Hubris? 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur Seeks To Reinvent $13 Trillion Grocery Industry
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
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When anyone seeks to reinvent the grocery business in light of both the wreckage left by WebVan and the presence of Amazon with Whole Foods in the market, it is hard to conceive success for a well-capitalized upstart. When the entrepreneur is a 24-year-old college dropout, the temptation to dismiss him grows. Chai Mishra is launching a consumer-owned cooperative to provide online groceries with confidence bordering on hubris, but backers including Y Combinator and the San Francisco 49ers are betting on his new platform, simply called Move.
Mishra sees two primary problems with the current food distribution business. First is unequal access to food. Second is the exploitation of food producers, especially smallholder farmers both in the U.S. and around the world.
He argues that the existing supply chain for food makes it unnecessarily expensive to consumers and rewards producers inadequately. He notes that coffee growers are paid as little as 7 cents per pound for raw coffee beans and consumers pay $15 per pound in stores.
Chai Mishra, founder and CEO of Move CREDIT: MOVE
“By taking out the middleman and the inefficiency in the supply chain, we’re making products more affordable for consumers, all while paying producers dramatically more,” Mishra says.
Tony Francis, CEO for Inokyo, an autonomous retail technology company, invested in Move. He is excited about the benefit to consumers. “For the first time, we have a system where someone in the deepest center of the worst food desert in America has access to the exact same food that’s available to someone in the most plush of food markets.”
“On the producer side, we live in a world where producers are routinely systematically oppressed by supply chains. This is not a light matter. Farmers around the world are one of the occupations with the highest rates of suicide and highest rates of depression truly across the world. Even in America producers are systematically oppressed by the value chain and they’re getting paid less than livable wages,” he adds.
He also hopes that by operating online and distributing across the country no one will be left out.
Have you ever wondered where your grocery money goes? “We’re building a supply chain that’s radically transparent: every member gets to see how much money the producer makes, how much goes to packaging and how much we make,” Mishra says.
The USDA provides data on where your food dollars go. You can see it here.
Perhaps the greatest innovation, however, is the cooperative structure he’s employing. To buy from Move, consumers will be required to pay a membership fee that will both give them access to the platform and entitle them to ownership.
He’s so set on the idea of consumer ownership, that he’s launched a crowdfunding campaign on WeFunder to raise money. So far, Move has attracted $115,006 of a $1,070,000 goal (the maximum allowed by the SEC in an equity crowdfunding campaign).
Mishra is excited about who’s backing the company. “If you look at who’s investing, these are people who live in cities and suburbs and rural areas. They’re working blue-collar jobs, white -collar jobs. They are working all the way from being a cashier at Wal-Mart to people who are private equity investors in New York. Truly, it’s got the kind of universal appeal that we were hoping for, but past that, it’s we’ve been able to unlock the same sense of the same feeling that we wanted people to feel.”
Francis, who is among those who invested via WeFunder, offers this conclusion, “I believe Move is doing something that other retailers can’t, won’t or don’t do. They’re making a value chain that increases access to better food, brings this access to everyone, and does so all while paying producers more than anyone in the industry.”
Having reimagined the grocery business from farm to table, it is now Mishra’s task to do it. It’s only hubris for him to believe he can if he can’t.
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