The dark horse rises: On-demand food sleeper Gobble attempts its comeback

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 3, 2014

From The News Desk

Back in the dark ages of the on-demand food sector, in the years before Munchery ever delivered a single meal or SpoonRocket perfected its ten minute delivery method, there was another.

Gobble, the original marketplace matching independent chefs to potential consumers – er, diners – chugged along quietly in the bowels of the Peninsula. Unlike the companies that came afterwards, Gobble elected to launch in the spread-out Bay Area suburbs of San Mateo and Sunnyvale instead of the more densely populated urban cities of Berkeley and San Francisco.

It raised a modest sum of money — $1.2 million according to Crunchbase — and went about its business without making much ado about, well, anything. As startups are wont to do, its business model slowly evolved and Gobble began to own more and more of the steps in the marketplace it had built. It narrowed down the number of chefs it worked with, selected a few, and streamlined its packaging and delivery process so the Gobble experience was more consistent for customers. In the past three months, Gobble began sourcing its own ingredients that it would deliver to the few chefs it continued working with, ensuring an even higher quality product.

And from the sleepy suburbs of Palo Alto, Gobble founder Ooshma Garg sat and watched the on-demand meal space explode around her. Newer entrants like Sprig and Spoonrocket launched in San Francisco, with flashy chefs and boatloads of funding. Older competitor Munchery topped of its war chest as well, moving into Seattle. It was clear that the tech-enabled, restaurant-in-the-cloud, full stack meal service, or whatever the hell you want to call it sector, had come of age. Gobble was no longer safe puttering about on the Peninsula with its paltry funding and ever-evolving business model. Soon, once the San Francisco market was underhand, its competitors would inevitably move to challenge it in the South.

(Side note: I think I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones.)

Today Gobble announces its relaunch. After returning to private beta a few months ago, the company has emerged with new branding and further refined operations. It now has some kitchen space of its own for a handful of its chefs — although others work out of their own spaces — and it’s focusing solely on ethnic cuisine. It’s also expanding to Santa Clara and Cupertino, hoping to build a customer base there before its competitors realize that people in the suburbs need to eat too.

“Gobble is built first for families,” Garg says. “And more families are in the suburbs.” In that sense, Gobble’s biggest competitor in the on-demand meal space is Munchery, which also targets families. Both companies have a much wider range of daily meal options — fitting when targeting families of picky eaters — than Sprig and SpoonRocket’s two to three choices — a model that seems more appealing to young professionals looking to make fast choices. Munchery and Gobble also require their customers to order hours in advance — as families are wont to do — whereas Sprig and SpoonRocket boast 15 minute delivery times.

On the one hand, its impressive that the company has survived this long. It was, arguably, one of the earliest entrants to the space and the amount of capital it raised was a pittance compared to its (numerous) successors. By the straps of Garg’s boots and the cash of its customers, Gobble managed to keep plugging along through pivots and adjustments for three years.

But Gobble has an uphill battle ahead of itself still. It’s never a good thing when your competitors have raised somewhere $10 million to $38 million more in venture than you. It gives them the power to undercut you on price, eating the costs until they drive you out of business. It gives them more wiggle room to make mistakes with new operational experiments. It gives them the speed to expand to new markets ahead of you, building a loyal customer base before anyone there has heard your name. It forces you to be operationally excellent.

Garg knows all that. One of the critiques I levied at her was that Gobble’s business model, as it stands, seems remarkably convoluted to scale. It has chefs in their own kitchen spaces all over the suburbs, which means sending photographers to take pictures of food and delivery people to pick up meals in different locations. It sources its own ingredients from a list of suppliers that chefs order from for their Gobble meals. It’s all remarkably complex, and, well, analog.

“While I would dream of getting the space or the resources of our competitors, it’s exciting we’ve come a long way without the funding,” Garg says.

Lastly, it may be too late in the game for Gobble to raise additional funding. Investors are already getting skittish about on-demand meal startups, feeling that the space has become over saturated. In fact, the one other notable company that had yet to raise venture — Chefler — ultimately failed to do so and had to pivot as a result.

But Garg isn’t worried. Undisclosed existing investors in Gobble have made significant follow on investments since the last reported round in 2011, she adds. 

“I think the truth is that great companies get funded,” Garg says. “Right now we absolutely have enough fuel to open a few more cities which is really exciting.”

[Image via Flavoryoucansavor]