A Q&A with Love With Food founder and CEO Aihui Ong. The Foster City, California-based startup, which offers a monthly organic snack delivery service and corresponding food marketing data platform for brands, announced in early June that it has raised $1.4 million in new Seed funding from Kapor Capital, 500 Startups, TEEC Angel Fund, and an Angel List Syndicate led by Facebook Ads creator Yun-Fang Juan. It was founded in 2012, and launched out of the 500 Startups accelerator. Love With Food previously raised $695,000 in earlier Seed rounds.
SUB: Please describe Love With Food and your primary innovation.
Ong: Love With Food is a marketing platform that collects product intelligence data for consumer food brands. We collect product feedback by mailing products in our monthly snack boxes to consumers nationwide who are eager to discover new, organic or all-natural snacks.
For every snack box sent, Love With Food donates a meal to food banks all across the U.S, and to date, we have donated more than 200,000 meals.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Ong: Our target consumers are female who have an interest in snacking better.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Love With Food from the competition?
Ong: Some of our competitors include NatureBox, Graze and Nibblr. All these brands private label their products, so you really do not know the producers of the products. It’s like Trader Joe’s in a box.
How we are different is we do not white label the snacks we feature. We want our consumers to know the actual brand behind each wonderful product. Hence, it’s a great marketing platform for any brand to reach consumers nationwide and also get people to taste their products. It’s more effective and efficient than in-store sampling.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $1.4 million in new Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside funding?
Ong: We’ve been very capital efficient. We only raised $650,000 in our first round of funding, and were able to generate $2 million in revenue in our second year of business. We decided to raise a new round of funding to expedite growth.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Ong: The new funds will be used mainly for user acquisition and also expanding the team.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional funding in the near future?
Ong: Yes. We have many big plans and will be looking to raise Series A to execute those big plans.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Love With Food? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Ong: I have worked both in the enterprise and consumer worlds, holding leadership roles at Accenture and PeopleSoft, running both the financial engineering division and sales division. I’ve sold and architected multi-million-dollar enterprise projects to Fortune 500 companies like 20th Century Fox and Sony.
When I saw how inefficient and broken the food industry was, I taught myself Ruby on Rails and launched Love With Food to solve the pain points for both consumers and food makers.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Ong: My goal was to connect consumers with food makers. However, I didn’t know what was the best way to do it. I used the Groupon model, selling gourmet snacks via a daily deal model. However, that didn’t work.
I soon realized consumers needed to taste the food before making a purchase decision. It’s normal human behavior. I decided to send samples out to our community of foodies and decided to charge a $10 monthly fee to see if people would pay to discover great snacks. People really liked the idea and this new pivot took off.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Ong: I quit being a financial software engineer, broke up with technology, and decided to backpack around the world for a year. After returning to the U.S., I wanted to be a chef and applied to culinary school. It was also the same time that my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 33. As an engineer, I didn’t know what to say. The first words that came out of my mouth were: “I’ll cook for you.” I’m not good at words, I only know how to love with food. That’s how I came up with the name ‘Love With Food.’
Love With Food’s mission is to help consumers to fall in love with food and at the same time shower you (with) love with food because with every box we send we donate a meal to a hungry child in the U.S.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Ong: I think being a solo-founder has been one of the biggest challenges. Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely journey, and having no co-founder to confide in and/or fight with makes it every more lonely. In the very early stage, it’s one of the reasons that gives investors pause for thought. That didn’t stop me from raising money. Over time, I’ve proved everyone wrong. I can build a company all by myself.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Ong: The company makes money three different ways: a.) monthly subscription revenue from consumers; b.) once consumers tastes the products in the box, they can return to our ecommerce store to buy more of what they love—Love With Food takes a 30 percent revenue share on all ecommerce sales; c.) brands pay Love With Food a service fee for featuring their product and also collecting consumer feedback.
SUB: What are your goals for Love With Food over the next year or so?
Ong: The goal for the next year is to launch more variety of our boxes. We plan to offer boxes that are more tailored to our customers’ dietary preferences—e.g. gluten-free, sweet, savory, etc.