"We keep employees happy, healthy, and when needed, slightly buzzed in over 200 offices around Chicago"

-ISHAN DAYA

FOUNDER FEATURE:

The office happy hour is the new after party

Ishan Daya, Co-Founder, Crafty, CONTRIBUTOR

BY | September 5, 2017, 3:15 am

People like parties. It’s a fundamental axiom that might not make its way into an investor deck, but nevertheless keeps bars open all over the world. Moreover, parties at the office allow employees to connect on a personal level and expand their networks, facilitating the kind of cross-functional knowledge sharing and affiliation that make great businesses successful. The only problem: it can be an operational nightmare to make sure the alcohol flows at every event. If only that could be outsourced!

Enter Crafty: they’ll put a keg in your office and make sure it never runs out. And actually, they’ll do more: what started as a craft beer keg company has evolved organically to fulfill cross-food & beverage category products. With corporate catering a $25B+ market in the United States, the company, currently serving Illinois only, is betting it can capture a piece. Techweek’s Head of Media, Prab Kumar, sat down with Crafty’s co-founder, Ishan Daya, to better understand just how they keep employees “happy, healthy, and when needed, slightly buzzed” in over 200 offices around Chicago. Note: Crafty is not responsible for interns getting wasted at your next event.

Prab: Tell us a little about your company today.

Ishan: Crafty is a food, beverage, and events management company for corporate offices. Our goal is to help offices create an incredible work atmosphere where people are excited to work everyday, and help office services teams in a seamless manner. We’ve grown from 6 – 40 employees over the last 8 months.

Prab: How, when and why did you found your company?

Ishan: Our first day of operation was December 1, 2015. We threw some pony kegs (7.75 gallons) in our respective cars – a t[rusty] Nissan Versa, and an old Cadillac Deville, and actually had to make deliveries ourselves. Walking down State Street with kegs in each hand in the freezing cold definitely raised some eyebrows. But it was an awesome feeling to have an office give you a standing ovation! In our previous jobs, we all found that the happy hour (alcohol or not) was such an important part of each of our companies. The CEO could hang out with the new employee, the dev could hang with the account manager. It’s what brought people together. At the same time, we found that you had to go through 4-5 different parties to get everything done, and it wasn’t online. Our goal was to make it easier than Amazon to get beer flowing in your office. Over time, this grew to encompassing all areas of food and beverage in the office culture.

Prab: When you originally started the company, what critical problem did you set out to solve? Has that changed today?

Ishan: The original goal of the company was to help offices create an awesome working environment through simplifying the process of having a happy hour – whether that was through throwing a kegerator in the office or building out regular happy hours. From inventory management, to stocking shelves, to managing multiple vendors – we found that our tech and operations could help streamline the entire food and beverage process within offices. Though our service offering has expanded over the last 1.75 years, the problem we set out to solve has stayed constant – to help offices create an awesome work atmosphere that gets employees excited to come to work everyday.

“Walking down State Street with kegs in each hand in the freezing cold definitely raised some eyebrows. But it was an awesome feeling to have an office give you a standing ovation…”

Prab: What do you credit for your success as a leader: attitude, talent, experience?

Ishan: Attitude and perseverance. When you’re in the early stages of any business, having an attitude of ‘rolling with the punches’ is imperative to not letting the small failures crush your or your team’s spirit. But this needs to be balanced with not being complacent to challenges and analytically looking at why they occurred and creating systems to stop them from happening in the future.

Prab: How did you find your co-founders and first few employees?

Ishan: The four of us found each other through mutual friends. Two of us worked together at our previous jobs, two of us grew up together, three of us were good friends in college – all of us went to Northwestern undergrad together. Finding our first employees was a challenge that none of us faced before. The role was for our “People / Project Manager”. After >50 interviews, we soon found that we weren’t necessarily looking for someone to fit the role perfectly, rather, someone that fit the team. We realized that what we needed for our first employee(s) was someone who was equally passionate about the problem we were solving, could adapt to multiple roles, and could be a leader within our future team – both culturally as well as operationally.

Prab: Culture often comes from the top: how do you approach creating good culture?

Ishan: Open communication and feedback. And of course…beer, cold brew, and kombucha on tap, along with some delish snacks. We wanted to make sure that as new personalities entered into our team we were adapting and scaling our culture through constant feedback.

Prab: Give us your favorite example of how you either hacked something to achieve your goal or hustled to come up with a creative solution around an obstacle.

Ishan: When we first started the company, we were trying to figure out how to get cold storage at our home base. We had evaluated a bunch of different options from tricking air conditioners to operate cooler in large spaces, to building out full refrigeration systems. All of the options we evaluated had high cost structures and/or were incredibly manually intensive and required some level of HVAC technical skill. We ended up taking the refrigerated container off of a big refrigerated truck and placing it on the ground. It was 1/10 the cost, and required no physical labor.

Prab: What does good leadership mean to you? What key lessons in have you learned?

Ishan: Adaptability, mutual respect, and a desire for feedback. All three of these rest on the same foundational block of constantly striving for improvement. Arrogance in leaders has always been one of my biggest fears. It’s something that I’ve found can lead teams astray, as well as be toxic in the work environment. Having a feedback driven leader permeates into having a feedback driven culture. There is also something very important about signaling to the rest of the team and company that, just like the business / concept that everyone is working to improve, even the leaders believe that there is constant room for personal improvement in how they operate. Understanding the nuances of the team and adapting your leadership methods to complement them is just as important as your day to day business ops in building a successful organization.

Prab: What is one hard lesson you learned that you would share with others pursuing an entrepreneurial journey?

Ishan: Test your assumptions rather than being cooped up in a room in front of a whiteboard. When we were starting to develop the concept of Crafty, we spent months in front of a whiteboard pontificating on this concept. But we were only able to get so far. It wasn’t until we got a piece of advice from one of our mentors who told us to just go out and talk to our customer that we started truly making movement. The product / service that we had in the whiteboard room evolved ten-fold after we spoke with our potential customers. It was keeping true to that philosophy that has allowed us to expand our service offering over time and stay current with the needs and wants of our clients.

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