For most of us, the idea of starting a business, making a plan or even sharing an idea, can seem daunting or frightening. So many of us have great ideas, but for whatever reason, are hesitant to take the plunge and share them with the world. At Enactus, we value the courage to embrace this entrepreneurial spirit, especially in the context of helping those in need. And so we sat down with Josh Walters, founder of food purchase app Feedback, who told us his best advice to anyone wanting to be an entrepreneur is to “just do it”.
As Josh talked about growing his company, and his journey as an entrepreneur, the message that the world belongs to those who reach for it rang clear. To an extent, the decision to begin is just that simple. And it seems to have worked pretty well for him; his app is now transforming the way the restaurant industry interacts with customers, while feeding the Toronto community, one meal at a time.
How was the idea for feedback born?
“I went for a late night pizza and as I was leaving the owner was closing up shop for the night, and he offered me all the pizza he had left for a fraction of the price. It got me thinking [about how] restaurants experience these times of the day where there are no customers and they’re wasting food, and price is a great way to drive traffic at certain times. That’s when I came up with the idea for an app that consolidated all the restaurants that had pre-prepared food, or quiet hours of the day and they could upload these time specific promotions to reduce waste and get customers when they’d otherwise be empty.”
So, how does the app work?
“You log into the app and scroll through a list of restaurants; they’re all offering food [between] 20% to 70% off depending on what time of day. You can go directly into the restaurant through the app, look at their menu, place your order, and then you go to the restaurant during those hours, show your mobile receipt, and pick up the food.”
And how exactly does each order from the app help to reduce food waste?
“We started with just end of day deals at restaurants, and this was only pre-prepared food, sitting in a window, whether it was pizza, like my experience, or salads or sandwiches, even juices, sushi is a great example, and they were gonna throw it out. We started with that since it was most obvious, but we realized pretty quickly that restaurants actually throw out waste throughout the entire day. They prep for the lunch rush, and then when the lunch rush is over, they throw it out. And so our restaurant owners actually came to us, with this platform where they could offer time specific deals and said ‘hey can we also do this at 2:30 when no one is eating at our restaurant?’ We understood then the problem wasn’t just this leftover food at the end of the day, it was really the demand and peaks and valleys in demand at the restaurant. If you operate a restaurant you have like a huge lunch rush, and a big dinner rush, and not necessarily much traffic in between. And all that in between is what causes the waste and leftover food at the end of the day. So, in using price in sort of a dynamic sense instead of in a one-price fits all model, you can really control when customers show up, and ensure that you don’t have food to throw out at the end of the day.”
I’ve read that a portion from every purchase goes toward helping bring meals to those in need, how does that work? Do you partner with any other charities or companies to make this happen?
“When you start to deal with the issue of food waste it’s hard not to think of the issue of food security, and how many people don’t have enough food, especially when you see all this great food being thrown out at the end of the day. So we looked around Toronto for someone either to pick it up and donate it, or whatever it was, but logistically it’s very complicated. With so many restaurants all wasting a small amount. We found Second Harvest which is an incredible food rescue and donation charity, [..] we created a deal with them where from our profit we [..] give them a monetary donation equivalent to what it costs them to provide a meal to someone in need. And we do that based on each users purchase behaviour. Once you order a certain value a certain amount of times [on] the app, we obviously collect revenue per set commission on each sale, and from our profit we donate money to Second Harvest for them to donate meals to people in need.”
There are a couple other popular food purchasing apps on the market right now, what makes feedback different? Do you think it’s socially conscious positioning attracts more customers?
“Most of the food ordering apps are centered around convenience, so your paying a premium to get the convenience of delivery, or it being prepared ahead of time. Ours is kind of flipping that around, [we’re asking you to be] a little more flexible, and pick [your food up] up at a certain hour, but your getting a discount, and you’re actually helping with a larger problem. And what we talk about and what we tell everyone is that you have two major types of customers: price sensitive, and socially or environmentally conscious. The price sensitive customer is just gonna jump at the next best deal, the one who’s actually tied to the mission of our company is the one whos gonna be a loyal customer and the one who's gonna stay with us in the long term. It’s not just a marketing ploy to get people to use the app; its actually ingrained in our mission and who we want our customer base to be.”
What was your biggest challenge in growing feedback?
“Feedback operates as a marketplace, restaurants on one side, our customers or diners on the other. Growing [both] out at the same time is always difficult because you sign up some restaurants, and don't have enough customers, then [restaurants] feel like it’s not really working. Then you get a lot of customers all over and they want restaurants nearby. So in scaling our model, the trickiest part was trying to manage that supply and demand side of the marketplace at the same time.”
And how did you overcome that?
“[It's] still something were dealing with but now that we have over 300 restaurants and many people [are] using the app every day. I think as you scale there’s sort of a snowball effect in terms of restaurants get orders, and because they get orders the staff know how to handle the orders better and it just leads to a smoother operation.”
In what ways are you currently working to grow feedback?
“We’re signing up new restaurants every day. We found that signing up a lot of restaurants in a small geographical area is the best way to deal with that supply/demand mismatch problem, and so building the restaurants out, and following up by either digital ads or stopping by local office buildings or community centers [..], to spread the word and we’re [just] sort of being really hands on with it, and growing out both sides at the same time.”
I know this is a pretty deep question, but where do you see Feedback in 5 to 10 years?
“What we’re doing now, is gathering a lot of data around pricing. We want to know what price at what time, shown to which person will get that person to show up at the restaurant. We think after sort of dealing with this issue, that having a static price at a restaurant that just stays the same the entire day makes no sense. You’ve got other industries like [the] flight and hotel industry that have the same sort of peaks and valleys in demand, whether its a flight over the holidays, obviously more expensive, or a hotel room on New Year's Eve is more expensive, so we say why would a bagel fresh out of the over, and minutes before being thrown out, cost the same? So our idea has really flipped the industry on its head in terms of bringing dynamic pricing to the restaurant industry. Not to surge it during lunch and dinner, but to do the opposite in terms of flattening out the demand throughout the day, and helping them manage their inventory. We believe that is the root cause of the food waste problem also. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about going out and doing it properly.
What do you think the biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur?
“That it’s glamorous. It’s absolutely not, it’s a lot of responsibility, you have a team that relies on you, and eventually you have investors that demand things of you. And at the same time you’re trying to run a business and build a culture and do all sorts of things that you don’t necessarily think about at the start but it’s definitely worth it.”
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
“Just to do it. So many people have ideas and want to start and don’t know where to start. Talk to people who’ve done it before, they’re more than happy to help for the most part, [...] find some good mentorship, whether that be through the university, or just friends or friends of friends, and yeah take the first step.”
From this experience, what was your biggest lesson learned as an entrepreneur?
“Not to let the ups and downs move you in either direction too much. Like, on a day to day [..] there will be great moments and moments where you think it’s all gonna end, and its important just to like stay level headed and work through that entire process toward your goal.”
Overall, the difference this app has been making socially, and the difference it has already made is truly inspiring. What I personally took away from this interview was that, although it is never easy, the keys to forming a socially disruptive company include a revolutionary idea, devout belief in that idea, and most importantly, the dedication needed to put yourself out there and try. Josh Walters and his company are a testament to the statement that a simple idea, grown through passion and dedication, can be capable of making a true difference.
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