My first startup — Part 1

Definitely not a smooth process for me writing these posts, even a bit challenging to get myself started. Good thing I have Habitica to keep me motivated! This week, the first part of the story of AnyMeal, my first startup.

At 17 years old, I was accepted to a program called MIT Launch, a summer accelerator for high school students. There, I met my co-founders Drew, Nadine and Ben. The story of MIT Launch is a full one of its own, the time period in my life which completely transformed me as a person. It deserves its own post, and will write it in several weeks :)

So I’ll skip ahead to four weeks into the program. We are a day before the “Pitch Night” of the accelerator, and my partners and I are doing our final rehearsals. Our startup, AnyMeal, is just three weeks old. We have a prototype iPhone application, and even got some traction with small business partnerships around Boston.

Our first restaurant partner

Two weeks after we launched, we formed partnerships with some dozens of restaurants around the Boston area. Here you can see the first AnyMeal design, stickers that we gave our partners signalling to consumers if they are Gluten-Free or Vegan friendly restaurants.

AnyMeal is a platform that helps people with dietary restrictions find dishes in restaurants that fit their needs. We filter restaurant menus based on personalised diets, and create personal menus for each person. Below was the pitch we gave at the end of the MIT program, discussing our work of the first 4 weeks and showcasing our progress. It was so much fun!

Unfortunately the program had to end, and everyone went back to their homes. 30 participants were in the program, from 30 different cities and about a dozen countries. I’m from Israel, and my partners Drew Bent and Ben Latz were from California and New York, respectively. Our fourth partner, Nadine, left the company after the program ended.

Then our story really begins. Three guys about to enter the 12th grade, with a real startup. This was much different from the side-projects I would previously take part in. This was real. Of course it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. From setting up the corporation, to dealing with all the legal materials, to developing the product while enjoying the 10 hour time difference with my partners.

We began with setting some ground rules. Several video chats a week (which quickly became a video chat everyday), constant chats and email exchanges and full transparency. Drew was to act as our CTO, taking care of the technology and product. I was to act as the CEO, managing the business aspect of the startup, corresponding with users, customers and employees. Finally, Ben acted as our designer/CMO. We each knew what to do, and it seemed we were good at what we were doing, so we kept on going — and going strong.

We spent several hours a day on this project, sometimes more and sometimes less, depending on our school requirements and extracurriculars. At the same time, Drew and Ben were applying for college and I was in the process of testing for different units in the IDF. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much. With the exhaustive time difference, we often had to shift our sleeping schedule to fit in the important video conferences. At times I would wake up at 4am for a call, and sometimes Drew would wake up at 5am to join. As hard as it was, it was a blast.

Quickly I found that going to school and running a startup was becoming an issue. School started interfering with my work at AnyMeal, and I felt that an hour of AnyMeal teaches me more than a full day at school. I began drifting off during class, writing emails to team members and doing work while the teacher was lecturing. To cope with not paying attention at school, I started developing different techniques to continue passing the classes with high grades. That’s when I learned of the 80/20 rule, and was cramming a lot of information about 10 minutes before the tests. Similarly, when writing essays at home, I would spend about 10 minutes writing one that would grant me an 85% grade, while my friends spent 2 hours on theirs to get 90%. It worked pretty well throughout the year, as I finished my High School career as Valedictorian.

Mickey Haslavsky, a friend I met at a Forbes conference earlier that year, became mentoring me on a weekly basis and helped me get started with the project. He was previously successful in his startups Hamachbesa Hachevratit (המכבסה החברתית) and Habua (הבועה).

We quickly realised that we needed to expand, and increase the speed of our development. Drew found several potential developers across the United States, and spent time working with each of them — but that didn’t stick. In Israel, we were more successful in finding the right people. The first one, Daniel Chernenkov, who would soon become on of my best friends.

Mickey Haslavsky introduced us, and it was an automatic click. We began by doing video chats, and eventually met in person at the Google Campus office, which quickly became our frequent workspace. Daniel was responsible for our online platform for restaurants and mechanical turk workers to input data on the restaurant menus, along with developing our Android application.

Throughout the next 3 months, we couldn’t stop working. And the more we worked, the more we became addicted to this project. Eytan Shulman was our next addition to the development and he joined Drew with the iOS development. Our application was really coming along. And people became interested.

Emails from excited future users came rolling in, and investors requested that we send them pitch decks. None of us were really prepared for this, and didn’t know how to handle it at first. This just gave us more motivation to keep going, and work harder. It was so much fun, that we began doing weekly marathons to progress event faster.

December came, and Drew and I decided that the right thing to do was for me to come to Silicon Valley and work with him intensively for three weeks. It would give us a chance to make some big decisions with proper conversations, as well as begin our initial investment round. It was December 20th, and I got on the plane.

Can’t wait to publish Part 2 of this story, next week!