Welcoming Spyce to the Maveron portfolio
Maveron is proud to announce our series A investment in Spyce, a new type of restaurant with a robotic kitchen that is leveraging technology to create delicious, healthy meals with very affordable prices. Co-founders Michael Farid, Kale Rogers, Luke Schlueter, and Brady Knight started the company three years ago while studying engineering at MIT.
Spyce is using a robot to automate the process of cooking and Maveron is betting on the early promise of automation as it continues to present itself in a myriad of ways. The automobile industry is a mature example of how implementing automation has transformed profitability; in fact this sector is continuing to innovate with autonomous driving and other disruptive technology-driven trends and, according to a 2016 study by McKinsey & Company, the sector is slated to reach over a trillion dollars in revenue by 2030.
As consumer investors, Maveron is obsessed with envisioning what the future looks like for consumer businesses and we assert that automation will continue marching forward, having a major impact on people all over the world. We also acknowledge that automation has the potential to run amuck if it is built unethically or carelessly, and we want to be careful not to damage our most vulnerable communities with the veneer of helping them.
I first met Michael and Kale in May 2016 at a bustling cafe in San Francisco. They explained their journey of struggling to find healthy, nutritious food as they were students and water polo teammates at MIT. They were living on a tight budget and lamented that Subway and Chipotle were their best options for meals, although those options are not as healthy as often perceived, and they don’t offer much variety in flavor or texture. They decided to combine their enthusiasm for eating well with their expertise in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and robotics to build the first prototype in the basement of their fraternity. Inspired by the continuously rolling structure of a cement mixture, they found an innovative way to evenly and consistently cook bowl foods.
As Michael and Kale relayed their story, I’ll be honest — I was skeptical. The idea sounded interesting but building a restaurant is a major undertaking and at Maveron, co-founders Dan Levitan and Howard Schultz know how volatile the restaurant industry is as they had collaborated on many Starbucks related projects before starting Maveron together in 1998. But the more Dan and I discussed the opportunity, the more excited we became about its potential and we ultimately decided to back the Spyce team in their seed round two years ago along with Khosla Ventures.
Dan and I are optimistic about the team’s winning combination of intellect, technical prowess, and ability to always put the customer first. The co-founders are obsessed with restaurant experience, mouthfeel, creating an evolving menu, and they understand the importance of repeatedly delighting the customer. In sum, they understand the paramount importance of craveable food in any successful food brand. These strengths are further reinforced by their ability to attract and involve top chefs and food connoisseurs including Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jérôme Bocuse, and Gavin Kaysen in the business.
Rather than being a gimmick, the robotic kitchen is an important strategic tool for Spyce to create a nutritious, great tasting meal for less than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The robot saves on labor, which is usually the most expensive cost in running a restaurant and it garners consistency in an industry that has trouble with chronic high staff turnover. Saving on labor results in being able to spend more on quality ingredients and robotic consistency results in top quality preparation and ensures food safety.
In his book, The Real Cost of Cheap Food, Michael Carolan questions why a bell pepper should be more expensive than a fast food hamburger. The hamburger has a significantly higher labor and resource cost to produce and so he points out this imbalance is responsible for the massive food and corresponding health inequity by socioeconomic class. Spyce is helping solve for this inequity by lowering the cost of fresh, nutritious meals. And even though robots and automation are part of the restaurant, Spyce is not fully automated. The restaurant employs people to focus on customer service — greeting guests as they arrive, customizing bowls with fresh toppings before they hand the food to the customer, tidying after guests finish and filling food canisters in the back.
Spyce is located in Boston at 241 Washington Street. It’s common to see at least one of the co-founders in house, greeting guests and asking for feedback. As we gear up for the next part of the journey, we’re excited to keep partnering with the folks at Khosla, while also locking arms with Collaborative Fund as we welcome them as a new investor in this round.
As we think about big challenges facing the world, we are eager to back founders like Michael, Kale, Luke, and Brady who are leveraging their engineering degrees to increase access to healthy, affordable food for all.