The following transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading.
Steven Gray: We all know that food waste is a major problem not just in the U.S. but around the world. I’ll throw out a couple statistics that I think sets the stage for how severe this crisis is.
In the U.S. alone, more than half the food that is produced every year is basically thrown away. Which basically means that’s like $160 billion that we’re throwing away every single year. Globally, there’s about $3 trillion worth of food that’s being thrown away every year. There’s a lot of innovative solutions that are being developed around the world and one of those solutions is being developed by an awesome woman named Jasmine Crowe who has founded a company called Goodr based in Atlanta. And so I’m going to invite Jasmine up on stage and tell a little bit about her story. Welcome to Techonomy.
Jasmine Crowe: Thank you so much for having me.
Gray: So Jasmine tell us a little bit about you and your origin story and how you sort of became an entrepreneur who eventually landed at the intersection of tech and food.
Crowe: Yeah, my origin story began as a military child. My dad was in the Air Force, so lived really all over the country and then even in parts of Europe. I got into social impacting about 2010. I had just finished a stint working for the Phoenix Suns. I was originally working in the sales team but really felt that community relations was where I wanted to be so I spent a lot of time volunteering with different players. And from there I started helping a lot of NFL, NBA players, arts and entertainers start their nonprofits. And we would do things like turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving and I felt that they were very much seasonal givers and I would say to them, “Hey, the same people that are in a line for a turkey in November are probably hungry throughout the year.” And that’s when I first started seeing the need and decided I wanted to solve it and became a social entrepreneur.
Gray: And so at what point did the ah-ha moment hit you that Goodr was something you could turn into an actual business?
Crowe: Well, I hosted these events called Sunday Soul, it was a mixture of good old school music like, you know, Al Green and the Temptations.
Gray: Good stuff.
Crowe: Yeah, really good stuff and then really good food. And so I would be feeding, gosh, upwards to 500 people every two weeks. It became kind of a cult volunteer opportunity in downtown Atlanta and a video from one of my pop-up restaurants where I would rent tables and chairs and linens, very similar to how people are sitting today, it went viral on Facebook. And people were saying, “This is so amazing. Which restaurants donate the food?” And the reality was nobody. I was couponing, price-matching—I always say I’m the reason Walmart doesn’t price match any more. And going to all these different farmers markets and cooking for upwards of 15 to 20 hours just to feed people a really good meal every other Sunday. And it just was like a big ah-ha moment, like why aren’t businesses donating this food?
Gray: And so, what specifically led to Goodr, and what is Goodr?
Crowe: So what led to Goodr is people asking me who donates the food and me thinking why am I spending 40 hours every two weeks to do this. I started going to restaurants and asking them, “Why don’t you donate your surplus food?” Found out that they were fearful of two things, one it was the liability but more so they were really unaware. They were unaware that there was federal protection under the Good Samaritan Act that had been in existence since 1976. But also they were unaware that there was tax, enhanced tax incentives, excuse me, that allowed them to write off up to 30% of their annual income.
So what I saw was that there just needed to be more education but more of a quick service solution. I saw hunger not as an issue of scarcity, looking at this fact that you just stated, about 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food is going to waste, 60% of that coming from consumer-facing businesses. So these are the restaurants that we eat at, the grocery stores that we shop at. And I saw it as a logistics issue, so if these businesses had the food, if I could cover the liability and how would it be easy for them to donate it. And so it was, “Hey, let’s do it very similar to like an Uber Eats in reverse,” right? Can we go to these same restaurants, these same businesses, get this excess food that they would typically throw away and give it to people in need. So Goodr is a food waste management company that’s tech enabled.
Gray: And to be clear, was the primary form in its current form mainly an app, a website, both? Give folks a sense of what Goodr is and what it looks like.
Crowe: So, we have a mobile app and then we also have a portal. So our mobile app is typically used by associate shift managers at the end of the night, we have customers from airports to convention centers to chain restaurants like Chic-fil-A. They would use the app, they would literally click—it can integrate to their POS system, click on the items that they have to donate, our platform calculates in real time the tax value of those items as well as the weight. And why the weight is important we can also tell our clients for every pound of food we keep out of landfill, how many gallons of water their saving, how many hours of labor that would have gone wasted that they’ve helped to reduce, how much carbon dioxide and methane gas they’re reducing and preventing from the environment. So we’re helping them tell a sustainability story, but also a community impact story. So that’s how the app works, very easy user experience there.
Our portal allows anybody from that company to sit down and drill city by city, state by state. They can look at each restaurant, see what’s taking place on food diversion in real time. They can look at environmental impact data. They can also see things like the items that they waste the most, and that’s what’s very important. We’re helping customers, like Einstein’s Bagels when we first started working with them, because they had a brand standard of fresh bagels every three hours we were picking up from them anywhere from 400 to 500 bagels a night. People will say, like—
Gray: Per store?
Crowe: Per store, yeah. People would say, “By giving customers this data are you going to put yourself out of business?” But we don’t because there’s really no predictability in the Atlanta airport, which is one of our first large customers, how many flights are delayed, how many people have to run past every restaurant just to get to their gate. So all this food is prepared, businesses never know, but what’s important to know is no one likes a blueberry cream bagel, and so you don’t need to make so many every day because you’re wasting.
Gray: Some people do.
Crowe: I mean, but not a lot of people.
Gray: I’m not one of them.
Crowe: I’m just—I know the numbers here, so yeah. Yeah, not a lot of people like certain things, so giving them those insights so they can make better food production and ordering decisions as well.
Gray: Totally. Walk us through, very briefly, what your distribution process looks like.
Crowe: Yeah. So, again it’s a logistics issue, we work with logistics partners from all over the country. One of our biggest partners is Roadie, they got started delivering lost luggage. Found out about them and went and met with the CEO. So now when that request for a pickup is submitted we now have a leverage of several nonprofits that we can work with to get the food to, but our logistics providers can be a Roadie, a Doordash, a Grubhub who gets that alert. Those drivers that are already out there, why were we going to create a whole other system when we had hundreds of people that are already driving in the shared economy every single hour. They get that alert, they go pick up the food and then we deliver it to a nonprofit organization within a two to five mile radius of where we pick it up from. We do that to make sure that the food travels safely and efficiently, but also to allow our customers to really give back in their own back yards.
Gray: Food safety is obviously so important for so many reasons we can unpack later. But, give us a quick sense of the sort of food safety processes that you’ve had to put in place.
Crowe: Yeah, it changes city by city. So we do a lot of R&D for every city that we launch in. We provide the customers with a QA, this is what we can accept. But we’re also doing a lot of testing right now with some IoT where we can actually use RFID tags to measure temperature in transit.
I really don’t agree with that, though. So much food is delivered—the people right before me were talking about all these massive amounts of food that’s getting delivered, no one’s tracking food safety then. I think that that’s an excuse that businesses try and use to not do the right thing, but now we’re going to create this new technology layer that will measure food safety and now there should be no more excuses. So we will measure food safety to its final transit point, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s never been done before.
Gray: Jasmine, I want to talk for a bit about—
hello [LAUGHTER]. I want to talk for a bit about, you know, some of the challenges you’ve faced growing your business. How have you convinced potential clients to basically pay you to get rid of food that they’re going to throw away anyway? Like, how do you even challenge that?
Crowe: I mean, well, they’re not throwing it away for free. So it’s like you’re either going to pay Waste Management, Republic Solid or whoever your waste provider is to throw the food away. With Goodr you’re paying us, you’re not saving a ton of money on the difference between what you’re paying Waste Management and Republic Solid, but our dollar goes further. With us now you have a sustainability story, you have a corporate social responsibility story that you can tell constituents on how you’re addressing hunger in your communities, and then you have a tax savings. We’re saving these customers 50% of the fair market value of every single thing that they donate. So they donate 100 $10 pizzas, they’re saving $5 per pizza. And so we’re actually saving them for every $1 dollar they spend with us up to $14. So that’s really how we do it, triple bottom line, you’re either going to pay to throw it away and that’s the end of the story, or we’re going to get this edible food out of a landfill and tell a greater story with it.
Gray: Talk about, briefly, about getting investors to take you seriously. What was that process like? What was some of the skepticism you face, and how did you puncture that skepticism?
Crowe: I think it’s—wow, that’s a tough question, you know. I became the 35th black woman to raise a million dollars in August of last year. And I think, it was a tough—
Gray: Props, right?
That’s no—for real, no talk.
Crowe: It’s a good thing, but it’s a bad thing, right? In 2018, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been the thousandth black woman to raise over a million dollars in funding. It was extremely hard, it was hard because people would say things like, “Oh, we only invest locally.” I was in Atlanta, Georgia. People do not have a true kind of statement of purpose, if you will, on how they invest. What they do is they have kind of a cheat sheet. We typically are going to look at men who maybe went to an Ivy League school. Let’s take Stanford for example. White male who’s at Stanford, a technical cofounder, if they check all these boxes the investor is thinking, “This company is going to be more likely to return me a positive investment.”
I couldn’t change the color of my skin nor my sex but what I could say is that I was solving a problem that no one else was solving. And I would say to those investors, “Hey, Juicero, which is a Wi-Fi enabled juicer raised $140 million. I’m trying to raise $2 million to solve hunger.” And people would not think it was a great—a big business opportunity, and I would give them the same statistics that you ran down. It was a big opportunity. Food waste is a huge global problem.
Once I got the first investor to say yes, everybody else came, and now investors are always emailing me. But what I did say was that, you know, I didn’t want to take money from anybody that didn’t want to give money to me because of the color of my skin or because I was a woman. And I would have people say things like, “If you had a white male cofounder, you know, you would be smooth sailing. People would be throwing money at you.” But it’s like, I’m really solving this problem from an authentic place. I’ve experienced hunger first hand and what I’m trying to do is solve a problem that people like me experience. And you, you don’t know what it’s like to go to bed hungry and wake up not knowing where your next meal is coming from. You’re not going to come to the same table trying to solve this problem. And so I didn’t want to go find someone so that I could check a box if they didn’t have an authentic connection to the problem we were going to solve.
Gray: Well, your present success will open the doors for so many other people, so.
Crowe: I agree with that.
Gray: So props to you. One more question before I open it up to one or two—
Audience #1: Blockchain.
Gray: Yes. So how is Blockchain essentially helping—let’s get back to the original premise of the whole section, you know, essentially how is Blockchain helping to grow your business and ultimately reduce food waste?
Crowe: Well, two things. One, we use a smart contract with the nonprofits that receive the food from us. Once that food is delivered by a driver they sign for it, like they would a UPS package. That signature allows us to provide a donation receipt into our customers portal. So now they have a record of every time food was donated and a donation receipt to match it. But it really was about having full transparency and a chain of custody on how that food was being handled. We also know that we’re dealing with tax savings and so we needed to have a hyperledger that couldn’t be changed. We didn’t want our customers to be able to go back and say that they had donated 10 pizzas, add an additional zero so that they can claim a greater tax deduction. We wanted to make sure that it was really tracked and so that it couldn’t be changed later and that it had to be verified and show who that final recipient was.
Gray: Yeah. Last question from me truly is, what keeps you up at night as you grow your business beyond Atlanta and across the country and hopefully globally?
Crowe: Yeah. I think what keeps me up at night, knowing that there’s just so many more people that we’ve got to get food to. We have so much need. Goodr has requests in 47 states and 17 countries right now, and I get a lot of emails on a weekly basis from people that are like, “Hey, can you please come to St. Paul, Minnesota? You know. I really need food, I need help.” There’s—we are kind of disrupting an industry that’s just been ripe for disruption for a long time and that’s both waste but also the food donation process as well. You know, it’s—hunger hasn’t been solved, and a lot of money goes into grants, people donate at their registers in the grocery stores all the time, and you would wonder why we haven’t solved this problem. And that’s really what keeps me up is I believe that we will solve it. We use technology to deliver food to so many people. Postmates, Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, there’s no reason why we’re not using technology to deliver food to people in St. Paul, Minnesota that are emailing me that don’t have access to food. We are so greedy in America, and we’re so self-serving, and I think in a country where we’re letting people we’ve never met before pick us up and drop us off at our houses, we need to make sure that we’re using technology to do something that is good. And it continues to bother me that more people don’t see this as an opportunity when many people are going to bed hungry.
Gray: Thank you. One question from the audience before we transition. Please, introduce yourself.
Lightfoot: Hey, I’m Paul Lightfoot from Bright Farms. Thanks for your story and congratulations. It’s hard to start new businesses, but particularly hard to start ones that you’re making other businesses do things differently, so huge congratulations to you. My question is when you move into St. Paul or other markets do you have to have a physical presence? Like do you have to have warehouses or trucks or any of the vehicles? Or is it—or can it scale digitally like an Uber could?
Crowe: Yeah, very great question. We’re very asset light, so we don’t have warehouses, we don’t have trucks. We leverage, again, the shared economy working with logistics partners that are already out there. And so now we are in 6 cities, we’ll be in 10 by the end of this year, hopefully 20 by the end of next year with our first kind of launch into Canada. And it’s a very easy turn key for us, we’re going into markets where we already have drivers and all our job is is connecting the businesses that have this food with the nonprofit organizations that need it. Kind of—we are kind of the conduit to solving hunger.
Gray: Awesome. Is there one more question for Jasmine? Cool. Jasmine, thank you!