Jake Gutstein, co-founder of Zest, has a history of building solutions to solve inefficiencies that don’t make sense. After selling his first company, a dockless bike share called eo, Gutstein moved on to tackle a new problem: young people’s toxic relationship with food.
“Young people have an incredibly toxic relationship with food. Between food delivery and being reliant on a few staple meals, they are wasting money, feeling terrible, and have no agency in changing that. Zest provides an engaging way to form a constructive habit around food and find a way out of the rut,” Gutstein explained.
The inspiration for Zest came after Gutstein had a fire department called on him for eviscerating a DiGiorno pizza in the oven. He knew something had to change. He started talking to people to validate the problem and creating a solution.
“I am of the belief that successful products require their builders to have a system through which they can step away from their personal opinions and solutions. I subscribe to Jobs to Be Done as my system to better understand and synthesize a customer base. After this, I go directly to the platforms where those individuals frequent and speak their language. With Zest, we use TikTok and Instagram to speak about the problems we uncovered,” Gutstein said.
The Zest app is built on a knowledge graph that allows users to engage with food that meets their mood, dietary preferences, and skill level. The app is designed to help users form healthy cooking habits and break out of their reliance on takeout and delivery.
Launching Zest wasn’t without its challenges. Gutstein had to stay resilient and iterate on the design to match the needs of Zest’s core customer. “Aspects of the product that you are sure will work don’t and people strongly resonate with quirks in the design. The key for Zest has always been staying lean in our designs, focusing on the core habit loop, and trying to leave ego at the door,” Gutstein said.
Zest has been growing rapidly, with monthly recurring revenue (MRR) growing 10x over the past 6 months to a bit over $7K MRR, all without spending a penny on customer acquisition. Gutstein credits the app’s success to its social community on TikTok and Instagram, which has over 180k followers.
“We post on our social pages speaking to the reasons that we know people need to learn how to cook. These videos have resonated with a large audience allowing for us to scale organically,” Gutstein said.
For aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own company, Gutstein emphasizes the importance of knowing your customer and being operationally excellent. “Focus on the first and then the second obsessively, and you’ll build something amazing,” he said.
Gutstein’s journey from DiGiorno disaster to disrupting the food industry with Zest serves as a reminder that the best solutions often come from identifying inefficiencies in our own lives and taking action to solve them.