Then, in his senior year of high school, he lost 70 pounds in six months: "I was fortunate enough to learn about nutrition," he says. It was a discovery that Gupta wouldn't soon forget.
Years later, in 2012, after spending much of his career working for venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners, Gupta decided to quit his job and start a business with his best friend, Ken Chen. Gupta wanted to bring healthful, carefully sourced snack foods to consumers like his younger self. "Starting a company was an opportunity to combine a professional interest with that passion," he says.
The aptly named NatureBox is a subscription-based snack-food provider that has grown by a factor of 20 since it launched, according to Gupta. Boxes are priced at $19.95 per month, and the company offers reduced rates for those willing to pay for three or six months' worth of shipments ahead of time. Consumers order from an online Snack Catalog, which includes nutritionist-approved items that cater to their dietary needs and preferences. Unlike some of his competitors, Gupta private-labels all products under the NatureBox brand, rather than sourcing them through third-party vendors. The ingredients come primarily from independent manufacturers and farms, although the company refused to disclose specific partners.
To date, NatureBox has raised $28.5 million over two funding rounds from investors Red Point, Canaan, and SoftBank, as well as from Gupta's former employer, General Catalyst. The company brought in nearly $50 million in revenue in 2014, more than double that of 2013. NatureBox also boasts one million Facebook fans, and expects to ship as many as five million boxes in 2015. The company is projecting $100 million in revenue this year.
The time has never been better to enter the subscription-based food service industry, according to experts. Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group, explains that companies like NatureBox are "tapping into a consumer demand for freshness." And while NatureBox caters to people of all ages, he adds, it's the younger clients who seem to be most interested in healthy eating.
Gupta emphasizes the company's direct-to-consumer model as what makes it unique, but what really sets NatureBox apart from competitors such as Blue Apron or Plated is the fact that customers get to choose for themselves what goes into their boxes. He described NatureBox as the "Netflix of food," in that it uses customer feedback to develop new products. For instance, the company rolled out a line of dark chocolate "Nom Noms" (essentially oat cookies) after it noticed an increasing demand for chocolate as opposed to the original blueberry flavor.
Gupta and Chen have big plans for the future. NatureBox is already testing the idea of putting easy-to-make breakfast food items like oatmeal within its regular snack box. Ultimately, as Gupta and Chen achieve brand recognition and drive demand for NatureBox products, they hope to begin stocking the shelves of grocery stores: "We really do see this brand living not just online, but offline as well," Gupta explains.
In fact, NatureBox snacks are already living offline, albeit in the air: The company launched a partnership with American Airlines in October, which is now serving NatureBox snacks to passengers on some of its international flights.