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Airlift co-founders Minda Brusse and Sandeep Phadke
Airlift co-founders Minda Brusse and Sandeep Phadke

In-office perks can provide a recruiting edge and boost employee morale, but not every company can afford to foot the bill. Microsoft and Amazon vet Sandeep Phadke saw that problem as an opportunity.

To solve it, he launched Airlift, a “micro market” service that lets employees purchase food at work using an iPad-based self-checkout kiosk.

“Airlift enables companies to offer a cost-controlled, food market in the break room where employees can purchase a personalized range of fresh food, snacks and beverages,” said Phadke. “Airlift is best suited for companies that can’t give away unlimited free food but still want to offer a food benefit at work.”

The service costs less than $4,000 to install, giving it an edge over competitors, which Phadke says retail around $13,000. The Bellevue, Wash.-based startup is targeting offices with 75-250 employees.

We caught up with Phadke for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Airlift CEO Sandeep Phadke.
Airlift CEO Sandeep Phadke.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Small and medium-sized companies use Airlift to offer employees a self-service market of fresh food, snacks, and drinks in their break rooms.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We realized that food was an incredibly valuable workplace benefit; companies compete for talent through workplace and culture which is directly affected by the food options they provide.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap + customer revenue. This path allowed us the flexibility and control as we moved through establishing product-market fit and into our go-to-market plan. We will seek funding in the near future when capital can accelerate distribution of Airlift across the country in the next six to eight months.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Plan big, then focus on short ‘sprints’ that demonstrate progress.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Operating our own Airlift markets directly so we’d develop the best solution to license. It also affords access to office customers to learn what they value the most.”

logo-with-TMThe biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We undervalued what a strong salesperson would add to our team, and we’re excited to have made a great new hire who can build that function for Airlift.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos, for the relentless customer focus and his method of gaining competitive advantage through continual, incremental feature development.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Always around food! We like to celebrate our wins.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “How the new hew hire could raise the bar on the quality of the decisions we make.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Identify the skill/experience gaps in your founding team early on, and act to fill them aggressively through advisors or key employees.”


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