Four MIT robotics-obsessed engineering students had a complaint. Then they got to work. The water polo teammates were united by a love and appreciation of delicious and healthy food, and a frustration that it cost $10 to $14, out of reach of their student budgets. They called on their combined smarts, curiosity, swagger tempered by humility, and, not knowing any better, built proof-of-concept robotic woks in their fraternity basement. They guessed at the email of Michelin-starred chef, Daniel Boulud, and sent him a video. Darned if he didn’t respond, hop a plane to take a look, and become an investor and their culinary director.
Two years later, Spyce Kitchen opened in Boston to a curious, welcoming, and discerning crowd of eaters, as they offered a show of robotics ingenuity, $7.50 customizable bowls of delicious cuisine from around the world, and expansion capital from the star-studded likes of Maveron, Collaborative fund, Khosla Ventures, and Boulud along a few of the best chefs in the world.
Teamwork makes the dream work
I spend quite a bit of time studying research and sharing what makes teams work. What I find and share, the Spyce Boys (Michael, Kale, Brady, and Luke) just do. Naturally. Seamlessly. Make no mistake, though, it’s not effortless — they’ve taken care to have clear roles that play to each of their strengths. Candor, humor, rigor, and a collective, very finely calibrated BS meter underscore communications and decision-making. They bring serious commitment and a shared vision to what they’re designing and building together, and care deeply about how they go about it. And, they do what they say — they can count on each other 100%. It’s powerful as all get-out.
Beyond stomachs and wallets and robots
What started as a quest for great food that didn’t drain the wallet quickly became something much bigger with tentacles into social justice and environmental stewardship — nourishment for all, living wages and better labor laws, work with dignity, training people for the future of work, sustainable sourcing, and reducing waste. In a start-up with the work demands of ten for every one person, Brady managed to launch Brady Bots, a youth education program. And, he has big plans for it.
After the launch of Spyce Kitchen, with over $21 million in the bank for expansion and an innate sense that it’s the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines where the boat goes, the four founders stepped back to establish a clear set of values, an inspiring mission, and a vision of greatness that would guide growth — to scale preserving authenticity.
As the founders set about creating a ten-year vision, a team representing all parts of the organization was formed to do the hard work of putting words to the values of Spyce. Talk about values in living color — Spanish translation was provided to make sure everyone could participate with an equal voice, and amidst the intense work demands, the team dug in and brought passion and dedication, knowing how important this would be to building a cathedral together.
The core, the “set of the sails,” is emerging and getting pressure tested. Mission-driven to enable more people to live fuller, healthier lives, the values that fuel this include: nurturing their diverse community, driving sustainability and accessibility, pushing beyond the status quo with imagination and grit, endeavoring together as a team, and growing and learning with drive and humility. With this foundation, Spyce can scale with humanity and authenticity to realize their detailed and inspiring vision of changing the way consumers experience restaurants, being a great place to work, and a company that is doing its part for our planet and its people. Stay tuned on this one!
As I provided just a little guidance to kick-start this work with the Spyce team, there I stood in the middle of it all thinking, “I get paid to do this?”
Spyce Kitchen, the robotics solution to great food at fast food prices, created by MIT engineers and water polo teammates Michael Farid, Kale Rogers, Luke Schlueter, and Brady Knight, opened its flagship fast-casual eatery in Boston last year to rave reviews. Featured in Forbes and The New Yorker, and on the Today Show, and Rachael Ray Show, precision robotic woks do all the cooking and plating of custom $7.50 bowls of delicious and healthy cuisine from around the world. With over $24 million in funding from Maveron, Collaborative Fund, and Khosla Ventures, Daniel Boulud, and other world-renowned chefs, Spyce is on a mission to enable more people to live fuller, healthier lives through better eating, better work, pay, and training, and responsible environmental stewardship. If you find yourself in Boston, don’t miss it. You’ll not only experience great food at great prices in the first robotics kitchen of its kind, you’ll also rub shoulders with curiosity seekers and discerning eaters from all parts.
Sunday Morning Reflection
What’s that idea inside you’ve toyed with? Maybe that bookstore fully equipped with an organic wine bar, community book talks, and a youth reading program?
If you didn’t know any better, what could you do?
Sunday Morning: 115