This week I chatted with David Rabie, Co-Founder & CEO of Tovala.
As Tovala puts it, they provide impossibly convenient home-cooking. They invented a smart oven that perfectly cooks the chef-crafted meals that they offer, which makes them an interesting part hardware / part subscription hybrid.
Between choosing what to eat, buying the ingredients, cooking the food and cleaning up the dishes, people spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Tovala has created a solution that streamlines that whole process and still gets you a home-cooked meal at the end of it. They’ve been gaining traction and were actually on Oprah’s 2021 Favorite Things List. Interplay is proud to be an investor.
During the chat we discussed the ins and outs of Tovala - including the in-depth shipping process that’s required to efficiently and safely deliver ready to cook food, how David came to start Tovala and much more. Enjoy.
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Thanks for being on the show today.
David Rabie: Yeah, my pleasure!
MPD: All right. Let's let's start off with the business. Can you give us an overview of Tovala?
David Rabie: Yeah. So Tovala is a, we like the things that are revolutionary meal solution. So we combine a smart oven with a chef prepared meal service.
And the idea is that we take the best elements of home cooking and kick out the reasons why you might not cook on your own. And so basically what that means is you buy our oven. We send you meals that are prepacked, mostly raw. You spend about 60 seconds preparing those meals. Put them in the oven scan a QR code and 20 minutes or less later, you've got a fresh home cooked meal.
That's piping hot home smells. Good, great flavor, texture, et cetera. So that's our product. We've been in business for about four and a half years.
MPD: And why did you decide to start this? There's been plenty of meal kit companies, and I know this is different. I'm a customer and an investor, but why did you
David Rabie: pick this.
Yeah. So I'm very personally passionate about eating well and have been for most of my life spent a lot of my career before Tovala in the food space. And when I was in grad school, I was thinking about starting a company in the food technology industry. And I was trying to cook for myself just by being super busy and had this one day where I felt like I, yeah, I was cooking and I was using four different appliances in the home.
It took me three hours to make my meals for the week. And I was really frustrated and I felt like there's gotta be a better way to get just the home cooked product that I wanted. And so I went and tried all these alternatives on the market and the closest than anything came was a meal kit, but it didn't actually solve the core problem of I don't have time or I'm too tired to actually cook.
And that was the Genesis of the problem. And the way we went about solving it is by building a fully vertically integrated. Because most
MPD: of the meal kit companies, the food comes in a box and you chop it all up and you have to go do all the work. Once it is,
David Rabie: you're supposed to do the work.
Like they see you, they saved the planning. So you don't have to figure out what you're going to buy. They save the shopping, but that's it. You're still preparing. You're still cooking and you're still cleaning. And there's certainly a market for that for folks that hate the shopping or want to learn how to cook, we're solving for what we think is a much bigger problem and a much bigger market.
And it's really people that want to eat well, but don't.
MPD: Who are the customers for that? Because I know you guys have been around for a while. Obviously you've got a lot of people, who have signed up for this. Is there a typical customer demographic that signs up because they're, they want their time back.
David Rabie: It is a very broad customer base. I would say core customer that we target is a very busy, young, professional couple that we call the life optimizer. They're really in the business of outsourcing anything, Don essential in their lives and for a lot of their meals, that's food.
And so today they're overly reliant on food delivery apps which are expensive. Quality is hit or miss and food often arrives. Lukewarm. You don't know what's going in. It. And so Tamala comes in as a substitute for that. And that's the core customer we speak to and market to. But our source of volume of customers is much broader than that demographically.
So whether that's empty nesters or solo diners, that span a really wide age range or even larger families where tamale is one solution of many we've got a lot of different groups that we, really appeal to. How has the
MPD: product evolved over time? Because you guys you've been at this. I've seen different offerings for people who haven't used it, there's a mobile app and you can see what the food is that you can order for the next week.
And you just go through and click it's super easy. What is how is your product lineup
David Rabie: evolving? Yeah it's evolved a lot. I'd say no, like revolutions a lot of evolution over time. So across the board, when we think about product here, it's really everything from the oven to the mobile app, to the food, to the packaging and all those things have to work holistically together.
All of those have changed significantly since we launched. So there's a gen two oven it's smaller, lighter, more functionality than the general. The menu has evolved in a lot of ways. So one is size. We launched with five items a week on the menu. Now there's 22 is day part. We launched with just dinner today.
It's breakfast, lunch and dinner. Three is types of meals, a much, much broader selection. I'd say more mainstream selection. There's now premium offering. So a lot of different things have evolved on the menu. The app has evolved considerably. There's a lot more things you can do with the app than before where we launched.
There's very limited functional. And then packaging has continued to evolve to become more sustainable to, be a lot better for our margins, better customer experience, things of that nature.
MPD: Yeah. That's a super interesting thing about sustainable packaging. We're investors in a company called temper pack as well.
And I don't know if you use them or not, but there w what's novel about that is when we made that investment, we learned that a lot of the delivery companies, the number one reason of churn from their customers. Whereas people felt bad, throwing away all the styrofoam and all the other bad stuff that came in the packaging, they're environmentally conscious consumers feeling like they're doing something bad for the world by ordering food.
And so temper pack brought a fully recyclable packaging solution and that that obviously did very well and took off how has your packaging changed? What do you, what does someone think about, Would be food entrepreneurs listening to this what's the packaging game? Like how do you think about supply chain management and all the pieces that go with that?
David Rabie: it's a great question. It's a huge part of our business that has only gotten more complex as our scale has grown as the variety of meals that we offer has grown. As the types of boxes we offer has grown. And as the global supply chain has turned upside down, all those things have made this part of the business expert.
I'd say at a high level, the way it's evolved is we're a lot smarter with the amount of packaging that we have to include. At the amount of gel packs that we have to include and just trying to optimize for a better customer experience. But I still think there's so much room to go there. And really what's the challenge from a environmentally friendly standpoint is finding solutions that are cost-effective, but also, net positive for the environment.
And we've certainly gotten better on that front, that before. I still think there's a ways to go and likely a lot more innovation.
MPD: It is if someone's starting in this space and they're like, okay, we have to figure out packaging. Is there an easy talk to this broker or think about this, or start here or do that kind of a, either a rule of thumb or basic way to get started on this.
David Rabie: There certainly was not for us. We were fortunate to have a few team members with PhDs that really understand. Food science and thermal dynamics and could figure out at a high level how much ice and insulation to put into these boxes that were shipping raw product all across the country. And now we've got a proprietary algorithm that does all that calculation for us on a weekly basis, takes into account historical weather type of food.
How far the food is going. All the varieties of gel packs and insulation we can put in. And so it's really complex. I wish there was one place to go, but unfortunately, shipping raw perishable product across the country is still a relatively new business. And they're not like central sources of truth that, that we know.
MPD: Yeah, but most people are not thinking about the fact that there's an, math required. You're just thinking you put some ice packages in.
David Rabie: It's. It's really complicated. Like you, you need your food to stay in, food, safe, temperatures and ensure that when it arrives to the customer, it's safe to eat.
And at the same time, you can't overload your box with ice because your costs will go up too high and you also don't want your food to get too cold. And again, there's variables there of like, all right it's going to be in a truck, then it's going to be on a doorstep and it's going to be in our facility.
And it's going to go from a cold temperature state to a warm temperature state. It's a lot of different things to factor. That are much more complex than what meets the eye.
MPD: Huh. Fascinating. And how about the oven? The oven always was a bit of a novelty to me. The way you, I never seen the barcode thing before.
I don't know if anyone's done that or QR code or whatever the dots are. You put the food in, you scan the code on the box that the food came in and the oven knows exactly how to cook the food, including steaming it. And the whole thing had that ever been done.
David Rabie: Not really I don't know who, who did it first.
Whirlpool's got a microwave that scans some microwaveable products. I think that was launched like you maybe a little bit after us there, but it definitely not mainstream. And we came to the solution by focusing on the problem. I would say, like we knew we needed some mechanism to communicate between our meals and the oven and knowing that the meals were going to change every week.
That mechanism had to be able to update itself. And it also has to be cheap enough that you could have something like that on every meal. So that ruled out things like NFC and RFID. And so barcode scanning was the solution for us. And I think it's been really a big win. I'd say it's the key differentiator.
It's the magical moment. And we're trying to lean into that more from a brand design standpoint, moving forward. And it works just from an operational standpoint. It works really well. Fascinating.
MPD: How many meals are you guys shipping at this point? I know the big number. What's a month look like for you guys.
It's a big
David Rabie: number. It's hundreds of thousands.
MPD: Okay. So how do you manage that logistically? So someone's writing a business plan now and thinking, okay, we eventually want to ship hundreds of thousands of meals a month. What is the supply chain infrastructure that gets, that makes that a real.
David Rabie: Yeah. I don't know if you could you'd have had to done this before to be able to write a business plan today for how you'll do it at scale.
Like we had to learn our way into this. And again, the challenge with our businesses. There's not a lot of precedent for a food production operation that is producing fresh perishable products. That's also partially cooked at some points and changing every week. Like that just didn't really exist.
10 15 years ago, like the closest you would find is airplane food. To be honest, even though the quality is really low, like that's the closest you would come to doing this at scale. Like most CPG companies are making the same product. It's a totally different operation versus needing to make something different week over week at enormous scale.
So there's not a lot to study in terms of how to do this. And we learned our way in, I'd say our first week looked a lot more like. Than what it looks like today. And gradually we evolved into what's more of a manufacturing business than a restaurant is.
MPD: So what's the reality though, if you walk in there's some giant warehouse and a bunch of people in the chefs, outfits, cook and food, and is it a supply chain?
Is it a Henry Ford model? Give me a little color on what this looks like to deliver that scale.
David Rabie: Yeah, so it is a very large kitchen where we're processing, tons and tons of. A lot of it requires hands-on work, whether it's creation of sauces or marinating of things, or par cooking of things where there's definitely a large human element.
Ensures the quality is going to be really high that's something that was important to us from day one, versus finding a co-packer to do this work for us, the meals are high quality and a lot of the recipes are complex. So there's definitely that huge part of the operation. And then there's a pick and pack part as well.
Once the food is prepared, brought down to temp packing all the meals is pretty complex. If there's a lot of different combinations that you can have in each box, the boxes go to lots of different states. There's a lot of different carriers that process, those boxes for. And so that's a weekly cycle for us
MPD: when I hear customization, I think expense, right?
The more you're changing your supply chain and your manufacturing model, especially on a weekly basis, the more you're driving up costs and you guys are providing an evolving menu. How do you make sense of that and rationalize it economically? I'm sure the customers don't want to eat the same.
See the same meal every week. How do I know there's a business need to do it on to create demand, but how do you maintain a streamlined supply chain
David Rabie: with such variance? Yeah, I think the key here is that the central components of our meals are not changing week over week. And they'll change quarterly where we'll add entirely new proteins or new form factors.
Certainly there's some new ingredients that get added every week, but the bulk are similar proteins, similar vege some of similar dry goods that we're drawing from. And maybe that's not week over week, but on a monthly basis, it's like, we're always gonna have some flop has on the menu. We're always going to have some flatbreads on the menu.
We're always going to have salmon, chicken breasts, certain kinds of meatballs. So there's definitely some similarity week over week. And then you'll see a lot of changes in flavors. Side dishes and things, but that's how we maintain, continue to improvement in our margin profile and how to the extent we can have supply chain resiliency.
We, we try to do that,
MPD: right? So you're masking some of the customization, cause it looks like a different menu every week, but at its core, the, from a manufacturing production standpoint, there's so many of the ingredients are the same. Maybe the flavors.
David Rabie: That's exactly right. Consistency. And if you really think about it, it's like there's only so many proteins that the average American is consuming every week.
There's only so many more foreign factors that you're consuming every week and it's changes in flavor profile, every kind of different types of cuisine cooks a chicken dish, it's just like, how do they cook it? Or, pork chop or whatever, maybe
MPD: Got it. And you guys have a huge marketing component to the business as well.
As an investor, I look at this as a marketing business and think about the marketing economics. What are some of the key things you've learned about scaling a marketing machine? It's massive at this point. How do you w what have you learned along the way that surprised
David Rabie: Yeah. It's we have to be great at so many things in this business. It can be scary for some investors, for other investors. I think it's really appealing because it means it's just hard to replicate. If you believe the team can execute on it and marketing is one of those things, like we have to be great at marketing and that's performance marketing, but also brand marketing.
And I think we've had to learn our way into a lot of those different things. And for us, I'd say the biggest one was just willingness to test and learn and fail and take some things. We might've not been willing to test on and be willing to do it. The one I'll highlight is price.
I'd say for a while, we were a little hesitant to test dramatic things with price both on our ovens and on our meals. And we had one team member that pushed and a board member that pushed that really encouraged us and told us, Hey, there's really very little to lose at this scale. And it isn't until you, you get to like truly massive scale where it's hard to test.
And even though. You can test things that you would otherwise think there would be these kind of crazy ramifications from your customers. That's it's just a fallacy. And so we've tested all manners of things, oven price amount of meal commitments with the ovens meal, price, shipping price, and you learn things really quickly.
And a lot of assumptions quickly get thrown out the window. And for us, a lot of those were huge on box in terms of what it could do for our growth and our kind of overall unit. Now. As a serial entrepreneur,
MPD: I think a lot about, that there's the known startup phrase. Fuck it, ship it. And one of the reasons why that works is because customers are, they don't seem like they're forgiving, but they are because they're getting inbounded by so much other stuff, they don't wake up thinking, living and breathing your product the way you do.
They forget. So we launched stuff even on, brand important assets like interplays website. We'll put stuff up that's happening. And tweak it later. Yep. And how many people are going to land on our website in that period of time. And who's going to remember when they come back in six months, what a VC website looks like.
So I hear you. I think it's a, I think that's an important entrepreneurial lesson that a lot of entrepreneurs fear is that there's going to be some sort of market rumor mill about their business. And I just think it's not reality. I think you have to, it's pretty extreme for anyone to care that
David Rabie: much.
I agree. Okay. Now let's talk about
David Rabie: Yeah. We rewind a couple of years. We found ourselves two years post-launch product with really strong retention, high NPS, and, but not as much growth as we want it. And the way we thought about that, we were like, how do you find this elusive product market fit?
What does that. And what we kept coming back to is we got to get to a point where demand outstrips, supply, like customers want our products so much that we're breaking in order to fulfill. And we weren't there. And so we went back to the drawing board and we went to our best customers and interviewed them and really tried to understand in their words, what makes them all a special, how do you talk about it?
What do you tell your friends? And then we went to a bunch of prospective customers. So these were folks that had been to our website and opted not to. And we asked them why, like what give us the three reasons why you use it. Clearly you expressed some interest in the product. Why didn't you get over the hump?
And we heard the same things over and over again. The first was price. It's too expensive because I don't really know if it's any good. And you're asking me to commit to a lot of me. For this kind of new fangled product that's sounds too good to be true. So that was one, two people didn't really get it.
How does it work? Can I cook my own food? Is the food fresh or frozen? All these kind of basic questions about the product, because it's so new to the world. And then the third was trust. Is it actually as good as you say, it's going to be. And so we went and tackled all three of those one by one price.
We talked a little bit about, we'd be tested a bunch of different things. Landed on something that worked really well for us education and understanding. We redid the entire website experience, the whole email drip campaign experience and trying to unfold the narrative of how the product works in a much simpler, more cohesive way.
And then the third was around trust. And, for this, we pulled in a lot of reviews and we added a lot more video to the website and then overarching all these was rethinking the brand. And we launched with a much more functional. And we pulled it up a level to really focus on time savings, which is what we kept hearing from our customers at the time.
And that helped unify a lot of the messaging and how we were communicating about the business and the product. And that one is super long ways. The combination of all those things actually got us to that product market fit to the point where our operations were breaking because we just, we couldn't meet the demand.
MPD: you when you said a functional, you had functional messaging on the website, that was things like. The food tastes like this and here's the calories. And it was like the features.
David Rabie: Yeah. Revolutionary, smart oven or oven and meal service that will blow your mind or food that cooks at the scan of a barcode, like really functional stuff.
As opposed to trying to get to the core of why people were buying, which at the end of the day, People want to be able to do their own thing. Like they, whether they're busy, they don't have energy. Like they want to be able to live their lives and not have to worry about cooking dinner or ordering dinner.
And Tamala enables that. And so th the we've, we brought that up to focus on time-savings, which will continue to evolve. I think there's an order above that, that we're working towards, but time-savings was what we anchored on at that point in late 2019. And it went a super long way.
MPD: It's interesting.
We had a company pitch recently and the pitch they gave for a great company was all about the little features of their product, the things that a customer might've wanted to know, and it was all true and it was all accurate and the company was great, but it couldn't have been less inspiring, when you're a customer of any type and as an investor, I'm a customer for equity, humans bind to narratives. There's a guy named Simon Sinek. If you guys haven't watched the video, everyone should a Simon Sinek can find him on YouTube. I think it's how great leaders inspire action. And he talks about the psychological connection we have with narratives and stories, right?
Selling features about your product is just as a grad people. That's the afterthought. You need to think about why it matters. What's the pain. It solves how it brings it home. So instead of saying, Hey, we've got a button that does this and it's geo located and it works on mobile. It's people have this problem and we solve it.
And we have a button that does this and it's geo located and it works on mobile and it's just way more compelling. So it's interesting. These are lessons that happen over and over. When we bring on entrepreneurs and interplay, we'll often have them watch the Simon Sinek video. It takes 15 minutes and it just wires people to be.
Turning the messaging inside out. It's the why first? Not the how. Yep. It's interesting. You guys went through a whole thing. What I love about your story in particular is I know you are growing before the rebrand, but there was an obsession with excellence. And so you were going out to get to the bottom of, how you go from growing to,
David Rabie: That's exactly right. That's awesome.
MPD: Now there's another dimension of your business, which I'd be interested to hear your take on the psychology of it. One of the things that really attracted us, we first heard your pitch was that the customer buys something physical and it sits on their shelf.
And it really connected with me a lot, like concept of a Peloton when you got a Peloton, if you're not riding it or not you're going to keep the subscription going because you got a piece of hardware. It consuming space in your house. It's almost like a loss. If you don't continue to invest in it.
Have you noticed any psychological phenomenon around how that's affected marketing equation for you?
David Rabie: Yeah. That's a great question. I'd say the, we talk a lot about Peloton. We talk a lot about Ms. Preso Keurig. I think the biggest difference between our product and those products is the relative cost of the oven to the.
As opposed to like the cost of the bike to the subscription, where for Peloton it's, 50 X is the difference. Whereas with Tamala, it's two X. And so what's interesting though, is we still have retention that is so much better than anyone in our space. And really all that means is. The product is solving the right problem in the right way.
And so there, there is no sunk cost fallacy with us the way there might be with a Peloton, for example, but there is true product market fit, and there's the constant reminder of the product serving a real need. And the other key difference is, with a Peloton or an espresso or a Keurig is like, those are one trick ponies where it only works with.
And that's not true with Deval Tovala. You can toast your own bread. You can bake cookies, you can scan frozen grocery products that you don't pay us for. And that keeps the product on the counter, even when people get bored of devolve. And so what that means is reactivation rates are really high, continued engagement with our services, really high, even if people aren't giving us money, like they're still getting value out of the ball in their lives.
And over time, that means there are other ways we can monetize.
MPD: And it's very much like the oven acts as a billboard in someone's house. That's
David Rabie: right. It is a standing billboard in arguably the most valuable real estate in the all. Huh.
MPD: Now how did you guys do during COVID.
David Rabie: Yeah, COVID, I'd say was a tale of two stories.
So the first was on the demand side. It was super strong for us overnight that, third week of March, all the metrics, all of a sudden jumped up into the right basket size demand cost. The media came down reactivations went up like everything. You could imagine one in the right direction.
And that was the continued story. Through 2020, our growth was pretty remarked. The other side of that equation is there's a human element to that growth in our business. We're not selling a software service. We sell food that our team, which are employees of ours have to make an pack every week.
And so operationally, it was, the most difficult and stressful thing I'd say any of us have ever done was continuing to ship food every week and try to keep our team safe was very difficult. Net, it ended up being a great thing for the company and formative in a lot of ways, but it also incredibly stressful.
The other thing that's interesting about our businesses while COVID was certainly an accelerant, it wasn't a false accelerant the way it was for some other businesses. We know a lot of companies in the food space saw these crazy jumps in basket size that sell off a cliff at some point, this.
And for us that hasn't been the case, basket size has actually continued to increase over the course of 20, 21 demand has continued to be strong. And I think that the biggest reason for that is COVID accelerated a lot of things that were probably in motion anyway. But when people think about buying some Vala, it's not an interim solution.
It is a, Hey, I'm going to put this thing on my countertop. I want this to work for me for a really long time. And, whereas a lot of other meal services there, they're easy to try. They're easy to stop. And so they're more, band-aids in a lot of ways. And so I think, net for us, long-term, it accelerated a lot of adoption but that was going to happen anyway.
It just happened faster.
MPD: Every company has had near death experiences come close to bite the dust along the way. Have you had a few of those?
David Rabie: Yeah, I think like you said, every company has had that you need a lot of luck. Make it this far and we're far from having made it, but yeah, we, one that I'll highlight early on when we were working on our first gen one products we were very close to finishing the first run of production units and we decided to overnight a few of those units from China to the U S and my co-founder Brian was out there.
Our first our first hire Peter was out there with Brian and they'd spent like three and a half weeks in China overseeing this first production run of ovens. And, we're, we made a wise decision. We spent the thousand bucks or 1500 bucks to overnight these ovens, which was not an inconsequential amount of money for us.
At the time we get these ovens at our headquarters in Chicago and we plug them in, we connect them to wifi. We're all really excited small team at this point, tenfold. And they get connected to wifi. We scan the QR code on the first meal, we're cooking a VSO salmon and this thing, and we look inside and there's this kind of black goo dripping down inside the oven.
Oh, that's not. Or but maybe it's just this one. Let's do it in the other one. We do it in the other one. Same thing happens oh that's a problem. And then these are the racks that come with the ovens. Like we, we try to put the rack in and one of them is a little too big and the other one's a little too small and the one that's too small kind of falls through, or oh, that's also oh, this is bad.
And then lastly, would we plug the ovens into certain outlets called GFC outlets, the outlets or the ovens? Wouldn't be. And this was like a true existential moment for us where we're like, oh my God, we're about to ship 750 units out of China to our customers. And most of them are not going to work. And the ones that do, they're going to trip this kind of crazy black who substance.
And so we, we leave all these WhatsApp messages for Brian and Peter it's middle of the night. They're planning to come home. They've been out there for three and a half weeks, but guys, you can't come back. Like we cannot ship those products. They thought we were totally messing with.
We're like, no, there's like these real fundamental issues with the product. And it was a, had we not in those ovens, I think business probably dies. We didn't have enough cash if those ovens arrived in home. So they didn't work. Like maybe our investors throws the lifeline but unlikely. And it ended up being like a rallying moment for the business where, there was no blame and everyone rallied and tried to figure out the problem quickly.
And we ended up getting product in homes six, seven weeks after that. And didn't have any of those fundamental. So best
MPD: practices for quality control for companies getting into manufacturing.
can't, you test it, you can do
David Rabie: the testing in China, right? Yeah. You, in theory, you should have much better QA onsite, which is what we have now.
But at the time we're like, it's a team of two building, a highly complex product. Let's get a sanity check and ship it to the U S yeah, it's just, it's very hard to build hardware and we did it very lean with very few people and very little. And that's why there were problems. And yeah.
And that's why there was no blame. It was like, of course there's going to be challenges. Fortunately, we had some of these fail safes.
MPD: Yeah. It's almost like people going into a manufacturing process and you do expect things not to work
David Rabie: so they can find those hiccups early. That's exactly right. That's exactly right
MPD: You're in the food industry. You mentioned earlier that for your life, you've always cared about eating healthy. It's been important to you. What does the industry need? And we can start maybe not food broadly, but maybe the delivery side of the world. What do you need?
What's not working in your supply chain. What aren't, what entrepreneurs do you need to, what do you need other entrepreneurs to show up and build for you? What's missing.
David Rabie: Yeah, that's a great question. I think I'd highlight two things. One shipping is a real challenge and some of that is just the state of the world in 2021.
It's there's huge demand for e-commerce. It's hard to hire people, so it's just much harder to ship product on time. But I think secondly, most of the large carriers in this country, we're not built specifically to ship perishable product. And that's like we were talking about a bit of a unique, new thing.
That's becoming increasingly common, but there aren't solutions specifically for that kind of shipments. And so I think that's one where, Better solutions for shipping perishable products across the country that are reliable and cost-effective is definitely an area of need.
And that's not just for us, but for a lot of our peers. So I think that's one, it's a huge problem to solve. And that's not just last mile. It's really the end to end piece.
MPD: When you say that, are you talking about, refrigeration enabled vehicles? What is the missing component?
David Rabie: It could certainly be refrigeration enabled vehicles where, then we don't have to pack our boxes with as much gel packs and insulated lining. And, we do use refrigerated trucks to ship our product in bulk. But then that only gets you so far. We still are very relying on FedEx ups and some other partners that, that have been great partners to us, but they're not optimized for perishable products.
Yeah, whatever the creative solution is. That's one big part of the puzzle. That's unique to the food space from the perishability standpoint, but I think just overall shipment challenges, that's all. E-commerce
MPD: got it. And how about the food industry more broadly? So getting out of the, direct to consumer world out of the tech venture world, when you think about the American food dynamic, Are we more socially?
Are we doing food correctly? Are we doing things well,
David Rabie: that's a great question. I think likely not, if you look at just overall health trends and I think that's some of what got me really passionate about food was just the effect that eating well can have on your mental and physical health. And I think to have all is going a long ways towards trying to help the general American population with that army.
Generally much better, I'd say than what, the average person is eating day-to-day and we're not like an overly health focused brand by any means, but it's clean ingredients. Mostly raw, not all raw, mostly right. Many meals are five, 600 calories. And the intent of Kabbalah is not necessarily to make people healthier or help them lose weight, but that happens and it happens.
It happens a lot. I think we're playing a small part in what is a general bigger problem in America of people eating too much and too much of the wrong food. And getting back to basics. Being able to recognize the majority of ingredients on labels and have food that still tastes good.
That's the key that we always came back to is food has to taste great for it to really work. That's kinda how we think about that. What's
MPD: causing people that eat healthy. What's the core of the issue here. Do you think from a social phenomenon? You're in this,
David Rabie: I think it's a lot of times I wish there was a black and white answer.
I think some of it is access. Some of it is called. Some of it is taste. Unfortunately it's a lot easier and cheaper to eat poorly than it is the really well and that again is it's an access issue. It's a taste issue. It's a price issue. So all of the above, I think for better or for worse, like food will never catch on unless it tastes great.
And so the solutions then lean overly healthy. Like those are not going to solve the problem in mass food. Food has to taste good for it to have broad appeal. But then, there has to be distribution. And it has to be accessible from a price standpoint. So it's a lot of different problems to solve.
And again, I think we're getting there with Kabbalah where, we think it's about as easy as can get. We think the food tastes great. It is not all in on health at all costs like it does taste really good and price. We certainly have a ways to go. Like the food could be at a lower price to access a broader market.
MPD: I'm going to push you out of your comfort zone. Tovala side. If you were king, not president king, what policies would you enact or change to improve the health of the country?
David Rabie: Wow, that's a great question. Yeah. What I think I would do is I would just, I would subsidize healthy eating and in a huge way.
And that could take a lot of different shapes, but if you could find a world where, or create a world where a Tableau meal or, a salad, for example, Is as cheap, if not cheaper than what you can pick up at McDonald's. I think that goes with, that goes a super long ways and starts to break down a lot of the barriers that exist today.
MPD: Now food's a big part of our culture. And I know, you think a lot about culture and are there other cultures that have influenced you experiences you've had abroad or otherwise that have played an important role in kind of forming you in an entrepreneur or putting you on the path towards.
David Rabie: Certainly I've been fortunate to travel a lot in my life and, I think I would answer this question is I, so I come from a pretty entrepreneurial family. I come from a family of immigrants, both my parents were born in the middle east and moved to the U S in their twenties.
And my dad and uncle. Grandparents like everyone I knew was an entrepreneur that they didn't call it. That because there was an alternative, they had to start their own businesses to make their livelihood. And, they I'd probably call it small businesses versus startups if you will. But I think that part of my background and culture is the thing that has influenced me the most of having a drive to want to start my own business from a really young age.
The passion for food. More from a retreat that I went on with my dad when I was 18. And now when I think about growing up, we sat around the table together for dinner every night and it was always a home cooked meal. So I think, somewhere deep down, I had this fondness for home cooking and thinking that was really the gold standard.
And it's easy. And now that you look back on your life to paint the story, it wasn't an obvious it was coming as it was coming together. But I think those are some of the parts of what helped create. When did you
MPD: become an entrepreneur, at least in your mind, you said when you were younger.
David Rabie: Yeah. I, I was the kid in elementary school and high school that had different businesses and was trying to make money at a pretty young age. So maybe it was when I was 10 or 11. I was trading stocks when I was 11 years old. You could argue that I'd say tamale is like the first.
Large entrepreneurial venture. I've tried to get after. But I think there were a lot smaller ones that I was dabbling in from as young as 10, 11 years old. Now, a lot of people
MPD: are afraid to be entrepreneurs. Are there barriers or things that you thought you felt you had to overcome misconceptions maybe or realities to tapping into the entrepreneurial?
David Rabie: Honestly, not for me, just because it's what I always wanted to do from a super young age. And I felt like I was studying successful entrepreneurs at a young age. I was trying to learn, I tried to take jobs that I thought would prepare me to start my own business. So I'm pretty risk seeking just generally I wasn't as afraid.
And I felt like even if it doesn't work, I'm going to learn a ton and it's going to set me up for whatever's next. And I think that helped having the mindset that like, this is what I'm doing. There's not some other pasture that I'm thinking about. If it doesn't work, I was all in from a, as soon as I, I got started and that really helped, I think if you're not persistent and committed, you just won't succeed in this world.
MPD: What are the misconceptions out there? I feel like there are a lot of people who are afraid of entrepreneurship. It's an overwhelming concept for some.
David Rabie: Is that real or what's your take on that? I don't think it's super real. I think people way over in flight, the risk of starting a company I think people think if it fails, like that's it for their career and certainly have to be in a position economically where you can afford to start a company and not everyone is privileged enough to do that.
So not taking that for granted. I think if you are in a position, I've talked to tons of people. They think the risk is so high, unfortunately. And whereas I, when I meet entrepreneurs that had a venture that didn't work to me, that's like an amazing checkbox of, oh man this person has gumption.
They have persistence, they have creativity, they have passion, they have vision, like all these different things that we'd want them to come and work for us in a heartbeat that I think when people are thinking about starting it, they think, oh my God, Azar is going to fail. And then I'm screwed. What am I going to do?
MPD: Yeah. I feel like they, at least in American culture, There's way too much weight put on that. Those people can't see around the corner that you're just more marketable after you failed. You've got more
David Rabie: experience qualified for most jobs, even though there's, you hear about this in Silicon valley, that fail failure is a big thing.
I don't think that has like truly seeped into the national. Narrative and the average American that graduates from college and has a bunch of options in front of them. Entrepreneurship is still this kind of big, scary thing. Yeah.
MPD: I'm going to put you on the spot. I did a little digging before the show.
You tell me about saving someone's life.
David Rabie: All right. I'll tell him a story. I, I don't, I've never shared this publicly and Yeah mean, early COVID I was I got up really early one morning. We've got this inflatable paddle board that we bought and I decided to go paddle boarding on a really small bed of water in, in Lincoln park where we live.
So I drive out, parked my car at the park, walk out. I'm still bleary-eyed, sun's just coming up and I'm inflating this out ward. And I hear from, I don't know from where's this woman is saying you doubt, man. And I don't know what's going on. And I look around, I don't know where she is and she's like help me.
And then I realized there's this woman in the middle of this large pond is probably the best way to describe it. And she's right in the middle of it. And there's no reason to go swimming in this pond. The water is basically black. You would not want to get in there. And she's staying afloat and not effectively.
And I don't know what to do. And she's are you the man? I tell her to swim to me. And she doesn't. And then she says, boy, I'm Maria, I'm going to die. She keeps saying. And I'm like I guess I get that. I got no choice. So I jumped into the water and swim out to go get her, put her on my back and swimmer to shore.
We can try to lift her up over the shore. I'm not a big guy by any means. And then I don't have my phone or anything, so I just start yelling for help because I don't know how to treat her. I'm not a doctor. And I'm just like holding her hand, trying to tell her it's gonna be okay. And fortunately, where I was is the walking path to Northwestern hospital and there was a nurse or a doctor that was walking over.
They run over and wait, we got this, don't worry. They give this woman CPR and she took 15, 20 minutes to come back to it. And then eventually was so grateful. She thanked me and she went on her way. I went on my way. And that was like a random Thursday morning, the summer of 2020.
How did that affect you? I was very shaken up that day. I didn't quite really got home. First I thought about paddleboarding and I kept inflating the paddleboard. And after a minute I'm like, what am I doing? I gotta go home and get it together. And I go home and I'm with my wife when something crazy happens and she's and I, and she's just are you okay?
Like I was in total shock at what had happened. And yeah, I, it was just so surprising. And I did I react the right way? Should I have jumped into the water sooner? And, I had was just questioning myself. So yeah, it definitely messed with my head and people are like, oh you're a hero.
You saved someone's life. And that is so not how I felt. So anyway, yeah. It's where they,
MPD: you can process it well or not. You did the
David Rabie: right thing. So it's great. Yeah, it's awesome.
MPD: Hey that's a great story. I'm glad I asked you. Thank you for sharing it. And thank you for sharing all the insights today around marketing supply chain.
You're doing something incredible with this company and it's been a real joy
David Rabie: to watch. Thank you so much. Thanks. Thanks for having me. It's been an amazing ride. We still got a long ways to go before we've made. Thanks for being on today.
MPD: I continue to find this business so fascinating. Given the combination of hardware and the subscription model, there's just so many interesting levers and it's gotta be a really fun ship for David to be steering. So big. Thanks to him for being on this is where I ask you to help the podcast help get the word out.
If you like what you heard, please soak us up with a liker, a five-star review. Those activities actually help other people discover the content. You can find me on Twitter at MPD. And to hear more of my conversations with innovators, subscribe on YouTube, Facebook, or any major podcast platform. Just search for innovation with Mark Peter Davis.