[Corrected 5/15/09, 11:50 am. See below.] When Sprig co-founders Gagan Biyani and Neeraj Berry went looking for a head chef for their newly founded healthy meal delivery startup, they received hundreds of resumes. Then they held between 60 and 80 meetings with potential candidates. They found a lot of great cooks, but no one who could handle what they wanted to build: a company that provided delicious, healthy meals delivered on demand with nothing more than three taps in an app.
So Berry reached out to Charlie Ayers, employee number 56 at Google who ran the company’s food program for six years, for suggestions. His recommendation? Google’s former executive chef, Nate Keller. [An earlier version of this story omitted the word “former.” We regret the error.] In four years in his position, Keller had gone from feeding 400 people breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day to feeding 40,000. He had relationships with organic and sustainable food purveyors throughout the region, and he understood the kind of logistics necessary to scale a food operation like the one Sprig wanted to build. “Nate is not only an executive chef, he also knows how to run large organizations that keep food quality high at a larger volume, which is a critical part of the business,” Biyani says. When they met, Keller told Biyani about a time he was on a panel next to the executive chef of the U.S. Navy. When they compared notes, they realized they were cooking about the same amount of food. “Even to this day, Google is one of the largest food programs in the country,” Biyani says. Sprig hired Keller eight days after a first phone call with Berry.
Now, Sprig has 12 employees in its corporate headquarters, and another 20 at its kitchen space in Potrero Hill, not to mention the fleet of hourly drivers who deliver their meals. The company has raised a total of $12 million; a $2M seed round led by Battery Ventures and $10M Series A led by Greylock Partners with participation from Accel Partners and Battery Ventures.
A former marketing consultant at Lyft and co-founder of Udemy, Biyani started thinking about the dearth of easy food options while he was working for the ride-sharing company. Lyft fed its employees healthy, delicious meals at lunch. But when he got home at night, hungry and tired with nothing in the fridge, there weren’t great options. During his time as a busy founder at Udemy, he had lost track of eating well and working out; now he wanted a better option to stay on track after work. “If you do want something good to eat it’s a trek,” he says. “It usually takes between 15 minutes and an hour and a half, or you can cook.”
Berry suggested they apply the Lyft model to food, with meals on demand, ordered through an app and delivered by a fleet of drivers. Within three days of Biyani’s last day at Lyft, Sprig was already testing the concept. For six months, Biyani and his cofounders were testing the product live with customers, initially using whatever chefs they could dig up to make the food. Sprig hired Keller last August, and the company officially launched its dinner service in November 2013. Today, they serve dinner to most zip codes in San Francisco, promising high-quality, sustainable food in less than 25 minutes.
Though it seems like an obvious idea—the same basic Chinese/Thai/Pizza delivery options have been pretty stagnant for decades, even with the addition of delivery platforms like Eat24 and GrubHub—Biyani hasn’t seen much direct competition. Another San Francisco start-up, Munchery, offers a bigger selection of delivery meals, but they require pre-ordering, whereas Sprig is on demand.
Every day, Sprig’s app rolls out six options—three at lunch, three at dinner—with an option for vegetarians and the gluten-free. On a recent weeknight, for example, the three options were chicken fajitas, pork chili verde, and bean and cheese enchiladas. Each dinner entrée costs $10, with an additional $2 delivery fee on top of however many meals are ordered.
On the night I gave it a try, I went for the Sicilian chicken and Calabrese sausage entrée. Less than 25 minutes later, a woman named Venessa showed up with a compostable container of the chicken dish, plus sizable portions of broccoli and roasted potatoes, as well as a small truffle for dessert. The food was solid, if not amazing, and showed up hot to my door. I’d go for chicken and veggies over pizza or Chinese any day, and in San Francisco, $12 bucks for a sizable portion of something I didn’t regret later seemed like a reasonable deal to me.
Sprig also launched lunch service this week, delivering another three selections between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. So far, the service is limited to the financial district SOMA, Mission Bay and Dog Patch, but conveniently reached my office. A kale and quinoa salad for $9 (plus that $2 fee) showed up to my door in about ten minutes, certainly an easier way to get lunch than fighting the lunch crowds on the street. Other options that day included a barbeque chicken sandwich and a pork banh mi with slaw.
So far, it’s been popular; 50 percent of people who ordered lunch in the first two weeks of its trial run ordered it more than once, and Sprig has found that some people were clearly ordering lunch for the whole office. Though Sprig has an eight-item limit per order, there’s no limit on the number of orders one person can put in, so some people were simply ordering in multiples of eight. Though Sprig happily delivers to offices, it has no plans yet to make a specific platform catering to businesses.
In addition to Keller, the rest of the culinary team is filled out by pastry chef Jessica Entzel (responsible for those truffles) and advisor Kyle Connaughton. Connaughton is an expert in culinary science who has worked for three different Michelin three-star restaurants and as a consulting chef for Chipotle. During that first six months of testing, Connaughton worked with Keller to reverse engineer all of their entrees, making sure that they could withstand delivery by Sprig’s drivers. One of Biyani’s favorite dishes, the steak au poivre, benefitted from all that fake-delivery testing. “We’re one of the only places in the world that you can get delivery steak,” he says. “The reason you can do that is because of Kyle and his steak testing.”