BLUECART BLOSSOMS FROM GEORGETOWN’S MCDONOUGH
For Konstantin Zvereff and Jagmohan Bansal, the initial development of their now multi-million backed food supplier management platform, BlueCart, happened at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. While Zvereff was working towards his MBA, him and Bansal took on an operations project for salad-focused fast-casual chain, Sweetgreens. “They spent many, many hours sending phone calls, faxes, emails with all their vendors,” explains Zvereff. “And at the same time, were having to manage orders coming in using the exact same system. Phone calls, faxes, emails, text messages, messages through their website, it was a very fragmented communications channel.”
As a B-school project, Zvereff and Bansal set out to create an easier and more efficient communication chain. So they created Improvonia, a platform for restaurants and hospitality providers to connect and order from their suppliers. And then they began winning B-school competitions at Georgetown and globally, not to mention an interested industry. “At the end, we realized this was something more than just a business school project,” recalls Zvereff.
The duo graduated in 2011 and spent three years working full-time and developing Improvonia, which eventually switched to the name, BlueCart, on nights and weekends. At the time, Zvereff was working with small businesses and farmers in East Africa. Zvereff says during his time there, he was around more than 9,000 rural farmers.
“The farmers had abundant resources. They had access to land, water and labor but no access to technology,” Zvereff says, noting he watched small farmers unable to compete or sell their products because of large farms and corporations. “And they had a much better product that the large corporate farms,” insists Zvereff.
Zvereff found another need and development for BlueCart. “This cannot be a one-sided marketplace,” concedes Zvereff. “It has to serve the producers and the buyers.”
TAPPING IN ON UNTOUCHED ‘BACK OF THE KITCHEN’ SPACE
With that in mind, BlueCart launched and went live in July, 2014. In the first quarter of existence, Zvereff says they were hoping to get 16 restaurants on board. Instead, they had 159 restaurants sign on. “The second quarter, we wanted to get another 160 restaurants in our system and we got over 1,000,” says Zvereff. Currently, they have more than 4,300 restaurants and hospitality services on the platform and have raised $4 million in VC backing.
Everything from “little mom and pop restaurants to huge corporations” like Kaiser Permanente, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons are now using BlueCart, Zvereff says. While food delivery companies and services like Munchery, Instacart or Amazon Fresh have focused on the front of the kitchen, the backend of the kitchen has largely gone ignored, Zvereff believes.
“There’s been tremendous innovation in the front of the kitchen,” explains Zvereff. “Those are the companies that connect businesses with customers. But the back of the kitchen has been very neglected. All of the innovations in the front of the kitchen have essentially primed these technologies to work in the back of the kitchen. It has prepared them to use these technologies to address problems they’ve had.”
Restaurants can order anything from linens to microbrews to seafood from their suppliers on the platform. BlueCart differentiates itself form competitors like Sourcery or Chef Mode by providing the service for free. They make money by selling advertisements on the platform and will soon be unveiling a premium service that will come at a cost.