexity. And that’s where it becomes a real headache for us as a company to manage, because you are ingesting and processing, for in our case, 28,000 plus data sources, and that number just grows and grows and grows. And that you know, you don’t control what is going on at those source websites. You’re just sort of, you know, crawling them and understanding what’s going on. And then you have to deal with each one and its own nuances and you have to validate and you have to verify and you have to decide what role each of those plays. And then of course, that’s where we use, obviously, machine learning techniques, natural language processing, computer vision, to understand the different forms of data, text and image, etc. and then build derived insights on top of that.
Well, the way we choose to do that is by using the domain knowledge of food science, which is evergreen. So once you’ve built up an internal understanding of, you know, food science, and what I mean by that is everything from nutritional information, certain elements of sensory, of course, chemical compounds, that ingredient, when you understand that, and what the machine understands that it can start to find, like unintuitive connections, that things that you wouldn’t naturally think of. And that’s how we generate output. And for customers and for our users, we build, we can do quite interesting things all the way from identifying consumer needs very early. And that’s what you want to do is that as a food beverage company want to get ahead of the innovation curve and the trend. We can obviously map those into various trends and tell them tell our users whether they’re going to be megatrend, whether that be news trends, how fast they’re growing, we can then translate that to innovation opportunities, which is like, you know, is a keto cookie going to be a thing? And how should it be kind of played out with the players in the market? You know, what’s happening, what kind of interesting innovation, what’s the size of the price? And perhaps for us, most interestingly, we can go all the way from that consumer need identification, all the way down through to saying, Okay, let’s say a Keto cookies is a valid area for a particular user or a particular company, how do they now actually generate a concept of a winning product formula for that, particularly, so we will even tell them, this is the concept you need to build. This is the Keto cookie, this should be the base ingredients. This should be the macronutrient. This should be the food processing technology. This should be the net carbs, this is the claim on the pack. This is the you know sensory nature of the product. All these different things can be taught to us. So essentially, we’re not just providing confidence around decision making, but we’re actually shortening the innovation cycle by, you know, depending on the company weeks, and sometimes months. And that’s obviously to everybody’s benefit.
Karen Swyszcz 17:41
So just kind of adding on to your answer you had mentioned about how your platform enables you to develop these insights of new combinations that people wouldn’t think to put together. And one thing that really fascinated me, and I’m pretty sure you’ll know which one I’m talking about is the Nutella taste test where you screen tested both soy sauce and Nutella. And then your findings were is that soy sauce had 80% similarity and aroma compounds like when compared to hazelnut and cocoa which I find very, I don’t know, like I can’t wrap my head around it because I like both. But obviously like on separate foods. So can you talk a little bit more about that?
Kishan Vasani 18:23
It’s a fascinating for me, it was a fascinating story. Anyone else but it was a funny story. It was the genesis of the entire idea for Spoonshot where we kind of went from Dishq to Spoonshot and replace it all sorts of other things. It’s funny timing and all that. So basically, what happened was that Ferrero, which is the manufacturer of Nutella, the European based giant, got in touch with us. And for some reason, they, they asked us to, they asked me to come in and deliver a presentation to the senior management, the chief operating officer of the group and his team. They were having a management offsite day in London. And they wanted me to come in and they were there. The theme of the offsite day was AI, and they want to to come in and talk about applications of AI in the CPG industry. And I just said yes. And I didn’t think about the consequences of that. And initially, and then I realized, why are they asking us because at the time, we were still Dishq. We were in the food service space, we were not in CPG and I was like, I don’t know anything about CPG at the time honestly. We wrapped our heads together and said, okay, still, this is a great chance to build a relationship. And we’re kind of exploring this new space or thinking about it. So let’s do something. And we did a hackathon internally at the company as a sort of way to build a presentation for them. And we talked about general applications of AI that we obviously knew about in the industry that were going to become a thing. And then we did this hackathon with what can we tell them about like Nutella obviously being the well-finished product, that it is. And we just, you know, the team just hacked together some interesting data from various sources, social media and others.
And of course, our team of food scientists that we have just met, were working on, like, analyzing the product and breaking it down and they generated this list of the breaking down, like I said, the major ingredients, the dominant flavor ingredients of Nutella, and they produced this list of the ranking of the ones that had the highest matches. And, you know, bread was near the top, what a surprise. And then further down the list was, I think it was in the top 10 or something was of course soy sauce, we all looked and thought soy sauce. We all had that same reaction. What is that about? And that I think the first thing we did was we went to the local grocery store made the purchase. And we’re like, let’s try this. And we did a bit of experimentation.
And when you are a well, a very mature product like Nutella, that’s a really interesting insight. And, you know, that was fascinating for us.
The only thing is, we had no idea what the Ferrero’s response would be to this. So off I went to the presentation. And I did the whole normal presentation that we were doing blah, blah, blah. And then at the end, I delivered this and they just went silent. There’s literally silence in the room. And I’m just like, in a boardroom, like I’m just in my jeans and T shirt, they’re all formally dressed, I’m like uh oh, and then they all burst out laughing. And I was like, okay, thank goodness. And they were like, they were like asking me, are you serious? Is this a prank? And I was like, No, this is not a prank. And they were like, this is so fascinating. And they all just started talking amongst themselves. And at the end of the presentation, okay. they all came up and said, we’re going to try this at home tonight. My kids gonna try this, all this kind of thing. And one of them said to me, actually, this kind of makes sense. Because if you think about, you know, Hazelnut. And then if you replace that with peanut, and then you can see how it connects to noodle recipes that you’ve seen. And there’s, so it’s kind of unintuitive. And then when you hear about it in that context, that makes sense. And what was fascinating to me was, how could it be that giant like that didn’t necessary, I mean, I can’t say it’s true for the whole company, but certainly for that team was not aware of this kind of thing. I was like, this is there’s something here, I said, there’s something in this and that’s when we went back and we’re like, Okay, we got it. That’s when we kind of said okay, there’s something in insights related to food and beverage that we need to tap into here which that became essentially what Spoonshot was.
Karen Swyszcz 23:04
It’s funny because I’m like, thinking in my head, how you mentioned about Nutella being more of a snack thing. And yeah, I feel like I don’t know about you. But Nutella is pretty much a staple in my house, so Nutella, soy sauce, and noodles and thinking, of course a lot. I’ve been doing a lot more cooking during the pandemic and trying to figure out, oh, what recipes? What can I put together or looking in the pantry and fridge? You know, instead of having to go out to the grocery store and buy specific ingredients for that dish? I’m like, oh, okay, I have these three things. Okay, they actually can make a meal. And it’ll taste pretty good. So yeah, I’m very curious to try it out. Off the top of your head. Are there any other like, based on you know, what, what Spoonshot has discovered? Are there any significant unintuitive flavor combinations that stick out in your mind?
Kishan Vasani 23:55
Not as strong as that if I’m honest, there. I mean, if you went into it, I mean, the thing is that I think it’s actually had a much bigger impact on perhaps us than I even realize myself now. Sounds weird saying this out loud, I guess. But like we this whole thing with Nutella and soy sauce actually made us think about being bold in terms of our insights and our recommendations, right, being like, it’s an industry that generally plays safe. And understandably, like nobody wants to try random things in the supermarket or the grocery store, like, you’re thinking what the hell?
Karen Swyszcz 24:25
I don’t know, I do. I like free samples.
Kishan Vasani 24:27
Yeah, sure, but maybe you wouldn’t pay for it. Right. But like, and so yeah, they they, you know, they play safe. And one of the things we have in our platform is this feature called Ingredient Networks. And it is helping you identify emerging ingredient combinations of novel ingredients that we have something called novelty score is a particular proprietary score we have in our platform, and that basically gives you a sense of how new or how unfamiliar or how rare a particular ingredient combination is to consumers at a category level. And that’s, that’s kind of like this, like most of the if you if you were to use our platform, you’ll see and we have a free version. Feel free to test me on this one. Go in there and type for add, you know, enter an ingredient, let’s say avocado. And then you’ll see like roughly, I think, 2, 300 potential pairings. And it’s ranked in order of novelty. So highest novelty first. And the first pairs you’ll see are probably really either strange whatever you want to call it. And so that’s, I think, actually played out into our technology more than we perhaps even realize ourselves. And so there’s a, there’s a huge list of combinations out there, that are used in a small number of products or a small number of recipes that could become the next big combination. And, you know, we make that data available to the users.
Emerging Food Trends
Karen Swyszcz 25:49
I think that could also be helpful too, with respect to generating less food waste, because again, you know, kind of circling back to my experience, if people don’t know, like, they have all this food, but they just don’t know an ingredients. And they just don’t know, like how to pair them together. So I’d like to transition over to the pandemic and I came across a report on LinkedIn, how your company came out with a report in 2019, with food and beverage trends. And then once the pandemic came, like, seven of them ended up being accurate, which is really, you know, really impressive. So do you mind sharing as to what kind of trends did you guys predict?
Kishan Vasani 26:29
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, there was a whole bunch of trends across the landscape. And we did this in partnership with so we did the underlying technology and data insights. It was put together with one of our advisors and partners, Liz Moscow who’s a food trendologist, which you could think of her as the human version of Spoonshot, I guess. She’s been with us for the last few years which has been great. And, you know, she’s, you know, looked at our insights, our data and pieced this together as it was our first ever proper trends report. And this was, like I said, pre pandemic, and it was everything from, you know, like, check the identification of Chip. Chip is one area, you know, there was some really interesting things about fusion foods that was actually that was one of the ones I think that didn’t play out, I think was called Sexy Ugly Mashups or something like that. We gave it these these fancy funky names. But I think, you know, what was interesting for us in that, in the reports are available on our website and our blog. I think the most interesting thing about that was that the way that we pieced this together, again, it goes back to the data strategy that we use to really pull together these information, not just about diversity of data, which we talked about earlier, but actually about long tail.
So you know, when you think about how to build insights, in any domain, food, or otherwise, it’s easy to go to the aggregators, it’s easy to go to, you know, Open Table, or Walmart or Amazon and piece together that and tried to build insights out of that. But actually, what’s most interesting, and perhaps what has most single leading indicators are longtail websites. So it could be just one blogger, could be someone who’s running a podcast, could be a local restaurant review, it could be just a local community leader, and they have a perspective. And they will be talking about it digitally on social media or otherwise on their website. And then you can piece together those, that dialogue and those conversations and that information across obviously, a certain geographic region, for example, that’s how you really get to see that an idea of spreading I mean, that is, let’s talk about what is really a trend? It is the definition is a spread of an idea, right? And so, being able to see that, you know, those little peaks of data, that little spots of data that start to emerge in different locations, around different or similar topics. And you can really track and analyze that journey. And so that’s how we kind of, were able to do that, with that kind of level of accuracy. And to say, I mean, seven out of eight. I think, you know, the point is a seven out of eight are still valid, given everything that’s happened in the last 18 months, right like that’s the key I think only what we felt is no longer relevant or in play. So I don’t want to sit here and say we nailed it. But like, I think the point here is that seven out of eight still very much in play today and even going forward but yeah, definitely encourage listeners to check it out. It’s on our website.
Karen Swyszcz 29:41
And then with regarding additional emerging food trends, I know that you’ve mentioned in a previous talk you’ve done about the trend of upcycled food which really piqued my interest because I’ve heard of upcycled like materials upcycled clothing but not so much upcycled food, so I’m assuming it’s kind of like the same idea. As with the clothing, you’re taking food scraps that and food, I guess that would normally go, you know, into like the green bin for your compost. So you’d necessarily like, like get rid of them, but they’re actually being used to create new products.
Kishan Vasani 30:13
What’s happened is that it’s really pendant to this trend of upcycled food has really been around for a couple of years in the business domain, as if you’re an industry insider, everybody knows about it, talking about it. And now it’s like the contrary on the consumer side. And maybe you’ve got various sort of variants of upcycling going on, of course, you’re taking sort of the byproducts of production lines, and then using them for another purpose to create a product, flour, a cookie, or real, no big example of that they put things like spent grain from like alcohol production being used for cereal and snack bars, flour, and we’ve got leftover fruit pulp, which is obviously from juice production. Again, cereal bars is another one or few flavors and colors. You’ve got dairy free milk production, where you have the leftover pulp – soy, almond, or oat. And that can be used for like baking ingredients. So there’s so many different ways. And this is really the beginning of that generally we see this as a actually we see this as potentially a mega trend, because it plays into various other mega trends, for example, like food and sustainability and climate change. So I think this is really just the beginning, there’s just been the formation recently of the Upcycle Food Association. They’ve just come out with a certification if you’re, if you’re in this space, in upcycling as a food beverage brand. You can be officially certified with the stamp now so it’s gonna become much more of a marketing claim on the shelves as well. So it’s a fascinating space, and it’s all about the circular economy and sustainable food giving consumers a genuine source of sustainable food options.
Karen Swyszcz 31:51
Yeah, actually, when you mentioned how it’d be like a marketing thing, like that totally popped into my head, just like imagine that people were like, oh, okay, like checking for the upcycled label like, Oh, this is upcycled. So what would you say regarding entrepreneurship, what are some common misconceptions people have when it comes to running a startup? And also kind of like a add on question, like, do you feel the whole idea of like being an entrepreneur running a startup, it sounds like all sexy and cool. Like everyone wants to do it?
The Harsh Reality of Being An Entrepreneur
Kishan Vasani 32:19
Well, when Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher filmed a film called The Social Network that won Oscars. Now, that’s how everybody thinks it should go, right? So great film, but definitely not reality, even though it was telling. It was telling the story, in terms of definitely telling the story from a different angle. But yeah, I think, you know, there are many misconceptions about startups, you know, that you’re 22 from Stanford, doing something out of your garage and someone jumps in and writes you a check for $5 million, or $100 million. and off you go, go, go go, right? I think the realities are so different. And for the majority, I mean, of course, these are some of the stories of incredible growth, hybrid startups, you know, both on the business side and the consumer side is fascinating and are inspiring, of course. But I’d be surprised if anybody really believes that, certainly within the founder community that the anybody says in different from the fact that really timing is the biggest determinant of your success. I mean, everybody knows Zoom was around. It’s been around for a while. But the reason Zoom is where it is today is because the pandemic and no one’s forseen that so. And that’s just an extreme example. But you know, it just really does play in timing of your business.
Even for us going back to the story of Dishq. We were too early with our API food recommendation engine. If we had launched it now, we probably do far better, because the industry is more mature and more ready for these kinds of what we’re initially nice to have solutions and feel much more differentiated solutions now. I think timing is absolutely key. And sometimes that’s deliberate. And you know, true visionary founders may or may not have done spotted the opportunity at the right time. And off they went. And, you know, for some of us, it can happen as a happy accident. So I think, either way, I’m sure if it’s, if your business is growing, then you will take it wherever it comes. So I think that’s definitely one misconception about how these big companies have come along. I think another thing that is a misconception maybe it’s not fully a misconception, but certainly, it’s certainly a warning, I guess, tell you one is that building a startup a technology startup is really, really hard. And it’s in terms of the core of doing that is is about building something that people love and something that people cannot live without, essentially, if you turned it off or shut it down that people would scream and rebel and there’d be riots. I mean, that’s that like, that’s what you really need to do, right? I mean, that’s essentially it. And doing that is extremely difficult. I mean, we’re still on budget, if I’m honest with you, here we are five years later, if I’m very honest, you know, my self evaluation perspective, what I want to be where I am, we’re still an emerging company.
Of course, I’m really happy with our progress as a company, this was last 12 months were our last is our most successful ever. But you know what I want to be further down that maturity curve? Absolutely. But everybody’s got to go on their own journey. And you’ve got to figure these things out. And it’s one thing to choose to build a company, software technology company, where you are the user of your own solution. That’s one thing, and that’s hard as well, but at least you can relate to the problem you’re trying to solve. Try doing it when you’re not the user, that is 3x 5x 10x harder, in my opinion, I’ve done both. And it’s much harder. But the reason we’ve been successful, I feel whatever success we’ve achieved the reason for what we’ve done at this time versus last time, when you know, Dishq was an industry I knew much better than the restaurant side had the industry experience is frankly, it’s just about ego and arrogance. It’s like you think you know it and think you don’t let you know the industry worked, and that you were part of a success story. And, you know, oh, I don’t need to validate. I don’t need to double check. I don’t need to research. So off you go, and you just build, and you go straight to build without actually thinking everything through that think about the business model very much, and all that kind of stuff. Whereas when we did Spoonshot, we basically started with a blank piece of paper and said, We don’t know anything about CPG don’t have it, even though it’s from the wider food industry, of course, but it’s a completely different beast.
So building something that people need something that people will love, especially when you’re not building a solution of you’re not the user of that solution. Wow. That’s extremely difficult. But it’s, it’s an incredible journey. I think the other thing I would say about misconceptions is that from the outside looking in the into the startup and venture capital world, most people will just be like, Oh, yeah, you know, just go and pitch a VC, you know, they’ll give you the money. And that’s, that’s how you build a billion dollar business. That’s how you build a unicorn. And you’re just, you know, this idea of unicorn billion dollar business. And, and you don’t want to, you only really understand this, when you get on the inside is that you are one of 100 as a founder, and as a business, you are one of 100, or maybe more bets that a venture capitalist is making. And in the cold light of day, they only need one of those bets to really make it the other 99, they don’t really care, right? If you make a venture capitalist, a 3x return, that’s not good enough, you need to make them 100x return. That’s how their economics work. That’s how they get money from institutions and investors that their investors with limited partners. So like that, that’s the model. And founders, almost founder knows that until they get deep into it. And they’re well on the journey.
Of course, more information is out in the public domain now than it was years ago. But it’s like, until you fully understand that, then you realize, and then you also need to break that cycle and really understand of are you building a business? A big business for your investor? Are you building it for yourself? And are you building it to be successful? Or are you building to be big? And you’re not those things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but you really underneath to understand what you’re doing in terms of and what the goal of the investor is at every stage, you know, the seed investor just wants you to improve by I say a bit but they want you to grow a certain amount so they can increase their valuation and then they can sit back and let the next investor takeover. Then that investor comes to that Series A then they let the next event and it’s just there it is , you know, in the cold light of day it is a that is exactly what it is. And nobody should have any illusions about that and just be very careful. And I would say to any founder about what you’re getting into when you raise venture capital. It comes with lots of expectations. I’m deliberately painting the glass is half empty here, because plenty of people already have glasses half full. I don’t need to speak about benefits on this. I just want people to know the realities.
Karen Swyszcz 39:55
Yeah, no, I really appreciate you speaking to these realities. Because again, you know, I I think people like have this like perceived notion of how things are. And of course, you don’t really know until you’re actually in it and may surprise you, especially with the fact with building something that you think people might want. Like, again, unless you like, do the research, if you go out, and if you don’t go out and test and not only that, but like to test early and test, often, you may end up like spending all this time building something that people don’t want. Yeah, and which I, like tends to happen.
Kishan Vasani 40:29
Definitely, there’s a lot of like, you know, because of all the kind of hype and this and this, a lot of “wantrepreneurs” out there, frankly, and for me, this is no disrespect to anybody.
Karen Swyszcz 40:38
I‘ve heard that term too.
Kishan Vasani 40:40
No disrespect to anybody who wants to be an entrepreneur and desires to be but for me, you can’t really be an entrepreneur, if you’re doing it part time, you have to put it all on the line. And some people will disagree with that. Some people say you they have financial commitments. And I totally understand that I’m just is one man’s opinion. And you know that my view is until you put it all on the line, your family’s financial future, you don’t really you know, that’s skin in the game. That’s when you make the perhaps the purest decision. When you’ve got another income stream,you can mess around, you can slow it down, you could speed up whatever you want. And I think, you know, a lot of people that put their toe in the water in this world and have no real clue what it is to put it all on the line. And for me, that’s the difference between a wantrepreneur or an entrepreneur or a hobby business, or a side hustle, which is all fine. But those distinctions should absolutely be made clear. And I think I’ve even told my friends who said, I’m thinking about doing building, literally, this is one example, a friend told me that I’m going to launch a, I want to build a travel startup. This was like, two, three years ago. And I’m going to do it and she works in a bank. And I was like, What do you mean, where are, how are you going to pay for it, and she goes, Oh, I’ll just go pitch a few people. I was like, they’re going to laugh at you. You going to leave your job? No. They’re not going to give you a penny, right like, because venture capitalists because they have to make sure that you are fully committed, because they want one of these 100 bets to pay off. And that’s where they want you to give up everything. And that’s where they want you to like be 100% focused on the business and, and it’s like, yeah, it’s just going on a bit there. But yeah, I think it’s a very unique view, as a founder. It definitely opens your eyes to all the other worlds of business that exists out there.
Karen Swyszcz 42:34
Yeah, and essentially, like when you do put all of it on the line, you’re lighting a fire under your ass. And I think like having that fire, you know, like, it pushes you to, like, do more to like, grow the business. And I think you realize that you have to set your priorities straight. And like really does. Do I need to do this or like I can live without this. If it means that I can drive my business forward.
Kishan Vasani 42:57
Yeah, I mean, like for, for me, it was a case of when I started this five years ago. I was married, but I didn’t have any kids. Now I have two kids, like, you know, that changes your perspective on everything. Right. And the sacrifices that come but anyway that’s, I guess another story.
Karen Swyszcz 43:15
And if you could have dinner with entry, excuse me, if you could have dinner with any entrepreneur, who would it be? And of course, since we’re talking about food, what would you eat?
Kishan Vasani 43:25
So my answer to this question. I had a real good think about this one. Because I wanted I was like I actually don’t know, it took me ages to think about this one but the answer I came up with in the end was fascinating for me even was I said, Elizabeth Holmes from Founder of Theranos. And I’m guessing you familiar with her story?
Karen Swyszcz 43:52
No, actually, I’m not.
Kishan Vasani 43:53
Oh, okay. So I suggest you definitely watch the Theranos story on YouTube and the documentary. So this is the founder, quit Stanford youngest ever perhaps billionaire founder few years ago. And it was the she claimed to build this machine that could do blood tests, 200 blood tests in like, two minutes or whatever, in one machine. Whereas when we blood tests, like required to do multiple different blood tests are different, obviously, different tests and it takes days or whatever it is. And she’d like one blood test one drop of blood. That’s 200 tests a few minutes and you know, it went to the place where she had got top tier Silicon Valley Valley investors. She’d done deals with, I think it was Walgreens had a device installed there. And it was all a ruse. It was the it was the Enron of the industry. I guess it was she basically the machine didn’t work even though she has like billions of dollars in funding or whatever it was, and it all came House of Cards falling down a few years ago and now she’s facing prison and court cases. So yeah, very fascinating story. But I guess the reason I wanted to have dinner with her is because I want her to know. I mean, the vision is, is fantastic to have to think about that as a potential solution. And the benefits you can have for the industry and for the people is great. But where did the where did it come off the rails? You know, when did she decide that This is I’m going to try and fake it till I make it. You know, what was? How did she go about that? And why did she how did she get it go so far? And yeah, so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. Maybe, maybe, maybe she’ll let me visit her in prison. But uh, yeah, the the meal? Probably something. Definitely, of course, I’m a foodie, but I would. I’m not one for discovery as many foodies I guess self identify or define. I would say I’m quite particular. But I like all the wrong things that are. Truffle mac and cheese. Or, you know, a well done beef burger with blue cheese again, cheese being resonates throughout. So yeah, any of the wrong stuff.
Karen Swyszcz 46:14
Oh, yeah, that does sound delicious. So if people wanted to get in touch with you and learn more about Spoonshot, where could they find you?
Kishan Vasani 46:22
They can find me on LinkedIn. I think that’s the best place. Quite active there. Both personally and with Spoonshot. So yeah, happy to reach out.
Karen Swyszcz 46:33
Wonderful. Thank you so much for this really fun conversation and really fascinating conversation about food. I enjoyed talking with you.
Kishan Vasani 46:40
Thanks for having me Karen.
Karen Swyszcz 46:42
Thanks, everyone for tuning in. And stay tuned for more episodes. Ciao for now. Bye.
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