Startup mythology is a funny thing. Conventional wisdom says that more than 90% of startups are destined to fail. Yet more than 90% of startup coverage is about the 10% of companies that are said to have succeeded. Reams and reams of newsprint are wasted justifying why these companies did succeed but in most cases these justifications are prosaic and force-fitted. On the other hand, there is precious little coverage of the startups that didn’t make it. In those unwritten posts are hidden several far more valuable lessons and compelling stories that need to be told.
This is one such story.
The story of MonkeyBox.
MonkeyBox is a food-tech startup founded in 2015 by Sanjay Rao and Sandeep KN. The startup provides healthy vegetarian meals to thousands of school children in Bengaluru, directly delivering meal-boxes to the schools during their breakfast/lunch/snack time.
On the face of it, MonkeyBox seemed to have everything going for it.
It served a large market that had a real need for a product like this. Bengaluru alone has over a quarter million schoolchildren who could benefit from a convenient service like this that frees up parents from the hassles of wondering what food to pack for their children and worrying if the food was nutritious and tasty. If you extend the market footprint to other major cities in India where double-income parents and nuclear families are common, the potential market is easily in the millions. Before actually starting operations, the founders spent time diligently scoping the market and validating the value proposition with both parents and children.
“We spoke to a lot of parents. Every parent had the same issue—at 5 am I have to wake up and think about what to prepare. Kids will like to eat different varieties, they don’t want the same stuff which they get every day,’” Rao said.
MonkeyBox was also fairly well capitalized having raised over $2 million in funding from investors like Blume Ventures. It had also recently made not one but two acquisitions to bolster its offering—acquiring 75-In-A-Box, a corporate food delivery startup, and RawKing, a juicemaker startup.
In Bengaluru, not only did parents (and kids) rave about the service, the company seemed to have achieved significant traction: 200,000 meals served till date to 4,500 subscribers across 120 schools serviced by an employee base of 250 people working across five kitchens. Barely six months ago, Rao had claimed that “MonkeyBox has been doubling its revenue month-on-month and will turn profitable this October”.
Yet, on 22 March, MonkeyBox put up a post on Facebook announcing the suspension of its offering, informing its customers that 23 March would be the last day of services.