On-demand is the name of the game in today’s world, and that goes for our stomachs just as much as our wallets. The total on-demand food market has seen investment dollars pass a billion, but the market is not even close to penetration — despite the increase of online food ordering services, meal kit delivery companies, and tech-enabled food services, the number of consumers using these companies grows every day.
Corporate clients are also jumping into the race for convenience in the pursuit of the ultimate prize: top talent that not only wants to work for the company, but wants to stay. More than half of employees say food perks would make them feel more valued, and that sharing meals with colleagues would help foster better relationships.
Atlanta-based Sifted is seeing major success in filling this gap. Founded by Jess Legge and Kimberly Lexow, who met while working at a health tech company, the service treats corporate lunch delivery like a SaaS model — companies like Rigor, QGenda, and SalesLoft in Atlanta and Warby Parker, Eventbrite, and Lyft in Nashville pay an annual membership fee based on number of employees and catering schedule. This number-crunching approach to food has helped Sifted see massive growth in a short period of time — since they pitched at Venture Atlanta last October, they have opened in two new markets (Austin and Denver) and are exploring several more.
Much of the growth can also be attributed to Sifted’s Atlanta lead, Abby Henderson. With the background and training of a stats-driven CPA, but the creativity of an entrepreneur that grew a food-based Instagram account to over 12K followers, Henderson is the epitome of the unique combination of numbers and nimbleness that has made Sifted successful.
Henderson was recently promoted to COO of Sifted, the only “Chief” title on the team. Lexow says they didn’t intend to hire a COO, but Henderson’s dedication and experience naturally led to her stepping into the role.
“We write the job description and budget a salary for a new role only after someone has been doing that job plus the job Sifted pays them to do. It makes the role and the candidate obvious,” Lexow said. “Abby has been operating as the COO from early in her career with Sifted. She’s fearless and comfortable doing things for the first time. We promoted her when her other job, the one we paid her to do, was interfering with the game-changing work she could do.”
“When we close our eyes, we can’t imagine doing this without her,“ said Legge.
Between running current operations and planning Sifted’s world domination — they plan to be in 10 cities by the end of the year! — Henderson chatted with Hype about how this former Big Four accountant moved into startup life, how her Instagram side project helps foster her creativity, and how she felt about her new job title. In her words, “Terrified, thrilled, and energized.”
What is your background?
I am a right-brained CPA. I spent four years with PriceWaterhouse Cooper auditing an international aluminum manufacturer. For an analytical, logical thinker and a born over-achiever, it was the perfect place to start my career. After three years in public accounting, my expressive, creative side and a long, passionate love affair with food inspired the launch of allaboutthat_atl, an Instagram account dedicated to “Food + Things.”
It started as an excuse to stage photoshoots of avocado toast, poke bowls, and ramen and became something that fed my soul and woke up my right brain. Other people liked it too — 5,000 people started following the account in the first 5 months.
The training at a Fortune 500 company and the responsibilities and exposure I received at such a young age taught me discipline, client focus, and how to process and analyze diverse information fast. My Instagram side project taught me to just start and let go of the outcome. I needed both to get to where I am today.
Why did you decide to leave the corporate world and join a startup? And why Sifted?
Joining a startup was not pre-meditated. My career with PwC was taking off and I was given the opportunity to move to Europe with the company, but visa restrictions changed everything. All of a sudden, my husband and I weren’t moving to Switzerland in a month and I was left curious and eager to try something different. I had no idea how to make that leap or even what I wanted to leap toward.
That’s when my husband called. He had just met Sifted’s co-founder, Kimberly. She had just sold their concept of lunch as a perk to his company. Before leaving the office, she asked Logan if he knew anyone just like him who would be interested in joining her team. He did.
I am food obsessed and incredibly hardworking. Working for a startup in the food space was the perfect marriage of passion and ability.
Was the transition into startup life difficult?
I am no stranger to working as long and as hard as it takes to get the job done. I’m used to being on a team of go-getters, and Sifted’s small office at ATV is actually an upgrade from a lot of the audit rooms I’ve been in!
A big difference is the amount of resources available and the absence of a clear roadmap. Sifted is self-funded which means we don’t have deep investor pockets to reach into. Sifted’s 400 percent year-over-year top-line growth is balanced with a disciplined focus on margins. While funded competitors are growing despite negative unit economics, Sifted has created the most cost-efficient model in the space. I like that discipline even if the constraints mean hard decisions and daily challenges.
At Sifted, I’m empowered and energized. Most people would call me “type A” and I take that as a compliment. I have found my place among a team of highly passionate, creative thinkers.
How have you contributed to Sifted’s rapid growth since joining the team?
My job is making it possible for Sifted to move faster than ever before. When I started, we were just launching our second city. While we knew what worked in one market, we hadn’t repeated it yet. Processes weren’t fully documented and our models were just in their initial phases. I rebuilt our entire internal operations which meant we could launch markets three and four in half the time. Fast forward to now, I’m busy poking holes in our models as we gear up to more than double our markets.
What has been the most exciting moment for you at the company thus far?
We always joke that one month at a startup is like a year in an established work environment. So even though I’ve been with Sifted for less than a year, we’ve made some serious progress and there are a lot of exciting moments to choose from.
Last quarter, we doubled the business while seeing our strongest financials yet. On top of that, we added some of the country’s most innovative brands to our client roster. On a daily basis, we’re invited into the offices of some of the smartest companies and we’re given the chance to forge meaningful, genuine relationships with their staff. There aren’t many companies who are invited back stage at Eventbrite, Artifact Uprising, Box, Lyft, and Quantcast.
How does your creativity play into this role?
We are in a fast-moving, real-time work environment. As a result, we’re often solving big challenges on the fly. It takes a creative, out-of-the-box thinker to succeed at a company that combines food, delivery, and client services. All three of these elements of our business are prime for disruption, and the level of complexity can be daunting.
My creativity is being tapped regularly. I help the chefs in designing menus, I support the logistic team as they route hosts, and I’m the go-to when someone needs a witty food pun. Sifted has taught me to think fast and be creative in the moment.
What tools and/or productivity hacks do you find essential for the job?
Slack is open on my computer and phone all day. With thousands of miles between us and a need to communicate in real-time (hot empanadas will not wait), Slack is the tool we introduce day one to new team members.
On a personal level, coffee keeps me going, exercise keeps me grounded, and All About That forces balance. A frequent post schedule and sponsors means I need to be actively trying new restaurants and meeting new chefs. As a result, I eat out with my husband 5+ times a week. It forces a break and makes space for my personal relationships. A healthy mix of work and personal time is imperative to my productivity and creativity.
What are your goals for Sifted?
We want to create something that lasts. And, that’s only possible if every part of the business is sustainable. Since day one, we’ve been focused on the balance between rapid growth and profitability, and delivering an experience that extends far beyond the lunch hour despite resource constraints.
We will continue these practices as we grow faster than we have in the past. We’re making plans to expand into new markets while refining our current product. Our emphasis on sustainability will be central to our growth strategy as we look for new ways to source raw ingredients, reduce waste and innovate around on composting and donations.
All of this will take continually disrupting the current food system. We’re not OK with the status quo and we’re intent on pushing change that will make in-office lunches the most exciting and the most environmentally responsible choice for staff and companies alike.
What exciting things should we look from the company in the future?
Without saying too much, we’re working on a partnership that will change the lunch hour forever.