Spoonshot: Leveraging Artificial Intelligence To Predict Food Trends

Company Profile is an initiative by StartupTalky to publish verified information on different startups and organizations. The content in this post has been approved by the organization it is based on.

Artificial Intelligence is now penetrating almost every existing domain. Finance, healthcare, education, transportation, and many sectors  are witnessing active use of AI. This intelligence is now being used for an upcoming niche: prediction of consumer tastes and food trends. Spoonshot, a startup based in Bangalore, is using AI to help businesses operating in the food and beverages sector serve their customers better by providing useful insights on future food trends and guest intelligence. Spoonshot's AI-powered tool is saving FMCG companies time and money while enabling them to become trendsetters. StartupTalky interviewed Spoonshot CEO Kishan Vasani to understand more about the startup.

Startup Name Spoonshot
Headquarter Bangalore
Founders Kishan Vasani and Sai Sreenivas Kodur
Sector FMCG
Founded December, 2015
Website www.spoonshot.com
Parent Organization Spoonshot.com

Spoonshot - Introduction
Spoonshot - Vision And Mission
Spoonshot - Target Market
Spoonshot - Founders/CEO
Spoonshot - How It Started
Spoonshot - Ideation, Designing, And Prototyping Of The Product
Spoonshot - Product/Service
Spoonshot - How It Works
Spoonshot - Work Culture
Spoonshot - Name, Tagline, And Logo
Spoonshot - Business Model And Revenue Model
Spoonshot - User Acquisition
Spoonshot - Startup Challenges
Spoonshot - Funding And Investors
Spoonshot - Advisors And Mentors
Spoonshot - Acquisitions and Mergers
Spoonshot - Future Plans

Spoonshot - Introduction

Spoonshot is a food AI company that is raising the bar for insight-led innovation. It believes in exploration as the catalyst behind the novel, successful products, and uses it as the very fuel to help food and beverage companies shape the future and bring about new trends.  

Spoonshot equips the food and beverage industry with unprecedented foresight of emerging market needs. By transforming long-tail, open information from diverse and authentic sources, Spoonshot’s proprietary food science infused algorithms connect disparate data sets, to deliver personalized insights, predict trends, and identify novel opportunities. Today, Spoonshot is supporting the world’s best-known brands in meeting the future needs of their customers.

Spoonshot - Vision And Mission

Spoonshot is on a mission to replicate human cognition in the domain of food. We humans have developed special skill sets—chef, nutritionist, doctor, foodie, scientist, psychologist, etc. Spoonshot's core technology which is referred to as #foodbrain, is designed to adopt relevant components from each of these skill sets.

Consumer tastes are influenced by many factors. Geography, purchasing power, external influence, mood, etc. are important determiners of  one's taste buds. At Spoonshot, every variable that is likely to affect consumer taste is included to enable #foodbrain deliver the highest level of accuracy in prediction. This foresightedness is then used by the food and beverage companies while developing and rolling out products and services.

Today incrementalism is the go-to-strategy for most FMCG companies that want to create new products or flavors. And the sad reality is while 58% of R&D spending is directed at incremental innovations, only 14% is used for breakthrough or disruptive innovations

The company is working towards bringing about true innovation in the food industry.

Relevant Read: Top 21 Restaurant Marketing Ideas

Spoonshot - Target Market

Spoonshot's target industry is FMCG, where sales is forecasted to top $720 billion by 2020. Spoonshot's target customers are large FMCG companies in North America.

Spoonshot - Founders/CEO

Kishan Vasani and Sai Sreenivas Kodur founded Spoonshot.

Kishan Vasnai is the CEO of Spoonshot. He has 10+ years  of experience in the startup segment and 7+ years of experience in food tech domain. Kishan founded a digital marketing agency named 'U Want Media' in 2006, which he exited in 2011. Kishan is the ex COO of 'Just Eat' (India). He also worked as the head of international marketing in 'Just Eat'. Kishan also co-founded 'One Cause', a UK based NGO that promotes education as the solution to poverty

Sai Sreenivas Kodur is the co-Founder & CTO of Spoonshot. Sai, who is a computer science graduate from IIT Madras,  has 5+ years of experience in the tech sector. He worked as a software engineer in Myntra, Zomato, and Kiwi, Inc. before joining Spoonshot.

Kishan built the core team using LinkedIn. Kishan came in contact with Sai through LinkedIn's platform.

When I first started looking for a technical partner, I quickly realized that I was not interviewing them, but that good candidates were really interviewing me, asking all sorts of difficult questions about my experience and the business model. I was specifically looking for someone with a computer science background, essentially a real geek, and while they didn’t need to have food tech experience, it was a great bonus. But the most important trait was that I needed to find someone that I could get along with, someone I could have a beer with. With Sai, I was lucky to get all of the above - Kishan

When Kishan met Sai, the latter was at Myntra in a well-paid job. Kishan knew he would have to  work hard to on-board Sai. The duo met several times and discussed the industry and opportunity for hours before the decision to work together was established. Alignment on the opportunities in the food tech segment was relatively straightforward given that both Sai and Kishan had background in this domain. Also, Sai had a similar startup idea but didn’t pursue it. Finally, Sai and Kishan came together to start Spoonshot. Kishan even asked one of his friend, the CTO of a company, to interview Sai for ensuring his technical prowess.

Spoonshot - How It Started

Spoonshot founder Kishan Vasani's, personal experience with food was instrumental in Spoonshot's launch.

During his stint at Just Eat Group in London (2011-2013),  Kishan stumbled upon several opportunities that interested him (like white-label apps for restaurants). Kishan noticed that the actual dining experience didn’t necessarily match the restaurant ratings and reviews available.

One of my favorite dishes served by a restaurant in Bangalore has a restaurant rating of 3.1. Conversely, I’ve been to several highly rated restaurants (4.0+) and thought the food was average at best.

With reviews and ratings being almost useless, Kishan wanted to find something that would give consumers more accurate insight on their dining/ordering experience.

Initially, Kishan thought of dish rating as a good way to solve the problem because of its relevance and granularity as a data point. But further research highlighted that taste is subjective and varies greatly from person to person. A more innovative approach was required.

It wasn’t until 2015 after I had left Just Eat and started working at a London fintech startup called Osper, that I decided to jump off the entrepreneurial cliff. At Osper, I was working closely with the Founder & CEO, Alick Varma. Seeing him build his dream business with such passion and drive essentially drove me to leave and start my venture.

Kishan and Sai did extensive research about the FMCG industry for almost 9 months. They met over 130 industry professionals to get a clear understanding about the problems and opportunities in the Food and Beverage industry before starting Spoonshot. Spoonshot initially started as a company that was building a personalized food discovery app for the Indian market. Spoonshot was then known as 'Dishq'(a combination of dish and ishq, the hindi word for love). Dishq focused on shifting the notion of food ordering away from ratings and reviews to more visual and emotionally driven decision-making.

Later, the company pivoted to become  a B2B company and re-branded itself as Spoonshot.

Given that  Sai and I both previously worked in the food/restaurant tech, we made certain product and customer assumptions based upon our knowledge. In hindsight, we should have completed more thorough market research as this would have saved us a lot of time and pain - Kishan

Spoonshot - Ideation, Designing, And Prototyping Of The Product

Spoonshot tested its very first insights through a Hackathon with Ferrero (the manufacturer of Nutella). Spoonshot received a positive response which gave the team confidence and conviction to further explore this opportunity.

After 3 months of deep industry research in the US (Spoonshot's target market), Spoonshot built its very first insights prototype for a US-based food startup called Milkful during the Techstars Farm To Fork Accelerator.

Milkful's product that comprises health snack bars has been created for a very specific audience. They wanted to understand new ingredient combinations that would meet their consumer’s needs. Once again, we received good feedback. This allowed us to iterate our solution further.

The next version was used to deliver insights to a global ingredient giant. This project was far more complicated with high stakes. After 3 months of intensive engagement, Spoonshot delivered its insights and the client was satisfied with the results. This gave the Spoonshot team the conviction and validation to develop a full-fledged platform.  

Spoonshot - Product/Service

Spoonshot has built an AI-powered insights platform infused with food science to assist FMCG brands uncover hidden product opportunities and accelerate incremental revenue by leveraging Spoonshot's unique insights.

The platform is an innovation and trends research tool. It is designed to be the creative spark for product development by encouraging exploration, generating inspiration, a place for ideation. Following are some major components of the Spoonshot platform:

(1) Ingredient Networks: A way to uncover emerging and novel ingredient combinations.

(2) Startups Explorer: Details the innovation and product development of new food and beverage enterprises.

(3) Trend Trek: A place to discover the latest food ingenuity around the world.

Spoonshot has designed the platform such that users need not ask it questions, but are continually given answers or insights personalized to the user's needs.

The increasingly dynamic consumer landscape in the age of digital means that it is harder than ever before to track customer needs and tastes. There’s simply too much data and too many opinions. Quite frankly, it can be overwhelming. Also, legacy research and insights providers over-rely on lagging indicators and archaic methodologies, which lead to stale ideas. To add insult to injury, these agencies sell the same data to you and your competitors, so finding an edge is next to impossible.

Spoonshot's bleeding edge technology leverages the power of AI, food science, and large, diverse data sets, to give the companies a tool specifically for  early-stage product innovation, ideation, and inspiration.

We want the consumers to have better, more relevant product choices, and not be overwhelmed by the current situation of over choice.

Relevant Read: How to Find a Target Market for Your Startup

Spoonshot - How It Works

Spoonshot uses domain knowledge (food science) as a means to contextualize and extrapolate insights based upon the changes it sees in its data pipelines.

Food science refers to Computational Gastronomy and Nutrition Science.

Computational Gastronomy refers to applying data science techniques to the chemistry of food. Spoonshot extends this by collecting data related to flavor, sensory, and texture. Nutrition Science refers to the break up of nutrition in different items. Spoonshot also enriches this with data on how a style of cooking influences nutritional value.

The company builds several types of ingredient networks using this data. These ingredient networks define how the ingredients are inter-related (e.g. ingredients could be similar in taste, smell, nutrition, substitution, texture, etc). This serves as a fixed knowledge base which acts as the backbone to build products.

Spoonshot has built a trend data store which tracks food related data along with two key dimensions:

  1. Time.
  2. Geo-location.

This gives the company information on which ingredients are trending and in which locations.

Spoonshot - Work Culture

Spoonshot currently has 22 employees comprising data scientists, food scientists, and developers with the common love for eating.

We have a very friendly, no-hierarchy work culture and are as transparent about our decisions and plans with the team. We have a potluck once a month, team lunches, and learning sessions so that there is a good mix of fun and learning - Kishan says while explaining Spoonshot's work culture.

Spoonshot's hiring funda is simple: Hire foodies with a problem-solving mindset.

The five values below are the guiding start for the Spoonshot team:

  • First-principles: Don’t make assumptions, but be curious and inquisitive.
  • Be bold: Don’t be afraid to think big and execute bigger and bring your personality to the problem.
  • Show passion: Commit wholeheartedly and with real belief.
  • Drive excellence: Lead by example, go the extra mile, and accept/deliver nothing less than great.
  • Give first: Be helpful, kind, and open.

The name Spoonshot has been derived from 'moonshot thinking'.

We are a great believer of the ‘moonshot thinking’ - a combination of a huge problem, a radical solution to that problem and the breakthrough technology that just might make that solution possible. Our core technology is focused on enabling FMCG companies to stay ahead of trends. It’s almost like a crystal ball for early-stage product innovation, ideation, and inspiration - Kishan explains
Spoonshot logo

Spoonshot's logo represents the spoon for the F&B and moonshot thinking. The tagline is 'Be The Trendsetter', and the company did an extensive marketing exercise to derive at this motto.

Spoonshot - Business Model And Revenue Model

Spoonshot  has a SaaS platform and charge an annual access fee which includes a number of licenses/seats.

Spoonshot - User Acquisition

Spoonshot got accepted in the Techstars Farm To Fork Accelerator in the summer of 2018. The power and reach of their network was incredible and changed the trajectory of the business. Spoonshot was able to connect to many of its customers through this channel. The second major channel for customer acquisition was through a leading industry event where Spoonshot presented a demo of its platform on stage. Within 24 hours of the presentation, the company had 30 new B2B customers on-board.

Spoonshot - Startup Challenges

Finding product-market fit in the FMCG industry was a major challenge. The next major challenge was and continues to be tech recruitment.

Bangalore has many developers but finding good ones, with the values aligned to our business, with reasonable salary expectations is very difficult. We have tried many things to improve our recruitment process and still I don’t believe we have a winning formula. Perhaps the most pertinent point is that whether you are hiring or not, recruitment should never stop.

Kishan shares the following few tips that he keeps in mind while hiring.

  • Do not Hire fast: There’s the risk of bringing in people who are either not technically sound or culturally right.
  • Do not hire someone who is not a culture fit.
  • Do not Hire too slowly: Too many rounds means you can lose candidates to other companies.
  • Be cautious while using an agency: We’ve used some of the ‘best’ agencies in Bangalore and it did not led to a new hire.
  • Think before hiring interns: The quality is mixed but you get great executional bandwidth. Great interns have been hired as full-timers. Interns even after joining full-time may want to pursue further studies. Also, they do not have any other work experience to benchmark against; this can be both good and bad.  

Relevant Read: Top Must Read Books for Entrepreneurs

Spoonshot - Funding And Investors

Spoonshot has raised a total funding of $712K in 3 rounds.

Funding Date Funding Stage Funding Amount Investor
Early 2017 Angel Funding $37k HNI
2017 Accelerator $120k Zeroth.AI
2018 Pre-seed $555k Techstars, Arts Alliance & HNIs

Spoonshot - Advisors And Mentors

Spoonshot has current and former executives at some of the industry's leading US organizations including Cargill, Ecolab, McDonald’s, Conagra, General Mills, and the National Restaurant Association as its advisors.

Spoonshot - Acquisitions And Mergers

Spoonshot acquired Brisky, a restaurant analytics startup in 2018 since it provides restaurants and bars with customer satisfaction intelligence, helps them understand their customers needs better, and quickly highlights the areas that need attention.

Spoonshot - Future Plans

Spoonshot has over 40 companies testing its FMCG trends platform; this platform is currently in beta stage. 15 of these are companies are worth billions of dollars.

Spoonshot's plan for the remainder of 2019 is to complete its beta program and publicly launch the platform. In 2020, Spoonshot is planning to scale the business in the following ways:

  • Launch new features (as demanded by its customers).
  • Launch new markets (countries being evaluated include the UK, Japan, and China).
  • Launch a version of the platform designed for large restaurant operators.
Author image

About Chayanika Goswami

Chayanika is an MBA in Finance and a trained Digital Marketer. SEO and content writing are her hobbies turned profession. She is a rover. In her free time, she loves traveling and cracking jokes.