Surviving $100M valuation to $0 in 10 days

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Today’s guest didn’t think of himself as an entrepreneur but he found himself building a company that actually saved lives using technology. We’ll find out how he did that in this interview.

But the thing that he’s really excited about these days is his new company which he built from scratch. Eman Pahlavani is the founder of HUNGRY, a catering company that connects independent chefs with corporate clients. He got funding from some big name investors like Jay-Z and Kevin Hart just 10 days before his revenue went to $0 due to COVID.

But wait until you hear what happened next.

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Eman Pahlavani

Eman Pahlavani

HUNGRY

Eman Pahlavani is the founder of HUNGRY, a catering company that connects independent chefs with corporate clients.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Joining me is a guy who his parents told them, go be a lawyer, come on, be a lawyer. And he, he was, and he immediately hated it. Is that fair to say, Humanae,

Eman: fair to say. That’s absolutely true to say.

Andrew: the dude ends up discovering this company that goes on to.

Wild success much more than I, you couldn’t have imagined that you were going to be as successful as you are with LiveSafe. Right.

Eman: no, not at all. I don’t even think I was, you know, an entrepreneur in any way.

Andrew: How would you describe what live safe is?

Eman: live safe is a mobile app that essentially allows people to crowdsource safety intelligence and send it typically to campus PD. Um, or if you work in a company to your head of security at the company. So it was just a tool that allowed people to essentially say something, see something, say something in a mobile app.

Um, with a lot of high tech stuff wrapped around it.

Andrew: Yes. I saw universities using it. I saw FedEx had some kind of a press release about how they were using it. The Navy just this year, I think did a press release saying that they’re using this to keep their people.

Eman: Correct. Got, hundreds of universities across the country, fortune five hundreds. Um, there was football stadiums, the San Francisco 49ers used it for their stadium, so that if people showed up and someone leaves a bag under a chair and walks away, you could quickly snap a photo of it and send it to security with GPS tags.

So, um, it, it has prevented school shootings. It has saved lives. Um, uh, so it was a very, um, good, uh, good product that we

Andrew: WNB I think here’s the thing that got me. I should introduce you. This is Eamonn Paula, Bonnie. Um, the thing that is especially. Interesting to me is that these organizations are putting out press releases about how they’re using your software, lifts, safe as a way of saying we take care of, and we care about our people.

They are so happy to be customers that they are telling people. I was going to say bragging, but maybe we were sharing reassuring people by saying that they use lipstick, but here’s the thing. At one point, he moved on from live safe. I’m going to find out why. And then he moved on and created this company called hungry, which if you’ve worked in an office and you know, how much of a pain in the, how much of a pain it is to coordinate food and you end up with really bad food delivered and people who are upset.

He said, you know what? I could have a great chef deliver to people in the office. If you have enough people in your office, you could have a killer, good chef. Who’s making food for you. And. Make your people happy. So he created it. He raised a lot of money and then COVID happened. I want to find out what happened.

His business is called hungry. It’s a platform that connects chefs with corporate catering industry. He also now will let you. Well, we’ll talk about how he can take care of you and your people at your home. And we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first we’ll host your company’s website, right.

It’s called HostGator. And the second, if you’re hiring developers, you’ve got to find out about top talent, but I’ll talk about those later. Um, let’s talk before COVID hungry. How much revenue did you do?

Eman: Uh, before COVID we were, um, on track to essentially, uh, clip past the $20 million run rate. Um, we, we basically went from zero to two, that number in less than two years.

Andrew: We who’s a company that you were especially proud of serving with hungry or deal that you’re especially proud of closing with hungry.

Eman: Uh, Microsoft is, is probably one of our larger customers, um, ECG, uh it’s you know, it’s, it’s less the company and more that office admin who has a really great experience. They are awesome in referring us to every division of the company within their building, within other cities that they have sister offices.

Um, so referrals has been how we have spread like wildfire. Um, And so thanks to all the office admins out there who, uh, have been, have been pushing hungry.

Andrew: the, um, the last round was how much money and who are some of the people who invested.

Eman: Last round, we raised $20 million, um, uh, at a 100 million pre money valuation. Um, investors included, uh, Jay Z, um, uh, Kevin Hart, uh, uh, invested, um, a substantial amount of money. Uh, we had, um, evolution. Um, partners out of New York, uh, lead around, uh, Walter Rob, the former co CEO of whole foods, uh, and a small syndicate where co-leads, they also invested Walter Rob joined our board in the round.

Um, and then just, you know, a lot of, I’d say celebrities and athletes, uh, also got in on the round. Um, so it was, uh,

Andrew: through your own personal connections. It’s the investment company that backed you. You said it was endeavor, right? They’re the ones who had them had the relationships,

Eman: uh, evolution, um, evolution partners, uh, led the round, but, um, a lot of these celebrities that ended up joining, uh, initially came from the JZ J Brown camp. Um, you know, rock nation represents many, many athletes and sports stars and actors.

Andrew: So then how did you get them? How did you get Jay Z’s people involved?

Eman: uh, I was friends with Brandon Crowe who is Jay Z and Beyonce is personal chef. Um, I knew him from years ago at when I was at my prior company lives safe. Uh, I had, uh, shared the idea of hungry with him before hungry was a company. Um, and I told him, you know, here’s a concept that I’m thinking about. It’s a platform that democratizes as being a chef levels, the playing field.

Um, what do you think of us? You know, um, connecting chefs with companies for corporate catering. And he was like, this is something that chefs talk about. They’ve been waiting for this. It’s like what Uber did for people with cars you would be doing for chefs who have culinary skills and giving them access to revenue and business.

Um, so he was one of the first people I shared the idea with in New York. I still remember the meeting and then came back, started slowly working on it and, uh, took off. And I came back to him, I think, a year later. And I said, Hey, Brandon, you know, here’s the idea, here’s what it’s turned into. Um, and he goes, yeah, let me share this with Jay.

I’ll get back to you.

Andrew: And he got back to you and he got investment from him a few days later, though. Kobe did what.

Eman: Uh, COVID um, absolutely annihilated our revenue stream in our business. Um, you know, our business, the revenue came from offices who are spending money on food. If nobody’s going to an office, nobody’s ordering food to an office, therefore your revenue, you know, is tanks. Um, so we had just raised a lot of capital and we were, we were positioned to launch in 24 cities in 24 months.

So that’s what we did essentially prepped for basically a new market every 30 days. And, uh, we had two choices. You can either furlough, like many other companies have done and, you know, making or making the best decisions for themselves. Um, or we could try and innovate our way out of this mess. And we took that option.

Um,

Andrew: Before I get to the innovation. One of the things that I see in you is success after success, after success. If we just show people that you’re nothing but a hit maker and you’re flawless, it’s, they’re not going to relate to you. Take me to the moment when COVID hits just days after you raise your money and you made so, so many good moves.

How do you personally feel? Do you ever feel pain?

Eman: Uh, yeah, I think so. We’re definitely not flawless. Um, we have made many, many mistakes, uh, in, you know, running both live safe and hungry. Um, you know, I think we learned a lot from these mistakes when COVID hit, uh, we, uh, me, Jeff and, uh, my brother shied my two, co-founders got in a room and. Just started, you know, first it was, you know, what are we going to do?

This is, this is a horrible situation. Revenue’s going to dry up quickly. And it did it dried up very, very

Andrew: To basically zero.

Eman: almost a zero. Exactly.

Andrew: But did you personally go through a feeling of, of just shock of depression, of sadness, of anything like that? Did you hit something, break something

Eman: I think we had, um, probably a couple hours of hopelessness, um, feeling like you had just built up this enterprise. We had just brought on all these investors. We had just basically promised the world. We were going to go into all these markets very quickly. And all of a sudden you find out the number one way for you to make money is closed.

The full, the government has fully shut down the economy and you can’t do that. So, um, we though are, uh, entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, we’re innovators. Um, you know, I think people create the best innovations on their backs are up against the wall. And so, um, What I love doing to be totally honest is I love building from scratch.

And so we turned this into a, Hey, this is an opportunity for us to build a new company, a new startup and go back to the drawing board. And once we looked at it from an optimistic standpoint like that, um, it was easy to just start to, you know, get the team back together.

Andrew: And the new idea was.

Eman: The new idea was, um, we launched a couple of businesses. Um, one of them is virtual chef experience, which we, uh, put our top chefs, uh, online to allow for companies to book them for an hour long session on how to cook different dishes. But th the unique twist is we will mail to the employees, a beautifully designed kit.

Of ingredients of utensils knives, cutting boards, aprons, all the accessories of making that specific dish. So the employees get this very cool Christmas gift, you know, to open it up, they have the recipe, they get online with one of the world’s top chefs and they just have an amazing experience that business has rocketed.

Um, uh, it has taken off wildly. Um, and you know, we’re playing a little bit of catch up right now.

Andrew: I had no idea you were in, into that. I’m on your website and it says business and event order amazing catering from a hundred top chefs. I had no idea you were doing this and I could, I could totally get the value of it. My wife has been working remotely with our team. And they finally, somebody had this idea, what if we make cocktails together and they were figuring out the recipes and they figured out where to, where you can have, uh, alcohol delivered.

And she didn’t know if she had the equipment. She assumed that we had something, a shaker, whatever it’s called, right. To make cocktails turns out we didn’t, but we had the other stuff anyway. So it was a pain in the butt, but the end result was, she was so proud. She brought out the cocktails when we were in the backyard, she shared one with.

Me. She made one later that night, later that weekend, and she had a great bonding experience over zoom with the people at our work. I could see if that amateur operation was that exciting, how, without all the pain in the neck of having to put it together, it would be, it would be much more fulfilling. And that’s what you’re promising people, right?

This bonding experience with none of the hassle and a big payoff at the end.

Eman: Exactly. Uh, you know, you mentioned, you know, that, that specific, um, experience we have the Somalia of the year on our platform. So companies will book him, they’ll try all these know wines and this and that. Um, they learned all about it, where it came from, you know, how it’s made, uh, it’s a super immersive experience.

And again, when we set these very unique kids to folks, they love it. It’s branded. Um, all, a lot of our buyers are repeat buyers. They keep sending up weekly and monthly. Um, virtual experiences for their team members, or what has turned into is companies are doing it now for their clients. So the days of taking my client to a basketball game or buying them, you know, taking them out for dinner, those are over.

And so how do I give them an experience where it’s memorable? And they think about me, uh, the client. Um, so we’re having companies that are buying it for their customers and clients, you know, all across the country.

Andrew: And they have a Somalia with them who will work with people at the company and their client’s company. And on a per person basis, you charge them to have the, all the ingredients delivered.

Eman: it’s a thousand dollars for one hour for the, for these, uh, any one of our chefs. Um, and they’re all, you know, they’re white house chefs, they’re chopped champions or food network, star chefs, uh, will submits former personal chef is on the platform as well. Um, and then we charge them per person for the kit and it goes anywhere from $50 to $350 per kit, depending on, you know, what they get.

Andrew: What’s a $350 one. The highest one that I see on your website is the wine and cheese for 125.

Eman: Correct, but then there’s a bunch of ad-ons that they put on, so they will add, you know, a wine bottle. They’ll add a custom, you know, Japanese and graves. You know,

Andrew: shipping box so that it looks nice. Okay. So why don’t I see this on the site, if I’m looking on your site right now@trihungry.com, it’s just this one link at the top virtual events. How did I miss this?

Eman: So, uh, this tells you exactly what, what we, uh, as a startup are. When we started this business, we were not advertising it online for the last, you know, month and a half. Um, the revenue grew so quickly because this business is only what, 80 days, old, 75 days old. Um, the revenue grew so quickly that we, you know, we realized, look, we’re onto something let’s actually build.

A web interface for folks to go online and book and do what they need to. So typical of any startup, you, you kind of do it, you figure it out on paper manually. And then as the business grows, you then, uh, you know, get technology and support behind it and, and create a robust platform, which is, you know what we’re doing.

Andrew: How much revenue have you done with this?

Eman: Uh, it’s done over a million dollars. Um, we will, we’re, we’re approaching a million dollars a month here shortly.

Andrew: So you’re exceeding the business you had before with this

Eman: Correct? Correct.

Andrew: in a matter of three months.

Eman: It’s uh, uh, shocking. Yes. I mean, we’re, we’re getting help from, uh, from COVID, but at the same time, um, I, you know, kudos to our team. Uh, I didn’t even come up with this concept. Our team did, they came up with an innovative way to get people to have a fun time at home. Um, just like you said, your wife, you know, they came up with this concept, the hungry just had the infrastructure to create a platform and a company out of it and, and it has taken off and, and all of our

Andrew: help from COVID zoom is getting help from COVID you’re figuring out how to, how to overcome COVID.

Eman: it. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah, I D but this doesn’t seem like it’s a business that’s going to be as big as the in-person catering business. Right. Considering how, how big in-person was with just a few cities. Why are you smiling like that?

I’m trying to read your face.

Eman: I am. So, you know, I think, uh, I think corporate catering is going to obviously come back and it’s going to come back, um, strong, you know, folks are going to want food in the office. However, we have tripped into a business where we are now providing. For the, you know, the biggest companies in the world, their client experience

Andrew: Uh, right

Eman: business, which is in the billions, we’ve never even thought of getting into that. Wasn’t the business idea, but we tripped into it, fell into it and now, um, companies love it. Um, they’re booking repeatedly. And so now we’re thinking. You know, we’re going to go back building all of our businesses that we had before, but this is now going to be a big, robust platform, um, which has helped Hungary pivot into what we’re now calling, you know, food as a service platform, you can come get in-office catering from hungry.

You can get the virtual experience from hungry. Um, so there’s just different things that you can do with, with our, with our business.

Andrew: Okay. So you mentioned a couple of times that you had a few different ideas, right? COVID hit, you basically started a couple of startups. What’s the other one?

Eman: So the other one, um, uh, was, it’s basically our, what we call our contracts business and it’s our delivery contracts business. We have over 500, um, delivery guys or what we call catering captains across the country. Um, they’re trained they’re uniform. They’re just very, very high quality. Um, so the government.

From different municipalities started calling us and saying, Hey, we need help delivering food to seniors and to kids during COVID. Um, we don’t have a way to get food to them because they’re all in their homes. Can we use hungry to deliver 1.5 million meals a month in New York city to seniors and children?

And we said, sure, absolutely. We will help you guys make those deliveries happen. Um, so then other cities started calling us and saying we need help to feed our elderly and kids. Um, can we use your super reliable delivery fleet that was trained for catering? Delivering food to consumers at their homes, contact lists with mass and all that, um, that has become a very robust business for us, not just for COVID, but private companies are now calling us saying, um, we want you guys to deliver our meals to our buying constituents.

So think about, um, uh, you know, the companies that make the meal prep. And they, you know, they deliver it, they ship it to you rather than using FedEx for last mile logistics. They’re now having hungry, provide the last mile logistics at half the cost.

Andrew: Ah, wow. And how did you put together such a team of people? The, the captain,

Eman: Uh, they were there already. They were all of our corporate catering captains, um, from our existing business. So again, rather than furloughing and stop using them. And we just, you know, we got to put our, you know, hundreds of folks to work. Um, this was the best way.

Andrew: Governments are paying you to help get food, not to make the food, but to deliver the food to their people. Am I right?

Eman: Uh, in some cases they’re having our chefs make the food, and then they’re having our catering captains delivered to consumers who are in their homes, trying to be safe and

Andrew: You know what I read an article about this on medium, where they mentioned you doing this, but is this to feed the vulnerable? Is that what it’s called? No.

Eman: correct? Correct. Uh, so when the governments, when the municipalities call us it’s to feed their elderly, um, in the kids, uh, who, who need food. And then that has also grown into now private companies calling us and asking us to deliver food for,

Andrew: that what’s that company called the, the PR or is it still hungry? All coming in under the

Eman: all hungry. It’s just our, our contracts and logistics. Um, you know, a division,

Andrew: And how big is that revenue wise?

Eman: uh, that has, you know, in certain months, um, it was doing over a million dollars a month. Um, so that, that has a little bit of ebbs and flows depending on which contract ends in which contract we pick up. So, you know, you can say anywhere from half a million to a million plus per month, um, is what we’ve been doing with that

Andrew: Wow. And I got to tell you I’m when you, when I first saw that I was going to interview you, I said, all right, I’m going to talk to a person. Who’s feeling down. Things didn’t work out, but he’s willing to be open about how things didn’t work out. This is not at all. What I expected. You are going to say here.

And by the way, The brilliance of the captains, from what I understand happen also in response to a previous problem that companies would hire you in the office, managers would be stressed and also have all the issues from everybody at the company who was eating is a problem with this. This is too salty, not enough salt.

If you think about dinner with your family over Thanksgiving and all the little issues that everyone has, the exact same meal, you’ll imagine that at the office, the office managers have even more of that. So you started saying to the captains, you’re delivering food, don’t leave. Until the food is done.

Tell me what the captains were doing. That that’s more than just delivering food.

Eman: Uh, so w w what we went and did was rather than hiring drivers to do this, um, we wanted to hire people from the hospitality business to do deliveries. So they go in and we hired one of Hilton’s top hospitals. Tally trainers brought them into our startup and said, train our hundreds of captains on how to be exceptional at service.

So they go in, they pick up the food from the chefs, um, ghost kitchen. That’s where they cook out of ghost and commercial kitchens deliver it to Microsoft, to Amazon, to Google. They set it up beautifully for the office admin. They know the office admins, you know, name, they know exactly what floor she’s on.

Um, we map out every building so that they never get lost, which is, um, a shocking, you know, this is one of the biggest problems that office admins have is the guy gets lost somewhere coming up. Um, then they serve the food to the clients as they come through the line and then they will clean it all up.

For free. So the office admin touches nothing. It’s a seamless entire experience. And that is what’s kept us very sticky with our buyers. Uh, you know, aside from having just high quality food, but we just kill it on the service side.

Andrew: If someone didn’t eat the food, you also ask why didn’t you eat it, or you, you want to know how much of the food was eaten so that you get back a full feedback loop to improve next time.

Eman: Every single catering has, um, uh, multiple feedback loops. So the catering captain provides feedback on a couple of different areas that he hits, you know, what food wasn’t eaten, what was it? And. Um, the office admin provides feedback on the experience and the chef provides feedback on their cooking session when they cook that food.

So we have multiple angles of visibility into every catering. I mean, we have this thing down to a science where when we provide a catering, we’re always looking for ways to improve it, to enhance it. So that next time the customer has a better experience and it continues that, you know, in that pattern

Andrew: believeable. This is phenomenal success story. All right, we’re still going to get into what happened, how you started this business. What happened before that? Let me take a moment. Talk about my first sponsor. It’s a company called HostGator. I’m going to interview the founder of a company that when COVID hit people stopped using them completely.

It’s called legacy box. They take your photos and your family’s VHS and they digitize it. So you can share it with your family. And we call it hit. People said, who cares about family photos right now? I’ve got bigger things to worry about, right? They stopped ordering from him. His company started to take a hit from what I understand and we’ll find out when I interview him.

But one of the things that I understood that he did was he cut back on expenses, just like wham, wham, all these expenses that we build up as entrepreneurs you’re in business with this company for just a few years. So you haven’t had these legacy expenses. I know I have he cut back on all of them. And then he suddenly discovered that he had extra money and advertising was super cheap.

So it starts by advertising on the Ellen show and on this and that these people are desperate for advertisers. He comes in and goes, I got a little extra money cause I cut back suddenly his business. And we’re going to find out how much it’s grown tremendously because he now can buy ads and he can only buy ads because you freed up cashflow by cutting back expenses.

So I did the same thing at Mixergy. I just looked at my, my, uh, uh, um, cashflow statement. We’re doing phenomenally all of a sudden. And it’s because when COVID hit EMR, I got freaked out. I cut back everything, all the, all the big things that seemed important that weren’t I got rid of. And then I cut back on.

I even cut back on YouTube. I was subscribing to YouTube. Anyway, one of the smartest decisions that I made was I said to my brother, Michael, I said, Michael, any website that we have, that’s not on HostGator. Just move to fricking HostGator. It’s an easy win because HostGator, yeah, they they’re known for their cheaper hosting plans, but they have these moral bust hosting plans that are absolutely cheaper than the competition.

And they’re just as good. So Michael said, all right, it’s going to take me a week to do it. I said, fine. Every little website, he moved over to HostGator, including Mixergy is now on HostGator. Used to be on liquid web, liquid web. Anyone. When I say liquid web two, they’re gonna know it. They’re gonna go, Andrew.

That’s our spin. Um, you know what? HostGator we switched. Cut my cost by a third. We’re talking about saving 2000 bucks. What is it? 2000 a month. I don’t even know what we’re paying, whatever it is it cut it down dramatically. And nobody even noticed. All right, if you’re out there listening to me, one of the best ways that you can cut down on your expenses is to get that monthly expense that goes along with hosting reduced as much as possible and still maintain your hosting package.

The one that you love, that one that will keep your business growing. And if you go over to hostgator.com/mixergy, you can sign up for one of the less expensive packages and then talk to them about migrating everything and giving you whatever more robust package you want. If that’s what you’re looking for.

I mean, you want managed WordPress hosting stuff, whatever you want. They got it. Because they’ve been in business for years and they keep expanding, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And when you throw that slash mixer J at the end, you get the lowest price that they have available hostgator.com/mixergy to cut back on any of your expenses or did you make out great because of your previous company you did.

What’s a big expense that you cut back on. For me was YouTube. That’s not a big expense. That was one.

Eman: Uh, we, we looked at subscriptions across the board. Um, you know, as you mentioned, you know, entrepreneurs and teams, you start to just subscribe to a lot of different things. Um, and honestly, what COVID did was it helped people figure out how to be efficient. How do you actually use the capital that you have more efficiently, more effectively?

So, um, you know, renewing office leases, um, uh, figuring out what you do need and what you don’t need from a product perspective from a, you know, The things that are in and around us every single day and that we’re using what’s necessary. And what’s a nice to have, and you’re able to just kind of quickly go through and cut things.

Andrew: No. The interesting thing that I noticed was when I went in and cut, a lot of times, companies would say, you know what, why don’t we just lower your price? I didn’t know. All right. Let’s talk about, um, how you got started in general and how you arrived here. You’re a guy, as I said, your parents wanted you to go to law school because why

Eman: Uh, you know, uh, I, I have Persian parents and, uh, if you’re a child of a Persian parents, they either want you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Um, so,

Andrew: you grow up in Los Angeles?

Eman: no, no. In, in, in, in the Washington DC area,

Andrew: Oh, okay. All right. In LA, I went to the Persian community, dude. It’s so strict. It’s like, you’re, you’re really being watched by everyone else in the community. It’s not that your parents are let down if you’re not a lawyer, it’s that everyone else’s parents are going to feel bad for your parents who will then feel like you’re letting them down.

All right. Is it, is it that way in the DC community two or

Eman: Yeah, more or less like, you know, they, they, they want you to be successful in, in successes, whittled down to, uh, you know, being a doctor of some sort, whether it’s a Juris doctor or a medical practitioner. So, um, I did the law school route, um, great experience, uh, spent three years of my life, um, uh, in the Boston area at law school, New Hampshire and Boston, and.

Um, uh, prior to graduating, I, um, you know, started to, uh, learn about, you know, an asylum, you know, what is an asylum case, helping people who were persecuted in their, in their home countries. Um, and I did a clinic at my law school. That was an asylum, um, specialty clinic with Catholic charities. And once I graduated, um, that was my side hustle.

I, um, just help people. It was more ad hoc, just helping people who came to the U S who were being persecuted, um, badly. And I just knew how to handle these cases. Um, I set it up all online, um, to be able to help people so I could help people all over the country. And then, um, soon after, you know, my brother came to me with an idea that turned into my first official, you know, venture back business lifts.

Andrew: It’s because your brother said, Hey, look, I have an idea. There was the Virginia tech shooting at the time you both had a friend. Can I say the friend’s name? It’s Christine Anderson. Right? What happened to Christine,

Eman: Uh, Christina was one of the survivors of the Virginia tech shooting. She was in the last classroom where the shooter came in a shot. The teacher, um, took out almost everyone in the class. She was shot three times, um, and survived and, um, uh, what they found out after that entire, um, that, that tragedy was, there were people who knew.

That something might happen that day. They had small pieces of information, but no one had the whole story. And so the idea that my brother came up with was what if we created a platform that would help police and law enforcement stitch the story together before something bad happens. So collect info from you, collect info from this person and that person.

And then you kind of get the story that says, yeah, there’s a pretty high probability. There’s gonna be a shooting on campus this week with this person. And how do we prevent that?

Andrew: All right. And you put together all those little pieces via, what did you think at first text messaging or do you think immediately would be an app?

Eman: We, we thought it was an app. Mobile apps were super hot, then it was 2012, um, 2011, 2012. And, um, we built out a mobile app, uh, and the idea was it would crowdsource safety intelligence, and then put it onto a website where these long campus PD and law enforcement would be able to see a picture of what’s going to happen.

Andrew: And so how did you get the first university to even listen to you about this and to sign them up? From what I remember talking to others who sold to universities, it’s a long sales cycle. I imagine that you were helped by the fact that this was in the news and nobody wanted to repeat, but it still doesn’t seem like an easy sell, right?

Eman: Not an easy sale university selling is hard, hard, hard. Um, I, uh, we do this, uh, almost with every startup we do give it away for free. At first, went to first university. Here’s what we built, giving it to you for not asking. So I’m just going to give this to you. This is a platform, here’s the website, here’s your log.

And I already went ahead and created, you know, at George Mason for you. Um, so starting tomorrow, your students are going to start reporting things into this platform. And so it’s, it’s not really, uh, you know, should I use this or not? It’s uh, okay. So teach me how to use this effectively. Cause it looks like students are already going to be accessing the app.

Andrew: you get the students to use it? Let me tell you that. Yeah. Well, go ahead. How did you get them to do

Eman: My myself, my brother, um, a couple interns we’d walk around campus and tell people to download this app because this is what it’s going to do. And, uh, every single day we would do this for, you know,

Andrew: physically walking into the school and telling people to download it.

Eman: Yep. Whenever classes were out going into those Plaza areas. Um, and basically, you know, uh, you know, you know, campuses have those blue lights. That’s what those, you know, those blue light systems are supposed to push it. Something that’s what that’s supposed to be for. If you’re in trouble, super antiquated, nobody ever pushes it never works.

Um, so this was the future. This was the blue lights on crack, basically

Andrew: And you stood there while they installed it.

Eman: Yeah. Yeah,

Andrew: Here’s why I was trying to interrupt you. I’m sorry to interrupt it. But when I was looking at that little legal career that you had a sliver of a legal career, I think a large part of it was you getting customers for your sister’s law firm, even. What I saw was you were using online tools.

You were doing a little bit of SEO, to be honest, it wasn’t great SEO, but I could see what you were working on with SEO. I could see that you were using Scribd to put on, um, uh, to put articles up on asylum seeking and what it means and what to do. You were, you were trying online marketing. Did you do any online marketing when you were at this stage of life safe?

Eman: Yeah, we, um, so when I did it, uh, during my law school days and, um, uh, you know, it was hiring outsourced talent to be able to help me with SEO, SCM. Um, and then when we did it for live safe, same thing, we hired outside talent that had worked for me before. Um, we’re very good at getting press generating, press and PR.

So we were in the news almost every week when we first started live safe. Because every time something bad would happen, they would want to interview, Hey, tell us how your platform would have prevented this or

Andrew: Oh, really? Because the media wants to say, look, this is a mistake that we could put on them. They didn’t do this. Got it. And so, from what I understand, sorry, I had LifeSafe uh, I said, let’s say if it’s live safe, For a while there, it was tough. You were working, working, working. It was tough. The media picked you up or did you do something to get the media?

And what was that big first hit that allowed you to feel like this could work this business?

Eman: I went to, uh, my law school Dean and in the university of New Hampshire, um, and said, here’s a business that my brother and I want to launch. Um, I need media to cover this story. Do you have any media contacts? He put me in touch with the Boston globe, the Boston Herald, a whole bunch of Boston networks.

Cause that’s, that’s basically where, you know, I was, um, uh, going to school. They all covered the story. Um, my brother had a connection at Forbes. Um, they covered the story and overnight, you know, we became this story of, uh, crime prevention. Um, and we were able to attract our, uh, you know, our co-founder. Um, Jeff grass, uh, who is a seasoned entrepreneur has had multiple exits under his belt, you know, dumb things that we had never done before.

And we brought him into the team and, you know, from then on we, uh, kind of, you know, set our path and started growing, um, every single day.

Andrew: You then saw that parents who are dropping their kids off at school, started to see what the kids were using to be safe. And I could see how a live safe would be reassuring for parents. And they went back to the companies that they worked in and said, look, we’ve got a lot of people here. We should be keeping them safe, using the same technique, the same thing, right.

Eman: Uh, that’s exactly how we got from education into, um, fortune 500 companies. All of these parents who were vice president of sales, vice president of marketing for Verizon, for FedEx, for, uh, Citibank and JP Morgan, they would see their kids get dropped off. They would hear the lip sale pitch by the school administrators and saying, Hey, this is how we’re keeping your kids safe.

It’s modern, it’s a mobile app. Um, and light bulb moments would go off and they’d say, yeah, we have 45,000 employees at our bank. Um, that are traveling all around the world sometimes to, you know, countries that are, that aren’t super safe. We’d love to be able to give them a tool where they can feel safe, be safe and communicate with our security.

So, uh, I then started spending a lot of time in New York city once that happened. Um, cause all these companies, you know, started signing up for the lifts, safe platform.

Andrew: So I’m looking at the app right now. I have to tell you, one thing that I noticed was the app never had a high ratings. It’s a good looking app, but it never hit four stars. For example, from what I could see, right.

Eman: Yeah. Yeah. I, uh, I think we were always in the, we would always get, so we would always either get a lot of people giving us five star reviews because they felt safe. Um, and then we would get people who would give us like one or two star reviews because they thought the app was going to do something different than it actually did.

Um, so, uh, you know, I remember reading reviews where people had just. Thought that the app or the platform was something other than a crime reporting or, um, uh, you know, safety reporting tool. And, you know, we, we tried to do a good job of trying to message it messages to the administrators at the schools.

We’re also, you know, sharing the technology. Um, but we kind of have always had this dynamic in the app store of folks who loved it, or folks who were just, you know, wondering why isn’t to do these other things that I wanted to do.

Andrew: But who were all who are also saying I’ve got to fill in the username and email address every time I report something, right. That it’s, it wasn’t as smooth as they would’ve liked. I see a recognition in your face.

Eman: Yeah. So, you know, there’s some rules that we have, you know, we’ve got to follow, um, when you’re dealing with sensitive police related information, um, you know, sometimes you, you know, can you report anonymously? Can you not report anonymously? What’s the minimum level of details you have to provide on every single one of these incidents that you report.

Um, every organization also. Uh, would customize their version of the platform. So, cause they had the ability to, if they’re paying hundreds of thousand dollars a year, they would say, we want our employees to fill out everything and then we want them to submit information. Whereas other organizations would say, I don’t want anything.

I just want to make it a very easy way for them to communicate. So we were also following the guidance of the organization that was essentially paying for the platform.

Andrew: Okay, I got it. And I also see how I see how you spread through news. I think I was interested in why the WNBL would suddenly get you, but apparently some of their players were right next to an, an explosive situation in Istanbul. And then they had to figure out what can we do to keep our people safe? And so anytime, anytime, something like that happens and people say, what do we do?

They say let’s check out, live safe, right?

Eman: Correct. Yep. Uh, the NFL, um, teams started using it, the NBA, there were teams that were using it. Um, they use it for all star week, basically a tool where if you see something bizarre or weird or something that you want to report, this platform allows you to do it easily anonymously. Um, you can tag photo, video GPS, uh, and the law enforcement gets a level of detail that they never had before.

Andrew: All right, I’m going to talk about my second sponsor. And then I’m going to come back and ask you about this line that my producer wrote out from her conversation with you, when you told her. Live safe. Just started getting bigger than I could handle. I want to know why, and then what you did, and then also how that led into hungry.

But first, top towel is my second sponsor. Let me ask you this you’ve hired. How many developers would you say in your two companies?

Eman: Probably no, probably close to a hundred.

Andrew: Great. What advice do you have for someone who’s listening to us? Who says, I don’t want to hear Andrew. Just promote top tile. I want this to be a useful ad. Let’s give them a tip for how they could hire developers. What have you learned about how to hire right.

Eman: Uh, you know, vet your candidate, um, uh, and make sure that, you know, you, you have them. Um, show you things that they’ve done in the past, whether it’s code source, code, whatever the case may be. Um, sometimes we do trial runs with folks, you know, you know, make sure that they gel well with the team. Um, and your reference checks, you know, it’s nothing, nothing extraordinary out of the ordinary, but do reference checks actually do them.

It’d be, you’d be surprised. Most people don’t do reference checks. And, um, if you have a good organization, that’s helping you hire those people, they’ll help you with a lot of these things.

Andrew: Yeah, top tile will absolutely do that. It will do reference checks. In many cases, they’ve even when they introduce a client to one of their developers, they’ve sent that developer to other businesses in the past, and they’ve seen the person’s work and that’s why they stay in the network. If you’re out there and you’re hiring developers and you want a well-vetted developer right now, you can go to top talent.com/mixergy.

If you use my URL. I’ll give you 80 hours of developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours, in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks, really no risk trial period of up to two weeks. And you know what, um, in the past, the big issue that I’ve had with my guest is Andrew. I like top towel, but I refuse to hire someone who’s not sitting in my office today.

Everyone is willing to be remote that you guys always remote. Did you start out remote first?

Eman: Uh, my, my first tech team in both of our companies were remote. Uh, over time we brought some folks in-house with hired in-house, but, um, even at hungry, One is in Europe, one’s in, uh, you know, in Japan, one’s in Seattle, they’re all over the world. Developers can develop from anywhere you need the right talent.

It doesn’t matter where they are.

Andrew: you know what I didn’t know until COVID that my contact a top was in Singapore because she’s always around at the hours and I’m around. She just works whatever hours we are in the U S anyway, if you’re out there hiring, go to top talent.com/mixergy. Why did you decide to leave what happened?

Eman: So, uh, it was my first real startup that I had essentially grown from zero to learning everything. Um, lifts safe has had a couple of CEOs. I was very close to all of them. So I learn, you know, all the things that a CEO, you know, learns how to do. Um, and there’s a certain point where the business grows, grows.

To you, um, the people who start a business, aren’t going to usually be the ones who finish the business. And, um, we were smart enough to recognize, look, we need to bring in. Some senior, um, level executives to help take the business to the next level. Some folks who have maybe 20, 30 years experience under their belt, um, it hit more from startup into an enterprise, a global enterprise.

And, um, for me, as a, as an entrepreneur, as a founder, it starts to get less exciting when the business becomes a business that, you know, you’re looking at the spreadsheet, trying to figure out how to. Move numbers a little bit here, a little bit there to, you know, gain exponential value. And so, um, lifts wasn’t there.

Exactly. But, but at the same time, I had started coming up with the idea around hungry and that entrepreneurial bug took over. We hired, uh, an awesome executive team. Um, you know, they, they led it to an exit and, uh, it gave me the opportunity to take all my learnings from live. Say, start all over again and, and, and see if I can do it end to end this time.

Andrew: They were acquired by vectors solution. Is that the vector solutions? That’s the name of the company? It, uh, it had 400 customers at the time across commercial enterprise education and government agencies protecting 5 million people according to the press release. Um, Oh, did they even get into lifts? Uh, live safe, performs it’s popular WorkSafe back to work product, which enables organizations to detect potential COVID-19 infections, prevent outbreaks and reduce legal liability.

So they got into that too. Look at you, I’m looking at your face. You’re so proud of this, right? I could tell sometimes you don’t care for, for some of my questions and I can tell sometimes you’re so proud of what you’ve done.

Eman: Uh, I care for all these questions. I, um, I, I smile just because, um, uh, I think everybody’s just trying to figure out a way to adapt to the, to the new times. I mean, it was a safety application. It made sense for the app that we sold to, uh, companies to then be able to do something, to help prevent or detect, or, uh, alert, you know, company officials about a potential COVID.

Yes. So they develop work safe.

Andrew: how did you do that personally at the end of this sale? Did you, do you end up with more than $10 million in the bank? Can we say that

Eman: Uh, no, I didn’t end up with that big of a payout, but, um, uh, you know, I did well, I did, I did well, so did my, um, my other

Andrew: cash in the bank or shares in, in vector solutions?

Eman: no, no cash in the bank. It was,

Andrew: the bank. You know what, the problem that I had with searching, um, live safe was McAfee has Lyft safe product. I told you a little bit about that. And you said, ah, that was an issue for us. What was the issue?

Eman: Uh, in the early days when we’re, you know, we’re, we were super, super small. Um, and you’re going up against McAfee with the name. And Kathy had a product called live safe. Our company was named Luke safe. So, you know, there was a fight over the URL. Um,

Andrew: Did you have the URL first

Eman: no, no, neither one of us did. And we both went to bidding for the URL.

Um, obviously they had, you know, they’ve got millions, if not billions of capital. Um, and we had nothing. So we didn’t win that battle. Um,

Andrew: And then did they, did they try to hit you with trademark issues? Because you’re both in the safety.

Eman: uh, we, we didn’t go into the that, um, just because we were in two separate areas of the safety business. Um, and honestly we were probably too small for them. We were probably a blip on their radar, um, and not at the end, but at the beginning for sure.

Andrew: Okay. So were there any issues? It seems like there was a little bit of friction there at least.

Eman: Yeah, there was a little bit of friction around the name. Did we get general counsel and Lloyd legal involved in what we can do and what our options and, um, but, uh, at the end of the day it never became anything big. And, and we were able to continue to operate as live safe, that the URL was different, uh, lift, safe, mobile.

Um, but, uh, it never really affected our business.

Andrew: Now I think vector is changing the name to something that’s more vector oriented. I think.

Eman: I believe so.

Andrew: Yeah. And so you were starting to say that the reason that you got into Hungary was you are running live safe, and I guess it was a cultural need that you had that led to this, right? What was going on with the company?

Eman: So, um, at lifts safe, we were ordering food for the team, um, uh, on a weekly basis. Um, uh, our CEO wanted to bring in food for the team there. My co-founders thought it would be a great idea as well. And. We just realized this is it’s a really crappy process. Um, calling up restaurants, trying to figure out where to get food from.

Uh, everybody’s got allergies and, and one’s gluten free and one’s this and one’s that you’re just trying to accommodate for a lot of different moving parts, like say, um, the idea also I realized we’re spending a lot of money and it’s going to subway or Panera or Chipotle, um,

Andrew: What do you mean? It doesn’t seem like it’s a lot of money for Chipola if you’re getting for a hundred people. No. Yeah. You do about a hundred people, right? So a hundred people would, what.

Eman: thousand 500, $2,000 once a week. Um, I have friends that do it every single day. I have friends that do it for their companies for breakfast and lunch every single day. Um, the industry than dollars going into corporate that corporate America is spending on food is 100 billion plus every year.

Andrew: Corporate America into wait. Does that include, that includes also taking people out for lunch, right?

Eman: This is, this is in-office corporate catering

Andrew: a hundred billion dollars.

Eman: It’s the people don’t know it because it’s, it’s like, it’s not this industry that everyone’s talking about, but, uh, you know, companies spend millions of dollars a year on food for their team to keep them happy, keep them excited. A lot of them do it for meetings.

Think about every law firm. Anytime they have a meeting, there’s always lunch there. There’s always Panera. There’s something in the office. And so. How do you funnel, how do you shift that revenue stream from going into these big restaurant conglomerates to these independent chefs who are super talented and know how to make more delicious food, but they just don’t have the business know.

How do you get in front of all these big corporate clients? So that’s

Andrew: how did you know what it would cost to get a catered meal?

Eman: uh, I just started honestly calling around, you know,

Andrew: You said, if I decided that I wouldn’t do Chipotle and I actually had a chef, it feels like right. If you’re spending $2,000, your mind starts to go to, what could I get for this? If I hired a chef and then you start calling around and you saw how much would it cost for a chef created meal,

Eman: Uh, I realized it’d be cheaper. If a chef who’s

Andrew: cheaper than Chipola.

Eman: Cheaper than Ciavola because Chipola has to cover their retail front, their waiting staff, their lights, their water, their bill, a, these independent chefs who work in these ghosts kitchens or incubator kitchens. They just pay a monthly rent fee of like $600 a month.

That’s their overhead.

Andrew: And then the

Eman: they’re not, and the food costs, but, but. They’re able to get it at such low rates. You know, there’s so many different, you know, restaurant depots, there’s like Sedexo, there’s all these different, um, Cisco foods. So they’re able to get it at such low rates that these restaurants have to pay for a lot more infrastructure, overhead capital costs.

Um, so it ends up being cheaper. If you go to these independent chefs, the only thing that never existed. Was the platform where I, the office admin from Microsoft, how can I go and find all these chests? There was no connective tissue between all of these chefs in corporate America.

Andrew: You know what? I run past Dogpatch here in San Francisco and I noticed that there is a section where they’re just kitchens and I’m guessing those are what you’re talking about. These shared kitchens use the word ghost kitchens. Isn’t that Travis colonics latest company is that who you’re working with it is.

Eman: We’re not, it is as late as company. It’s not. Um, the term ghost kitchens just refers to all these incubator shared kitchens. Um, so incubator kitchens shared kitchens, ghost kitchens. Um, Travis Kalanick did just go into the business of setting these things up. They’re all over the country already. They already exist.

Um, they love hungry because we provide their chefs with stable revenue so that the chefs can continue to pay the rent to the kitchen owner and rounding around the cycle goes. So we have a very good relationship with all the kitchens, um, where our chefs are operating out of.

Andrew: Yeah. The first thing that you did was you put an ad on Craigslist. You said I’m looking for chefs to see if anyone would respond. How many responses you get? 10,000 chefs responded.

Eman: A thousand shuts responded applying for a job.

Andrew: And did you know, then you weren’t looking to hire them. You just said, look, there are these places that they could go and set up shop.

You didn’t even want to hire. Right. You weren’t looking to be Sprig. You want it to be sprayed. What used to have these, uh, kitchens that they owned? No.

Eman: I, I just wanted to see what the pool of potential chefs was out there. Like, are they all working in restaurants or are they actually in need of business? And with one post I realized this is a market that is ripe. There are chefs that are waiting. There are chefs that are in need of revenue in business.

Um,

Andrew: and just to be clear, what you want to do was you wanted to be the marketplace. You didn’t want to hire them. You weren’t looking to just dictate their menu. You just wanted to say, look, I’m gonna create a platform and they’re going to do this. You did want to hire the, um, what do you call them? The captains.

Eman: captains. Yeah.

Andrew: You did. That’s what you want to hire. All right. Then you said, can I get enough businesses to hire us or to use our platform? You went to your friends. How do you have so many friends who are in business at that point?

Eman: Uh, I, I honestly was just working connections from, um, from who I knew from high school, from college people I had met during my live safe years. Um, uh, you know, you, you, if you’re in venture for a little while, you know, you get around pretty quickly. Um, so calling up local customers and telling them, you know, here’s the platform that we have rather than spending $50,000 a month on, you know, Chipola your Panera.

What if you were to spread that wealth out to a bunch of independent chefs who have families and who are trying to make it, and I guarantee you, the food will be cheaper and better tasting than what you’re using. And so you kind of make it a no brainer. They can’t say, how do you say no to that? Right. Um, so they try it.

They’ll try it once. So you get one shot in this industry and you blow them away and then, you know, you’re good to go.

Andrew: You used to take the food yourselves. You were the original captains.

Eman: Yes. Uh, originally, um,

Andrew: How are you doing on time? I’ve noticed over the last five minutes, you’re looking over the computer screen. What’s up?

Eman: I was just looking at the charge. And so I’m just plugging it in. Sorry.

Andrew: thanks. Are you at the office?

Eman: I am

Andrew: Cool. Where’s the office still? Washington DC.

Eman: it’s right outside of Washington, DC in, um, uh, in our, in Clara, it’s an Arlington. Um, but, uh, yeah, so that, that’s kinda how we, um, uh, just started doing the deliveries ourselves. Asking the customers, what they like, what they don’t like. And, uh, just very quickly learn. You can never be late. You can never short them on food.

Um, and the food needs to arrive, warm and stay warm.

Andrew: You know, it seems like a no-brainer of course you can’t be late, but. I see, I get it even a couple of minutes makes a big difference was two minutes for you. I’m I’m hardly ever late anymore. Two minutes for you to hurt me because I know when I was being interviewed by people, if they were two minutes late, I wouldn’t know my, even in the right area, it creates excess anxiety much more.

So for, for doing interviews, I’m imagining for food. Also, there’s a sense of, are my people going to be frustrated?

Eman: it is it’s honestly, it’s so bad because imagine you have, I don’t know, a hundred employees and you told them lunch is going to be here around noon. Even if you say around noon. So everyone 15 minutes before noon starts with, to walk around looking for the lunch in the offices, and then they go to the office admin, Hey, where are we getting lunch?

You know? And then she’s got to answer to everybody one by one. So. Super high anxiety. It’s stressful. Um, so our idea was let’s take out all the stress and anxiety around this and make the office admins life a lot easier when it comes to food in the office.

Andrew: All right, let me close it out with this. When do you think you’re going to be able to bring back hungry? The first version right now? Hungry is a service. Anyone can use remotely. When do you think it’s going to go back to offices? 2021.

Eman: Uh, I think by Q2 of 2021, we will see a solid, resurgence of business that, existed prior to, COVID. So office is coming back maybe at a third capacity, maybe at half capacity, but definitely picking up

Andrew: I also noticed, as I was talking to you, you were, you weren’t upset that you had to start a new business. To me, it would feel like, Oh, we just built this whole thing up. Then we got to go back to square one and start all over again. You were happy about that. You happy that you started these two other businesses within hungry.

Do you feel like you’re going to keep this spirit of innovation going even afterwards that you’re going to be the company that launches other food, other products related to, to food?

Eman: definitely I think for any company to survive, just, you know, to have some level of longevity, um, you’ve gotta be willing to not get married to your original idea, be willing to adapt and change, um, uh, based on the client’s needs and based on the environment around you. So, uh, if, if you, if you don’t have that mindset, then you know, you’re going to struggle as an entrepreneur, but if you do, you will constantly innovate your way out of pandemics and, and things of that nature.

Andrew: I wish people could see this interview just to see that every time I thought things would be frustrating for you. That’s when you got excited that you did take pride. When I could tell you about like, here’s how live safe actually helped this group of people, but it’s the. Yeah, of course we were done.

Then I got to create a new company. How great is that? That’s where I saw your eyes light up.

thank you so much for doing this interview. Congratulations on the success and the company website for anyone who wants to go check it out is I don’t have it here because I got a million different tabs that I can say from memory. It’s try hungry, right?

Eman: try hungary.com.

Andrew: Try hungry.com. And I thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. Everyone out there should go host your website at hostgator.com/mixergy. And of course, I want to thank top towel as the number one place to hire developers. Top towel.com/mixergy. Bye.

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