The year started off well for Blendid — we had just launched a new kiosk at Sonoma State University, our second location at a Bay Area university. We had a strong pipeline of colleges interested in bringing Blendid into their food service environments. Our team was thrilled to see momentum building for Blendid. Then COVID-19 happened.
As a startup based in the heart of Silicon Valley (and one of the first areas affected by COVID-19 in the US), we very quickly felt the impact of the pandemic. We had to pause operation in college cafeterias in mid-March, go back to the drawing board, and recalibrate our go-to-market strategy. It was a difficult time for our small company, and we really had to think outside the box in terms of how we could move forward.
Learning to adapt in the face of adversity
As a business leader, one of the greatest tests you’ll face is the ability to adapt. There will always come a time when you must re-think operations to meet a new reality and shift your plan for the future. Startups that are disrupting existing markets are always prepared for curve balls, but COVID-19 was unlike anything that we had imagined.
COVID-19 impacted everything we did. It presented challenges that required us to be agile, compassionate, and have the courage to tackle the unexpected head-on. And that’s exactly the approach our team pursued.
At Blendid, we took action in the early days after COVID-19 reached the Bay Area and halted our university-based kiosk operations. We substantially reduced our non-engineering expenses, and set up our engineering team so they could work remotely on engineering design, development, and testing without skipping a beat. Doing hardware development remotely isn’t easy, but we set up a truly distributed IoT cloud for food automation that included design, prototyping, software development, and testing.
We also took a hard look at our autonomous system (that was performing at 99.2% uptime right before the outbreak) and identified more innovation that would allow it to be provisioned for 99.9% uptime and completely contactless and contamination-free operation.
We spent months enhancing and optimizing our kiosk design and functionality while simultaneously exploring new avenues for growth. COVID-19 made food operations more challenging, and we saw an opportunity to better meet the needs of today’s consumer while addressing operator issues around cost and consistency in food preparation.
Providing support to our community
Despite undergoing our own challenges this year, my co-founders and I wanted to do our part to give back to our community during this trying time. We repurposed our 3D printers (which we typically use to print kiosk parts) to print ear savers for healthcare staff and essential workers. (Ear savers reduce the pressure and discomfort of wearing ear-loop face masks.)
We also put together a blend donation program and delivered safely made Blendid drinks to local healthcare facilities and community nonprofits. It was so gratifying to provide even just a moment’s respite for the many individuals working diligently to keep our community safe and allow essential services to continue operations.
Ramping up for 2021
In the last few months, we’ve hit some major milestones. We transitioned into mainstream retail, launching our first two locations at Bay Area Walmarts, including our first co-branded location with Jamba. These relationships had been in the making for a while, and our team was really excited about bringing them to fruition.
We also launched our next-generation kiosk — the industry’s first fully autonomous and completely contactless robotic food kiosk, from ordering to pickup. It’s visually stunning, more compact, and with a completely hands-free experience for consumers.
Achieving these milestones during the pandemic speaks to the hard work and resolve of the Blendid team. We are on a growth path again after a challenging few months, and that’s incredibly exciting to see. It’s our hope to make Blendid part of the solution for a future where everyone has access to healthy, fresh, and delicious food that’s better, safer, and hyper-personalizedfor them.
It’s been a challenging year, and I know we’re not in smooth sailing conditions just yet. But I encourage all of you to remain positive and think innovatively about what the future of your business could look like. COVID-19 has impacted all of us directly or indirectly, but we will get through this.
Thanks to the Blendid team and our amazing network of advisors and investors for banding together to support each other and our mission when we needed it most.
Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2021!
Vipin Jain is the CEO and Co-Founder of Blendid. Learn more about our team here.