Food delivery is a rapidly growing billion-dollar industry that makes it easy for anyone to enjoy their favorite foods without leaving home. But when you’re a college student on a tight budget, food delivery can be unaffordable due to all of the fees you pay on top of your meal.
Recognizing that food delivery is expensive, UCI award-winning startup Foodpool has stepped in to provide low-cost food delivery for UCI students. Foodpool was founded by four juniors: computer science majors Patrick Wang and Arthur Lafrance, computer science and engineering major and mathematics minor Sanghyun Byun, and computer engineering major and anthropology minor Kevin Xu.
“Foodpool’s goal is to provide a convenient and affordable option for college students to get food,” says Lafrance. “We deliver food from a single, carefully-curated restaurant every day, always at 12:30 p.m. for lunch or 6:30 p.m. for dinner, and we only deliver to on-campus dorms, ACC or UTC apartments.”
Students must order lunch by 11 a.m. and dinner by 5 p.m. Customers pay the cost of their food, tax and a $2 delivery fee (there are no service fees or menu markups), and tips are not expected. Foodpool’s business model is based on carpooling to keep deliveries cheap and carbon-friendly.
“The key is aggregation – we only accept orders at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. from a single restaurant each day; everyone’s order at each meal time is delivered by a single driver rather than having an individual driver deliver each person’s food,” says Xu.
Foodpool says their affordability is what gives them an edge over other food delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats, both of which include a variety of fees and markups that can add an extra $5-$10 to your meal. Byun says food delivery pricing is often intentionally confusing to mask the added fees, adding that Foodpool’s customers have expressed satisfaction with Foodpool because of how transparent the startup is about what they’re charging.
The ingenuity and intent behind helping the UCI community fuel their bodies without breaking the bank are why Foodpool placed second in the 2022 Butterworth Product Development competition hosted by ICS and received $6,500 in funding. The Butterworth competition recognizes student-developed software and systems that innovate, solve problems and make an impact on the marketplace.
Foodpool was also selected out of approximately 350 applicants to participate in the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship, an eight-week summer program that supports student entrepreneurship. They received a $5,000 grant from Blackstone.
“Blackstone was pretty unexpected for us. I was at the dentist’s office over spring break when I saw the email, and we all freaked out,” says Wang.
Wang adds that Foodpool almost did not participate in the Butterworth competition because they had decided to scrap the original iOS app that they had been developing for four months.
“After getting almost no users, we decided the app was a liability and we ditched it in order to test out ideas much quicker by hacking together more low-fidelity prototypes instead, which has actually been going really well,” says Xu.
According to Wang, abandoning the app was “the biggest challenge we faced as a company” due to how much work they had put into building it. The results from the Butterworth competition, however, proved it was the right decision.
“We spent a very stressful two days preparing what we thought of as a Hail Mary attempt to win by telling the judges why we decided to ditch our polished product for the low-fidelity prototypes, and it actually worked! Of the two [awards], I’d say Butterworth was more exciting just because it was much more of a rollercoaster than a sudden thing,” says Wang.
Foodpool’s primary customers are students who want a meal from a restaurant that is far from the UCI campus and students who are too busy to travel or cook for themselves, Lafrance says. The founders hope to expand their reach on the UCI campus and work closely with local restaurants moving forward.
“Now that we have some funding to work with, we’re planning to do actual marketing with Instagram and Facebook ads, which will be a big, but rewarding, learning curve for us,” says Byun. “Partnering with restaurants is another big next step since it’ll let us create an integrated ordering and payment system, and work out deals with restaurants to order in bulk at a lower price.”
— Karen Phan