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05 Aug, 2012
Rob Spiro had already found success through a company you may have heard of: Google. He took the many lessons he had learned in the web technology field and carried them over into another—making local and sustainably grown food broadly available.
The primary lesson he brought to bear—and one that anyone building such a business should learn well—is to listen carefully to the people.
Goodeggs.com is a web platform that makes it possible for consumers to buy all kinds of locally sourced comestibles, and for farmers and producers to sell them. Consumers can order and have them delivered, right to their homes. The site also serves to announce local food events and hosts a blog called Eater’s Digest. It may sound simple—but the site is the result of long-term consultation with both eaters and producers, along with much testing and refining.
“We spent a few months just in pure research mode,” Spiro, CEO and co-founder of Good Eggs, told Organic Connections. “This meant spending time with farmers and ranchers and in kitchens of various sorts, and shopping with people in farmers’ markets. We utilized a lot of research methodologies that are common in product design for web products and also for consumer packaged goods.”
“The whole purpose of these exercises was to meet the actual people involved in this movement—both the food makers and the food eaters—to figure out what specific problems they had in their day-to-day lives,” Spiro continued. “Instead of sitting in a room and theorizing about what was going to change the world, we wanted to actually solve problems for real people. Because we had done the research, when we started coming up with prototype ideas we were able to go back to the same folks and say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this? Would you use this?’ Over months of learning, we came up with and ultimately launched goodeggs.com.”
Spiro had plenty of experience from which to draw. “Shortly after college, I started a company with a few friends called Aardvark, which was a question-and-answer technology,” he said. “I was involved with the product design and product management. We worked on it for two years, built it up into a larger team, and ended up selling it to Google at the beginning of 2010. Then I was with Google for a little while, assisting on the Google+ Project until that launched.”
But once he had experienced success in web platforms, Spiro and some associates had other ideas of how to best utilize their talents.
“Right out of school I had worked for a short while on a friend’s family farm,” Spiro recalled. “He had inherited it, and it was a mid-size conventional farm selling to wholesale distributors. It was really hard to make it work as a business without either growing massively in scale or selling it off. So we recruited a few friends to go diversify the farm—set up shop at farmers’ markets, a CSA, and other kinds of direct-to-consumer channels. I did that for a few months and it was a whole lot of fun.”
That experience set the stage for Spiro’s next career move following Google. “The genesis of Good Eggs was that I and a few folks who had worked together in the technology industry got together,” he related. “We knew we could build great web software, and we wanted to start a company that would build web software for a noble purpose. We chose the mission to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide. We were inspired by the success of the local food movements and the growth of farmers’ markets and CSAs nationwide, and the pace was only accelerating as there became more awareness and more producers out there. We said, ‘This movement needs some infrastructure and it needs some software.’ We didn’t really know what that looked like as a product, but we set off to figure it out.”
As goodeggs.com started to become established, Spiro and his co-founders were able to garner assistance from a list of notable investors and advisors. These included famed chef and sustainability advocate Alice Waters, who regularly contributes to their blog; Damon Horowitz, Google in-house philosopher and director of engineering, who serves as Good Eggs’ “philosopher-in-chief”; Michael Dearing, founder of Harrison Metal Capital, who serves on the board of directors of Good Eggs; and several others.
Click any image above to see a larger version.
“People are pretty receptive to this idea that there’s a massive change going on in America in the food system,” Spiro said. “It’s being decentralized rapidly. It’s something that’s happening without a lot of technology, and we can come in and help out by doing what we do best and assisting the food makers to do what they do best. Everyone has been really responsive to the idea; there are so many people that want to see this movement succeed.”
Spiro and his team are constantly on the lookout for new vendors. “As we have built this network, the original people we brought on board have introduced us to others. With this launch, we have been attracting many of the vendors and producers who have been into this kind of community. We’ve had a lot of submissions through our website already, and we’d love to hear from more folks. We’re telling the story of what we are about, hoping that people find us. Also as we expand into new markets, we’re making an effort to eat the food, be in those markets, and taste as many things as we can. Your taste buds lead you in the right direction.”
With this firm foundation, rapid expansion plans for goodeggs.com are already in the works. “The challenge in the coming weeks and months is to expand throughout the San Francisco Bay Area; right now we are in a few neighborhoods,” said Spiro. “Then we want to be offering the food really broadly. We have picked several cities that we will expand to next: Brooklyn; Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles and Detroit. We’re starting to meet people in those communities now.”
And the name of the site? It may sound odd—but to Spiro and his partners, it makes perfect sense. “It was a temporary name for this project,” Spiro explained. “We didn’t know what we were going to build, but we knew that we wanted to be ‘good eggs’ about it. As we started working with more of these food producers and getting inspired by them, it ended up really fitting. The folks who are actually growing this food, raising it and cooking it are starting these businesses based on real values, and they have so much integrity that they’re just the ‘good eggs’ in this system.”
For more information, please visit www.goodeggs.com.
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