This isn’t a service to give you free food…but it is. When Lunchspread launched in the fall of 2015, it sounded too good to be true. You and your coworkers just fill out a quick survey of the food you like for lunch and where you typically get it, and within a month, you’ll get an email to let you know you’ll get your free food. The freshly-made meals will arrive anywhere between 3 and 4PM and then, you and your coworkers get to feast.
When founder Andrew Wang tells people what it is that he does, he’s often met with astounded faces which quickly turn into smirks. A free lunch? But how? The idea is that if you like what you try, you’ll most likely want to eat it again. With nearly 24,000 restaurants in New York, it’s no wonder that many small, independent restaurants are getting overlooked. Wang has offered up the ultimate tasting menu to over 80 partnering restaurants, all of which have at least a 4-star review on Yelp. Now, that sounds delectable.
The startup is in true startup form, with Wang and his creative co-founder, HeeMin Kim, running the operation out of apartments, coffee shops, and bars. Even though the site is still in beta, they’ve already gained the interest of over 12,000 office workers from more than 2,000 companies in Manhattan. That’s a whole lot of samples. In the coming months, Lunchspread will launch its own online catering tool that will link customers directly to the restaurants featured on the site. And while Lunchspread currently only features restaurants between 14th and 57th streets in Manhattan, as the company grows, so will its reach.
I got a chance to talk to Andy Wang about the inspirations behind Lunchspread and what will be in store for the future.
1. How did you get into the food industry?
I joined a startup called Savored which built this really awesome product that gave you discounts at restaurants based on what time you dined (e.g. you could get 30% off your entire check at a couple of Michelin starred restaurants by simply booking a 5pm reservation). It was acquired by Groupon and I worked on the team that built out Groupon Reserve (reservations) as well as Groupon To Go (delivery & takeout).
2. What inspired you to start Lunchspread?
Most of the inspiration came from interacting with restaurant owners while at Savored & Groupon. Every day I would hear Groupon sales reps selling deals against Yelp ads, whose reps were probably selling against Google AdWords. But the funny thing was, the vast majority of restaurants (especially the good ones) didn’t use any of these marketing tools. The general consensus was: I know I need to bring in new customers but I don't currently do any marketing because none of the tools out there work for me.
3. What is the process of gaining a restaurant’s interest?
The process of actually getting in front of a restaurant decision-maker is always the most difficult part, usually prefaced by the traditional sales process of emailing/calling to set up presentations. Once we get in front of a restaurant, the product really sells itself. The opening line to my pitch is “We built a tool that gives restaurants the ability to say: I want to see every office within 10 blocks of me that spends at least $12 on lunch and orders catering frequently.” That really catches their attention.
4. What are some food leaders or companies that have inspired your work at Lunchspread?
I actually think the lack of food companies that were merchant focused (vs consumer focused) inspired me more than any specific company. Outside of the food space, the company Signpost really inspired me a lot when figuring out what our mission at Lunchspread would be. Signpost’s mission is to “empower local businesses to be world-class marketers” which I absolutely loved and is what we hope to do specifically for restaurants.
5. Why did you decide to launch in NYC as opposed to elsewhere in the country?
It’s by far the densest city when it comes to offices and restaurants so it’s a complete no-brainer when launching the type of product we are building. I was also born here, went to school here, and now live here, so I feel like I have a great pulse on the food/restaurant scene here.
6. Can you talk a little about your day-to-day?
6:30am: Wake up, eat breakfast, try to get to Pushcart Coffee when it opens by 7am (after scouting dozens of coffee shops, Pushcart is by far the best for working: large tables, outlets, reliable Wi-Fi, bathrooms and good coffee).
7:30am: Catch up on emails and set up the cold-email campaign for the day; we send out about 500 emails a day to offices around Manhattan.
8:30am: Organize sample deliveries for the day, which includes: scheduling, editorial, surveys, etc. We are building out tools to automate most of this but right now it is mostly me manually coordinating everything.
9:30am: Start reaching out / following up with restaurants. I email first and then calls start at 10:30 when restaurant owners are more available.
12:30pm: Lunchtime! I try and stop by one of our partners I haven’t tried yet.
2:30pm: Head to meet restaurants. I aim to schedule at least 3 meetings every afternoon.
5:00pm: Call with Product Manager at Gigster to catch-up on product development. Right now, we’re wrapped up with our first product, which will be an online catering tool.
6:00pm: Go to the gym. I’m training for a triathlon in July.
9:00pm: Meetup with HeeMin to go over design/product related work. We sometimes grab a quick drink afterwards.
7. Compared to other innovators in the food industry such as UberEats or Vaffle, how does Lunchspread offer something different?
So the vast majority of food startups that popped up in the last couple years were created to help consumers (e.g. UberEats helps you get your food really, really fast). Our goal is first and foremost to help restaurants. While from the outside consumers will see Lunchspread as “Free Food”, the actual product is a rich database and automated marketing product that allows restaurants to get their product into the hands of targeted potential customers to grow their business.
8. How do you plan to expand Lunchspread in the future?
Lunchspread only targets offices right now and is primarily used as a way for restaurants to grow their lunch and catering business. Long-term, however, we are interested in building out the platform that will help restaurants grow any part of their business (not just lunch and not just office workers). For example, we will expand our offering to residential buildings next. Obviously, we will expand to other markets if NYC proves successful.
9. What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best way to learn how to build a business is to simply start building it. With that being said, not all ideas are good ideas. And you shouldn't quit your job the day you come up with a "decent" startup idea. I had several ideas that I worked on before Lunchspread that were painfully bad in hindsight. Sam Altman has a great blog post on approaching companies as projects that I think is incredibly helpful. I agree that the best way to start a company is to first work on numerous side projects until one really stands out.
10. What is one career advice you've gotten that's proven truer than anything else?
Early on in your career, working for a good vs bad manager is much more important than working for a good vs bad company.
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