Impact Engine, by Noelle Juengling
Founder: Jay Savsani
Company Description: Online platform that brings hosts and guests together over home-cooked meals around the world.
Company Site: mealsharing.com, Twitter, Facebook
Date of Interview: November 2014
Jay Savsani used to build startup MVPs for other people’s dreams. “When people ask me if Meal Sharing is my first startup. I’m like, ‘It’s my… 40th?’” A few years ago he decided he had found his own dream he was ready to realize – creating an online platform that brings hosts and guests together over home-cooked meals around the world.
He sat down with me and “just flowed” about how he loves sharing economies, is a little delusional and believes in the power of a home-cooked meal.
On the home cooked meal that changed everything:
Jay has told this story many times. He was traveling in Cambodia with his cousin and wanted to eat somewhere where the locals ate, somewhere authentic. He says that it’s the stories where you travel afar, meet someone random and do something underground that give you “street cred.”
“We’d only gone to the Navy Pier equivalents so far and I thought, ‘We did NOT just travel to the other side of the world to do that.’ For years, we used to just turn to the Lonely Planet. Congratulations! You’re eating NEXT to locals, but you’re not eating WITH locals.”
“Where are they eating? Duh, they’re eating in their homes.”
So he goes to the front-desk of the hotel and tells the guy he’s looking for a home cooked meal. “So he brought 15-20 people into the hotel lobby and asked who would have me over for dinner. I felt so flattered – they were fighting over me. There was a reciprocated curiosity of them wanting to meet me and me wanting to meet them.”
On doing what it takes to prove your concept:
“So I came back to Chicago with an idea and I got obsessed with the sharing economy at large. I read up on ANYTHING about it. I just went wild. This was just 3 years ago. Now Airbnb is ‘cool’ – but I was hosting on Airbnb when people were like, ‘Why? That’s weird.’ This was prior to Lyft and Uber – I just wanted to learn everything about the sharing economy.”
“I would take my car and go to Bears games or Lollapalooza and be like, ‘Hey! I’m cheaper than a cab and it’ll be way more fun! – Hop in!’”
Jay even ran split tests for himself. He would try to pick people up in his car by himself, and he would try to do it again with his girlfriend in the car and compare the differences in responses. “There was no data yet. If there is no data, you just create it.” In addition, he turned to Craigslist to see how people would react to home cooked meal invitations via an online platform. “I was just posting on Craigslist, on a non-trusted network!”
To take it a step even further, once things started to really materialize, he told his team of programmers and designers, “48 hours – pack your bags. We’re getting in my car to go across the United States to meal share, to learn about what this is.” “We went on a month long road trip of basically only eating through meal sharing. From NYC to Boston to Cleveland to Raleigh… We were proving to ourselves that we had something real that people wanted to do and that WE wanted to do. The group of people we met along the way kind of set the foundation.”
“It was such an awesome slice of America and life – through food. Everyone had a unique story.”
On the magic of home cooking:
So why is home cooking so much better than just meeting your friends at a restaurant? “I think everyone knows home cooking is better. There’s a certain level of honesty. This is my home – this is where I eat, sleep and interact with my family and friends. It’s not removed. It’s authentic.”
Additionally, Jay speaks about the ability home cooking has to build a sense of community. He says that he knows people who have found new jobs, significant others and friends through a Meal Sharing experience. He even tells a story of a host whose apartment flooded and his Meal Sharing community came out to help him afterwards.
“The power of the meal helps the community.”
Lastly, Jay points out that generally speaking, home cooking is healthier. “We never assault our bodies the way a food establishment does that cooks for volume. I view it as the Etsy of home cooking. It is small batch creation. Home cooking is a liaison to better health.”
On what ‘they’ don’t tell you and what you should know:
“I don’t want to give the standard – make sure you’re passionate and follow your hearts! Those are the givens. It’s really a balance between being completely delusional and being real about what you want to do.”
“If you’re truly creating something from nothing, you have to be a bit delusional.
“When you’re starting a startup everything is stacked against you. All you’re trying to do whenever you’re hacking is reduce that percentage however you can.”
“Look for something with a polarizing effect. Our goal isn’t to be a watered down version of something where people say, ‘Meal Sharing is okay. It’s alright.’’’ Some people have told Jay that Meal Sharing is the best thing and they’ve been waiting for it all their lives, and others have told him it is the worst idea ever. He’s okay with that. In fact, he welcomes it.
Wrapping it up, Jay shares a his hopeful mission for Meal Sharing: “We want to change how people eat and how people go on vacation forever.”