Improving the World,
One Bite At a Time
For Deepti Sharma Kapur '08, making the prestigious Forbes "30 Under 30" list was only the beginning
Imagine having an epiphany while standing on a food truck line. That’s what happened to Deepti Sharma Kapur ’08, who was mere minutes away from taking her Law School Admissions Test and looking for a little pre-exam nourishment to shore up her strength.
“Why am I standing in line?” she asked herself after 20 minutes passed and she still didn’t have her order. That’s when she decided she would forgo law school and put her Stony Brook education as a double business management and political science major to use, launching Foodtoeat.com, an online food ordering and delivery service for an aggregate of restaurants, food trucks, and food carts in New York City.
That was in January 2009. Last year Foodtoeat.com netted $300,000, and Kapur made the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which singles out the 30 biggest innovators and entrepreneurs who are under the age of 30.
Soon after she decided to launch her business, Kapur, who grew up in Flushing, New York, turned a trip to India into an opportunity to assemble a three-person entrepreneurial team of engineers. Building on that momentum, when she returned to New York City she hired five sales agents and account managers who would eventually work with 50 food trucks and 700 restaurants, 90 percent of which are based in Manhattan.
“There’s no company that does everything we do,” Kapur said. “We’re the first company to tap into taking food truck orders online. We offer a service in which it is much more straightforward ordering online than over the phone, where details such as menu items might be overlooked or miscommunicated.”
Customers input an address and zip code via smart phone or computer to find a food truck or restaurant in their neighborhoods and send them their orders.
Whether it’s something as complex as planning a menu for a wedding through a restaurant or ordering a simple bacon-and-egg sandwich at the corner bodega, Foodtoeat.com streamlines the ordering process and supports sustainability with its paperless system, Kapur said. She also said that many companies charge restaurants and caterers fees of 10 percent to 20 percent and try to make money off of the vendors.
“We’re community-friendly and don’t charge anything, so we’re not cutting into their already slim profit margins,” she said.
Kapur said she does not use paid advertising to spread the word about her business. Instead she relies entirely upon social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. “I tweet about anything and everything, including events we’re hosting, fun food occasions like National Pie Day, you name it,” she said.
What’s next for the company? Kapur said she is determined to grow Foodtoeat.com beyond its current New York City market, taking it to a national or even a global level. After that, she hopes to tap her background in political science to turn her entrepreneurial endeavor into a public service initiative and pursue a career in politics.
A lofty goal for sure, but no less ambitious than one of Foodtoeat.com’s missions — to assist the immigrant community and cultivate women entrepreneurs. She explained that in addition to the ordering and delivery service it offers, Foodtoeat.com teaches vendors — many from immigrant communities, some of whom lack a cell phone — how to use technology to engage customers and grow their own businesses. Another way Kapur lends a hand to start-ups is by serving on the board of directors for the Business Center for New Americans, which advises immigrants on how to raise money, keep their finances in line, and use technology to enhance their businesses.
In addition, Kapur has spoken at General Assembly classes and workshops, a Manhattan-based organization that offers courses in technology, business and design. She also plans to offer her services to Girls Who Code, a recently launched national nonprofit organization aimed working at closing the gender gap in the technology sector.
“My three concerns are all tied together, namely hunger, education and empowerment,” she said.
She explained that growing up “privileged” in America and traveling to India with her parents opened her eyes to the widespread poverty in that country. As a result, she considers herself fortunate to live in an environment with access to a nutritious diet. Now that her business is flourishing, she said, she is in a position to make a difference, hoping that other women will be able to follow their dreams — even if it means they get their start from an inauspicious place, such as waiting on a long line at a food truck.
“When you have a sound educational system with the right mentors to make your journey more enjoyable, that’s empowering. I am a strong advocate of a society where women realize that they can be anything they want to be — whether it’s a mathematician, engineer, programmer or entrepreneur,” she said.
By Glenn Jochum