By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — A gentleman, we will call him Mason, is on a date, and it is going very well.
An agreement is reached to return to his apartment after dinner.
As is typical for him, Mason is not prepared.
> A good bottle of red wine
> Vosage chocolates (his date did not eat dessert, but likes to eat chocolate, in moderation, of course.)
For the morning:
>Hyland’s Migrane Headache Relief
Mason is not a planner, but he is smart.
When his date excuses herself to powder her nose, he launches the Foxtrot app on his iPhone where he can quickly order the items and have them delivered within an hour.
Mike LaVitola’s light-bulb moment for this idea was a bit more routine.
He wanted a six pack of good craft beer, some tasty tortilla chips and guac.
The apps that were available at the time were too daunting, with too many choices.
So he came up with Foxtrot, which curates the best food, drinks and other top-notch necessities in a fast mobile ordering platform.
The selections are limited on purpose, and curation is the key. The idea is to deliver high-quality items as simply as possible.
Foxtrot works with experts–for wine they consult with a sommelier, for example–to make their menu selections. They also use consumer data to select the best products. Essentially Foxtrot, takes the guessing and debating out of the process.
For example, if you are in need of a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, click on that category and select an energy drink or coffee, and perhaps some nuts and a yogurt.
The app also includes picks for football weekends (lots of beer, spirits and salty snacks), an online bistro for lunch and more.
The minimum order is $20, with a $5 delivery fee, which includes a tip. The customer experience is a simple three step process: order quickly, accept delivery, enjoy.
Right now, delivery is available in neighborhoods from Wrigleyville down to the Loop, including Old Town, Gold Coast, Streeterville, Wicker Park and West Loop. There are plans to expand soon into Bucktown and Logan Square.
There are aspirations to add more neighborhoods and more cities down the road.
Foxtrot is also rolling out a new version of the iOS app next month. Along with that significant upgrade, Foxtrot will have a version for Android users.
The genesis of Foxtrot occurred less than two years ago, when LaVitola came home after a long day and wanted those beers and chips.
He had the idea, but needed the tech muscle, some business advice, and money to pull it off.
LaVitola reached out to Taylor Bloom, who was finishing up his master’s degree in computer science at the University of Texas.
The two had met in Austin while LaVitola was an investment banker there.
The duo come from totally different educational backgrounds, but, as is often the case in the tech start-up world, they make a good pair when business acumen and computer development prowess collide.
In the spring of 2013, LaVitola, a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, took the Foxtrot concept through the school’s Venture Challenge.
The Venture Challenge was, in fact, quite challenging, but rewarding.
“They kind of beat you up,” LaVitola said.
Executives from successful start-ups like GrubHub and Braintree, which both rose up through the Venture Challenge, ask lots of questions about marketing, business strategy and planning.
After going through that process, LaVitola was convinced.
“We should build this thing. Let’s do it.”
LaVitola lured Bloom to Chicago to help him launch the business.
The two hit up family and other connections to raise a modest amount of seed money, about $50,000.
Last summer, Bloom built the Foxtrot app, while LaVitola focused on the business side, including developing inventory partners, logistics and costs.
They started working from home, but now have a space at Industrious, a third-floor loft in the 300 block of West Ohio, which is shared by other start-up businesses.
It is the kind of incubator place that exudes creativity. Some entrepreneurs use the glass partitions to write or sketch ideas. Walking down the hall, its kind of like viewing something written by Da Vinci.
Last August, the app was done and it launched in September.
Foxtrot really took off in the spring, and LaVitola says they have “thousands of customers” in their relatively condensed delivery area.
At first, they hired a delivery service to handle the orders.
When they couldn’t keep up with the volume, they decided to hire their own delivery riders.
Bloom has spent his life in warm climates and was thrilled with Chicago’s summer weather last year.
Perhaps showing his true commitment to the cause, he actually moved permanently here in mid-winter.
“He missed Polar Vortex one, but he was here for numbers two, three …” said Crystal Tao, who handles publicity for Foxtrot, her voice trailing off as if to indicate that there were simply too many cold days to count.
Their customers are urban professionals in their late 20s to late 30s, who are short on time but don’t want to sacrifice on quality. In other words, they don’t want to hit the 7-11 for a cheap six-pack and Doritos.
The busiest time for Foxtrot is Sunday, especially in the evening, catering to people who are settling down to watch HBO and drink some wine or cocktails and have some cheese or other snacks.
As for expanding to other cities, that is part of the long-term plan. They will probably start in cities in which they have some familiarity with neighborhoods.
Not surprisingly, beer and wine are big revenue generators for Foxtrot.
However the most popular single item is … Gummi Bears.
Customers routinely select them as an add on to their orders, followed by cupcakes and ice cream.