One of my favorite parts of doing these interviews is learning about a hidden gem buried in what seems like an otherwise straightforward business concept. In the case of Deepti Sharma Kapur, 25-year-old founder and CEO of foodtoeat.com, her business plan contains within it the seeds of a progressive social movement. Her company provides an online service that allows people to order food from restaurants, foodtrucks and food carts in NYC. But it’s more than that. It also provides tangible business support to scores of family businesses, many run by immigrants, by teaching them how to use technology to further the success of their business. In so doing, she’s providing a bridge of social interaction – reshaping awareness of immigrants as being capable of so much more than just selling you your chicken and rice or hot dogs.
Deepti completed a double major in business and politics at Long Island’s Stony Brook University. A concentration in operations management within the food industry coupled with years of hands on restaurant experience set the stage for an idea that was actually born out of her day to day experience. Studying for the LSATS at the mid-Manhattan branch of the NY Public Library, she logged many hours waiting online for the Treats Truck during her lunch hour, inspiring her to think about a better way to make street food available to local businesspeople.
While living in India in 2009, Deepti began conceptualizing the idea for her company. She decided to stay there and work with a company to develop the product during 2010, and by June of 2011 she was ready to go live with a beta launch for family and friends. After a successful seven month run, foodtoeat.com officially launched in February of 2012.
With a half a million dollars in angel funding to get them started, the company currently employs a six person marketing and sales team here in NYC with a four person tech team back in India. Despite the many sleepless nights bridging the time gap, Kapur says outsourcing in this fashion has worked out well for her and the company.
The concept behind foodtoeat.com is simple. Users put in their address and zip code in order to find food trucks and restaurants in their neighborhood. Using smart phones and GPRS printers, food truck and cart owners are able to receive orders via email, click on a link to confirm receipt and print them out. Right now, most of her vendors are concentrating on using this technology to develop their pick-up service, but the plan is to gradually adapt it for use in offering delivery service for their customers.
While foodtoeat.com is still in its early stages of development, it does provide a unique service in a growing marketplace. With 50 food carts and trucks and 500 restaurants throughout Manhattan currently represented on the site, the company is off to a good start in its quest to revolutionize how New Yorkers access street food.
Deepti’s biggest challenge to date? During her early days of developing the company back in India, she often found it difficult to be taken seriously due to her gender and her age. It took a while for people to realize that she was a serious businesswoman and not just a student working on a research project. But other South Asian women such as PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi have been a great inspiration to her, and she continues to persevere, offering other would be entrepreneurs the familiar advice, “Take pride in what you do and don’t be afraid to take risks.”
Running this company has brought her some particularly sweet rewards. Working with immigrant families, teaching them how to use technology to improve their businesses, has been particularly gratifying. That and reshaping public awareness about the capabilities of immigrants have elevated Deepti Sharma Kapur’s mission beyond the mere development of her own business. Sweet treats, indeed!
Interview by: Deborah Oster Pannell, a Smith College graduate, is a writer who specializes in the arts, media, holistic health, advocacy and events. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, She Says Yes. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki.