Oct. 11, 2021

The Key to Ending Hunger, With Goodr’s Jasmine Crowe

The Key to Ending Hunger, With Goodr’s Jasmine Crowe

How food insecurity is not really an issue of scarcity... it's a matter of logistics.


CEO Jasmine Crowe joins Scott and Nora to discuss Goodr, her startup that fights food insecurity and waste by rerouting surplus food from local businesses and delivering it to nonprofits, which distribute it to hungry communities. She also reveals how Goodr uses blockchain technology to make it all happen, and talks through her personal journey to found and build the company.

See the complete transcript of this episode below. 

Transcript

Nora Ali: So Scott, during the pandemic, unfortunately, a lot of things in our lives changed. And one of the most striking things that I covered as a news anchor during the pandemic was hunger and food insecurity, two things that unfortunately went through the roof. We know millions of Americans lost their jobs, the economy suffered. So this is an episode where we're going to talk about all that. When do you think about food insecurity, Scott, in general? What does that sort of bring up for you in your experience?

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, Nora, it's one of those issues that seems invisible to so many people who never suffered from food insecurity heading into the pandemic or who exist in spaces where food access is not an issue. I'm speaking personally, where I live in the opposite of a food desert. There are about five supermarkets within walking distance to me. Certainly there is class and wealth privileges in play here. And it's just something that we don't generally think about when it's not our issue. It really is uh astounding when you look at the numbers and how many people, one in seven people is food insecure. And when you match that with the stats around food waste, the fact that 75 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in America, $218 billion a year are spent in the U S on food that people will never eat and not to mention it's, it's only getting worse. I mean, food insecurity and food waste in the U S has doubled since the 1970s. It's a problem that technology to this point has really yet to solve or that very few people have looked into solving. But our guest today is one of those few people. Jasmine Crowe is the founder and CEO of Goodr, an Atlanta-based tech startup that fights food insecurity and food waste simultaneously. Goodr software reroutes surplus food from local businesss and helps it get delivered to nonprofits that distribute food to their communities. You can think of it almost like a DoorDash or a GrubHub for food banks and shelters. And perhaps what's most interesting is that Goodr itself is a for-profit business, which while feeding those in need also helps restaurants save money in the process. It uses a blockchain based system that helps restaurants claim tax breaks for the food they donate, and on top of that provides data for restaurants about which foods they are consistently overbuying or dishes they are over-producing. 

Nora Ali: And Jasmine took a very entrepreneurial approach to this, which I think is one of the coolest parts of the convo. She told us about some mistakes that she had made. I'm sure a lot of our listeners are trying to start their own businesses and Jasmine was really honest about not taking care of her own health and her own mental wellbeing at first and Scott, as you know, I'm in the middle of starting my own company, too. And to be perfectly candid, I had to reunite with my therapist to help me navigate some of the more stressful bits. So it was truly refreshing to hear that there are other people going through the same thing and I really love that Jasmine offered a bunch of learnings on the mental health front. Jasmine's also helping to educate young people about food insecurity as well. She's the author of a children's book called Everybody Eats, which is aimed at inspiring young people to join that fight against hunger, such a good convo. We're going to talk about food insecurity. We're going to talk about food. Wasabi might even come up. We are so excited for you to hear this conversation. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowski. And together we're bringing you stories and conversations about how business shapes the world we live in and what it means for our future. For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual.

Nora Ali: Jasmine, I'm excited that we're talking about food. Scott and I were reflecting on the fact that we're both without using the word foodie, we both are that and love food. I am curious, we'll get into all the amazing work you're doing, but what memories does food bring up for you growing up? Because for me, every single important event, family members always revolved around food. So what was your experience with food as a kid and growing up?

Jasmine Crowe:  I would say I remember having food and I just also remember knowing that there were other people who didn't have food. So I think my parents being in the service industry has just always been in the forefront. My dad was in the military. And one thing I will say about food is I always was really interested in trying different things. So that is one thing I remember. I don't eat spicy food ’til this day because I ate a whole thing of wasabi as a kid, just thinking it was like green and it was cool. And just eating it at this restaurant in Wichita Falls, Texas, which I will never forget because I believe it, you know, cursed me, called Samurai Tokyo. I ate that with savvy and you know, it was life-changing. So I think I have a lot of fun memories of food.

Scott Rogowsky: It is unfair. The wasabi industry needs to put a trigger warning, a content warning on their foot, because as a kid it's like this green mound of, you know, like, remember those Hi-C ecto coolers. It would be a normal correlation to think that the wasabi maybe came from the same factory. But nevertheless, so Jasmine said you had this military background growing up, bouncing around. Do you feel at home in Atlanta, obviously you've set up your shop here, your business here. What is it about the Atlanta community that you love so much?

Jasmine Crowe: Yeah, I definitely feel like Atlanta is home. You know, my daughter was born here, just everything, met my partner here. So it's a very special place. I think what I love about Atlanta is the culture. You know, there's just the supportive culture, this emerging tech scene that's happening that I really think is great. And I just think there are a lot of people here that are rooting for you, not to say that that doesn't happen in other communities and other cities, but I just feel like in Atlanta, it's very clear that people want you to win here. And that feels great.

Nora Ali: Jasmine, you've had such interesting experience just around food from the get-go. You have something that you called Sunday soul, which I love, but it's incredible how much effort and work and steps it took for you to feed folks who didn't have access to food. I'd love for you to tell us a little bit more about Sunday Soul and how you got started doing that.

Jasmine Crowe: I get this question all the time and it's so crazy, but I really just was driving through downtown Atlanta when I first moved here in 2013, and I just saw hundreds of people that were experiencing homelessness and I thought I should do something. And I posted it on Facebook and said, “Hey, next Sunday, I'm going out and feeding. It's going to be called Sunday. Soul. We're going to play good old school music. And we're going to have like this really great Sunday dinner.” And I started that day. It was in October as a matter of fact of 2013. So coming up on gosh, eight years ago and I started feeding people and it just it's something that I just love to do. And then I continued to do it for over four years before I started Goodr and fed even more people.

Nora Ali: You should give yourself more credit. You weren't just feeding people. It involves cutting coupons, price matching, shopping at multiple markets, making these meals yourself, side dishes. Tell us a little bit more about just how much it takes to feed folks.

Jasmine Crowe: Yeah, I mean, it definitely used to take me about 40 to 50 hours every time I did it, but I think it was because I was really focused on providing a dignity experience. So I don't think it would take as much if I was just doing like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and just giving someone like chips and an apple. But I was really, you know, going above and beyond. So I always have like four or five meat options, several side options, several dessert options, and just allowed people to have the food that they liked. So a lot of times people would say things like, oh, you know, they're homeless, you could feed them whatever. I mean, I had friends, family members who would say that, and I would say, no, you know, just because they're experiencing homelessness, it doesn't mean that their religious convictions or their dietary restrictions go out the door. So it did take a lot. And then I started renting tables and chairs and linens and printing out menus and letting people sit down and feel like they were at a restaurant. So there were a lot of ideas that came out of it, but it also just took a lot to get to as well. And I, and I always felt good about it.

Scott Rogowsky: You know, you say in your TED Talk that we're doing hunger wrong and you elaborate on what you mean. You know, I've, I've donated a lot of money to food banks over the years, participate in plenty of food drives, canned foods, and we all have, but there’s a difference between food and meals. That's what you were doing at Sunday Soul and what you continue to do with Goodr. Can you just explain for the audience though that difference and why, well, you know, it's good to give a can of beans here and there, but you can't make a meal out of a can of beans?

Jasmine Crowe: So one of the things I've talked about in my TED Talk is, you know, volunteering at a food bank and actually witnessing and seeing that firsthand, you know, we were giving these people bags just full of stuff that really wasn't going to make a meal, but there were so many people in line. And then even after I left, there were still people coming to get that food. And the entire time I kept on thinking: What meal will these families make out of this? Sadly in America is we have plenty of food banks and plenty of food pantries. There's churches, there's different organizations that are doing it, but we've created this vicious cycle that keeps people dependent on more than one food bank or food pantry, because they have to go to so many to actually marry a meal together. And so I really wanted to do with Goodr, and even as I did with Sunday Soul, is provide people with meals. So I started focusing on prepared food, prepared meals, and I want it to recover that kind of food and get it to nonprofits that they could then provide meals to their clients. And, you know, even since we've started and a lot of our COVID response work, if you will, that started last year where we are delivering groceries to about 2,000 seniors a week, we're still very meal focused. And so when we go out and purchase and source these groceries, we're thinking about the number of meals that these families or these seniors will be able to make from what they're receiving from us. And so our goal is that someone receives a Goodr delivery, and their only kind of question is, well, what do I want for dinner? I've got all these different options, and they can go ahead and have that meal. You know, I think food banks and food pantries obviously serve a great purpose and they have for many years. But I think that if we really focus on getting people meals, it's just a world of difference. And, and I think, you know, a good example of that is Chef Jose Andres, what he does at World Central Kitchen. He has chefs come together to provide meals for people in disaster situations. Now, if it was the same way and we relied on food banks to do that, we'd have people getting cans of beans with no place to cook them with nothing else to go with them. And that's the difference between access to food and access to meals.

Nora Ali: We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll talk about the technology behind Goodr and how the company is using the blockchain to support food distribution.

[AD BREAK]

Nora Ali: Part of what you're describing is very much about efficiency. It's about scale. One of the most interesting things about Goodr is the technology behind it. You leverage blockchain technology, you even have a SaaS product that you offer to businesses so they can track their own inventory as their food waste in themselves be more efficient about it. How did you come up with the strategy with the technology, especially for Goodr and how does that get more food into people's hands?

Jasmine Crowe: Yeah, you know, I'm not a technical founder, but what I was inspired by was actually the emergence of the food delivery apps. And so at the same time, I first had this idea, this is in 2016. This is when Uber Eats and DoorDash and Grubhub and, you know, all of these different food delivery services were coming into the market. And I was getting referral codes from everybody to get $10 off my first order. And I started thinking, you know, there are all these different forms of technology to get food to people that have, but who's working on something for the people that don't know where their next meal is coming from? And I think that's what really propelled me to look into technology as a solution. And I really just immersed myself in learning everything that I could and hiring really good people to join me and speak through my vision. And so I got an initial prototype done by taking a company up on free office hours that they were offering to founders and startups, and they built this prototype for me. And I used that prototype for almost two years, a good year and a half while trying to raise money and get customers and showcase like, this is the vision. This is what it would be. And as I learned of new emerging technologies, I always thought like, how can I integrate this into what it is that we're doing with Goodr? And I think that's just how we got to where we are today.

Nora Ali: So how does the blockchain make the process all that much more efficient that some other company might not think to tap into?

Jasmine Crowe: One of the things I knew right away is that we were dealing with taxes. And so we were dealing with allowing our customers to actually claim tax breaks for the food that they donate. And so what I was really inspired by with blockchain was actually their secure ledger. And so that's what we basically have built with Goodr, that and a smart contract. So as food is requested for a pickup, a driver verifies it, they say, they're picking it up. They say, hey, I am picking up a hundred pizzas. It gets to the nonprofit. The nonprofit says, hey, thanks for these hundred pizzas. They sign for it like they would a UPS or a FedEx package. And then their signature actually allows us to send a donation letter into our customer's portal. And so now there is a record of everything that was donated it's timestamped from when it was entered, picked up, and delivered. And then it doesn't allow that business to go back and say, hey, the day that we donated a hundred pizzas, add an additional zero let's claim, additional tax breaks at the end of the season, because it has to be verified along the chain of custody. And so that's what was really exciting about it to me. I think the other thing is using technology and there's a lot of people have never really managed or really measured if you will, their food waste. So they may do some donations, but you'll say, well, you know, how often do you donate? What do you donate? And then they just don't know. And so we really believe that you can't manage what you don't measure. And then our platform allows them to measure how they are handling their sustainability efforts. So I think we do a really good job at that.

Nora Ali: So in layman's terms, it just allows you to verify every step of the way that the food is going where it's supposed to go versus, oh my gosh, this got lost or whatever. And that's the benefit.

Jasmine Crowe: And actually verifies what it is that we're receiving as well. And it's important because if we’re ever, for example, like there was a spinach outbreak, it's important that we know that we had spinach in this pickup and it went to this location on this date so we can alert them.

Scott Rogowsky: I'm also a nontechnical person and I've tried to start businesses in the past. And it's difficult when you don't have those resources or even those connections to engineers and all that. I'm curious, let's take a page from How I Built This. They haven't booked you yet. We got you. I'm going to beat them to the punch. Walk us through from conceiving the idea of Goodr to actually putting an app in place, putting a technological company in place, you know, who do you reach out to first? Who was your first hire? Who was your technical founder? And how did that relationship come together? 

Jasmine Crowe: Yeah. You know, I made a lot of early mistakes and the very first one I made was definitely with that technical hire. I think what I heard early on was like, oh, you've got to have a co-founder, you've got to have a CTO. And this was my idea. You know, I didn't have a co-founder. It was just me. It came from my work. So I basically did everything, but stand out on the street with a sign that said, will you be my co-founder? Because I just didn't feel like I could get far without it. And so I ended up getting a co-founder who looked really great on paper and they were supposed to be building the technology. And then months had went by, I think, like six months. And I reached out to one of my friends that I had met in the hackathon and I said, hey, how long should it take before I see some form of code, something working with this app? And he says, oh, Jasmine, you should see a repository. You should start seeing code every single time they push it. And so when I went back to that co-founder or CTO at the time, they were like, oh, well, you know, my build environment crashed. It’s tons of excuses. Long story short ended up not having that CTO/co-founder relationship, ending that, you know, almost in about seven months and going and searching for just actually independent developers. And so the first version was built by a friend who just built this V1 for me. And after that, I started trying to outsource the technology, then hire people in inside. I made a really big mistake trying to go and find somebody offering them equity in the company. Luckily it wasn't vested and it didn't last long, but they actually still ended up getting a small percentage of equity just based off of how we set it up. And, you know, it was a big mistake. And so I think what you should focus on is doing everything you can with what you have. And had I thought about it, I should have really said, hey, this is the prototype that I have. What I'm looking for is someone who can help me build a V1 and really just kind of like being a little bit smoother with bringing on talent, as opposed to just listening to what everybody was saying and kind of rushing to hire. 

Nora Ali: We're going to take another quick break. And when we come back, we'll talk about caring for your mental health as a founder and how Jasmine's vision of Goodr evolved and pivoted during the pandemic. 

[AD BREAK]

Nora Ali: You had to learn the hard way Jasmine, but you're not to blame because the landscape has changed so much even the last few years where it's much easier to just find a developer, to find someone to build you that MVP, that minimum viable product, but as a founder, especially since you're tackling a huge issue that perhaps can be mentally taxing to think about every single day, what did you do to take care of yourself early on? I imagine it's also lonely to be a founder. What, what did you do to make sure that you, Jasmine, were doing well as you're trying to build this really ambitious company?

Jasmine Crowe: It's so funny. I didn't do that at all. 

Nora Ali: Oh, no.

Jasmine Crowe: So self-care became a big thing that I really stood on in 2019, but in 2017 and 2018, I was really terrible at self-care. I was just putting a hundred percent of everything that I had into the company and not really eating right, not sleeping right. Feeling like I had to work until three, four o'clock in the morning, really living off of this whole saying no days off, not understanding that you need days off in order to be your best self. So after two years and health problems and just not being my best me, as a self-care space, I started to really focus on better self-care. And so in 2019 and 2020, I really put forth these efforts of working out, of therapy, of journaling, of resting, feeling like I could take days off. And, you know, even at Goodr, we've instituted unlimited PTO. And, and those are the things that I didn't give myself that kind of grace. And so now I always try and extend it to others.

Scott Rogowsky: You know, the journey of the entrepreneur is always a fascinating one. And that's why there are so many podcasts about it. I want to hear about how you evolved your own vision of this company, because I'm sure it's changed and pivoted several times from when you first conceived the idea of Goodr to where you are today. And for those who may be embarking on their own journey to entrepreneursville, how has your roadmap or your strategy changed from your initial ideal? Let's solve the hunger problem. Let's rescue food, deliver to people who need it, to now, you know, really you built a logistics company. Was that even at the forefront of your mind when you started this?

Jasmine Crowe: Yeah, absolutely. I always saw that hunger was not an issue of scarcity. It was really a matter of logistics because how much food was going to waste. So the idea was never like, oh, we need to grow and produce all this extra food. I always saw it was like, hey, we need to get food from people that are throwing it away to people that need it. I think the company is always evolving. You know, we definitely had to make some pivots at the start of the pandemic in 2020, because a lot of the businesses that we were recovering food from, ie., airports, convention centers, stadiums, and arenas had closed their doors. And so it did mean that I had to think differently about how we go after getting food. And so we now became more of the helpers and now we started distributing food to people as opposed to recovering food from businesses. And now fast forward to 2021, we're doing a mixture of both of them. And 2022, we will continue to pivot if need be. Or we feel like we've built a really solid business where we are right now.

Scott Rogowsky: So Jasmine, what is your company's roadmap look like? Short-term, long-term, next three-to-six months. Where do you want to take Goodr? Is it about expanding to different locations or what's the end game?

Jasmine Crowe: It's a hundred percent about expanding. We're trying to raise additional capital and really using that capital to bring on more people. I think we're extremely busy, which is a great thing because we're doing something so good, but we don't even have enough people to handle the massive opportunity that's in front of us. So we definitely are looking to grow the team. I see Goodr being in really every city, every county, every country, because food waste and Hunger really exists everywhere. And we think that we are building something that can solve two of the world's greatest problems. And so we're going to continue to not only build on technology, but build on our processes, grow our logistics network, and just really be the best company we can be.

Scott Rogowsky: Amazing. And you're hiring. Goodr is hiring.

Nora Ali: If anyone's listening. Jasmine, thank you so much for your time. It's been awesome learning from you. Thanks for joining us.

Jasmine Crowe: I appreciate you guys.

Scott Rogowsky: That was amazing to hear from Jasmine about everything she's up to, but now we want to hear from you. What has been your experience with food insecurity, food service or food waste? Send us an email at businesscasual@morningbrew.com or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's B I Z casual pod, with your stories.

Nora Ali: Especially if you have any wasabi-related stories. We'd love to hear that as well. And, folks, you can also leave a voice memo on our website if you so choose businesscasual.fm, or give us a ring, leave us an old-fashioned voicemail. Our number 862-295-1135 that's 8 6 2 2 9 5 1 1 3 5. And as Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners old and new. Drop us a line. Don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from so we can hear from you in a future episode.

Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins, additional production sound designed and mixing by Daniel Markus. Alan Haburchak is the Director of Audio Morning Brew. Sarah Singer is our VP of Multimedia and Jessica Cohen is our Chief Content Officer. If you liked what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for your ear candy. And we'd love it if you'd give us a great rating and a review.

Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. 

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. 

Nora Ali: Keep it business.

Scott Rogowsky: And keep it casual.