The BizSpark startup of the day is RelayFoods.com, based in the US. Below you will find an interview with Zach Buckner, CEO of RelayFoods.com. All the best to them and congratulations for being the startup of the day!
Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
I am the founder and CEO of RelayFoods.com, an online grocery and delivery service currently serving Richmond, VA and Charlottesville, VA communities. We offer groceries, specialty and artisanal foods, and food from over 50 grocery stores, restaurants, and local farms from the Virginia area.
What did you do before creating your company?
Prior to founding Relay, I was Vice President of Technology for Elder Research, Inc., and the inventor of a next-generation industrial sensor line at Visi-Trak Sensors, LLC. Before that, I earned a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
Grateful – and very excited to see our business growing and being recognized. At Relay, we feel we have built something really special that has the potential to help bring together people, businesses, and farms around one of the most important economic and community-related issues facing society: the ability to make good tasting, healthy, and community supportive food decisions. If – as a marketplace — we can enable businesses and farms to reach new customers and allow people to shop many different businesses at one sitting, we will be helping to support local economies even as we make headway against some of the negative 21st century global trends – less driving has got to be a good thing all the way around.
What is your company’s mission?
Relay’s mission is to make eating quality, healthy, and sustainable food simple. We will accomplish this mission by educating individuals and families about the foods they eat, creating connections between local producers, food retailers and end consumers, and bringing food to easily accessible locations.
How did you get the idea for your company?
I was out shopping with my family – my wife and three kids – and we needed to get to a number of places, which meant battling traffic, navigating stores, dealing with moody children – you know, the usual. And I began to think how this picture might be improved. Why not enable people to get things they need and strip away – or at least lessen – the pain points in the process? That was the beginning. From there, we set about building a robust ecommerce platform, narrowed our focus to food, and assembled a wide array of food vendors. We created a marketplace. And people understood immediately that they could basically follow their taste buds to great food and also patronize the kinds of community businesses and farms they always wanted to support at the same time.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
To date, we have raised $1.25M from angel investors in the Charlottesville area who have had great success investing in the grocery industry. With this we have grown our operation, created a web infrastructure, and developed the software engineering support necessary to serve two markets simultaneously.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
We have consolidated our Charlottesville and Richmond operation around 35 core Management, Marketing, Merchandising and Operations personnel. Currently, we have one full-time developer and two part-time developers.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
Yes, we are adding to the team as growth requires.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
We are building around Microsoft’s Web Technologies: ASP.NET MVC, IIS 7, and SQL Server. We did an extensive survey of our options before getting started, and concluded that Microsoft’s platform offered the best ‘bang for the buck’. A more refined set of tools (like Visual Studio, Linq-to-SQL, etc) enable us to spend far less time developing, which dampens the largest single “line item” in development. And it’s more pleasant to work with better tools!
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
We’re clearly not the only one think this way, but we feel that computation-as-a-resource will be the concept that marks the coming decade in computing. Good strides have been made in this area, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
I wish we’d known about it sooner! For companies like ours that have chosen to develop atop the Microsoft platform, BizSpark has proven to be fastest way to get moving. And we also see the program as a great way to connect with other high-potential startups and link with great people who can serve as support, advisors, or even investors.
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
I’ve kept a running list of “lessons learned” while developing this business. Three that seem especially relevant to software entrepreneurs are:
Don’t pick an industry that’s already over-served by other smart software entrepreneurs – like building tools for other software developers. The signal-to-noise rate is just too high in these areas, and the competition is just too plentiful. Explore beyond the 15 sexy niches that all your friends are packed within.
Don’t underestimate the importance of developing a marketing plan. I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs (especially engineers) frequently underestimate the sheer difficulty of getting marketing right.
Before picking a technology platform, gather data from other startups to get an assessment for the true cost of developing on various platforms. Ask questions like: how long did this take to build? How many developers were in place? What’s the going rate (translation: how much did you pay) for a software engineer? The true cost of software engineering is dominated by labor costs, not licensing fees.
Who’s your role model?
I most admire entrepreneurs who have been not only successful in their careers, but also fruitfully invested in their families and faith. Three individuals that immediately come to mind are Dr. John Elder (a UVA professor of mine who runs Elder Research, Inc.), Dr. Ken Elzinga (another professor of mine from UVA), and Marian Noronha (President of TurboCam International).
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
That entrepreneurship is an adventure not to be missed. It shouldn’t be tackled without the right gear (deep experience gained from working with another established business is key), but once well equipped – it’s worth the risk.