A Sandwich, a Startup, and Soon, a Lawsuit? The Crunchbutton Story
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be hauled into court. One of Crunchbutton’s Boston-area angel investors, Semyon Dukach (who met the company through Betaspring), says, “I am not aware of a single illegal thing they did. I haven’t seen anything improper. This is a total misunderstanding of what they do.”
To be fair, Dukach has started giving out a $10,000 “Troublemaker Award” to young people this year, and he’s a former MIT Blackjack team leader, so he’s drawn to controversy (and thumbing one’s nose at the establishment).
As Dukach sees it, Brown is shooting itself in the foot when it comes to promoting entrepreneurship and the local economy.
“Lo and behold, here they are [Crunchbutton] on a path to creating jobs around food delivery, restaurants, and startups, and what do they get? Threat of legal action,“ he says. “On some level, Brown wants to work with Providence and attract a startup ecosystem. But they’re trying to protect some narrow interest. Crunchbutton can’t even get through to them. What do we do? We thought this would be a really welcoming place. They easily could have gone to the West Coast. This wouldn’t happen in Palo Alto or MIT.”
Indeed, if Brown tries to impede the startup with a lawsuit, that would send a very different message from the one its students tend to get.
“Brown really encourages entrepreneurship,” says Cliff Weitzman, a Brown freshman who does Crunchbutton marketing on the side (he’s a double major and has his own startup too). “The administration is so accommodating. It really makes it a priority to make life for students amazing.” At the same time, he says, “Students really like Crunchbutton. It has that entrepreneurship air about it—students can feel that.” (Something’s got to give here.)
The bigger idea in all of this is that consumers want choices, but they also seem to want simplicity and smart curation. Too many choices, as anyone with a smartphone or Web connection will attest, can be overwhelming.
Crunchbutton is still in early days, but it seems to have hit upon a good market for digital simplicity. Rosenblatt admits his service is “pretty addicting for repeat users because they only have to push a single button.” (The company takes a cut of each order from participating restaurants; the idea is to bring them more business.)
And so the startup forges on. One intriguing idea down the road: a refrigerator magnet that has a “crunchbutton” on it that you press to get your favorite foods delivered. A more immediate advance, already live, is a user interface that lets people recommend restaurants in any city, not just Providence, New Haven, or Washington, DC. The five-person Crunchbutton team has gotten good at signing up eateries over the phone, Rosenblatt says—a product of the founders’ experience selling ads to support Yale’s humor magazine.
On the tactical side, his company bears a slight resemblance to another addictive, Ivy League campus-based startup that found fairer fruit away from home. But whether Crunchbutton, and others like it, follow Facebook’s path out of New England remains to be seen.
“The next step is expanding to the top places across the country,” Rosenblatt says.
And if Brown doesn’t want Crunchbutton on campus, well, Stanford probably wouldn’t object.
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