Published October 25, 2013
Calling all busy people seeking some sort of balance between work and everything outside of work: Blue Apron is looking at you.
The one-year-old food startup is focused on getting people back into their kitchens by delivering weekly, fresh ingredients to customers’ doorsteps, with step-by-step recipes included.
“We call the company Blue Apron because chefs around the world wear blue aprons when they are learning to cook,” explained Matt Salzberg, the CEO and co-founder of Blue Apron.
Salzberg, along with friends Matt Wadiak and Ilia Papas, started the company after Papas found himself wishing this kind of service existed.
“This idea really came from frustrations of trying to pour over thousands of recipes and pick out one that is good -- and then try to go find all the ingredients,” said Papas.
In only a year, the New York-based company has expanded nationally with over 90 employees and received more than $8 million in funding. And while it is not profitable yet, the team says it's putting its revenues back into the business.
“We're doing everything we can to take Blue Apron nationwide and make it a household name -- we want to change people’s lifestyles,” said Salzberg.
Currently, Blue Apron, which sends out over 200,000 meals every month, offers three dinners a week with two portions in each meal. The $60 a week price tag comes out to about $10 a dinner.
“I think food should be accessible and affordable. It shouldn’t just be people going to a grocery store and buying [groceries] for a $100 to make a meal," said Wadiak. “You should be able to have a great meal for $10 bucks, and I want to be able to give everybody that.”
Questions for the Co-Founders
What is your favorite quote and why?
Matt Salzberg: "Fortune favors the bold." It reminds me not to be afraid to try new things and rock the boat from time to time.
Matt Wadiak: “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” - M.F.K. Fisher. Spending time together in the kitchen and around the table is, at least for me, the best way to connect with another person. It distracts us and pulls us in simultaneously. I have never had a meal with someone that didn’t somehow bring us closer.
Ilia Papas: "Perfect is the enemy of the good." When you're starting a company, your name and reputation are on the line, and it can be easy to over-analyze important decisions. The reality is you just need to trust your instincts and keep moving forward--when you're in uncharted territory, there are no perfect answers.
How do you differentiate among your competitors?
Salzberg: Blue Apron is about lifelong learning -- we design our recipes to teach our customers new things about ingredients, techniques, suppliers, and cuisines each week.
Wadiak: We’re focused on enabling lifelong learning in cooking for our customers, and we put the utmost care into the quality of our product. We wouldn’t serve our customers anything we wouldn’t give to our friends or family. We’re really proud of the quality of our food and recipes and we think the customers feel that.
Papas: We put a strong emphasis on helping our customers grow as chefs and expand their cooking repertoires. We put a lot of effort into making our product is dynamic and consistently high quality, so that it becomes a part of our customers and their families' lives week after week.
Why do you think Blue Apron is a service that is needed?
Salzberg: Interest in food and cooking is higher than ever, but preparing restaurant quality food at home is currently inaccessible to most people. We're trying to make the experience of a great meal available to everybody.
Wadiak: Spending time in the kitchen brings people closer together but it can be hard to do because shopping, planning, and executing a great meal all require a great deal of effort. We make all of that easy, and that makes our customers’ lives better because they can focus on their relationship with the food. Not the stress.
Papas: There is something unique about cooking in that it's something that everyone can do. We give people the opportunity to really explore more adventurous and exotic ingredients they might not try otherwise without breaking the bank and with a high success rate. It's easy to fall into a rut and keep cooking the same recipes week after week--we make it easy to branch out and really grow your skills in the kitchen, while trying new things.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Salzberg: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is being able make a difference everyday -- when you have a good idea, there's nothing stopping you from making it happen immediately. It's also extremely rewarding to be able to reach so many people with a service that you're proud of and improve their lives.
Wadiak: Having the ability to make change and influence an industry through hard work and dedication. Not following in the footsteps of another and carving a new path is particularly rewarding. I love figuring out solutions to very challenging problems.
Papas: It's immensely satisfying to see our customers sharing the meals they've cooked on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc and often telling us that our product has changed there lives. To be able to have an impact on that many people is a real honor.
What is the worst thing about being an entrepreneur?
Salzberg: Starting a company is difficult-- its like a baby that never sleeps and requires constant attention to make sure its healthy and growing.
Wadiak: Working independently can be a challenge. Entrepreneurship is full of nay-sayers and conventionalists. It can be difficult to hold your own and try to constantly do the right thing with so much adversity. Sometimes you feel like no one has your back.
Papas: When a company is growing as quickly as ours, there's always more you can be doing. You have to focus and make sure you're executing tasks and initiatives in the right priority, and it can be frustrating to know you're delaying something that can make the product or customer experience even better. Luckily we've built a great team, and we're able to accomplish more and more every day.
Best piece of advice for entrepreneurs just starting out?
Salzberg: There's no one right way to do something--there are a million paths to success. The only thing in your way is inaction.
Wadiak: If you have a good idea, work hard, and stay organized, you have a shot at being successful. Don’t take too much advice because your gut is usually right. It’s also important to form relationships with your vendors and co-workers. Visit with them, answer your phone, and become friends. That’s how the best deals are done.
Papas: It's extremely important to maintain focus and break work down into chunks that can be realistically accomplished. There is always more you can be doing, but it's easy to get distracted and spread yourself too thin. If you focus on only a few key initiatives at a time, you'll make much more progress.