How Shelf Engine got four of the top 10 grocers and reached product market fit through a perfect go-to-market pivot

Stefan Kalb started a food brand at age 23, and that’s when he discovered 30 percent of all perishable food goes in the garbage. He teamed up with a technical co-founder Bede Jordan in 2016 and now they’re solving the problem with software.

Now with product market fit, and signed expanding contracts with four of the top 10 U.S. national grocers, they’re on track to solve the $160 billion annual U.S. food waste problem and build the next billion dollar startup in the process. Read on for a breakdown of our conversation and click below to watch our interview.

Garry: Stefan, thank you so much for coming on my channel. It’s really a pleasure to talk to you about your journey with Shelf Engine. …

There are tournaments everywhere–jobs, admissions, promotions, startup funding. Are you playing the game?

Tournaments are everywhere in life. And the sooner you can identify them, the better you can compete.

College admissions, getting into grad school, getting your first job, raising money, hiring a team, making partner at a law firm, getting promoted to executive, getting YouTube subscribers, getting tenure as a professor, you name it. All the things that people want are on the other side of a competitive process. The first part of the game is showing up.

My early tournament loss: Stanford’s Mayfield Fellows Program

In my career, I’ve won a few tournaments and I’ve lost a few. When I was at Stanford, there was a prestigious program called the Mayfield Fellows Program. People like Kevin Systrom from Instagram and Justin Rosenstein from Asana were selectees during their times at Stanford. …

Being first doesn’t matter— but you do need to be better, faster, or cheaper.

Watch the full video on Garry’s YouTube channel above.

Should you work on a startup idea that already exists? Well, Snapchat wasn’t the first messaging app, Facebook wasn’t the first social network and Discord wasn’t the first chat app.

You don’t have to be first, but you do need to be different.

Being better, faster and cheaper matters. In fact, it matters a lot. It matters so much that if you don’t have that, you can’t succeed, your startup will die and neither you or I want that to happen.

First Isn’t Best

When we started my startup Posterous back in 2008, it was definitely not the first blog or social network. However, it was better in one specific way: We supported post by email, and in a way, that was really easy to remember. If you knew how to send an email, well, you could post something online. …

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Autonomous car with no safety driver for $50M, not $10B

You’ve heard of Waymo and Cruise (Initialized was actually an early seed investor in Cruise, too). Each of those teams has spent more than $10 billion to deliver something that can drive normal roads without a safety driver. But there’s another way, and I’m excited to share that with you today. It’s by a scrappy but brilliant startup called Voyage. They’re announcing their third gen car that will operate with no safety driver at all, but having only raised $50M instead. How did this founder and his team do it? Let’s find out.

Meet Oliver Cameron, founder of Voyage

Garry: Oliver, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve built world-class autonomous car company and you’ve done it for only $52 million.

Just because co-CEO worked for Google doesn’t mean it will for your startup

Picture this… it’s 2010, and me and my co-founder are pitching on Sand Hill Road. We’re sitting in the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, pitching Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz.

We thought it was going fun, just like the others. Ben turns to us and asks, “Who’s the CEO?” I looked at my co-founder Sachin, he looked at me, we said both. Guess what? It was the wrong answer. The meeting might as well have ended at that moment.

You’re Not Google

The most legendary duo that can and did pull off saying “both” to the co-CEO question is Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the founders of Google. You could say that we thought we could be just like that dynamic duo. …

Software is coming to revolutionize global trade finance

Drip Capital started as two people with an idea in 2015. Today, they have over 138 employees, have raised more than $45M, and will do more than $1 billion in trade volume since inception by the end of 2020. They have over 2,000 importers and exporters on the platform and have built an enduring fintech startup. They’re on track to be as impactful as the World Bank in terms of helping businesses worldwide get access to credit. They had to search the space to find one that could grow quickly with high LTV and low CAC. …

Often the easiest choice is to make no choice at all, but you might kill your startup that way

Picture this… we were raising our Series A for my startup Posterous. My co-founders and I were at Benchmark Capital on Sand Hill Road, meeting with Peter Fenton, legendary investor in Twitter and Yelp. We think it’s going fine until Peter asks this question. So, are you a platform or a network? The three of us looked at each other and we said both. And the meeting might as well have ended at that moment, in Peter’s mind at least.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do as a founder is say “both”.

The Periodic Table

Investors are interesting because they get to see so many different things all the time. At Initialized, I feel like we learned new things that are basically secrets about how the world works and it’s the founders that teach us by telling us what they’re excited about and what they’re focusing their entire life’s work on. …

They build long-lived teams that beat all competition

How long do you think it takes to win a championship? Did you know that it takes a pro-level basketball team an average of 4.5 years to maximize their odds of winning a championship? Today we’re talking about teams and how teams win championships together. But not just any team, very, very long lived teams.

Long-lived Teams Succeed

Humans stay in good relationships and they get out of bad ones. This is one of the most important things that you need to think about as a founder as you put together that team. Don’t just get whomever you can get. You actually have to build for the long haul. Team risk is a real thing.

A guide to learning, earning, and minimizing regret

There’s an episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation where Captain Jean-Luc Picard never makes it past Lieutenant junior grade— a low level astrophysics engineer. He was “thorough, dedicated . . . steady, reliable, punctual.” He had lofty goals, but never was willing to do what was necessary to attain them.

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The great Captain Jean-Luc Picard — only he never took risks and became an assistant astrophysics officer. (TNG Season 6, Episode 15: Tapestry)

This is what can happen to you if you never take risks.

Today we’re going to talk about career risk for great software engineers, designers, and builders. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you know how to code, if you know how to design, if you know how to make products that people use, you’re someone who can go anywhere in the world and work in any sector and find some way to create value. I think we are in the very early innings of this really crazy one-time shift. Software eating the world? …

Even Steve Jobs couldn’t contain his rage when his team failed— but you can choose to do better.

When I do a bad job, I feel shame. I feel worthless and it makes me feel worthy of only being abandoned. And if this is you, hey, you’re not alone.

And yet shame is a part of a functioning society. University of Texas, Austin, psychology researcher, Daniel Sznycer says, “The function of pain is to prevent us from damaging our own tissue. Likewise, the function of shame is to prevent us from damaging our social relationships or to motivate us to repair them.”

Today, let’s talk about shame and what place it has, if any, in building products and services that are awesome. …


Garry Tan

Managing Partner, Initialized Capital. Designer/engineer turned early stage VC.

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