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ZeroCater (YC W11): Lunch At The Office Doesn’t Have To Be A Complete Pain (techcrunch.com)
132 points by abstractbill on July 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

I honestly love startups which do more business/process innovation than cool technical stuff with no actual utility. There exist hungry workers and slack kitchen capacity at restaurants in every major metropolitan area, every single day. There exist catering companies but they all have to maintain their own kitchens for sourcing.

Connecting the kitchens and the workers leads to eliminating expensive waste. Yay. Predictable incremental revenue streams for restaurants on weekdays are amazing from their perspective. After having customers and data, a couple iterations down the line I think they can probably offer something as compelling to the food customer -- e.g., fixed pricing, which could make this very competitive with business catering. That is almost certainly a 9 figure a year business in NYC alone.

[Edit: Someday, I want to hear the story of the early days of this company. I'm having visions of the MVP involving 0 lines of code, one cell phone, one inbox, and a whole lot of hustling. "Hiya skeptical restaurant manager, I'm calling to place $1,800 worth of food orders for next Thursday. Also, I want to do it twice a week for the next six months. Do I have your attention? Great, here's what we're going to do..." Repeat a couple of times while becoming the Official Food Logistics guy for the YC mafia, and suddenly you have side of the two-sided market bootstrapped from zero to "You are their favorite person ever", plus you've got a very good understanding of what sucks about ordering food for a large number of people. Then you start coding.]

IIRC, it started as one of the admins at Justin.tv spending a bunch of time arranging food for them, and then deciding that other startups had the same problem and spinning out Zero Cater.

The YC connection is a great way to get started (incidentally, the YC company I'm currently at (Greplin) has been using them for a few months, and I have no complaints).

Yup. And then he ran it on his own for a year or so before getting into YC.

I won't speak for them... but I can guarantee there are countless stories like this... along with "OMG WHY ISN'T MY FOOD HERE WHEN I ORDERED IT!!!!" and "THIS FOOD IS SO AWFUL ZOMG ZEROCATER I'M COMING FOR YOUR HEAD!!!"

Hustle + code = greatness.

We're hiring, by the way!

Previous to ZeroCater, I was the first engineering hire at Justin.TV: http://abstractnonsense.com/life-at-a-startup

If that sounds like the kind of experience you would enjoy, email me (bill@zerocater.com) - we're currently looking for our first engineering hire.

If that sounds like the kind of experience you would enjoy, you should also consider joining us at Justin.tv :)



(Sorry, Bill, I just couldn't help myself)

Heh, this is an awesome time to be a smart hacker looking for a startup job ;)

At Bump we cycled through various options: etherpad based self-organizing lunches, burrito factions, followed by 4 or 5 different catering options. Zero Cater was the winner hands down.

We've been using them for a couple of months now.

They have great variety. We had a controversial lunch at the beginning (some people loved it, some people hated it), but overall the quality has been great, the food yummy, and they've been responsive about customizing the menus to our needs.

If you want to eat ZeroCater, but not work there, you should come work with us!


These guys had IMO the best slide of the whole W11 Demo Day.

Arram, do you have your Wave of Food image handy?


Illustration by Julie Kang. Email me if you'd like an introduction.

What a fantastic picture! Props to the illustrator :-)

Can someone please explain why this is a fantastic picture? I would like to encourage future commissioned designers to adhere to such standards

We used ZeroCater for the first time today. Could not have been a better experience, especially because we signed up last night at 8pm.

Totally off topic (well, it's about lunch) - but do all tech companies in the US order in lunch every day? In Australia at most companies we'd "go out" for lunch - even if it was just wandering down to the sushi takeout place to stretch the legs.

I've moved to Paris now where (in the traditional parisian style, I guess) at least a few times a week it's group meals at nearby restaurants.

Nowhere I've been do people "order in" food - unless it's a late night pizza run. What's the reason that it's so common in the US that it can support a (cool looking) service to do so?

Thank goodness this is coming to NYC. Can't wait to stop having to pick and order lunch for the team.

Saw this in action in SF. It's like set it and forget it.

We were actually with them for a month or two and the variety of food that we were getting was terrible. We were seriously getting hordes of rice every day. I love me some rice, but not every day for every meal.

ZC has vastly improved their quality of customer support in the recent months. We've been with them since the beginning, and we've seen it happen.

Very happy to hear that, thanks

I had the same experience at the start of my use of ZeroCater.

The great thing was, though, that I was able to just tell ZeroCater that we didn't want as much rice, and they fixed it. They're super responsive. We've been using them for about 2 months now, and are pretty happy.

We tried that, but I think that we were one of their first customers and they weren't really adept at making changes yet. Things must've changed after we stopped being a customer.

Maybe they just thought you needed more starch in your diet.

This is one of the coolest and most useful new companies I have seen. I love how I, uh, have no freaking clue what their technology stack is because their business doesn't depend on selling to other geeks. (Though that would of course be interesting.) Props!

RTP (where I work) has a huge set of companies who collectively do tons of team lunches, etc. We all get pretty tired of going to the same places in the vicinity every day, so please, add us to your queue!

(Incidentally, I feel like so many interesting startups are optimized for their locality - Bay Area or NYC. What opportunities are there for the rest of us to convince these services to come to our towns?)

It looks good. I've seen a few startups trying to use restaurant kitchens like this for home delivery meals and I had wondered whether the economics would really work out for them since they would be requiring restaurants to make small deliveries to lots of people.

Bigger deliveries to larger groups is the obvious solution to that. Good luck :)

Had my first experience with ZeroCater today -- late last night I told a friend I'd be coming by to work out of their office, and somehow between last night and lunch today they were able to add an 'extra' order on to the delivery and had a sandwich for me at lunch today -- +1 for food in my stomach

Glad you liked it

EDIT: ok, I'm was just being a whiny brat.

Zerocater: remove the option to log in with facebook. When people use it, they do log in, but they aren't connected with the account their company admin set up, and if they're as bad as me, they just give up and end up with food they don't really like.

Hi Justin,

Done. We've removed it. Thanks for the feedback.

What would be really cool is a generic way for businesses in cities anywhere in the world to opt in to such a scheme. I wish I lived over in Hackerville but my talents are currently required in Leeds, England and the food here sucks :-)

Are you from the US or have you been in the US / Bay Area much? Compared to the UK I find the eating out for lunch / catered lunch culture huge. Where I've been at a clients, I cannot believe how busy some of the restaurants are.

I wish the UK was more like this

Agreed. I'd love to see this in Chicago.

Any plans on bringing this across the pond to the UK/EU ?

Sounds like a business opportunity.

We've been using ZeroCater at Loggly for many months now. They've always been great to work with, and keep the menu interesting. Two thumbs up guys!

I was going to say... "wow, this sounds exactly like what we do at work!"

Their food is DELICIOUS!!

I wouldn't be surprise if someday this company sees 1M/day going through its service.

I'd be way more excited if they got me awesome deals and charged a flat fee. Also If they only dealt with restaurants with an "A" health code rating and good Yelp reviews.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons to what a dabbawala does in India. Is this a rarely seen business in the US?

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