The business idea sparked in 2015 when Andrew Boryk, an entrepreneurial high school student from Queens, NY with a penchant for technology development reached out to fellow Queens resident Nabeel Alamgir on LinkedIn because he felt they had a lot in common.
During their initial LinkedIn contact, Andrew and Nabeel discovered they both participated in the Virtual Enterprise International (VE) program during their high school years. The nonprofit VE program, a year-long experiential class that teaches students across the country how to start and run a simulated business, made a notable impact on their future career choices, and both became inspired to pursue entrepreneurial ventures—Nabeel as a rising star in the restaurant business and Andrew as an aspiring tech developer for the food industry.
Little did either know that connection would lead to them cofounding a business worth over $9 million that is revolutionizing the way restaurants provide food delivery service. Their company, Lunchbox, offers a software application that provides more than 450 restaurants with the ability to set up their own customized app so they (regardless of size) can be in complete control of their digital orders without having to rely on costly third-party companies.
Additionally, the duo recently helped create HelpMainStreet.com, a website that offers consumers the opportunity to buy gift cards to over 40,000 small businesses that have been temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Here’s their story.
Rieva Lesonsky: You two have an interesting story in that you “met” due to the Virtual Enterprises International program yet completed the program several years apart from one another. What motivated you to join the program? Did starting simulated businesses in high school spur your entrepreneurial spirit?
Nabeel Alamgir: I was an immigrant who barely spoke English. I was at a computer class I found to be super fascinating. The teacher took interest in me and said I should join her Virtual Enterprise class the next year. I was very unhappily planning going into medicine but that all changed when I joined Virtual Enterprise.
At first, my only motivation was to be a small cog and support the virtual business in any way possible. Being part of that team was the most important part of my upbringing. Virtual Enterprise gave me a sense of belonging.
Andrew Boryk: I’ll never forget the day my soon-to-be Virtual Enterprise teacher came into our computer science class and said, “Hey, who wants to make apps with Apple?” I was struck instantly by the allure of becoming an entrepreneur under the guidance of Virtual Enterprise and Apple. I remember waiting all summer for my class schedule to come in, and when I saw I had made the shortlist for VE, I was elated.
Lesonsky: You both started on an entrepreneurial path at a young age. Did you always want to be business owners?
Alamgir: Never. I just wanted to fit in and contribute. But VE unlocked that in all of us. The following year when my English and confidence got better, I realized that this was the path for me. For the first time, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and build things with people.
Andrew and I both thank VE for that. Another coincidence between us—we both (at separate times) worked with Apple thanks to VE.
Boryk: Up until getting into VE, I spent the previous five years as a self-taught software engineer since the age of 12, building out websites and little games for my friends. I hadn’t thought much about business before, but I knew I didn’t want to be stuck sitting slouched over a desk coding for my entire career. Coding is my passion, but so is communicating and public speaking. With VE, I caught the entrepreneurial bug, and began to break the mold of the typical software engineer.
Lesonsky: Both of you are from Queens, NY—a borough full of small businesses. My dad owned a business there for most of my childhood. Was that part of a motivating factor?
Alamgir: Absolutely! 80% of our team is from Queens even till this day. We love this borough, we love the food and we think this is the scrappiest place on earth. I personally don’t think as an immigrant I could come to a better place if I had to choose. I feel like I hit the lottery.
Boryk: I stand strong on Queens being the #1 borough, move over Manhattan! I have such a profound love for our borough, the World’s Borough.
Lesonsky: Recently, the two of you created Lunchbox.io, a software app that helps restaurants control their own delivery orders. What roles do you both have in the company?
Alamgir: We are both board members and founders. I am the CEO, Andrew is the CTO. It’s a perfect marriage between a foodie and a technologist.
Lesonsky: What inspired you to create Lunchbox? this business?
Alamgir: I was a former busboy at Bareburger’s first location. I ended up being their CMO—and with our CEO, Euripides Pelekanos, grew that to 45 locations.
Lunchbox grew out of my frustration being a CMO and having to deal with two things: 1) third-party sites charging suffocating fees but not giving any customer data in return 2) the fractured ecosystem of the restaurant tech world.
When I first went to build the digital ordering stack for Bareburger I had to work with six different companies to complete one project, and I just kept asking myself: “Why can’t all of this be in one house?”
Boryk: Prior to Lunchbox, I was a lead developer at Johnson & Johnson, working on applications such as The 7 Minute Workout. When Nabeel called me and told me of his aspirations to turn the restaurant tech industry on its head, I was in.
My family spent 40+ years operating in the restaurant space, working for and then owning their own restaurant. Our mission is to bring control back into the hands of restaurateurs. When I think of our mission, I think of my grandparents, and how we can be the partner that saves the day for small businesses.
Lesonsky: What’s the advantage of doing business with Lunchbox as opposed to the established players like Grubhub or DoorDash. What’s your competitive advantage?
Alamgir: Our advantage is pretty clear; we’re an actual partner to restaurants. We don’t charge ridiculous fees that crush margins. We empower restaurants to create better systems and learn more about their customers. When a restaurant partners with Lunchbox they see true data on who their customers are and can turn that into actionable marketing campaigns.
Lesonsky: And through your business, you recently started HelpMainStreet.com, a website that allows customers to purchase gift cards to tens of thousands of businesses that are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. When did you launch and how is it doing? How long do you expect to keep HelpMainStreet.com going?
Alamgir: HelpMainStreet.com is 100% volunteer-based. Every dollar spent on this site goes to the restaurants. This project launched in the span of 36 hours; from concept to MVP. Since launching in mid-March we have raised over $329,000, have seen more than 70,000 visitors to the site, and partnered with Stella Artois on Sessions @home, a YouTube channel where celebrities and chefs share their favorite recipes for making restaurant-level meals at home. The first episode recently went live with Eva Longoria as the first host.
We see HelpMainStreet.com evolving into a product that customers will look to use long past when the pandemic wraps up. We will all come out of this with a greater sense of community and I believe HelpMainStreet.com is in a great position to be a large part of that conversation.