YC posted a list of top alumni companies by valuation, as of October 2018. You can see the full list at https://ycombinator.com/topcompanies.
Here’s a Q&A with Joe Ariel, cofounder of Goldbelly, one of the companies featured on the list.*
What does Goldbelly do?
We discover America’s most legendary local foods and ship them to your door anywhere, nationwide.
How many employees does Goldbelly have?
How many founders?
What is your most impressive recent product milestone?
Our technology and logistics management is now being used to power white label websites for some of the biggest names in the industry.
What is the larger impact / societal impact of your product in the space you work within?
We believe in the emotional power of food. So we’ve created a new type of experience that connects people with their greatest food memories, experiences and desires. Technology that empowers small mom and pop food makers across the country and inspires their passion.
As we’re becoming the online platform for the gourmet & specialty food industry, we’re transforming the landscape of the entire industry.
What’s an interesting element of Goldbelly’s company culture?
Food is obviously at the center of what we do. If you can’t name a list of foods that you are obsessed with, we can’t hire you. We also love quirkiness and interesting backgrounds — we have people on the team who were comedians, Broadway actors and professional athletes.
Looking back, what motivated you to start Goldbelly?
Goldbelly was founded on my passion for food. After leaving college in Nashville, TN I craved real down home southern food. I’m talking about buttermilk biscuits and ham, dry rub BBQ and pecan pie. There’s nothing like the real thing.
My cravings got so intense that I started calling in favors from some of the restaurants I knew. They’d throw some stuff in a box and ship them to me. When I started getting these deliveries, and I would open these boxes and smell these smells — I was instantly transported to a different time and place.
As I expected, the food was incredible but that wasn’t the eye opening part. What was eye opening were the emotions that I had opening that box and smelling those smells.
I realized that it wasn’t just about the food — it was the experience. It was emotional.
That is our secret sauce.
Is what you’re working on now the original idea or did you pivot?
Were there moments where you thought the company might die? Describe one of those and anything you learned from it.
Yes, in 2015 we were caught in the middle of what people eventually called the “series A crunch”. We had a choice: get profitable or die. We chose to get profitable.
What was a particularly important insight you had about your market that made your product work?
We realized that people have a deep emotional connection to food. We tap into that love.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with a young founder?
It’s easy to build a product that is just ok. It is really painful and grueling to build something that is amazing. You can’t settle. And that’s really, really hard. But the struggle can be magical if you realize that the obstacle is the way. In other words, that beating hundreds of challenges is a core part of the journey. Everybody would build their own business if it was easy. It’s not and that is what building a great startup is all about.
You need to take that approach on the product side, with employees you hire, and the investors you choose.