How Kirill Sizyumov Of FooDoo Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of Food Insecurity
An Interview With Martita Mestey
Be honest with yourself. For example, there are times when we try to find a compromise with ourselves: a team member is weak, but he will get better, let’s be patient. But in this situation we should be on the level and say that this team member is not working out and let him go. Sometimes you shouldn’t hold on to people if you can clearly see that they are not living up to your expectations.
In many parts of the United States, there is a crisis of people having limited reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. As prices rise, this problem will likely become more acute. How can this problem be solved? Who are the leaders helping to address this crisis?
In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to address the increasing problem of food insecurity who can share the initiatives they are leading to address and solve this problem.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kirill Sizyumov.
Kirill Sizyumov, CEO and Co-founder at FooDoo — AI-based Grab & Go solution that helps to reduce food waste and make high-quality food affordable. Kirill had 2 exits and has been working as an entrepreneur in IT and delivery services for over 11 years.
Combating the world’s problems is not only about trying to save the environment from pollution. There are other issues that are no less intricate, for example, hunger and food insecurity. One company helping to address these problems is FooDoo, an AI-based Grab & Go solution that helps to reduce food waste and make high-quality food affordable. The service includes smart vending (a microstore) with product expiration control and machine learning to assist in planning production. Kirill Sizyumov, co-founder and CEO at FooDoo, talks about how to deal with food shortages in the world and how to increase the availability of high-quality food, how he ended up in food tech and what helps him to achieve success as an entrepreneur.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As long as I remember, I’ve just been doing what I love: it’s being involved with new technologies that will either change the world tomorrow or they will end up not being in demand. It’s very cool to be on the verge of innovation each time and feel like you are a trailblazer. At the same time, there is nothing around that is completely new, be it ecosystems, infrastructure or established relations. And this makes your development more difficult, but at the same time it also makes it more interesting.
Besides new technologies, my second passion is food. I have combined my two interests and that’s how the FooDoo project came about. Putting together my knowledge about technologies and about food — what quality it should be, how it should look, how much it should cost — I recognized what kind of service is missing.
When we were starting to develop the FooDoo project, we were thinking about addressing a big problem, the inaccessibility of restaurant-quality food for many people. By virtue of available know-how, we have been able to optimize the expenditure side: rent, restaurant expenses, etc., due to which high-quality food has become as expensive as any ready-made meals sold at a store. Meanwhile, we do not deliver like restaurants that have one order and one courier, something which affects the cost of the last mile.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I was in the process of opening FooDoo in 2019, I told investors — let’s start installing microstores in offices. It seemed to me that office work was not going to go away anytime soon, since no one ever sleeps in large cities and working life never slows down. And just a year later, the pandemic happened and all offices closed their doors. It’s funny that back then no one could argue on this point with me since people didn’t know any other world. We discussed absolutely all aspects — who would at all decide to buy there, whether this technology would be in demand — all except for the fact that the client could disappear from this segment. The pandemic has made its own adjustments.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
I’d say that there are two things for me to be proud of. The first is my partner Nick Makarov. We are taking part in the Founder’s Institute acceleration program, and at some point it turned out that it wasn’t the whole team that was participating in it, but just Nick. He was in constant communication with investors, mentors, and other entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the team was busy with other tasks — actively testing various hypotheses. And not only did we make it to the finals, whereas half of the startups have fallen by the wayside, but according to the mentor’s rating we are now in first place. And this is thanks to Nikita who has proved to be a strong partner.
The second cause for my pride is the story of our beginning when we didn’t give up halfway. We began to develop our technology, but no one believed in it. And when we were getting ready to demonstrate it to the first investors, the technology only worked every other time. One of our developers at that time said: “God willing, this project will get off the ground and we will be able to demonstrate everything, we will have investors, and we will keep on going.” In the end, everything worked perfectly during the presentation. But as soon as we finished up, everything “broke down” again: there was no connection and billing didn’t work. And now each time a problem crops up, I laughingly tell my team — we have already seen that God is willing for our project to get off the ground, so let’s keep working.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you describe to our readers how your work is helping to address the challenge of food insecurity?
I know how to help some people get a better quality product for the money they pay now. The issue of food insecurity is not only about a lack of food, but it is also about a short supply of high-quality and healthy food. FooDoo tackles two tasks. First, it makes good food. Second, it makes it cheaper. As Henry Ford put it, if you have a conveyor that works well, then the cost of production will go down. We have virtually no operating costs at our point of sale, and that makes it possible for us to bring down the product cost. We understand that we will not be able to sell about 17% of the food, so we want to give the consumer the opportunity to take the food that will expire soon for free, instead of throwing it away.
In your opinion, what should other business and civic leaders do to further address these problems? Can you please share a few things that can be done to further address the problem of food insecurity?
There are food banks in the US, these are charitable organizations that distribute food for free. Yet, according to the law, instead of sending to the latter food and good quality dishes, waste recycling procedure calls for embathing them with acetone. In my book, it is an abomination to deliberately destroy food that can still be eaten. We are disposing of 30–50% of all food that is produced around the world, while at the same time having the problem of hunger and malnutrition. So I think retailers, cafes, and restaurants could start to change their behavior in regard to uneaten food.
Currently we have a model of overconsumption. We take a lot of food and throw half of it away. It is high time for people to be more sensible. After all this is important not only in regards to combating hunger, but the food industry also contributes to CO2 emissions — it generates four times more emissions than the entire aviation industry. That’s why we also need to take measures about excess consumption for the sake of the environment as well.
There are many organizations that have done a good job of tackling food shortages. For example, the UN has developed a pertinent international program. But so far this is not enough: there needs to be a way to somehow reach out to every business and every individual. If we can have a dialogue on this topic, then we can make the world a little bit better. As long as each person lives in his own little world, he won’t give thought to the fact that someone is not getting enough food. But when you find out about this, you begin to notice how much food you throw away and try to think about how you can improve this situation. That’s why it’s important that as many people as possible become aware of this problem now.
If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
As I already mentioned, first of all the law on the disposal of food needs to be changed. Second, food pricing and everything that is connected with it. For example, delivery services are expanding now. And this is great: a person can’t get to the store or he can’t carry heavy things, so he orders home delivery. But because of taxes, the cost of goods goes up. It turns out that people have to pay more because they themselves can’t get to the store. This is not fair.
Another situation: at hospitals there are not only patients, but also the medical workers who are fighting for people’s lives. However, very often there is not enough high-quality food available around the clock at the hospital, it is only for patients. It is necessary to provide options for providing hospital employees with high-quality food. And there are many such instances.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The measure of success is different for everyone: it’s as individual as what makes you happy. For me, the measure of success is the opportunity to do what I love. The first time I felt I was on my way to success was when I retired from working for big companies. There I came across this type of situation several times: at some point you see a good idea, you try to propose it to your colleagues, but the decision always remains with the manager. In other words, there is a ceiling above you that cannot be broken through. So at some point I realized that I want to play in my own sandbox. And understanding this was a success. Later, when I started my first business that dealt with travel goods, the measure of success was a tangible result in the form of sales.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Every person in one way or another influences your success, provides you with some sort of experience, reasons for reflection and making changes. So I’m thankful for everyone with whom I somehow interacted. All of these people led me to where I am now. I would never succeed in my business if my team didn’t believe in what we’re doing. We would never have achieved results if we didn’t study our audience and didn’t observe the distress that we can do something about.
A common problem for entrepreneurs is that they consider what they are doing is ideal and the only right way of doing things. They think they are changing the world for the better while no one understands them. A manifestation of a youthful all-or-nothing mentality of sorts. But we aren’t making a spherical cow in a vacuum, but rather a project for real people. There is an audience that needs to be looked at. Practically all of the best-known unicorn companies have turned to their consumers now. Because the best entrepreneurs are not those who walk around and say “we have developed something, we understand,” but those who are in constant communication with the market, who delve into it and know the needs of their audience. They have the ability to hear and listen to these people.
The second problem is that it is impossible to imagine something that we have not yet encountered. You can’t create something that you haven’t ever used. You can’t discuss things that you don’t know anything about. It’s the same with doing business. At the age of 18, I joined a startup which immediately became a successful big business. And I witnessed very heated discussions among the team about their product. This seemed strange to me but over time I realized that this is a certain trend. People argued, trying to put the consumer at the head of the table and not their own desires. They discussed the product in terms of its usability, not in terms of profit margins. That was when I saw an ideal picture of the world: an entrepreneur’s activities should not be about money, but about quality. Money is only a tool for evaluating your performance.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
It’s hard to tell when you are talking about yourself. I suppose it’s honesty, openness to new knowledge, and perseverance. In one of Alec Baldwin’s films there was this phrase: “There are a lot of people who come up with ideas. But not everyone has the courage to pursue the idea, bring it to fruition, and have the perseverance to stay on track. In other words, to come up with an idea and to realize it are two different things. There should be no limit to idea creation in your head, but once you have come up with something, it should be somehow conveyed to the masses.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
People believe that they can have influence over things. I agree with this, but not on a global basis, only regarding yourself. I believe that each of us should do our utmost to the best of our own abilities. I can relate to the philosophy of “do what you must and it will be what it will be.” If you do your thing, it will lead you to some result. Your goal is to give it your best. And depending on your efforts, you can influence yourself and your future.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Advances in technology are widening the gap between generations. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to do things together. And I wholeheartedly would like to influence the relationship between fathers and children so that generations would do something together.
I have a dream to create a type of place similar to Disneyland, that instead of amusements will have various aspects of our life. A place where different generations could do something together: create, compete, produce something. By uniting together, humanity can take a very big leap forward.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I can name two such people. The first is Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber. Before the pandemic he understood, predicted that the ghost kitchen concept had potential and began to invest in it. I’m curious to know how this person thinks. Before Uber, we couldn’t imagine that we could order a taxi in some other way. But he did and brought it to life.
The second person is Elon Musk, he inspires me. I can’t imagine how you can work on a project for seven or eight years. A world-famous project in which failures occur and yet against all odds, you doggedly continue to pursue your goal. I would ask him how to keep believing in yourself.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
First, clearly separate expectations from reality. Entrepreneurs are passionate about their businesses, but not everything depends on us. When something doesn’t work out, this can be a big blow to us. Expectations should be taken with a grain of pessimism because the path to success consists of many mistakes and failures.
Second, be honest with yourself. For example, there are times when we try to find a compromise with ourselves: a team member is weak, but he will get better, let’s be patient. But in this situation we should be on the level and say that this team member is not working out and let him go. Sometimes you shouldn’t hold on to people if you can clearly see that they are not living up to your expectations.
Third, learn to say ‘no’. Sometimes turning down an opportunity allows you to avoid being overloaded and focus on more important things that you are really able to do, things that you can do professionally.
Fourth, understand that the path of an entrepreneur is not as it is often shown in movies, books, and success stories in the media. If you work for yourself, you bear all the risks. It is up to you to decide where to seek investment, how to raise this money, how to pay salaries. And you alone are responsible for the consequences of the mistakes in your decisions. You are constantly under stress and this is very trying.
Fifth, learn how to unplug. This is the hardest thing to do. I enjoy my work very much and can do it 24/7. But when you work in such a way, you no longer take breaks to rest, and you don’t notice that good ideas have stopped coming to you, ideas that you can only grasp when you are learning from this world — from reading books or interacting with other people. Work is not the most important thing in life: balance is needed. If I had been told this earlier, it would have been easier for me in certain instances. When I burned out, my productivity dropped and my nervousness increased, I had to restart and spend more time on recovery than I would have needed had I given myself a timely day off.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.