Tell us about yourself?
I am the Co-Founder and VP, Engineering at Blendid®, a robotic food service solutions leader.
For nearly three decades, I’ve worked on hardware and software product life cycles with a focus on industrial product design and innovative materials science and engineering at Blendid.
I bring the knowledge and engineering leadership from these roles to the Blendid executive team. Prior to co-founding Blendid in 2015, I had worked for AT&T, Palm, and Barnes & Noble (Nook).
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
Age. I think there is a misconception that startups are always built by extremely young founders.
While there are many very young entrepreneurs who have built hugely successful companies, beyond those eye-catching headlines are many more experienced founders as well.
In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of high-tech founders falls in the early forties.
What brings us all together regardless of age is that most founders are relentlessly passionate about their product, and many already have experience building something similar.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
It has taught me a lot, including:
- You have to wear multiple hats, sometimes in the same hour.
- With limited resources, one may have to go back to textbooks or ask acquaintances for expertise that is generally taken for granted in non-startups.
- There will be lots of uncertain things, judiciously choosing the riskier ones with deliberation can be rewarding.
- Early failures are better than later failures and failures often teach more than successes.
- Never lose sight of the big picture or attenuate your passion, in spite of day-to-day challenges.
- When it gets very challenging, sleep on it. As Einstein said, “one cannot solve the problem at the same level at which it was created.”
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Function is more important than looks.
As an experienced engineer it is pretty hard to show products to potential investors and customers that lack “spit and polish,” but if the product highlights the vision over the visible, stick to it.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
This is a very important question – it is more a constant pursuit than having the silver bullet. Entrepreneurs are constantly dealing with surprises and as an engineer, there is an unsatiated drive to make things better, a demanding combination.
Practicing mindfulness, and deliberate transitions from one mode to another (home to work or vice-versa), is very useful. As Stephen Covey has excellently explained, production and production capacity have to be carefully balanced – it is quite challenging to be in the much needed production capacity phase, as the mind gravitates towards the production phase constantly.
Family and coworkers are sympathetic, but ensure that you are sharing both the positives and negatives about work with them.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
It all began in 2015 when Blendid’s three co-founders, Venki Ayalur, Vipin Jain, and myself wanted to have fresh, healthy and personalized food available for anyone, anytime, anywhere. As seasoned techies and entrepreneurs, we pondered how technology could help.
Creating food that is tailored to an individual’s specific needs is difficult and time-consuming when prepared in a traditional kitchen.
But, when leveraging technology – specifically robotics, machine learning and AI – we thought there could be a way to automate the process, thereby creating efficiencies and enabling accessibility more broadly and at a reasonable price.
After much trial and error, the Blendid concept was finally created. In March 2019, the first Blendid commercial kiosk was launched in-market.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Blendid is transforming the way food is prepared and served to meet the unique health and taste preferences of today’s consumers.
It offers autonomous robotics food kiosks that use advanced technology – including robotics, machine vision, and artificial intelligence–to prepare and serve healthy, fresh, and delicious smoothies that are customized and made-to-order based on an individual’s preferences, using fresh fruit and vegetables.
Blendid’s technology has 13 patents granted or in process and is made up of three proprietary systems.
Blendid is disrupting the food service industry-solving consumers’ demand for quick, fresh meals while reducing operator issues/costs.
Taking Blendid from an idea to a fast-growing company, Blendid has opened locations at colleges, rest stops and retailers across the U.S., with 500+ robotic kiosks in contract.
The combination of engineering passion, technology innovation and commitment to driving the future of food is our magic sauce.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
With locations already open in big box retail stores, college campuses, rest areas, and shopping malls, Blendid currently has contracts for 500+ smoothie kiosks with brands including Jamba, Walmart, Sodexo, and Love’s Travel Stops.
Blendid recently opened a Jamba by Blendid kiosk opening at a Love’s Travel Stop and another at UCLA. UCLA is the third college to open a Jamba by Blendid kiosk, following openings earlier this year at Georgia College and Kennesaw State University.
Prior to its partnership with Jamba, Blendid also established a presence at the University of San Francisco and Sonoma State University.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
California has always served as a stronghold for innovation and technology adoption.
Not only has California ensured a strong pool of talent for our company, but it has also provided the best possible testing bed of tech-savvy, robotics-ready consumers to ensure our initial in-market robotic kiosk deployments could pave the way for growth across the country.
What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
Cost of operating (rent etc.) and labor costs are higher, but that is often offset by the availability of talent we can source locally.
While we agree that regulations and compliance are needed, the fees charged are expensive.
We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
Costs are up across the board for all industries.
While no company is immune, and California certainly has high living expenses, our team has been able to continue our growth path without much disruption.
The same pandemic that caused the start of cost pressures, also created a surge in demand for safe, automated, contactless food service options.
It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
Competition for talent is intense everywhere, and especially in California. Luckily, we’ve been able to attract an amazing team thanks to our unique offering and proven market leadership.
Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
No. Our primary team is based in California and have no plans to make a move!
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
Blendid started with smoothies, because they are in high demand and require complex recipes.
Now that they have mastered the complex automation process to create smoothies, Blendid’s technology is being optimized to include soups, salads, bowls, sandwiches and more, which will significantly increase its addressable market.
We have identified 70,000 potential additional locations including malls, colleges and airports. In five years, we hope to see Blendid food kiosks serving a variety of food types at venues throughout the United States.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
If someone wants to learn more, they are welcome to join our mailing list and dive deeper here: www.blendid.com