Caleb Merkl & Akshay Navle: Co-Founders of Maple

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Caleb Merkl / CEO & Co-Founder: Caleb serves as Maple's Chief Executive Officer. He has extensive experience leading teams in operationally demanding environments and also has a background in consumer growth equity investing. Most recently, Caleb was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at High Peaks Venture Partners where he met co-founder Akshay Navle.

Akshay Navle / COO & Co-Founder: As Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Akshay oversees company wide operations at Maple. Akshay brings over 10 years of e-commerce development and logistics knowledge to the company. He spent over three years as Director of E-Commerce and Product Development at Quidsi leading up to its acquisition by Amazon. Prior to Quidsi Akshay was Co-Founder at Brickfactor where he helped build e-commerce software for 70 of the top 100 internet retailers. Most recently, Akshay was a Venture Partner at High Peaks Venture Partners where he met co-founder Caleb Merkl.

How did you get into the Tech industry?

(AN):   I've tinkered with technology since I was a little kid. I was fortunate to have my father expose me to technology at a very early age, and it stuck with me every since. The wonder of being able to "make" something out of nothing never left, and when the time came to pick what I was going to do, or what I wanted to be involved in for the rest of my life, it was a very easy decision.

Tell us about Maple. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

(CM): Maple is about enjoying a balanced meal made from the highest quality ingredients at an accessible price and wrapped up in an experience that is predicated on reliability and ease of use.  The idea was born out of some pretty basic pain points when it comes to ordering food online.  Why am I spending a bunch of time trying to figure out what to order from a laundry list of places, none of which are really setup to do delivery in the first place?  I'll have spent $25 or $30 when it is all said and done, my food will take an hour to show up and it's probably not going to be in great shape. NYC is spoiled with great restaurants, but great delivery is an entirely different challenge.  We're re-thinking the whole process and building a company from scratch with the singular vision of making delivery exceptional at every step in the process.  

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Maple's success?

(AN): We've been incredibly lucky in terms of broader partnerships.  Having David Chang join so early in the company's life (before we had a name) helped immensely with establishing Maple on the culinary scene.  David is a true force of nature and that's played out across the business.  Despite managing an entire empire at Momofuku, he's been incredibly hands on with Maple.  Very early on he introduced us to Soa Davies who agreed to join as our Executive Chef to lead our culinary vision on a day to day basis.  David's been a great sounding board for Soa as she's developed a compelling menu. David also recruited impressive culinary talent for our Culinary Board, including Mark Ladner (Exec Chef of Del Posto, Founder of Pasta Flyer), Brooks Headley (Exec Pastry Chef of Del Posto and founder of Superiority Burger) and Dan Kluger (Former Exec Chef of ABC Kitchen).  Investors are also key partnerships that often get overlooked and we couldn't be luckier with Thrive Captial and Greenoaks Capital in our corner.   

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

(AN): If you want to build a company that survives for a very long time, you need to focus on customer needs that aren't going to change and aren't trend driven, but underlying enablers that are. We think cheap access to massive computational power, mobile penetration and 'on-demand/delivery' adoption are all underlying enablers that allow us to focus on a customer need, that we think isn't going to change for a long time, for great food made from fantastic ingredients, delivered in the best way possible.

Life Motto?

(CM): Not really sure I've got an official life motto.  I guess if I had to coin a mantra it would be something like "reverse keeping up with the Joneses" (that's a work in progress).  It's easy to look around in a city like New York and feel like you don't measure up, but I think it is also easy to look around and feel pretty thankful.  No matter who you are, somebody out there is dealing with a challenge that puts whatever you're struggling with to shame.  I try to constantly put things in perspective and remain thankful.  The reality is most people haven't had to face true hardship - remembering that there are people out there who have is a good way to keep things in check.

Maple's Motto?

(CM): Our core values are focused on providing a fundamentally different experience around food in the efforts to set a new standard around delivery. We think if we can provide well balanced meals made from the highest quality ingredients at an accessible price, then we're one step closer to building the next great food brand. Our aim has been from day one has always been to build a business entirely focused on making the delivery experience incredible.

Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Maple? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

(CM): We're in our infancy right now so it is hard to point to too many resounding successes.  I think getting the core team together would be the clearest example of something that has fallen in our favor.  Between myself, Akshay, David, early members of the team and our investors we were able to sift through our networks and assemble what I think is a pretty exceptional group of people.  On the challenge front, I think most of the big ones are yet to come.

Describe the ideal experience using Maple.

(AN): Maple is about quality, consistency and ease of use.  It sounds simple but being able to order quickly, to know your meal is going to be balanced and made from the highest quality ingredients and that it will arrive thoughtfully packaged and on time is a pretty big revelation when it comes to ordering food delivery.  The ideal experience is effortless and delicious and something that makes you wonder why you haven't always been ordering food this way.

How do you motivate your employees?

(CM): With an experienced team, motivation really boils down to mutual trust.  We've put together this team, in part, because they are all better at what they do than Akshay or me.  People need to know that you trust them to do their jobs and that if they miss on something, it's going to be okay.  We all have to be moving in the same general direction, but latitude plus a safety net can really give people the opportunity to push themselves.  When people are afraid of messing up, it squashes boundless and creative thinking. Beyond that (and simply), I think a fair number of companies take their people for granted.  Companies moving up can sometimes slip into thinking that employees should be thankful for the opportunity to be part of their greatness - it's obviously very much the reverse.  We'd be nothing without our team.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

(CM): What kind of post-apocalyptic world is this?  I'd choose death.  Or Donuts.  I guess probably Donuts.

What literature is on your bed stand?

(AN):  I'm an information trash compactor.  I'll literally read anything I can get my hands on.  Though right now it ends up being a lot of children's books at the request of my kids.   

Role model - business and personal?

(CM): Not sure I have a role model on the business side.  The personal side of things is pretty easy. I look to my family for inspiration.  My Dad is a retired detective and patrol officer, my oldest brother is an MP in the Air Force and my middle brother is a police officer back in Washington State.  My mom tops things off as a teacher working with kids with speech and developmental disorders.  I don't think there is anything much more inspiring than deciding to dedicate your life to a career of service - particularly when it means putting yourself in harms way every day.

Current passion?

(AN): Maple

Favorite travel destination?

(CM): It's honestly pretty hard to beat a trip home to see my family or a couple of key friends that I've been able to hold onto over time.  Not the most exotic of travel but always great people.

What's next for Maple?

(CM): We're trying to build a company that is going to be here for a very long time to come.  This actually means slow and steady focused execution.  The only thing we're thinking about right now is how to delight our customers day in and day out.  Once we get really good at that, we'll start adding complexity to the equation.