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LocalStove Satisfies Your Cravings For Homemade Food

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Greg Dubin

Steve and Greg believe that everyone deserves homemade meals, but realize that with our busy lives, homemade meals are not always possible. As a result, they cofounded an online platform called LocalStove that connects the best home cooks in your neighborhood to you. On their website you can select which dishes you want from a variety of home cooks, and the food will be made and delivered to your event. We had the opportunity to interview them and learn more about their entrepreneurial journey and startup.


What inspired you to become entrepreneurs in the food industry?


Steven Finn: Food has been an obsession of mine for as long as I can remember. I started developing my own skirt steak marinade at age five, had a few years where my primary source of media was the food network, and have traveled as far as Australia and back in search of the best food out there. Wherever I go, I want to eat like a local. I spent several years as a software engineer for Bloomberg, and was ready to go out on my own and build something that I had a burning passion for. I decided I wanted to found a startup before we had the idea for LocalStove, and was exploring a variety of ideas. When it came down to actually doing something, working with incredibly talented local chefs who make authentic food from all over the world made so much sense!

Greg Dubin: I learned about the power of food to bring people together at a really young age. While growing up, my grandfather owned a restaurant in a small town in Wisconsin. It was the type of place where almost all the customers were regulars and everyone there knew everybody else’s name. People were drawn in by amazing comfort food (like deep fried balls of cheese as big as your fist!), but would stay for hours because they were made to feel like family. Spending a lot of time at the restaurant from as long as I can remember left a deep impression on me about the emotions that food can bring out in people and drove me to find away to impart this gift on to others, like my grandfather did. Yet, this exposure also taught me how tough owning a restaurant is. Between the brutal hours, high risk and thin margins, I realized it wasn’t the right business for me. LocalStove came about as a result of the realization that we can still create amazing culinary experiences, without a brick and mortar establishment. So, I sought to abstract away the worst parts of the restaurant business and harness tech to enable talented, passionate cooks to share their creations with the world.



What was your biggest challenge when founding LocalStove?


Steven Finn: Our biggest challenge was in deciding to take the plunge to pivot our business model. Our original model was to have our chefs offer individual meals through our website with us providing marketing, payment processing, and delivery logistics, and more. While this business was growing, it was difficult to spread the word. Then, we fell into office catering, mostly by accident. We originally viewed it as a marketing activity to sell individual meals, but corporate clients kept calling us back. We discovered that there was a real gap in the market serving small to mid size offices, where groups of around 10-75 people are too large to order effectively from restaurants and too small to get good menus for good prices from traditional caterers. These groups were regularly ending up with pizza and sub platters. This is the perfect size group for one experienced cook with no help and low overhead to cook for, and it allows us to sell much better food to offices for prices comparable to (or better than) existing options. On top of that, our cooks are making a lot more money per hour of labor than they would on virtually any other “gig economy” platform. As catering became a larger and larger portion of our revenue, we noticed that the catering model actually solved a lot of the problems we were having in individual meals. Having office catering become our primary business model was a tough call to make, but one that has worked out and allowed us to build the beginnings of a sustainable and scalable business.

Greg Dubin: The biggest challenge was probably emotional or mental in nature. Mainly, just taking the plunge into pursuing our endeavor full-time. Doing so at the end of business school was particularly challenging. Right when the majority of our friends were accepting high-paying jobs in lucrative industries, we were committing to having no income for the foreseeable future with absolutely no guarantee of success. The fact that all of us were married and either had kids or kids on the way certainly made the consequences of failure feel more daunting.



How was your experience like having 2 other cofounders?


Steven Finn: Having cofounders is great. I’ve worked on a startup alone before, and it’s hard to keep moving! Having cofounders gets everything done faster, provides a source of instant feedback on your work, and allows for rapid iteration. We are lucky to have complimentary skill sets. At this point, we know almost without talking about it who should take responsibility for something that needs to get done because we each know our cofounder’s strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own.

Greg Dubin: I believe there is a study that correlated three cofounders with the highest chances of success for a startup. I completely understand why. First, launching a startup requires so
much work every day, across literally dozens of areas of expertise. I truly cannot
comprehend how sole founders can do it alone. Second, I cannot overstate the
importance of having a diversity of opinions and perspectives when formulating strategies and finding solutions to problems. Moreover, having three cofounders instead of two helps break through impasses where only two equal founders may be at a stalemate.

(Side note: Our third cofounder Henrique left the company a few months after launching to take a full time job. He left on good terms and retained a tiny bit of equity, but isn’t involve in any day-to- day operations of the business)


Why did you focus your business around home cooked meals?


Steven Finn: We believe that the best food in the world is locked behind the front doors of our neighbors. It doesn’t necessarily take years of culinary training to make food that resonates deeply with people. To us, home style cooking is Grandma’s recipes. It’s something you’ve made 1,000 times, but you still love to make it. It’s cooked with feeling, passion, and editorial control. We find that we’re more likely to get this type of food from a local, independent cook who works for his or herself than we are from a professionally trained line cook who spends their days pumping out somebody else’s recipes in a restaurant setting. We don’t tell our cooks what to make or what to charge. They give us menus of what they’re best at, they set their prices, and we match them with offices whose budget and dietary preferences are a good fit. On a personal note, some of our food is some of the best food I’ve ever had, and I’d eat at Per Se for my wedding anniversary or drive to South Dakota for a rack of ribs (Bob’s Broasted Ribs in Sioux Falls!).

Greg Dubin: I’ve always loved to travel and quickly came to appreciate what an immense impact food has on culture. When visiting other countries, I truly believe there is no better way learn and understand about another culture than through its cuisine. A single dish can represent the mosaic of hundreds of years of history; a cross-section of the country’s plants, animals and ecology; and the long-held, rich traditions of the people. However, you don’t have to get on a plane to have these experiences. Philadelphia represents a rich tapestry of cultures, be them ethnic, religious, or simply socially-based. All these cultures have unique, exciting and authentic foods, which until now had been locked inside people’s own kitchens. The best cooks aren’t the ones on line pumping whatever they are told to cook for minimum wage. They are the ones who truly live and breathe their cuisine, because it is a part of who they are. LocalStove’s mission is about unlocking the kitchen door and enabling these amazing cooks to share not only their food with the world, but their passion, history and story as well.
Local Stove food

How do you choose and evaluate new cooks?


Steven Finn: Most of our best cooks have come to us. The value proposition of LocalStove for them is very strong. We bring them new customers who otherwise would never have found them, we handle payments, we provide them with a web presence, we deal with delivery logistics. We like to say that our cooks only have to worry about the cooking, and that they should let us worry about the details of running a food business. Evaluating cooks for LocalStove is the best part of our job. We meet with the cooks, learn their stories, and eat their food. Our cooks are great people to work with, but it’s their food blows me away almost every time.

Greg Dubin: Finding new cooks is actually one of the easiest parts of LocalStove. We developed a comprehensive marketing plan to attract new cooks, but haven’t had the need to implement it yet. Whenever we explain to anyone what LocalStove is about, the most common response we get is, “I know the perfect cook for you.” Pretty much everybody knows the “best cook in the world,” who makes incredible food but has no desire to actually open their own restaurant. As far as evaluation, the cooks have to go through our screening process before being allowed to post food on the platform. Part of this involves us trying the food first, which is definitely one of the best perks of the job. We also usually to have friends and loyal customers sample the food as well and give us their honest opinions. Ultimately though, it is really the user ratings that will determine how successful a cook will be on LocalStove. The best cooks rise to the top pretty quickly and can command higher prices for their meals. Cooks who aren’t incredible fall to the bottom pretty quickly and don’t get orders. Furthermore, if their rating falls below a certain threshold we remove them from the platform.

Cook at LocalStove
What are some memorable company milestones, and what developments do you project for this year?


Steven Finn: Getting our first “subscription” customer for LocalStove was amazing. Having somebody tell us that they loved our food so much that they wanted to have it again every week was something I’ll never forget. Passing $100,000 in sales was great as well, and we can’t wait to add a digit and get to $1,000,000 and beyond!

Greg Dubin: One of our cooks is a culinary student who was also working a part time job to help put herself through school. She recently told us that she was able to quit this job that she hated, because LocalStove was giving her enough income to support herself. This was a powerful reminder of why we do what we do.


What is one character trait that defines you and why?


Steven Finn: I love to learn new things, and I always have. I like to understand how things work. I have three Penn degrees in totally different subjects (Operations, Entrepreneurship, and Computer Science), and am always reading about something new. Entrepreneurship is the best way to learn rapidly that I’ve found yet.

Greg Dubin: Believing that there is always a solution to any problem. This means never admitting “it’s impossible” when faced with a challenge. Instead of asking “can we,” I only ask, “how can we?”


What are your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?


Steven Finn: Don’t pursue a great idea that you aren’t passionate about. If you wouldn’t be a user of your product, it doesn’t matter how great the idea or opportunity is, you are not the person to execute on it. Make sure if you get into something that it’s a field that you’re willing to spend the next 5+ years in and be eager to learn everything about it. Also, I can’t stress the idea of putting something out into the world quickly enough. We started selling food less than three weeks after we initially had the idea for LocalStove, and we’ve learned so much because of the pace. I’ve worked at a startup where we spent way too long in a room, figuring out every little detail of our product to make it perfect before launching, and we failed before we’d even finished the product. Startup guru Steve Blank says that “No business plan survives first contact with customers.” He’s right. The only way to move quickly enough toward real product market fit in an industry like ours is to put something out in the world, double down on what works, and quickly abandon what doesn’t.

Greg Dubin: Focus all your energy on finding product-market fit and don’t be afraid to pivot. Don’t spending all your time and resources developing what you think is a perfect product before you know if enough people are actually going to buy it. Instead, get your MVP out there as quickly as possible and see how it resonates with various audiences. If the product-market fit is right, they will accept an imperfect product because they innately see the value of what you are trying to do. Once you’ve identified the right customer base, engage and listen to them. They will be your most valuable resources for perfecting your product and driving your company’s direction.

Aaditi Tamhankar is a student at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. In her free time she can be found cooking healthy food, running, and watching too much Youtube.

Business

Increase Business During The Holiday Season

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holiday season

The holidays are quickly approaching and when running a business there is plenty to do to get ready. The holiday season is a busy time for shopping, gift giving, and should be a busy time for sales in your business. This is the time to ramp up with marketing in creative ways because of the influx of sales that will be coming your way. Making sure that your business is prepped for the return of loyal customers and for any new customers that may come your way will be vital. Here are some tips to prepare your business ahead of time for the holiday season.

 

Make sure your information is up-to-date

During the holiday sales rush, especially during Black Friday and Christmas you may see an influx of new customers. In order to prepare for this you must make sure that your information is up-to-date. Your website must have accurate contact information on it and your social media must be customer appropriate. If you have an office or location is the address on the website correct? You do not want to risk losing out on potential business because of careless errors or typos that could quickly make the customer lose interest. If someone is taking time to visit your website, making yourself easily accessible takes the hassle off of the customer.

 

Holiday Promotions

It never hurts to treat your current and new customers to discounts or promotions. In fact, this is an effective way to get customers excited about what is to come and gives incentive to loyal customers to return. Find creative ways to promote the deals through social media, giveaways, or contests so that it keeps people engaged. This will help your sales and also potentially bring a new wave of clients through the doors. If you have loyalty or rewards programs, modifying them during the holidays is a good idea, even if you need to offer bigger rewards or discounts.

 

Update your website

Many people want to avoid going out to stores during the holidays and do the majority of their shopping online. This growing trend can be an advantage for you if you have a functional, optimized, updated website. If you sell products or services online you need to have your website prepared for traffic. There are a number of factors that need to be in place before your website is ready. Your images should be high quality and related to the products, your content should be optimized for SEO, and your inventory should be up to date. You should be paying close attention to what items are available so that you can quickly re-stock what sells out. Having deals for online shopping customers only is another way to present incentives to customers and bring traffic to the website.

 

Create a gift guide

Creating a gift guide is a fun way to get customers excited about your products. The holidays are the time that people are searching extensively for what to buy their loved ones. There are even holiday gift guides for pet owners! In this case, a gift guide is a great way to influence those decisions. Getting a spot in the gift guides of influential websites and blogs can be huge for your brand’s marketing campaign! In some cases you may have to pay for this promotion, but in many cases it can be earned through general interest in your product.

 

Engage on social media

It is great to have a holiday gift guide, an up-to-date website, and marketing campaign but without an audience these things are pointless. If you have a brand that has been running for awhile the rise of social media should be one of the biggest outlets that you use for promotion. Your campaign cannot market itself, and social media is key for expanding your reach in a fast way. A creative visual campaign on social media can go viral and cause your business to blow up in hours. Take advantage of the direct connection to customers and engage your base while humanizing your brand.

 

The holiday season is a festive time and can be a great time for your business if you make sure that all of these things are in order, this holiday season can be a successful one for your business. Some things to remember: reach out on social media even when you are not in promotion mode, create a visual campaign, promotions and loyalty rewards programs go a long way, and make sure your website is updated. If your holiday sales season goes great that can snowball into bigger and better things for the rest of the year and the new year.

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Lo & Sons Introduces The Hanover Deluxe Tech Backpack

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Hanover Deluxe

Every techie entrepreneur needs a backpack equipped to handle a variety of gadgets, devices, and other miscellaneous travel items. Whether you are going on a short business trip or just need something to hold your laptop, the Hanover Deluxe provides the necessary versatility. The tech backpack is lightweight and ideal for traveling.

The Deluxe is an upgrade from the original Hanover and now has more storage space, which is good for fitting in a larger laptop. The original Hanover could fit a 13” laptop, while the deluxe can accommodate up to 15”. The Deluxe can be used by men and women and is perfect for everyday traveling, or even to be used as a spacious carry-on bag during a flight. The original Hanover weighed in at 1.75lbs and the Deluxe weighs in at only 2.2lbs but has a lot more storage space. If you decide to use the Deluxe as a carry-on during a flight the unique minimalist design can not only store all of your travel necessities, but can also fit comfortably under most airline seats.

Hanover Deluxe

Lo & Sons definitely hit the mark with the creation of the Hanover Deluxe. Similar to the original, the deluxe is also eco-friendly. The bag is made from recycled poly which, in a nutshell, is a highly resistant form of polyester made from recycled plastic water bottles. The poly is reinforced in a way that it prevents any unnecessary tears or rips that can occur from excessive travel or commuting. The process to making the bag is simple, yet effective and is part of their greater mission to protect the environment. The plastic bottles are collected, then they are washed and cut into small pieces. The plastic is melted and woven into fabric, and then turned into the Hanover travel backpack. Not only is the bag durable, it is spacious, lightweight, and convenient for commuters and consistent travelers.

Hanover Deluxe

Lo & Sons is dedicated to keeping the environment clean by removing plastic bottles that are clogging up landfills at an alarming rate. Recycled poly is a fairly new fabric which has given new life to plastic bottles. The goal is to take those plastic bottles and turn them into fabric in order to lengthen the lifespan of Polyethylene Terephthalate (often known as PET), and ultimately contribute to cleaning up the Earth. Lo & Sons is using the initiative to not only create products that are eco-friendly but to also purify some of the destinations that their customers will travel to with these backpacks. Recycling plastic makes a long term difference in ways such as producing less greenhouse gas emissions, keeping animals safe by having less plastic in the ocean, and keeping landfills clear.

Though the Hanover Deluxe incorporates some new and useful features, they kept some of the features from the original. The Hanover Deluxe still has padded shoulder straps, easy to use storage pockets for water bottles and such, a key leash to keep track of your keys, and removable inserts for easy storage. The Lo & Sons website even has a new cool feature that lets you look at different heights of people to see how the bag will look according to your particular body frame. Some of the changes include outer pockets that are easy to access using one hand (perfect for people rushing to catch a train, bus, etc). The new insert in the front compartment is now gray and see-through so that you can easily view the things that you’ve packed.

The Hanover Deluxe boasts a more organizational design than the original due to the complexity of the compartments that it has. The tech backpack now has removable pouches for your items, and are easy to remove to pack for the work week. The pouches in the front are more organized than the original and include a zippable compartment for smaller items that you may need but don’t want to forget. The tech backpack is engineered where the zippers can be opened using one hand. So, if you have your hands full you can easily reach and grab your water bottle or umbrella. The zippers were also woven together in a secure fashion so that they will endure constant traveling.

The Hanover Deluxe retails for $148.00 and is available through Lo & Sons official website. If you are looking for an affordable, durable, and eco-friendly tech friendly backpack, the Hanover Deluxe is perfect! Supporting the long term mission that Lo & Sons has to clean up the Earth is not only admirable, but also solves a big problem. Recycling plastic creates less gas emissions which leads to less waste in the environment and conserves natural resources. Not only is this bag convenient for traveling, but is spacious enough to fit all of your tech related equipment and even light clothes and accessories. The backpack is a great gift for the entrepreneurs in your life who are always on the go, and need a lightweight source to transport all of their precious devices.

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Dreampad: Sleep Technology That Calms Anxiety

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Some people can fall asleep anywhere in any situation. Unfortunately for others, that is not the case. Randall Redfield, Co-Founder of Dreampad is trying to solve this problem. He appeared on Shark Tank to pitch Dreampad. Not only did he create a pillow, Randall Redfield is on a mission to create products that uses neurotechnology to improve brain function. Dreampad is a pillow that converts music into vibrations that travels internally to your inner ear at prices starting at $149. It can be set to play your favorite soothing music or even sounds of waves as it guides your mind into relaxation. You can control the volume, music, and timer through an app. They even allow you to test out the music for Dreampad so you’ll know exactly which one is right for you.

What’s fascinating is the technology and science behind the pillow. You’ve heard of devices like the Fitbit measuring your sleep, but Dreampad has a goal to put you to sleep. As stated on their Kickstarter, “The Dreampad plays music through Intrasound Technology™, which converts sound into gentle vibrations that travel directly to your inner ear. This process signals the nervous system to relax, calming your body and mind. It’s safe, comfortable for all ages, supported by research, and it works.” Not only that, but they also make the music in-house for the Dreampad, like their rhythmic breathing breathing program that mimics the sound of a wave.

There may be nights where you’re stressed about your startup, thinking about how to get your next 100 customers or how you will make your employees lives easier. The best thing to do in this situation is usually to relax so you can tackle those business details with an open mind. Startup leaders suffer from multiple levels of anxiety. The technology that Dreampad introduced is trying to cure your sleepless nights. The Dreampad pillow is scientifically proven to reduce stress and engage the nervous system’s relaxation response. So instead of sitting at your desk at home basking in the glow of your computer, take a moment to free your mind.

 

We gave the pillow a try to see if it lives up to the hype. And, IT DOES! The music is very much contained to the pillow itself, and anyone laying next to you will not be able to hear it. It works in any sleeping position, so you don’t have to alter how you sleep. We received the medium Dreampad and it was delightfully fully and comfortable. It was like sinking into a cloud while listening to beach waves. The bluetooth option is fantastic if you don’t want your phone directly next to you. The only concern was having a pillowcase to fit the pillow. Not only is there a fear of getting it dirty, but it always makes your hair staticky. However, the material feels very high-end and soft to the touch. Overall, Dreampad really helped with falling asleep and decreasing anxieties.

It may take a few tries before getting use to the Dreampad pillow, as with any pillow. Knowing your favorite type of pillow is key when choosing one that fits your comfort. Dreampad comes in slim, medium, firm, and memory foam. Because of the technology that’s inside the pillow, it cannot be machine washed, so having a pillow case for it is something to keep in mind. As the hard-working entrepreneur that you are, it’s definitely worth a try. There are many things that you need to think about during the day. Figuring out how to fall asleep should not be one of them.

dreampad

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