While studying criminal justice and public policy at the University of Guelph, Damian Matheson planned to pursue a career as a lawyer.
However, as he learned more about the world of law, he realized his heart didn’t necessarily lie in the legal field but didn’t know where to go next.
“I didn’t even know what a startup was prior to this whole experience, and now this is my life. I sell food online and I love it.” —Damian Matheson, Co-Founder, FoodStory
He was a member of TalentEgg and, one day, an email from everyone’s favourite job board and online career resource for students and recent grads landed in his inbox.
The email from TalentEgg featured information about and a link to the Digital Specialization Program at Ryerson University: a 12-week experiential learning program. Figuring he had nothing to lose and everything to gain (and wanting to get a leg up on everyone else graduating with a Bachelor of Arts), Damian applied for the program.
It was in this program that Damian met Zacharie Weingarten, a vegetarian living in a condo in the big bad city. Growing his own food wasn’t really an option for Zacharie, but it remained a priority. Finding a way to eat local and encouraging others to do the same sparked an idea for a business plan.
The FoodStory story
The way the DSP program works is that at the very beginning of the 12-weeks there is a “pitch off,” where everyone pitches a business plan that they want to work on.
The group votes for the best two ideas and these two ideas are what the remainder of the program is spent working on.
A pitch to showcase the unknown presence of Toronto’s farmers’ markets by bringing them online and into the 21st century happened to win one of those two spots and the rest, as they say, is history.
After conducting some research and discovering Ryerson had its very own farmers’ market (which had no digital presence and little awareness surrounding it), their business began to really take form – especially after this market was shut down.
Zacharie and Damian made it their goal to make sure that no more farmers’ markets followed suit.
Did you know there are 26 farmers’ markets in the city of Toronto? I didn’t either – which is why startups like Damian and Zacharie’s FoodStory are so essential in growing Toronto’s local markets.
“People’s biggest issue with not going to farmers’ markets is they simply don’t know when and where they’re happening,” Damian says. “Farmers’ markets’ biggest issues lie in their lack of a marketing strategy. FoodStory was built to bridge the two.”
Consumers now have the ability to locate their nearest market, view profiles of farmers in attendance and see what exactly they’ll be bringing to market that week. Besides promoting the fact that these markets actually exist, this further accomplishes two major things:
- It allows the consumer to see the face behind the food and know they are supporting a real, local farm.
- For the busy, on-the-go professional who doesn’t have time to hit the market, they have the ability to see what food will be at the market that week and create from it a customized box to be delivered right to their doorstep. That way they can still support the local food market without being forced to consider a career change.
Starting an entrepreneurial career
The world of entrepreneurship is proving to be very different than the law career Damian was once bound for. His current business card reads Director of Business Development, but he says that his role can’t be wrapped up in one neat little title. “I research potential partnerships and talk to all the movers and shakers in the local food movement,” he says. “I’m also a janitor. Basically, I handle whatever comes on my plate.”
The FoodStory office is located in the Digital Media Zone, which is a Ryerson-funded spot for tech startups to get off the ground. It’s open-concept, with multiple teams and organizations sitting together, sharing ideas and feeding off of each other.
“There’s a ton of passionate people here,” Damian says. “I didn’t even know what a startup was prior to this whole experience, and now this is my life. I sell food online and I love it.”
When asked what advice he has for fellow entrepreneurs, he suggests having a “why not?” mentality and knowing you have nothing to lose. “Right now is the best time to try something because you don’t have mortgages or children to worry about,” Damian says.
He also spoke to the power of networking. “Meet as many people as you possibly can,” he says. “Everyone you meet has different contacts and knows different things. These people can tell you what’s great and what’s not so great about your idea. Everyone has ideas – that isn’t the hard part. It’s making your idea special and unique that gets tricky. Get input from anywhere and anyone possible.”
Looks like society just lost the excuse that eating locally is simply too inconvenient. Thanks to FoodStory (and TalentEgg), it’s quite the opposite.