I’ve been an athlete my entire life; I grew up playing table tennis on the England squad, and more recently competed in both triathlon and CrossFit. As a result, I’ve developed a deep interest in and passion for nutrition, particularly as it relates to enhancing performance.
However, it’s through building technology companies, not sport, that I believe I can make the biggest contribution to the world. One of the biggest problems we face as a species is that our health is in bad shape, and it’s getting worse. To illustrate how serious the problem is today: 75% of American men and 67% of American women aged 25-54 are now overweight and this is up from 63% and 55%, respectively, 20 years ago. This costs America $190B each year in obesity-related healthcare treatment, or 5% of the $3.8T federal budget. On top of this, obesity-related sub-par productivity and absenteeism costs the American workforce an estimated $65B each year.
A significant change needs to happen to turn the corner here, and this is why our mission at Zesty is to improve the health of humanity.
More than any other factor, a person’s diet has the biggest impact on their overall health — even more than exercise. By creating a more reliable, delicious, and all-around superior catering experience that is also very affordable, Zesty offers something all companies want. This will ultimately enable us to improve how people are eating on a massive scale.
That’s why today, we’re excited to announce that Zesty has raised a $17M Series A funding round led by Index Ventures, with participation from Founders Fund and existing investor Forerunner Ventures. This follows the $3.7M in seed funding we previously raised from Y Combinator, SV Angel and many other angel investors. The funding round is a significant milestone on our journey, as it will enable us to take Zesty to many other markets outside San Francisco and more than double our current team of 30 over the next 12 months.
San Francisco’s leading office catering service
Since launching our office catering service in January 2014, we have quickly become the market leader in San Francisco. We are now serving tens of thousands of meals every week to hundreds of the world’s leading companies, such as Slack, Instacart, Twitch, Eventbrite and Teespring.
By offering a wide variety of healthy meal options every day, Google famously set the bar for what a company’s food program can be. Zesty makes it easy for any company from 10 to 1,000 employees to take care of their most important resource, their employees, in the same way, easily and affordably. Curated by in-house dietitians, Zesty now works with hundreds of high-quality local San Francisco restaurants, including DOSA, Nopalito and The Plant Cafe. We also have a team of hundreds of friendly, professional, on-site Catering Captains who provide Office Managers the peace of mind that meals will always be delivered on time and beautifully presented.
Prior to Zesty, most San Francisco companies were being catered by services that had no focus on health. Not only is the market leader now a company that prioritizes health, but we are also influencing our competitors to try to serve healthier options. We’re very excited to see how this plays out on a larger scale.
Check out how our clients, restaurant partners, Catering Captains and employees describe Zesty in their own words:
We are excited to announce that new customers signing up for Zesty between now and the end of July will also get their first meal free! To take advantage of this, please sign up at https://www.zesty.com.
The Journey: Oxford > San Francisco > iPhone > Y Combinator > Catering
The original idea for Zesty was born out of a frustration around how hard it was to get healthy food at the office while working on my prior startup in London. The ability to push a button and have a meal arrive, on-demand, was our original solution. After sharing the idea with my now co-founder Chris Hollindale, who I studied mathematics with at Oxford, we thought the best place to start the company would be in San Francisco. We moved out here together from London in January 2013.
Zesty was first announced in June 2013 as an iPhone app called Hasty, through which you could order healthy food on demand. On November 4, 2013, we launched our app publicly under the new name Zesty (most of our users didn’t get my play on words that hasty = healthy + tasty). At the end of November 2013, we were accepted into Y Combinator’s W14 batch. One of the things we heard from some of our early app users, including FundersClub co-founder Boris Silver, Vungle co-founder Zain Jaffer and Heyzap co-founder Jude Gomila, was that they had an even bigger problem with their office catering. The options available weren’t healthy and the delivery experience was highly variable because restaurants were responsible, so the food was often late and not well presented.
After hearing this feedback and wanting to experiment with ways to grow, particularly with YC Demo Day quickly approaching in a few months, we decided to try out the idea of serving businesses in January 2014, and quickly discovered we could provide healthy food to more people through their workplace. We never looked back, and the past 18 months have been a wonderful whirlwind. The combination of delicious, healthy food combined with Zesty’s managed on-site service struck a chord with the market. In September 2014, we had reached a point where 96% of our revenue was from catering and only 4% was from our consumer app, so we decided to disable the latter for the time being.
The mission never changed, but the pivot allowed us to reach more people, make a bigger impact, and grow faster than we thought possible when we first launched.
Thank you to our clients, restaurant partners, team, advisors and investors!
There have been a lot of people who have helped us on this journey so far, and I’d like to personally say thank you to:
- Our clients, starting with Nate Smith and John Milinovich, co-founders of URX, our very first client in January 2014, and still a loyal Zesty customer 18 months later.
- Our restaurant partners, starting with Ron Henoud, founder of Darn Good Food, our very first restaurant partner, for having faith in us since the beginning and sharing so much with us.
- Our Catering Captains, who are the face of Zesty to our clients everyday, led by our Community Manager Bianca Knisely.
- My co-founder & CTO Chris Hollindale for getting on a plane with me to San Francisco, leaving his life in London behind to start off this crazy adventure.
- Our Creative Director Danny Keane who has brought beautiful aesthetics to our video above, our logo and our website, and always keeps a smile on people’s faces.
- Our Director of Business Development Chao Wang who has been my right hand in building a business around our mission.
- Our Director of Operations Victoria Mitchell who brought tremendous amounts of restaurant industry knowledge into our team from The Plant Cafe and has been the rock of our day-to-day operations for the past year through a period of crazy growth.
- Our Director of Research & Logistics Tom Close, a Quantum Computing PhD from Oxford who has helped us create a world class logistics engine.
- The rest of the full-time Zesty team for such incredible passion, dedication and sacrifice that has taken the company to where it is today.
- Y Combinator for pushing us to focus on growth and do things that don’t scale, advice which contributed to our pivot last year and that we still hold top of mind today.
- Our many advisors, particularly Heyzap co-founder Jude Gomila who was the first shareholder in Zesty after Chris and I, and Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta who has been able to share a lot of relevant experience since starting to advise us during Y Combinator.
- Our 70+ existing investors who have supported us to date, including our very first investor AJ Asver and our largest seed investor Forerunner Ventures who have been a fantastic sounding board over the past year.
- Our new investors Index Ventures and Founders Fund, who I’m very excited to work with as we scale Zesty to the next level!
Building an A-team: past, present and future
When you are building a company for the long haul, hiring a team of A players who share your values and can create a fantastic culture together is critical. This is something I’ve prioritized with Zesty so far and will work extremely hard to continue as we scale.
Shared values underpins much of this, and our first value as a company is “Health over All”. In order to authentically evangelize our mission to our clients, we need to lead by example with our own health. As well as having Zesty meals for lunch and dinner everyday, we offer a range of non-traditional health perks to all team members, including a $5K annual personal health budget (in addition to great health insurance) that can be spent on anything you want, ranging from gym memberships and WellnessFX checkups to meditation retreats and counseling. We also offer weekly on-site sports massages, craniosacral therapy and meditation classes, and bi-annual retreats for the whole company. Here’s a photo of the team at our last retreat to Hawaii this May:
On the technical side, one of the most interesting impacts of the pivot is how our challenges have evolved. While the sharing economy has been applied to various B2C markets in the form of on demand ridesharing as well as meal and package delivery, Zesty is one of the first companies to apply it in a B2B context. One notable difference is that while an on-demand consumer delivery service typically assigns the nearest driver to do each job solo, most Zesty orders involve multiple workers with varying skillsets. This represents a different and more complex scheduling challenge. As another example, choosing which restaurant to use for particular orders is not trivial, as there are so many constraints and combinations to consider in a many-to-many-to-many three-sided marketplace. We ended up borrowing an algorithm from theoretical physics to solve the latter problem and you can read more about our approach in the post “How simulated annealing can improve your lunch” on our engineering blog.