Betting on bots

Houston farmers market food truck introduces AI technology, plans to expand

The Grit Grocery truck at Market Square. Photo by Philip Emerson

Grit Grocery, a farmers market food truck with a mission to make fresh foods accessible, is taking that accessibility one step further.

Facebook users can now interact with Grit with just a few taps on Facebook Messenger. The tool launched this month.

"Most people would develop a mobile app, but this is our alternative to an app," one of Grit's founders, Dustin Windham, says. "There's a lot of research around app fatigue — people don't want to download yet another app — but over a billion people already have access to Facebook Messenger."

Users can use the chat bot to see where the truck is, the hours, and order meal kits.

"You interact via text message, which is really the future we feel of business-customer communication," Windham says.

In addition to this new tool, Grit plans on bringing a second truck to Houston by January. The second truck will help the grocer enter new neighborhoods around Houston. With the expansion, he hopes to hit the Heights and Acres Homes — a lower income community that's been identified as needing affordable and accessible groceries.

"We partner with the city with the Complete Communities initiative. They've identified five pilot neighborhoods — low income, food desert areas," Windham says. "Our goal is to get a truck in each of those neighborhoods."

Grit is already in three Houston neighborhoods — Downtown, EaDo, and the Museum District — once or twice a week. The second truck is just the first of many plans for growth, Windham says.

"The goal is to flesh it out and expand," Windham says. "[We want to have] at least 10 different trucks in 20 to 30 neighborhoods to prove that it works and take this to other Texas cities, then across the southern U.S. — fast growing cities that have challenges like Houston."

Grit's bread and butter is making easy, accessible, and locally sourced meals at an affordable price. The meal kits have been a big success for the truck — fresh ingredients ready to cook or assemble for just around $15 or less for two servings. While several meal delivery companies like Blue Apron are doing something similar, Grit provides local, fresh foods without a pricey subscription plan that comes with a lot of packaging. With Grit, you can pick up dinner for tonight, as well as any other snacks or groceries you'll need.

The original idea for Grit came when Windham was in the Peace Corps and living in Azerbaijan. He shopped more frequently and bought smaller volumes and cooked everything from scratch.

"It was eye opening to see this different way of eating," Windham says. "I got back to the United States after living abroad for two years with the knowledge of how to eat healthier, but it was difficult to do. These big box stores are designed for buying large volumes of food every week or every two weeks."

Grit operates on a much smaller scale.

"Another thing is the typical grocery store has 30,000 products. We have about 300," Michael Powell, one of the other founders, told CultureMap. "You can step up and see everything we have to offer. Simplifying the process, I think that's where we have something to offer."

Grit Grocery first opened in April and was founded by Windham, Jamal Ansari, and Emily Jaschke, head of communications. Windham and Ansari, both Rice University MBAs, had been working on the idea for Grit a few years prior to launch. Powell, who has a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and has done extensive research into the way people shop for groceries, joined the team last year.

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Building Houston

 
 

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss tech optimizing after-life planning, B-to-C startup challenges, and a national expansion. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Anyone who's ever lost a loved one knows how stressful the process can be. Not only are you navigating your own grief, but you're bombarded with decisions you have to make. And if that loved one wasn't prepared — as most aren't — then the process is more overwhelming than it needs to be.

On top of that, Emily Cisek realized — through navigating three family deaths back to back — how archaic of a process it was. Rather than wait and see if anything changed, Cisek jumped on the market opportunity.

"I just knew there had to be a better way, and that's why I started The Postage," Cisek, co-founder and CEO of the Houston-based company, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "My background had historically been in bringing offline businesses online, and I started doing some research on how I could make this space better. At the time, there really wasn't anything out there."

The tech-enabled platform allows users of all ages to plan for their demise in every way — from saving and sharing memories when the time comes to organizing pertinent information for the loved ones left behind. And, as of last month, users can no generate their own last will and testament.

"We launched the online will maker — it wasn't in my roadmap for another six months or so — because every single person that was coming in was looking at something else on our platform, but then going to the will part and asking, 'Hey is this something I can create here?'" Cisek says.

Recognizing that this was a good opportunity to generate new users, Cisek quickly added on the feature for a flat $75 fee. Then, members pay $3.99 a month to be able to edit their will whenever they need to and also receive access to everything else on the platform.

Cisek saw a huge opportunity to grow with the pandemic, which put a spotlight after-life planning. The silver lining of it all was that more people were discussing after-life planning with their family members.

"We're having more open dialogue about life and end-of-life planning that I don't see any other scenario really bringing that to light," she explains. "In some ways, it's been positive because having the conversation with people has been easier than it had been before."

While anyone can access The Postage's platform, Cisek says she's focused on getting the word out nationally. Following some imminent funding and partnerships, national marketing and growth campaigns are on the horizon.

Cisek shares more on her career and he unique challenges she faces as a B-to-C entrepreneur on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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