Say Hello To Maestro: The Keurig Of Fresh Food
Keurig has changed the way people think about coffee, streamlining the experience to make it simpler than ever before. Just pop in a coffee pod, press a button, and within minutes you’ve got a perfect cup of Joe. But what if the same principles could be applied to food?
Chicago startup Maestro is taking on that challenge with a new countertop appliance that turns raw ingredients into a complete meal, all by itself. Using it is actually quite similar to using a Keurig coffee maker: you buy ingredient pods called M-Pots, which contain fresh, raw ingredients; drop each pod into one of Maestro’s three compartments; and after 10–30 minutes, enjoy a delicious, perfectly prepared meal—no prep or cleanup required. Welcome to the future.
Behind Maestro are co-founders David Rabie and Bryan Wilcox. David (CEO) recently graduated with his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he worked part-time for Foundation Capital, ran the Entrepreneurship club, and interned at Google for the summer. Before attending Booth, David co-founded Draftpedia, a mobile sports encyclopedia app that ultimately failed but gave him a taste for technology and the startup ecosystem. Bryan (CTO) is the founder and president of The Product Manufactory, a product development firm in Champaign, IL, where he has worked on projects with similar demands in the realm of packaging and IoT. Going forward, he’s likely to transition from running The Product Manufactory into a full-time role at Maestro. Bryan finished his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Illinois in 2011, and he has has since gained industry experience at General Electric, Northrup Grumman, and John Deere.
“Demand for fresh, healthy food is skyrocketing just as Americans are more pressed for time than ever before,” David tells me. “Many solutions have arisen to address this problem, including meal delivery services (e.g., Sprig, Munchery, GrubHub), ingredient delivery services (Blue Apron, Plated), fast casual restaurants (Chipotle), and smart cooking tools (Nomiku, Flatev). But as of today, if you want to enjoy a complete, fresh, home-cooked meal without cooking or cleaning, you’ll have to hire a private chef. That’s where Maestro comes in.”
Maestro will make use of food partners—starting with grocery delivery service Peapod and specialty grocer Mariano’s—to source, prepare, and package ingredients before stocking or delivering M-Pots to customers.
Each M-Pot is fitted with a barcode that tells Maestro exactly how to cook the food—by baking, boiling, or steaming—and for how long. Within half an hour, you’ve got a hot and ready meal waiting for you—and thanks to the disposable M-Pots, cleanup is a breeze.
Maestro participated in Booth’s New Venture Challenge, which has risen to prominence thanks to the success of GrubHub and Braintree, both of which also came out of the program.
“It was about a 6-month process that winnowed 90 companies down to 30 and then down to 10 and finally down to one winner,” says David. “And we took our business from just an idea to a well refined business model, a prototype, awesome partnerships with Mariano’s and Peapod, lots of data from potential customers and even some deposits.
“The actual day of the presentation was one of the highlights of my academic career. We spent weeks preparing to present to a panel of 25 judges, made up of successful entrepreneurs, VCs and businesspeople. We prepared a meal in our machine during the event – and we served food to all the judges. Fortunately, they liked it! And they liked our pitch. So we walked away with a $70,000 prize and a ton of momentum going into the summer.”
Maestro will officially launch in 9–12 months in Chicago, which will help the company test its assumptions and gather data and feedback. After that, David says they plan to raise additional capital to start manufacturing Maestro at scale.
The machine itself will cost $300–400. Meals, which consist of three M-Pots, will cost $9–13.
I asked David about his goals for the future, and he said he likes to take Maestro one day at a time and enjoy the ride. “I found an amazing co-founder and CTO and am relishing the experience of working with someone that has true technical chops. While fundraising can be a slog, it also offers the opportunity to meet with some amazingly smart, experienced and unique people. So I’m doing my best to learn as much as I can throughout the fundraising process. Big picture, my goal is to get beautiful Maestros on countertops across the country and find ways to not only serve tasty and healthy home-cooked meals to people, but to make them affordable and accessible for the masses.”
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