How Google's Executive Chef Got Into This Food Startup
When Nate Keller was offered a job at Google in 2002, he initially turned it down.
Keller, a chef, moved to San Francisco to work at a top restaurant. But a high school friend who had recently gotten a job at Google encouraged him to check out the startup's campus. Reluctantly, Keller met with one of eleven other members of the Google kitchen staff, Charlie Ayers. Ayers liked him and asked him to try out for a chef position.
"At the time there was no Food Network. There were no celebrity chefs," says Keller. "I thought, 'I don't want to work in a cafeteria, that sounds terrible.'"
Still, he was offered the job. When his friend learned Keller had turned down Ayers, he made a phone call that changed Keller's life.
"My friend called and said, 'You don't understand what you're turning down,'" Keller tells Business Insider. "He said, 'This is where Google is going. This is what a stock option is. There are bonuses involved.'" Keller hadn't had any startup experience, so he turned to his mother for advice. His love of cooking comes from her; they spent many nights making dinners together when Keller was growing up.
"She said, 'You're taking the job,'" Keller recalls.
Two years later, Google went public. Keller's stock options likely became worth millions of dollars. (We asked how much he made, but he avoided answering.) His boss, Ayers, made a reported $26 million from the IPO. One year later, Ayers left and Keller became Google's executive chef. He grew the kitchen staff to 675 employees and was responsible for serving 40,000 meals per day. By the time Keller left Google in 2008, Googlers were eating $1 million worth of chicken per month.
Working in Google's kitchen was like "entrepreneurial bootcamp," says Keller, where "any idea could become a Google restaurant in six weeks." It prepared him for current role at a popular new San Francisco startup, Sprig.
Sprig is an organic meal-delivery service that offers healthy lunches and dinners to people in Northern California via mobile app. Customers can choose from three different meal selections and have it delivered within 20 minutes, piping hot. Ordering a Sprig meal takes 3-taps on a mobile device: pick the meal you want and the quantity, confirm an address and place the order. Payments are handled over the app too. Sprig then sends a text confirming the order.
The meal service was founded by CEO Gagan Biyani, Morgan Springer, Neeraj Berry and Matt Kent. Prior to Sprig, Biyani was an advisor to car service Lyft and co-founded education company Udemy. The idea for Sprig came from a problem Biyani was having as a busy startup founder: eating quickly and healthy.
"I was working so hard, I kind of stopped taking care of my health," Biyani tells Business Insider. "I was eating take-out Thai and Chinese and burgers and french fries and not exercising." When Biyani left Udemy, he made it his goal to get back in shape. But Biyani found it harder to eat well consistently than to schedule workouts. The goal of Sprig is to create the "easiest way to eat well in the world."
"We want to make it so convenient and easy to eat organic food that everyone has access to it," says Biyani.
Spring launched its dinner service (available Monday to Thursday from 5:00 to 9:30 PM) in December and its lunch service (available Monday to Friday, 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM) in April. Now thousands of meals are being delivered by Sprig per week and 71% of Sprig users are repeat customers. Part of the reason Sprig is able to serve so many people is because Keller created great relationships with tons of local farmers within a 150 mile radius during his Google days.
Sprig currently has 40 employees, with half its staff in the kitchen. It has raised $11.7 million from investors like Greylock Partners and Accel Partners, with plans to expand nationally after Spring masters San Francisco.
Here are some screengrabs of Sprig:
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