Ottawa-based Desk Nibbles lands pre-seed financing to fund U.S. expansion

Cassy Aite
Cassy Aite is the co-founder of Desk Nibbles. The bunny in his hands played little to no role in launching the startup, but looks great in corporate photos.

After coming up through the Ottawa startup system, local firm Desk Nibbles is ready to tackle the U.S. market thanks to its first round of funding.

Founded by brothers Cassy and Emil Aite and friend Eric Kys, the local software firm aims to build the “office kitchen of the future” by connecting workplaces to healthy snack distributors. A number of companies including Uber Canada as well as Ottawa’s Canvas Pop and Trip Advisor office are already using the firm’s solution, and its founders believe now is the time to pounce on the same opportunities south of the border.

To that end, Desk Nibbles has landed $350,000 in pre-seed funding. The Business Development Bank of Canada is providing $250,000 in debt financing and the rest comes from an undisclosed investor. A $12,500 award from Ottawa’s Capital Angel Network caps off the cash for the startup which, until now, has been fully bootstrapped.

“Now it’s really time to execute,” older-brother founder Cassy tells OBJ.

‘Secret sauce’

Desk Nibbles takes an app-based approach to filling the company fridge. Employees can directly message Desk Nibbles’ artificial intelligence chatbot via Slack and tell the bot their dietary preferences or feedback on a recent snack. That chatbot, custom-made for each business, stores suggestions and ensures that the entire company’s workforce has the shelves stocked with what they want.

“We’re potentially able to scale to any city in the United States without actually having boots on the ground.”

Aite says this chatbot approach is Desk Nibbles’ “secret sauce,” and it could extend the startup to other services in the future. With access to a company’s preferences, feedback and order history, Desk Nibbles is slowly accumulating analytics that are valuable both to the workplaces and vendors serving them. The firm is already experimenting in ways to turn this data into an opportunity for each player in the equation – including Desk Nibbles.

While there’s still plenty of room to expand in Canada, Aite says there are more immediate opportunities available in the United States at the moment.

“We’re potentially able to scale to any city in the United States without actually having boots on the ground,” Aite says.

Not Uber Eats for snacks

Desk Nibbles isn’t like most other food delivery services currently crowding the market. Other services, such as Uber Eats, deliver full meals to individuals or small groups at costs around $20 per person. Orders through Desk Nibbles, which target enterprise customers, are usually done in bulk at prices around $800 each, Aite says.

Desk Nibbles’ cut is a commission around 10-to-15 per cent of each vendor’s sale. That’s lower, Aite says, than food retailers such as Wal-Mart and Amazon that take up to 30 per cent from distributors. The startup looks to edge out these incumbents with an improved user experience and better margins for its vendors.

Most companies using Desk Nibbles, however, aren’t subscribed to any pre-existing services. Aite says 80 per cent of businesses using Desk Nibbles today are new to the idea of healthy workplace snacking, with the startup’s solution being the only one they’ve ever used.

While the firm plans to tackle cities such as Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia in its marketing push, Aite says the firm’s first American user was from Silicon Valley. The firm’s CEO discovered the Desk Nibbles application through Slack and tossed it to the office manager, who he figured was probably tired of fielding snack requests from everybody in the office.

That pain point, combined with an increased focus on fostering healthy work environments, is the growing appetite that Desk Nibbles is looking to satisfy.

Through the Ottawa system

The Desk Nibbles story is uniquely Ottawa. The Aite brothers attended both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University – “There may be a rivalry but we’re Ottawa boys,” notes uOttawa alum Cassy – and ran Desk Nibbles through both the Startup Garage and Lead To Win programs at the respective schools.

From there, the company bounced around locations, even being put up by Tony Bailetti at the Global Cybersecurity Resource space in Bayview Yards for a time before outgrowing it.

“We were really scrappy,” Aite recalls.

Now, the 14-person startup will join the first cohort of Invest Ottawa’s new accelerator program with plans to grow to 20 in the incubator space by the end of the year.

With three people in a Toronto office, Aite says Desk Nibbles has received offers and pushes to relocate the whole company to southern Ontario.

Given the support Desk Nibbles has received so far in Ottawa, that kind of move isn’t on the menu.

“We’re really excited to be building a company like this, that’s growing this fast, in Ottawa,” Aite says.