From Code to Carrots

By Lucinda Duncalfe, Wharton MBA 1991, Arts & Sciences BA’85; Founder, Real Food Works

After getting my undergrad degree (University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts & Sciences, Department of Psychology) in 1985, I worked for a San Francisco-based startup then called Dial Info. Twenty six years and six startups later, I sold ClickEquations, a paid search management platform. I played the tech startup game a long time.

Yet after many years of driving very fast in a very straight line, I took a left turn in 2012 and founded Real Food Works, a healthy food subscription delivery company. The idea grew out of my own experience getting healthy by eating better. I saw the trend towards healthy eating, personally experienced the power of it, but also saw how impractical it is. There just weren’t any great tasting, convenient options. I spent almost a year looking for a technology opportunity but kept coming back to the fact that the real problem is with food. Having no interest in being in the food business, I dropped the idea.

Then, in a chocolate-peanut butter moment, while pondering Uber and its “excess capacity” model, I thought: “Why can’t I use restaurants to make healthy food, during their downtime early in the week?” And that’s what we do.

Now I’m in the technology business and in the food business. We’re a mash-up of Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Warby Parker, and Nutrisystem. And man, is it fun! Strategically, we have to think about the business in two ways: we make (modest) infrastructure and scale investments like a tech company, and manage our partners and margins like a food company. We have a huge vision and work in a grueling weekly production cycle, ensuring that our supply chain gets the right food to the right person in the right condition. Cycle times in the physical world are way longer than I’m used to and margins on food aren’t 90% like they can be on software.

There are challenges, but there is tremendous upside too. We spend all day every day thinking and talking about food. Our partners are wonderful (yes, and sometimes wacky) chefs. We eat, a lot. Most importantly, we’re changing people’s lives. Our customers have more energy and reduced cholesterol; they lose weight and sleep better; their acid reflux, joint pain, and allergies are reduced; and their sex lives improve. It’s only been a year, but so far, this is the most fun I’ve ever had at work.

Lucinda DuncalfeBio: Lucinda Duncalfe, C’85; WG’91, is a serial entrepreneur having founded and/or run 5 venture-backed companies, including TurnTide and ClickEquations. Most recently she founded Real Food Works, a healthy food delivery service.