Venki Ayalur, Founder, President & CTO at Blendid, the startup transforming how and what we eat, one robot at a time. Passionate leader in building market defining, innovative technologies and products. Versatile in building, coaching and mentoring teams .
Venki Ayalur: We founded Blendid seven years back. I mean, we were a startup based out of, in Sunnyvale, California. I mean, at that point in time, we were thinking about automating food. We didn't exactly have smoothies in mind. So originally we, the concept came about thinking, I mean, at least my wishlist was we look at recipes, recipes have never been automated in humanity. Every person's recipes are, it's unique and they all bring their flavors and taste and everything. So I wanted to, I mean, automate recipes for a long time and got the idea in terms of, hey, with the robotics and automation taking place, it'll be great too, I kind of figured out how to automate it.
So I bought a robot and then built some automation. We made some Indian dishes and it looked great, and then we figured, okay, yes, this is doable, and then we'll start with Blendid. So once we formed the company, we were trying to think about, Hey, what is the first food to automate? Then we were bouncing around ideas and we came up with, Hey, let's automate smoothies, which is a big enough category overall to automate, and during the course of automation, we will solve a number of problems because food automation is tough and hard.
So, I mean, I think you mean just putting the system together. We'll learn a lot and, and then say that's how we started and then boom, pass forward seven years later. Here we are, we have a number of kiosks all over the United States. We are bringing, we have sold over a hundred thousand smoothies to customers and we are growing, and yeah, it's been a great journey.
Elisa Muñoz: Thank you so much for sharing, and I think it's a really great story. And, looking through the website, I noticed that you guys just launched Jamba by Blendid at the healthcare industry, those are great news
Venki Ayalur: When you talk about smoothies, the largest brand in the United States is Jamba. We've been making Jamba by Blendid kiosk since 2020, so it's been two years in the journey, and they've been a fantastic partner for us to work with. Yeah, it's going great.
Elisa Muñoz: Congratulations. What do you think these kinds of announcements (Collaborations for partnerships) mean for the company?
Venki Ayalur: I mean, ultimately we are building a product, right? Our product at this stage is Blendid, which is an autonomous robotic kiosk that makes smoothies and what we would like to, we are a technology company, right? We, what we would like to do is build the technology and we will partner with customers too. Take it to the marketplace, right? Our customers come in two flavors, right? So, you mentioned Jamba. So Jamba is a fantastic customer. They have the largest smoothie brand. We are happy to have them as our customers. And the second is the food service operator. Ultimately, we want to provide these technologies to our customers so they can serve food to people. I mean, we, we are the, in the path of growth and I mean any of, all of these opportunities are extremely helpful for us as a company too.
Elisa Muñoz: Talking about seven years ago, was it hard in order for you to find the product market fit?
Venki Ayalur: Yes. I mean, absolutely. Even though I think about food automation, it is really hard. There's a reason why it hasn't been done in centuries, right? I mean, there are smaller products that have come, right? But I think in terms of what we do, I mean, it's a, it's a fairly hard thing to do. There have been numerous challenges that we have had to battle. If you think about it, I mean, we market this all the time, right? We have an uptime that is 99.8%. Most of the time people can come and I mean, operate and keep delivering drinks and it's a very hard thing to achieve, right? No one is easy to create a prototype, but I think it's very, very hard to make a commercial product. It's been a lot of, I mean, a lot of learning, a lot of lessons. We know what, what we need not have done, but still, you have to go through the.
Elisa Muñoz: Talking with different Founders & CEO’s in the hardware industry, most of them are deeply involved in the procurement process. How close are you with this process at Blendid?
Venki Ayalur: Deeply involved. I mean, you look at the product that we have built, it is fairly big in size, right? It's eight feet by eight feet. There is the lot that goes into it from a hardware perspective. Our engineers design it. The way that we do it is we break the product into smaller subsystems. So you can kind of think of each one to be a component, right? So a robot is a component. Solid dispensing is a component. So we build each component with different vendors and we go through different procurements and eventually we put it, all our engineers put it all together and make it a, make it a product that it is. So yeah, I mean deeply involved. It's been quite exciting and I mean a fun experience.
Elisa Muñoz: Sounds about right, specially because you have an operations team and you probably are filled with engineers. And I think it's really interesting because most of the teams, (talking about different companies in the industry), organize through Google spreadsheets. They don't actually use a system. So how do you guys organize all of it?
Venki Ayalur: I think if you think about the team, it's both hardware and software. We kind of look at them together. I mean, when we talk about when full stack, I mean this is what I tell the team. A lot of times the full stack is used as a terminology and a cloud software operating system perspective. But in our case, the full stack is you build the cloud software, you build the app. Our mechatronics engineer is able to write the code to build the product. So I mean, it is a full stack system and managing the materials and then tracking it is always a challenge. Yes, Google Sheets are, I mean, Excel is always, is the best way to, to, to start for any company at, at a small scale.
But as we grow bigger, we start needing tools. A lot of our tools are homegrown and because I think it helps us work well together. I mean, we built some of these tools ourselves in terms of managing and tracking inventory and doing so. Yeah, I mean, when you talk about building technology and to scale, right? The, I mean, the way to do it is two things, right? You want to have good people and you wanna have good tools, right? So I mean, in our case, we are fortunate to have, we are using them effectively to, to get to where we are.
Elisa Muñoz: What about the next steps for the company? Are you guys planning on expanding?
Venki Ayalur: Absolutely. So we are, we are all at this to, to grow. And I mean, if we just look at the history of the company, right? We started, we had the, the, the first version we got live at University of San Francisco in 2019. And then the students allowed spectacular success. I mean, you would see kids waiting in line to order and get their drink. I mean, it was just a spectacular story. And then a pandemic took place, right? All of our go-to market locations got shut down, right? Then we, I mean we had to rethink ourselves, but actually we kind of use that opportunity to build a better product.
So I mean, because the original product before Pandemic was the first generation and we have since built two additional generations of it. It's a much better, much, I mean easier to operate product, what we have. And last year it was a fantastic year. We had, we had, we expanded three times in our class, multiple verticals. And this year it's more expanding on those verticals. Obviously we will be raising more funding. We have crowdfunding going on, investor funding going on, and I mean hiring. Yeah, this year we have really, really hoping. It's a big year for us.
Elisa Muñoz: Do you have any advice for our future entrepreneurs or people starting in the food tech industry?
Venki Ayalur: If you wanna be an entrepreneur, you gotta be passionate about it, right? I mean, because don't underestimate the level of struggles and the level of things that you go through. And if you are not passionate about what you're building, it's really, really hard, right? So I mean, I think, yeah, you have to love what you do otherwise, I mean, don't jump in, right? Yeah, I think that is fundamentally critical to become an entrepreneur. And the, the second advice that I give is, I mean things will go wrong, but just, I mean, we just take a look forward to make sure that, I mean, you, you have to keep your heads down at some time points in time and then just work through it because otherwise it just may not going to work out. Don't give up.
Elisa Muñoz: That was really inspiring, thank you so much Venki for being here with us.
Venki Ayalur: Thank you so much Elisa. Thank you so much Builder Nation for doing this. It's been a great conversation.