By Tyrone Burke
Photos by Chris Roussakis
Plant-based, celiac, peanut allergic, lacto-ovo vegetarian . . . somewhere along the line, ordering food for a large group became almost comically complex.
Ours is an age of dietary limitations, and while providing snacks as a perk for a staff of dynamic young professionals might sound straightforward enough, meeting everyone’s dietary needs is anything but.
Enter Desk Nibbles, a tech startup that was incubated at Carleton’s Lead to Win accelerator. They’re using artificial intelligence to create customized boxes of snacks and drinks that ensure the entire staff is well fed.
“We help offices understand what their employees preferences are — who’s vegan, who’s kosher, who’s halal, who’s gluten-free,” says Cassy Aite, CEO and co-founder of Desk Nibbles.
“Our software puts together an order and understands exactly what to send to which office. We do this using Slack, which is similar to Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, but internal to a company. We’ve created a chat board that employees can talk to and it learns over time, based on their preferences. Then we just need to know an office’s budget and every week a curation is made specifically for your office and budget.”
Bootstrapping Desk Nibbles
Alongside his brother Emil, a Carleton Computer Science graduate and the company’s chief technology officer, Aite delivered a Lead to Win lecture at Carleton on Feb. 4, 2019, one of six Lead to Win lectures scheduled for the winter term.
The Aite brothers shared the story of how they bootstrapped Desk Nibbles, running the company from their parents’ basement for about a year before moving to Bayview Yards, where most of their staff of 20 now works.
Emil recognized the problem with meeting employee dietary needs while he was working as a software developer at Shopify, but the business didn’t take off like a rocket. It started out small: a single $5 a week order from the Carleton University Students’ Association. They had a few hiccups in the company’s early days, but grew their client base through digital marketing campaigns and direct outreach to office managers responsible for food purchasing.
Today, Desk Nibbles counts companies like Uber, TripAdvisor and 500px as clients, and delivers food boxes in major Canadian cities, as well as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.
To keep costs low and logistics simple, they work with local distributors who have supply chains in place to deliver customized boxes of snacks. Small “nibbler” boxes have 65 plus snacks for offices with a staff of less than 15, while larger “muncher” boxes are designed for 15 to 29 employees, with over 140 snacks.
$1 Million Mark a Key Target
Last year, the company’s revenue hit seven figures. The $1 million mark is a key target for Lead to Win companies, and the company is already eyeing ways to grow. All of it seemed improbable when the company launched in 2016.
“I remember when Lead to Win’s Executive Director Tony Bailetti gave the three-year challenge – a million dollars of revenue within three years,” says Emil.
“And I was like, look at this guy, putting this ridiculous challenge out there. Two years later, I realize that achieving annual revenue of $1 million isn’t so crazy. It is attainable and possible. A lot of people have a limiting belief in terms of what they can accomplish. You might overestimate what you can do in the short term, but people tend to underestimate what they can do in the mid and long term.”
Bailetti praised the Aite brothers for their inspiring presentation to roughly 80 people about achieving entrepreneurial success.
“Students will become entrepreneurs if they believe they can be good at it,” says Bailetti.
“If the academic environments in which they are embedded do not make them feel they can succeed as entrepreneurs, they will simply look for jobs in existing organizations.
“The number of entrepreneurs Canada will have in five years depends on the entrepreneurial focus and structure of the universities like Carleton from where these individuals graduate today.”
Order your own box of snacks (or just check out the platform) at Desknibbles.com
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