Fraternity Brothers Collaborate on Food-Tech Startup

Founded by four Cal entrepreneurs, Caviar expands its restaurant delivery service to the East Bay.

Caviar co-founders Andy Zhang (current student), Jason Wang '09, Richard Din '08, and Shawn Tsao '11

Q. What’s the backstory on the four UC Berkeley alumni who founded Caviar? How did this group come together?

Jason: Although we are all from different graduating classes at UC Berkeley, we all met within our fraternity on campus, Pi Alpha Phi. The four of us came together in May 2012 after creating another startup, Munch On Me, which was part of the summer 2011 batch of Y Combinator. Previously, Jason was at Google; Richard was at Electronic Arts; Shawn was a graduating senior studying architecture; and Andy was still in school studying EECS. It wasn’t planned at all when our group came together, but we all felt a sense of wanting to create something that would make a big impact. Food and restaurants in local economies are things we care deeply about. What better way to change the world than go after something we do multiple times a day, everyday? Since our entrepreneurial start, we’ve been working together for 3.5 years.

Q: You are already in SF, Seattle and New York. When can we expect Caviar in the East Bay or further afield?

Shawn: Caviar is actually serving Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland neighborhoods right now! Check it out at Caviar will also be available all over the Bay Area and other major cities in the very near future. Our goal is to be in every major metropolitan city in the United States by end of 2014. So far, we’re on track to do so.

Q: What’s the deal with so many Cal grads in the start-up food space?

Jason: We’re spoiled with great food in Berkeley. There are lots of amazing restaurants, featuring all different types of cuisines. We also have access to several grocery stores, so many of us have also experimented with cooking. Overall, food is a space that hasn’t been disrupted over the years and has a lot of room for innovation. With the recent proliferation of mobile devices and improvement of technology, it has paved the way for new food-tech startups.

Q: Tell us a bit about your role at Caviar and what's most rewarding about your work?

Shawn: My focus at Caviar is mostly operations, customer support, and graphic design, but I also help with expansion and recruiting. In a startup I have to be able to wear a different hat every day. I make sure that we maintain the best quality delivery service anywhere and ensure that all orders are delivered flawlessly. The best part of my day is when a customer lets us know how great his/her meal was and how our service has greatly changed his/her life for the better."

Q: How do you come to consensus/make decisions with so many founders?

Jason: The beauty is the make-up of our co-founding team. We all have different personalities and strengths, but we trust one another to make the right decisions. We also handle different areas of the business such that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes. Collaboration and open communication has helped us make decisions quickly. While we won’t always agree on certain issues, we always come back to the same question: “what’s the best for the company?” And when we frame our decisions in that manner, the consensus usually ends up being unanimous.

Q: What is it about Cal that prepares entrepreneurs differently? What can campus do more of to support budding entrepreneurs?

Andy: At Cal you have the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people in varying disciplines who are stronger, faster, and smarter than you. Much more often than not, they're willing to share their knowledge and experience with you, broadening your world view and pushing back your threshold of what you believe to be "impossible." I believe this collaboration is essential to building an entrepreneurial mindset.

As awesome as things are already, campus can do an even better job of publicizing available resources for entrepreneurs such as the Lester Center and various student-run groups. It's unfortunate that I actually had no idea the Lester Center existed even after building Munch On Me and starting work on Caviar, and I'm sure other students also experience this problem.

Q: What have you carried from your Berkeley experience to your work in innovation/technology?

Richard: Besides technical knowledge, one important experience carried over is group-work and the ability to function and lead within a team. It doesn’t matter how smart a person is if they cannot function effectively within an organization.

Q: Looking back, what would you have done differently at Cal, or what programs/activities/etc. would you have taken advantage of?

Richard: I would have done fewer summer classes and would have either spent time interning or working on my own entrepreneurial projects. I believe summer is a perfect time to get out-of-school experience and can help tremendously with post-graduation plans, whatever they may be.

Q: What's the most challenging aspect about Caviar? What keeps you up at night?

Richard: The most challenging aspect of the business is that there’s always more to do, and always ways we can improve. Competitors keep us on our toes, and so too do our customers. At night, it is difficult to have the desire to sleep when things can be done to move the company forward. It’s impossible to ever feel satisfied when so much more can be accomplished.

Q: What do you do as a hobby/activity which might surprise folks?

Andy: I build computer rigs that mine crypto-currencies such as Dogecoin and have been following the crypto-currency community for a few years now. The process revealed many technical and practical aspects of engineering and economics and has been enlightening in terms of picturing just how quickly new technologies and markets can move. I also love running, biking, and bouldering.