Skip to main content

Help, I made a $57 million garbage food startup monster

Help, I made a $57 million garbage food startup monster


Diary of a disgusting person

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

I'm Nitasha. I'm disgusting. I order weird food from an app because I don't want to leave my apartment. Today the San Francisco-based company behind that app, Sprig, announced that it raised $45 million in venture capital, bringing its total funding to $57 million. I feel like I should apologize for my role in this latest round of financing, but chances are I'm not going to stop.

My first Sprig order happened last November after I complained to a fellow New York City transplant about the lack of inexpensive and non-greasy delivery options here. Girl, just order Sprig, she said. It'll be there in 15 minutes, she said. You can get a salad, she said. This is how it starts. Six months later, I have spent $423.81 on items like Bagel & Lox ($12), Coriander Steak Salad ($11), and Goat Cheese Tart and Tomato Soup (served warm, $9).

That total does not include regular or "dynamic" delivery fees, Sprig's pet name for surge pricing. Not because those fees don't stack up, but because I signed up for Sprig Go, a premium service that charges $10 per month to avoid delivery fees and rush prices. Ordinarily the word "premium," or even "prime," wigs me out, but $10? It seemed so small. So reasonable. Especially compared to the rate at which Bacon Bourbon Chicken Sandwiches ($11.75) were arriving at my door just before the 2PM lunch cut-off.

An asshole tax should be levied upon me

What makes Sprig different from other food delivery apps? Nothing, really. The apps all benefit from beautifully shot food porn. Little labels indicate whether an item is spicy, gluten-free, or, God help us, "paleo-friendly." At first, it seemed less luxe than Munchery, with its cashmere-clad couples by the fireplace. Sprig is certainly cheaper than Postmates, the Uber Black of takeout indulgences, which can easily double the price of a burrito delivered from a few blocks away. No judgments! An asshole tax is perfectly ethical and should be levied upon me.

Sprig was just easy. The food arrived so quickly it seemed like couriers must be driving around the Mission just waiting for my click. (Sprig has its own kitchens in San Francisco and Palo Alto.) I began to converse shamelessly with the smartphone app, always rating the delivery person as excellent, but sometimes complaining about the meals. The food was strange, but it was ours. We were in a domestic relationship. The app even wrote me back.

All was good in my hood, except for the great lox-and-cream-cheese travesty of February 27th. Never, no matter how homesick you are, order lox from a startup. Then Sprig began offering dinner and brunch. It was hard not to notice that chicken pieces in dinner entrees were cut the same as the ones from lunch, but served with different glops of vaguely ethnic sauce. Lunch came in clear plastic containers that snapped open. Dinner came in a recyclable brown container, which I suspected was leeching cardboard particles into my food.

How did I justify this to myself?

And yet, I continued ordering. How did I justify this to myself? Not well. The whole enterprise seemed unscalable. There's no way this setup would work in every neighborhood in San Francisco, much less outside the Bay Area. Profitless-on-purpose only gets you so far — unless you raise $45 million in venture capital dollars from Social+Capital and Greylock Partners. That's $10 million more than DoorDash, which raised $35 million last month at a $600 million valuation. And it's $35 million more than SpoonRocket, which raised $10 million last year.

Fifty-seven is a lot of millions. You can seriously undercut the competition while staying profitless — all because investors believe other people will soon behave as mindlessly as early adopters like me. Now I stand, Daenerys Targaryen pressed against the catacombs, wondering what rough beast I have raised, knowing I will have to use it in the food wars to come. Like lunch today, for instance, which arrived in seven minutes. It was alright with me.