Rory Stolzenberg, Co-Founder, IO Solutions – Foodio
What are you innovating on right now?
My startup Foodio builds totally custom, branded online ordering right into local restaurants’ websites. Think dominos.com but for restaurants whose food actually tastes good, like Littlejohn’s, Crozet Pizza, Boylan Heights, Slice, and a bunch more. There’s more: if you’ve ever ordered food with a few friends or roommates (or co-founders *cough cough*), you’ve been in that annoying situation where you put it all on your credit card and pray everyone else has the cash to pay you back (they don’t). With Foodio, you can split the tab among as many cards as you need, so you’re never stuck footing the bill. We’ve been building out the company full time since we graduated UVa last May – we’re up to 22 restaurants in Charlottesville and we’re expanding in Richmond, the Shenandoah Valley and New York.
What inspired you to follow an entrepreneurial path?
What other option is there?
Tell us what you learned from your biggest failure.
We started Foodio with the idea of credit card splitting, asked a bunch of friends what they thought, and got to work figuring out how the hell to build it. We went with an Android-only architecture, partly out of expediency (we both had one, and my co-founder had once done a Java tutorial in high school) and partly because “mobile-first” is obviously the only way to run a company. After months of late-night coding sessions in my room, and a few days of haphazardly wandering around the Corner looking for restaurants to sign up, we finally launched the original Foodio app with 3 restaurants two weeks before spring semester ended. A few days of handing out flyers on the Lawn later, we had some great feedback: quite a few “oh that’s cool” reactions to credit card splitting, and a whole lot of dumbfounded “but there’s no iPhone version?”
After that we knew we’d need to pivot a bit. We developed an iPhone and then desktop version, and today desktop browsers account for about 70% of our sales to mobile’s 30%. More consequentially, we ditched the idea of Foodio as yet another online food marketplace, which would require slow and deliberate brand-building, and decided to piggy-back on restaurants’ brands, which their customers already know and love. Later we learned those restaurants are paying marketplaces like GrubHub and OrderUp huge commissions – 15% of orders or even more – and the product they were getting paled in comparison to the big brands that could afford their own custom sites. What small business owner wants to send their customers to a site listing every competitor in town? And why have behemoth chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s taken a tenth of independents’ market share since 2008? We decided we needed to make Foodio a platform that really supports local restaurants in an infrastructural way, even if it means most customers don’t even realize they’re using us.
How does Charlottesville as a place support or fuel your innovations?
Charlottesville’s been a fantastic place to bootstrap our startup. Since starting from zero in our dorm room– not even knowing how to code– we’ve watched some amazing new resources appear in Charlottesville, joining HackCville from its inception in Summer ’12 as undergrads and the Darden iLab in the first class with community teams when we graduated in May ’13. The network of people who know more than us in the Cville startup and tech scene has been absolutely invaluable; I don’t think Foodio would have been able to make it this far without the growth of the Charlottesville innovation community over the last few years.
What would you change or keep the same in Charlottesville?
Charlottesville’s been headed on the right path for the last few years, but it needs to accelerate. Too many people have the mindset that Charlottesville’s not a dynamic place, you won’t find startups or innovation here, let’s just go work at a consulting firm when we finish the Comm School. Focusing more attention on the (surprising amount of) ventures in town will change that, and two good things will happen from there. The obvious is that it’ll encourage people to start ventures of their own, attract entrepreneurial people to UVa, and boost our numbers further. More subtly, though, I think startups will be easier to start, as potential customers – the people of Charlottesville – think “hey, maybe I should give that new thing a shot” instead of instinctively sticking with the way we’ve been doing things forever. Let’s get rid of that attitude.
What is your biggest need right now to advance your innovation?
Help scaling sales! We’ve tested the model, built the MVP and iterated half a dozen times, and we now finally have a fully featured product driving real revenue for some of Charlottesville’s top restaurants. Now our biggest problem is getting the word out to restaurant owners. Our strategy to this point has mostly consisted of pounding the pavement and pressing palms. Meeting every restaurant owner face-to-face has gotten us great feedback on what they’re looking for, but we’re beginning to focus on scaling the sales process so we can really pick up momentum. We’re looking for salesmen, people with experience in building a sales organization, and (what else) capital. Oh yeah, and go order lunch online!
What is the view from your office like on a typical day?
We have the best seat in the house in the beautiful iLab! Sunny skies, trees and a deck stocked with a Valto Grill in front of us, and bustling entrepreneurship behind us with the 27 iLab teams building their companies. Though more often you’ll find us working in the field, standing at a restaurant Point of Sale system while trying to stay out of bartenders’ way!