With her mobile app Foodstand, this 30-year-old wants to help drive conversation around the source of our food.

By Larissa Zimberoff and Civil Eats
Updated May 24, 2017
Rachna Govani
Credit: © Summer Rayne Oakes

Rachna Govani has three full-time staff and one goal for the upcoming year: She wants Foodstand, the mobile app she created, to spread like wildfire. The 30-year-old hopes that by making it easy for people to share food-related news, research, tips and local events, Foodstand will deepen engagement within the food movement.

Govani likens Foodstand to a “new-age Chowhound or a Reddit, but with values.” The app allows users to view and filter trending topics, events and articles as well as take part in monthly campaigns that cover themes like food waste and cost.

“I think it's important to discuss the food behind the photo, the action behind the double tap,” says Govani.

Since launching last year, Foodstand now serves users in 65 countries, including Serbia, Egypt, Iran and Turkey. Justin Aiello, the manager of Olivette Farm in Asheville, North Carolina, uses it to connect with potential CSA subscribers.

Wanting to better understand the barriers for setting up a CSA, he posed the question to the online community. His post received 30 comments—enough to enable him to make better-informed decisions and connect to potential customers.

Govani graduated from NYU and spent a few years working in marketing for Fortune 500 companies before leaving the corporate world. In 2013, she partnered with Purpose.com, a public benefit corporation that has worked with ACLU, Everytown for Gun Safety and others to develop her startup. They canvassed the tech community for advice on an app that could spread the social impact of food initiatives. She also attended monthly Meetups hosted by Slow Money NYC, an organization with a mission to invest in socially responsible companies, and sought seed funding from its angel investor network.

The Foodstand team is also expanding its opportunities via live interaction. Together with Derek Denckla, director of Slow Money NYC, Govani has developed a New York-based event series called Foodstand Spotlight.

At the monthly gathering, Foodstand curates a short list of food startups looking for feedback and connections. In four minutes each, representatives present their product or vision to a small panel of experts and a community of 100-plus  food lovers and advisors. During the event, viewers answer specific questions via text message and organizers display responses on a screen behind the presenter. Once the event is over, the startup reps receive a PDF recap of the digital conversation.

Govani describes the events as friendly focus groups that empower early-stage startups with direct feedback. “It’s a unique experience that is significantly more powerful than just a mingling happy hour,” she says. “It’s not cutthroat. Spotlight is community driven, and people are there for the support.”

Spotlight has seen several successes so far: Whole Foods has picked up products by companies including The Chaat Co, True Made Foods, and Cocoburg; an indoor agriculture company called Agrilyst went on to win TechCrunch Disrupt.

At a Spotlight gathering in 2015, chef Randy Rodriguez met bar owner Jimmy Carbone, and as they were talking, Rodriguez reminisced about the Salvadorian foods he grew up eating. The two hatched the idea for a short-term pop up inside Carbone’s bar, Jimmy’s No. 43, and later, Rodriguez opened his own brick and mortar restaurant called Cabalito in the Lower East Side, in which he serves his favorite childhood pupusas.

According to Slow Money’s Denckla, “One of Foodstand’s early wins was taking on a more involved role in becoming New York’s go-to for food companies looking to get feedback on their products.”

In their work to turn Foodstand into a full-suite media company, Govani and her team are planning to expand its reach this year by kicking off ambassador programs that will include occasional Spotlights and more in Detroit, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Austin, and Nashville.

They recently announced a partnership with UK chef and activist Jamie Oliver, and kicked off a monthly film and book club in New York featuring Michael Moss and his book, “Salt Sugar Fat.”

Despite all of these wins, Govani still has many hurdles to jump as she works to move the platform toward widespread adoption. Leading a startup takes diligence, but “the difference here is that work doesn't feel like work even if I'm doing it all day, all night, and probably in my dreams,” says Govani. “I believe we can really make a difference.”

F&W is thrilled to partner on a new series about the American Food System with the award-winning CivilEats.com, run by Naomi Starkman and Twilight Greenaway. Here, the site's expert contributors will share interviews and news about the entrepreneurs and activists making a difference right now.