Young entrepreneurs learning real-world skills with startup FoodStory

Last summer, Damian Matheson and Zacharie Weingarten had a weekly ritual: every Tuesday, the pair would go down to a farmer’s market at Ryerson University and pick up fresh fruit and vegetables.

It sounds like a strange way to begin a story about a startup. But that’s where everything started for Matheson and Weingarten, the co-founders of Toronto-based company FoodStory.

The two 23-year-olds had been part of Ryerson’s new 12-week digital specialization program, housed in the school’s Digital Media Zone. They were essentially taking a crash course in building a tech startup, but they’d been having trouble developing a business concept. Originally, they’d toyed with the idea of growing food on Toronto’s rooftops, but they scrapped their plans when they realized it would be difficult to get rooftop space and to grow the food themselves.

Inspiration finally struck while they were scouting out Ryerson’s farmer’s market. When they heard it would be shutting down the following year because it wasn’t making enough money, Matheson and Weingarten set out to ensure that wouldn’t happen again.

“Local’s a big trend right now, and people want to support local farmers,” Matheson says. “[But] people just frankly don’t know when and where they are. So we thought, let’s bring farmer’s markets into the 21st century, let’s make them accessible for everyone and anyone and introduce them to a whole generation and demographic who typically wouldn’t have thought of going to a farmer’s market.”

“And the way that turned out to be was to make a grocery gateway out of a farmer’s market.”

There are roughly 30 farmer’s markets around the city, Matheson says. However, most of them lack an online presence, which doesn’t make it easy for potential customers to find them, especially if they’re tucked away in a physically inconvenient location. And even when people can get to them, sometimes the markets’ business hours don’t coincide with people’s busy lifestyles.

FoodStory aims to solve that market need by providing a delivery service connecting customers seeking fresh produce and farmer’s markets looking for clientele. Customers will be able to go onto the FoodStory site, pick a farmer’s market and peruse the vendors and their offerings. Then they’ll create an account, place an order, pay for it via PayPal, and get their veggie box delivered to their doorstep.

FoodStory will be launching its service on June 2, with future plans to put in a similar service for small restaurants looking to place orders for fresh, local produce.

It’s a concept that Matheson acknowledges is different from that of a lot of other startups. While many new tech companies focus on delivering software or similar products, Matheson and Weingarten are currently using third-party software to fill out orders. In the future, they’re hoping to hire web developers to help them create software that will be tailored to their needs.

They’re also tinkering with their pay model to figure out what works and what doesn’t. A chunk of their revenue will come from customers paying for delivery, but Matheson anticipates service add-ons, sponsorship and advertisements might play a bigger role in adding to FoodStory’s profits.

And of course, like any entrepreneurs, Matheson and Weingarten are focused on delivering a minimum viable product so they can attract funding. They’ve picked up a few grants, but they also need to see whether investors will bite.

“There’s a lot of pressure and a lot [of] stress,” says Matheson, adding this is his first company.

Matheson fell into the startup world completely by accident. He had originally set out to finish an arts degree at the University of Guelph and then planned to pursue law school. Things changed completely when he applied for Ryerson’s digital specialization program on a whim.

“To be honest, [becoming a startup founder] was a 100 per cent complete fluke. I had no idea what an entrepreneur was,” he says. “[I thought it was like] you’d start up your own pizza shop when you got old or something like that. I had no idea.”

Now he’s opting to try to get FoodStory off the ground, instead of finishing his degree at Guelph. And as a first-time entrepreneur, he says he’s already learned one thing – he’s firm in the belief that it’s OK to fail, then start something new and try again.

“It’s the same thing I always say – when you’re young, who cares if you fail? I learned so much alone in that program and in the year we’ve been doing this. It’s not comparable to the stuff I learned in my undergrad … your typical textbooks and I’m writing essays. This is real.”

“Now I’ve got the startup bug and I’m ready for the next one after this one takes off.”

FoodStory created the video below to explain their service.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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