Geek of the Week

The pandemic stopped Angela Shen’s Seattle meals excursions — and tech powers her pivot to supply

Angela Shen pivoted her food tour business Savor Seattle into a delivery business. (Photo courtesy of Angela Shen)

It’s tough to run a business dependent on tourism when there are no tourists, and when the places you would show off to the tourists are closed by a global health crisis. Neither of those facts stopped Angela Shen as the startup entrepreneur started all over again.

Shen is the founder and CEO (Chief Eating Officer) of Savor Seattle. For the past 13 years — prior to COVID-19 — she was in the business of leading food and cultural walking tours in Seattle. When tourism and the restaurant industry came to a screeching halt, the business pivoted nearly overnight into the curated and aggregated food delivery space.

“If we could no longer bring people to the Pike Place Market, we would bring the Market directly to people’s doorsteps instead,” said Shen, our latest Geek of the Week.

Shen and her team are now building Iconic Market Boxes that include an assortment of at least nine different merchants’ eats and treats. With new box themes each week, they have worked with over 100 companies in 25 weeks and contributed nearly $1 million in direct sales to small food businesses.

Savor Seattle has shipped boxes to almost all 50 states and distributed more than 9,000 boxes locally. They went from shipping 48 boxes in the first week of business — using Facebook and PayPal as the primary promotional tools — to more than 1,200 boxes in the busiest week. Every box sale also includes a minimum of a $5 donation to a relevant non-profit, and to date Savor Seattle has donated $55,000 to the Black Lives Matter Fund, Pike Place Market Safety Net Fund, and FareStart.

Some items for an Iconic Market Box from Savor Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Angela Shen)

Savor Seattle also does specially themed boxes, and this month an Hispanic Heritage Box features 10 different food artisans to benefit Casa Latina.

Plenty of tech companies and other businesses have pivoted since March when the pandemic moved in and immediately hammered the economy. Shen said tech was important in her food tour business, but she was able to utilize out-of-the-box ticketing platforms to meet her needs. The new business is a lot more complicated.

“It feels a lot like we’re building the parachute while falling off the building!” she said. “Without intensive investment into an e-commerce platform, custom sales and inventory management software, and route optimization software for our drivers, we would not be able to keep up and scale our operations so quickly.”

Savor Seattle faces new tech hurdles every week as customers expect greater sophistication and ease of interfacing with the company. She is dealing with subscription management and forecasting tools that minimize product waste, and she’s getting help from technology experts. L&W Team offered to build Shen’s first Shopify site for free manages and improves on Savor Seattle’s platforms. Slalom Consulting saw what Shen was doing and offered to do a hackathon project to figure out a long-term growth strategy.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Angela Shen:

What do you do, and why do you do it? Functionally, we do curated, aggregated food delivery and nationwide shipping that showcases the best of Seattle’s small business food purveyors. Our mission is to “serve joy.” While how we do it today is different than pre-COVID-19, we are still ambassadors of local pride.

Small businesses and entrepreneurship is the definition of the American dream. My family immigrated here from China and I was part of the first generation born in the U.S. I could not stand idly by when small businesses in Seattle were crippled within weeks due to a global pandemic and racial injustice.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? How hard can it really be to put a bunch of food in a box and deliver it, right? Well, it actually takes a surprising amount of technology in order to make our new business work smoothly! Without a suite of sophisticated back end systems powering our e-commerce, supply chain, inventory, and delivery systems, none of this would be possible.

Where do you find your inspiration? The best business consultant I’ve ever had is my 9-year-old daughter, Kira. She’s the one who first suggested this idea!

In all seriousness, the best ideas come to me when I travel. There are very few new ideas these days. But seeing how others are doing things and figuring out how to do it better, can often produce remarkable results.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My cell phone. For all the obvious reasons!
I recall the first time I held a smart phone in my hands many years ago. After poo-pooing others for “needing” a smart phone that did more than just place calls, it’s like the skies parted when I held one in my hands. I’ve never looked back since!

(Photo courtesy of Angela Shen)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I’m in a massive transition of moving homes, so my workspace is pretty terrible right now. More interesting is probably what is on my desk at this very moment that probably speaks more to how my brain functions. I am told that I process very different topics and tasks simultaneously and quickly, in no particular order. But it all seems to work efficiently for me.

I’m sure it’s Happy Hour somewhere in the world at 3:30 p.m. and thus, a glass of red wine is powering me through the rest of the day. I’m hungry, so that is a tin of sardines I just wolfed down. It’s easy protein! And on the classier end of the spectrum, there’s a bar of Fran’s Chocolates’ black sesame chocolate. I am always taste-testing new products for possible inclusion in future box assortments. I have no issues mixing wine with sardines and black sesame chocolate. Weird, but that’s also how my mind works.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Early a.m. workout. I’m a kinder, gentler, more clear headed leader and human when I get exercise!

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard. My favorite gift received as a child was a mug that revealed a Klingon warbird when hot liquid was poured into it!

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I would launch a company that would connect interested parents in their communities with teaching assistants/educational nannies to facilitate pod-education.

I once waited in line for … 3 hours to get matcha soft serve in an ice cream cone shaped like a fish.

Your role models: Howard Wright and Tom Douglas. Two of the smartest, no-nonsense, savvy Seattle business people I know!

Greatest game in history: Tetris.

Best gadget ever: DVR.

First computer: Sony Viao.

Current phone: Pixel 2.

Favorite app: Marco Polo.

Favorite cause: FareStart.

Most important technology of 2020: Grocery and delivery apps.

Most important technology of 2022: Tech that provides step by step home school curriculums that non-certified educators could delivery effectively.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Exercise. Get good sleep. Drink lots of water!

Website: Savor Seattle

Twitter: @savorseattle

LinkedIn: Angela Shen

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