Smart Fridges

Before Venndor, there was Matchbook, and before Matchbook, there were CO2 sensing silicon mats for your fridge. Anthony and my first official exposure to entrepreneurship was in a McGill undergraduate course, Technological Entrepreneurship. The course is divided into three presentations: a 30-second description of a problem, a 90-second explanation of a solution, and a 5-minute pitch of your would-be startup. Teams are graded based on how much your classmates decide to “invest” in each project. Anthony and I already worked together at McGill’s largest student-run store, Dave’s Store, and decided to team up for the semester’s project.

We originally pitched the problem of food waste, notably from the end-user’s stage. In other words, how do we minimize the food that sits in each person’s fridge and inevitably goes bad and gets thrown out? I think we originally saw the class like any other McGill class and were looking for a problem that could get us a good grade instead of a problem we were passionate about and identified with. As expected, we received a very good grade on our “problem pitch” but when it came to thinking up a solution, we were in way over our heads. After some half-assed brainstorming, we came up with an idea of an accessory for your refrigerator that could show you exactly which produce needed to be eaten before others. Our concept was a silicon mat that you could roll out onto your fridge shelf and used CO2 sensors developed at MIT. These tiny sensors would be connected to LEDs so that the area of the mat underneath degrading produce would be light up green, yellow, and red to remind the user of food they need to eat. Anybody with an engineering background would especially understand how preposterous our idea was and guess how poor our subsequent pitch was.

Anthony and I worked together at Dave’s store for 2 years before teaming up for the class project that would become Venndor.

When it came to preparing the final pitch in November, we quickly realized how little knowledge we had about the industry and problem we had set out to solve. It was difficult to just abandon the project we had spent — what seems insignificant now — the past 2 months sporadically working on. Our classmates had “invested” in us, after all! Near the end of a long meeting, we finally began to consider completely different problems and potential solutions. I had been looking to buy a microwave for my new apartment at the time and was adamant about buying it second-hand in order to save a few bucks. I realized I had a lot of trouble finding one in my price range and if I had, I never received a reply from the seller (they were probably already sold). The idea of price ranges fascinated us. Doesn’t everybody have a floor price and ceiling price? If somebody anchors you at a certain price, you may be willing to wiggle an extra dollar or two, but fundamentally, everybody has a limit to what they are willing to accept or spend when you exclude that anchor price. So what if we hid prices in the marketplace and allowed the market to find an equilibrium price for each item, per buyer and seller. We drew two overlapping lines, one represented a seller willing to accept $10 to infinite dollars for an item. The other represented a buyer willing to spend $0 to $20 for that same item. Both parties should logically accept the transaction at a price between $10 and $20. Each person gets a better deal than expected. That piece of paper is Venndor’s first — now recycled — document. We met with our professor to validate the idea because another team in the class was addressing a similar problem. He loved the idea and urged us to explore it further. We pitched Matchbook as a solution to the time and effort spent haggling on traditional online classifieds and received extremely encouraging feedback from our classmates. Their feedback inspired us to follow through with Matchbook, which would eventually lead us to McGill University’s largest startup competition, the Dobson Cup.

Originally published at on September 1, 2016.

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