Brainstorm Tech

10 Questions: Joe Ariel, founder and CEO, Goldbely

March 13, 2014: 12:11 PM ET

On empowering small business owners, combining passion and a skill set, and why he feeds people constantly.


FORTUNE -- Joe Ariel is a New York City transplant who opened up shop in San Francisco with his startup Goldbely. The idea is simple: a food delivery service.

That's not new, of course. But the company distinguishes itself by finding locally sourced gourmet foods from around the country and delivering them to a person's doorstep. And not just so-called gourmet food, either: Think cannolis from Carlo's Bake Shop -- of "Cake Boss" fame -- in New Jersey, sourdough bread from Boudin in the Bay Area, Blue Bell ice cream from Texas, or a pastrami and corned beef sandwich from Katz's Delicatessen in New York City.

Ariel, 37, wants to help local purveyors gain a national audience. He calls it "democratizing the food industry." And lest you think he is just one more in a long line of trendy food entrepreneurs, Ariel insists that he dislikes the pretension of the word "foodie" (preferring to call himself a "food explorer") and simply wants to share the best that America has to offer.

Ariel is a serial entrepreneur -- he was once the CEO of and -- and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Vanderbilt University. He spoke with us.

1. Who in technology do you admire most? Why?

Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos. They're all entrepreneurs who play by their own rules. For Jobs, it's his vision and true emphasis on design. For Branson, creativity and wildness. For Bezos, it's building for the long term and being unapologetic about it; that idea is very freeing for entrepreneurs who are trying to build their own business. As a marketer, I also admire Hugh Hefner. He's created his own reality. He saw something that he wanted to build and marketed it like no one else could. I feel the same way about Goldbely.

2. Which companies do you admire? Why?

One company that I admire is Y Combinator for realizing that there's a new economy coming. It's one thing for investors to make investments for financial gain, but it's another to actively help thousands of entrepreneurs build out their dreams and give them a better chance to succeed. We're fortunate to have been a part of the program, and I admire a lot of what they do. In the e-commerce space, I admire Amazon and Zappos for pretty obvious reasons. With Zappos, the "customer service first" focus is something we instill deeply in our team, and Amazon's ambitiousness is inspiring.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

Travel, eat, repeat! When I was planning this venture, I knew it had to be something that I was super-passionate about. But at the same time, you can have ideas that you're really passionate about that at the end of the day don't align with your skill set. So, find the intersection of what you love and what you're good at and identify any and every potential opportunities in the market. Once you find the sweet spot, dig in like you never have before.

4. What is the best advice you ever received?

As an entrepreneur, Paul Buchheit -- who is one of the partners at Y Combinator and the creator of Gmail -- always said build something that a few people absolutely love rather than build something that a lot of people just kind of like. For any startup entrepreneur those are some of the wisest words because it's easy to push out something that's kind of good, but it's really, really hard to push out something that's amazing. That's what you should strive for.

5. What's the next big project you want to tackle?

I think we've really hit on something with the convergence of content and commerce in food, specifically in the way we tell the stories of the products and artisans we showcase. We view ourselves equally as an e-commerce company as we do storytellers. Video has always been a fascinating medium for me, and we've just started delving further into video-based content. Photography has always been core to our user experience, but I think there's an exciting opportunity for us to use video to take our content far deeper.

6. What challenges are facing your business right now? 

We're fortunate in that we're growing pretty quickly. The challenge with that is continuing to grow at a fast pace, and at the same time maintain focus on culture and quality of hiring, while at the same time building for speed. If there's one thing that keeps me up at night, it's that. Making sure we find the right spot.

7. What is one goal -- either personal or professional -- that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime? 

Building an industry-changing business. To create something that not only serves millions of consumers, but also empowers an entire industry of producers would be something really special. I think Etsy has done this for the crafts industry, and that is something I admire. There's a lot of symmetry with what we're doing for gourmet and specialty food. It's exciting to create a platform that uplifts an entire industry.

8. What do you do to live a balanced life? 

Since I was a kid, if I don't run around or play a sport and work up a sweat, I get antsy. If I go a few days without exercise, I have a hard time focusing. It can be anything from playing tennis or basketball to going for a run or a hike. The gym is super-important for me.

9. What was the last book you read? 

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. I love his books in general with the intersection of psychology and business and history. This one in particular talks about the advantages of being an underdog. In my world, that means a startup, and it's very inspiring to hear historical takes about little upstarts that can do amazing things.

10. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?

I feed people constantly and love to see their reaction to trying something new. I think I get it from my father, who has always loved cooking and feeding people. Especially when there's a new product that I've sampled that I know is just amazing -- I just need to share it. So much of what we do is spread happiness through food. A dish can be so nostalgic and bring back such great memories. Getting to facilitate these moments and share these experiences with people is really special.

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