INTERVIEW WITH FOXTROT CO-FOUNDER MIKE LAVITOLA
LaVitola had his aha moment during a ski trip last year with his co-founder Brian Jaffee. The two grumbled about how smartphones enable you to get things like movie tickets or taxis within seconds, but there wasn’t a product out there allowing you to order the food and drinks you consumed every day and have them delivered quickly and easily.
Over the next few months, the two set out to build such a product and enlisted Taylor Bloom as a third co-founder to head up the technology side of Foxtrot. The three founders haven’t looked back, and now hundreds of Chicagoans are getting everything from Goose Island craft beers to John Wayne Organic Beef Jerky delivered right to their doorstep thanks to Foxtrot’s sleek and simple iPhone app.
Convenient delivery of food and drinks is certainly not uncharted waters for startups, as numerous companies have tried and failed to service this need in the past. Mike and his fellow co-founders firmly believe they have built Foxtrot in a way that will enable it to succeed where others have failed. “The technology at the time just wasn’t ready,” LaVitola insists, “but we feel that the proper technology has finally caught up to the demand.” Additionally, the Foxtrot team recognizes that while order minimums and delivery fees can be irritating, they are critical to supporting the business model.
Going forward, LaVitola envisions Foxtrot becoming a more socially ingrained experience for its users. Watching the Bears game on Sunday with some friends and want some beer and chips? With a few clicks and swipes right from your couch, Foxtrot will have your gameday necessities delivered to you in less than an hour and allow you to split the cost amongst your friends. Download the Foxtrot app here and start figuring out what your going to do with all the time this service is going to save you.
It is tough, but the benefits of being at a great school like Booth [University of Chicago] definitely outweigh the cons of not being there. So much of grad school is all about meeting companies, finding what you want to do, and recruiting. So for me, all the time I would’ve spent going to dinners and coffee chats and all that kind of stuff I’ve put into Foxtrot.
Once you show your school that you are serious about this and that there is a viable business here, there’s a ton of resources at your disposal. We went through the New Venture Challenge at Booth in the spring, and they have connected us with a ton of VCs and mentors helping us out with our business plan. It’s a very nice bubble of entrepreneurship that they provide. If it wasn’t for that great support system, there is no chance that we would be where we are.
Q: Were there any assumptions that you made about Foxtrot that you had to re-evaluate?
Absolutely. Our initial business plan was to control the whole experience; we wanted to warehouse our own goods, have our own delivery drivers and when we gave that initial presentation and everyone in the room was like ‘absolutely not’. After that, we talked to some people and realized if this is something we want to get up and running, we should find the right partners and just focus on the technology and marketing. Having a laser focus on how to test your business model with the least amount of capital was very important and helpful.
Q: How did you meet your co-founders?
So there are two other co-founders beside myself. Brian Jaffee is a friend that I met in business school and we started kicking this idea around in the fall and winter and then got serious about it in the spring. Taylor Bloom, is our developer and a very good friend I met down in Austin, TX who just graduated with his Masters in Computer Science in May. He saw the vision, has been on board, and has been very instrumental.
Q: So Taylor has technology covered, how do you delegate the rest of the business activates between yourself and Brian?
He and I shared similar responsibilities in the beginning, anything that needed to get done one of use would just claim it Over the 6-8 months we’ve been working together, we found that he’s better at some things and I’m better at some things.
I’ve taken on more of a marketing and partnership creation role. Meanwhile, he has taken on more of an operational and finance role. I have a bunch of ideas I want to get out there and go 100 MPH, but he helps us to slow down and think things through all the implications of a decision. All in all, it’s been a great partnership between the three of us.
Q: Did you know this was a route you always wanted to take in terms of your career?
I think in a perfect world I always wanted to start my own company and be an entrepreneur, but at the same time I realized that you can’t just wake up one day and say I’m going to be an entrepreneur, you have to have an idea. I’ve always been on the lookout for an idea I was passionate about. I think a lot of entrepreneurs start companies that they’re kind of passionate about and end up fizzling because you’re going to spend every waking moment trying to get this thing to work, and if its something you don’t care about it wont work. Coming to business school, I was looking out for opportunities, but ultimately thought I would end up in private equity. I’ve worked in that field before and it is a great way to see all the different aspects of a business. Brian was the same way, and it just so happened that when this idea came about we were both excited about and it kept building some positive momentum.
Q: Have there been any interesting patterns of trends of customer purchases?
When we first started we thought our alcohol sales would be the vast majority of what we were doing. While they are a big part of our orders, we have an awesome ice cream selection we get from Jenis and Graeters and people love that. People love the local products were selling, especially Glazed and Infused donuts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s been a big selling point to find local partners with awesome products and giving them an avenue to display what they have and introduce customers to new and interesting products.