Focus on the customer — At Foy we try to have several touch points with the customer throughout the ordering process as well as after it is delivered in an effort to continually improve and provide the highest experience possible. In the first few months of launching a company, you are trying to establish a footing in the market and therefore, a happy and returning customer I believe will pay long-term dividends.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Astrit Bauta.
Astrit Bauta is the founder of Foy — a nationwide online marketplace for groceries and household items, conveniently delivered to your door in as little as 1 day. He has worked for many premier global financial institutions but left all of that behind during the pandemic and has set out to reimagine the online grocery landscape.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
A first-generation immigrant of Albanian descent, I was born and raised in the melting pot that is New York City. As a kid, I always played team sports that not only engrained competitiveness in me but have also made me appreciate the beauty of working together towards achieving common goals. My parents also instilled in me the passion of persistent exploration and curiosity by encouraging us to travel from a very young age. These experiences have led me to acquire diverse opinions that I hold dear and constantly reflect upon.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
We are on a mission to limit food waste and provide anyone with access to healthy groceries at an affordable price.
When I started Foy, I came across a campaign that Michelle Obama was starting with many large retail grocers. The “Move Campaign” initiated an effort to partner with major retailers and provide access to healthy food in “food deserts” across the US. I was shocked to learn that “an estimated 54.4 million people, or 17.7% of the U.S. population” live in low-income and low-access urban areas.
Foy’s initial launch was about broadening access to organic groceries, however, learning about the Move Campaign helped broaden my perspective to the challenges and limited options many consumers face in smaller cities around the country. That is why we launched a “Pay What You Want” feature on our store with the intention of making healthy organic groceries affordable to anyone. Opening a grocery store in one neighborhood may have an impact on that community but, with Foy, we are looking to have a positive impact nationwide by providing everyone with a grocery store at the palm of their hands — digitally.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
The stark reality of the pandemic really brought the inefficiencies of the grocery industry to light. In the initial weeks, there was quite some panic with shoppers stocking up on products and many waiting in long lines for hours at their nearest grocery store.
In the U.S. we are fortunate enough that a vast majority of households have internet access and many states are very well interconnected. I figured why not use this to our advantage in being able to deliver groceries to millions of households nationwide in as little as 1 day.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
When the pandemic hit — New York City was one of the hardest hit areas in the U.S. At the time, there was little information on the virus and the impact it will have. While staying indoors was the guidance, I knew we would all still have to eat and began wondering how we can grab groceries and why should a family member risk going outdoors — surely there must be a service that does this in 2020? Well, technically there are at a limited capacity in New York but even fewer nationwide.
This is when Foy was born. Without the pandemic, I am not sure that I would be in the position to grasp the challenges grocers face in an industry that has not evolved in decades.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Sometimes the hardest challenge is actually starting. In my second year of college, I took a writing course that required students to write a 25-page thesis by the end of the semester. In the beginning of the course this seemed so far-fetched and impossible that I even mentioned to my professor, I do not think I will be able to write a coherent thesis. He responded with something that I think is so valuable in many regards — Astrit, in the beginning, do not worry about putting all the pieces (of the thesis) together. Begin with an outline or get all your ideas onto paper and eventually everything will fall into place and flow together.
To anyone looking to start something new, I would recommend to just start doing. This could be — doing research on a market or industry, pursuing your passions, or even noticing a problem and thinking about a solution. No step is too small and once you have a goal in mind, every step you take in the direction of that goal will eventually help you get there and hopefully exceed it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I remember when I received my first order, I was so excited. It was past midnight on a Friday night and I was watching a movie when I received a notification that an order was placed. I jumped up in excitement, knocked over all the popcorn and ran to fulfill the order. I couldn’t work fast enough to complete and ship the product. Still to this day the excitement of a new order remains and I love hearing customers feedback from using Foy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
In the beginning, I was very naïve. I kept trying to make the perfect version prior to the public launch instead of focusing on getting the service out there and making changes based on consumer feedback. I thought well my idea is noble and it supports a good cause so therefore, everyone will love it. Well, I learned that an idea is one thing but execution is what separates a great company. As the number of consumers, we serve grows, so does the feedback we receive (thankfully very positive thus far) and I am constantly reaching out to our customers to learn about the products they love and how we can continually improve, to provide the highest quality service possible.
We cannot wait for Foy to serve you!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Starting a business in the middle of a global health pandemic is a bit unusual to begin with and being quarantined I had to rely on my parents and close friends for feedback. As I was going through various iterations for the company, I would bounce ideas and designs off them and get their thoughts. My parents have especially been supportive and helpful in allowing me to pursue this initiative and having this freedom cannot be understated.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One in particular caught my attention — a family living in the Southeast, in an area considered a “food desert” with limited transportation and access to grocery options other than nearby small delis. They came across Foy and ordered items that they loved as children but, ever since moving to their current neighborhood, they didn’t have access to these products locally. It was fascinating to hear their story and the impact our company can have across many cities around the country. I truly hope we can continue to grow our customer base and eliminate food deserts completely by providing anyone, with access to healthy and affordable grocery products.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Collectively we have the power to eliminate hunger and food waste. With every order, Foy increases access to customers with limited options in their communities.
- Government — allow customers to use their federal food assistance funds for grocery purchases online. A pilot program is being run with Walmart and Amazon but it would be interesting to see if this program will be open to smaller businesses and help increase accessibility to healthy groceries.
- Put more priority on the food that we all consume as it affects numerous areas in our lives from our health, healthcare system to global emissions.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be patient — everyone wants to succeed and maybe our generation is used to instant gratification through social media but, as I’m often reminded — Rome was not built in one day.
- Things will never go as planned — I am a huge boxing fan and like Mike Tyson once said “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Similarly, in business there is a 99% chance that everything will not go as planned and unforeseen obstacles will come in the way that will require you to be adaptive and agile.
- Focus on the customer — At Foy we try to have several touch points with the customer throughout the ordering process as well as after it is delivered in an effort to continually improve and provide the highest experience possible. In the first few months of launching a company, you are trying to establish a footing in the market and therefore, a happy and returning customer I believe will pay long-term dividends.
- Data, Data, Data — I’m generally not a fan of following your gut for every decision. Data is so useful and analyzing it correctly can help tremendously in dedicating limited resources to where it will be most beneficial to the business and customer.
- People, Process, Product — probably the three most important areas in any organization. Working with great people with a clear process and high-quality products/service is a recipe for success. Initially when launching, it was difficult to decide what items to carry because there are hundreds of thousands of grocery products. We continuously work to curate a broad selection of quality goods based on consumer needs.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Do you know anyone that has an awful experience while laughing and smiling? I sure don’t. Your smile and positivity can impact others.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey — her impact on underserved communities has been well-documented and I really admire her work ethic, strategy throughout her career and ability to navigate the challenges she has faced.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our store is https://orderfoy.com and you can find us on Facebook and Instagram @orderfoy.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!