I still don’t have a job–by which I mean no one pays me to show up somewhere every day and do the same task over and over again. I do have a purpose. That’s different.
But since no corporations or companies or nonprofits have decided to take a risk and believe in me, I’ve had to believe in myself more than ever. In fact, I’m taking a chance on myself.
Last night I had the pleasure of presenting bakin at the Local Food Lab Venture Fair at the d.school at Stanford University. For three and a half hours I was on my feet telling fellow foodies (and potential investors) about bakin, the startup idea I’ve conceived with Neal Mirchandani. It was an exhilarating, affirming experience that convinced me this is an idea worth sharing. I’ve condensed the pitch below, partially as a way of explaining what our idea is and partially as a practice exercise for myself. I hope you enjoy. If you have any ideas or questions, feel free to reach out–we’re particularly interested in hearing from potential chefs and customers as well as people with investment ties.
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Are you familiar with the Cottage Food Act? Probably not. It was passed in January 2013, just three months ago, and allows individuals make certain foods in their home kitchens and then sell them for profit. These individuals can be artisans looking for a stepping-stone to owning their own restaurant, or the neighborhood mom with a great brownie recipe who just wants to supplement her income.
bakin is poised to become the one-stop shop for consumers and producers of cottage foods. We view this legislation, combined with our platform, as the stepping-stone to a much better world: one with no bad cookies. Our slogan is that every pie can be homemade, & every cookie too.
Before we get to delivering those homemade goods from our online marketplace, however, we’ve got to have chefs and artisans ready to make them. We are going to capture that segment of the market by streamlining the entire process of permitting, insuring, publicizing, and selling as a cottage food operator. We’re currently hearing that the permitting process can be a headache for new entrants to the field, so we’re going to automate that process for them. By embedding ourselves in the system and becoming experts, we can make permitting much easier. (Think legalzoom but for a niche audience.)
Now, a typical artisanal storefront (like Etsy) consists of items the artisan has already produced. That’s inefficient–there’s really poor signaling, because the artisan actually knows very little about whether anyone likes the item, much less wants to buy it. We remove that inefficiency by flipping the model. Where a traditional storefront is supply-driven, we’re demand-driven: the process will typically start with the consumer. This is a huge innovation. Because a consumer posts a request, there’s perfect signaling and we achieve allocative efficiency (only the goods that are being demanded are being produced).
In practice, here’s how it works. Let’s say Margot is our theoretical customer. She’s a young professional who loves to go to Thursday potlucks with her friends. While she normally loves to bake for these occasions, she will be traveling this week and only just make it to the potluck in time.
In today’s world, what does Margot do? She will have to go buy week-old cookies at Safeway that are jammed with food dyes and taste like nothing. That’s not the most efficient solution–we’re convinced that we can offer a world with no bad cookies. There are far too many awesome chefs out there for this to go on.
In our world, Margot posts an open request, which is visible to all chefs on bakin’s online ecosystem. (We’ll also offer closed requests, which would be sent specifically to one chef for approval or rejection.) You can even imagine that if she posts a pastry request–say, cupcakes–that pastry chefs could be signed up to receive text or email alerts.
The interested chefs then post bids which detail how they propose to fill the customer’s request. This injects competition and choice into the marketplace, which ensures customer satisfaction and leads to productive efficiency, which means things are getting produced at the lowest possible price. That’s awesome! In our hypothetical, we can imagine that Margot receives the following two bids:
- From Bernadette: I can make 25 dark chocolate mocha chip cupcakes for $22.00. Organic? No. Gluten Free? No. Delivery Included? Yes. 340 degree community feedback temperature.
- From Theo: I can make 25 red velvet organic cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for $20.00. Organic? Yes. Gluten Free? No. Delivery included? No. 450 degree community feedback temperature.
Based on Margot’s individual situation and preferences, she can choose between these options (and hopefully many more). The more bids we can get, the more choices Margot has and the more likely we’re going to be to being able to approximate her needs. In this case, maybe she knows her host loves red velvet, so she selects Theo’s option. But maybe it’s price that matters for her, or delivery. Our ecosystem allows for flexibility, which isn’t incorporated into any other artisanal storefronts.
The analogues for our business model are in the crowdsourcing space, with businesses like Lyft. Like Lyft, we offer on-demand satisfaction to the customer. We also lower the barriers to doing business as a chef and allow costless entry and exit–chefs do business at their leisure on bakin. Lyft has been enormously successful with a similar model, but for taxi service. They lower the barriers to entry, allow entry and exit, and use the consumer’s needs as a point of departure. The success of Lyft and similar businesses like taskrabbit are the augury of good things for bakin.
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