Dear Blue Apron,

This is one of those open letters of advice. It’s from a friend, me. And it’s free advice. So it might be worth just that — nothing.

But I, and probably everyone else, noticed Amazon encroaching on your business. And since I’m a big fan, and we at Highrise have weathered some intense competition too, I thought some of our learnings might trigger something for you.

Also, you and I both understand, I know absolutely nothing about your business or running a public company. I hate those open letters that are like “YOU NEED TO DO THIS”. You don’t. I suspect you’ll be fine if you just stay true to yourselves.

So even if this doesn’t help you, maybe it’ll help someone else.

Know Thyself

When I took over as CEO of Highrise in 2014 — which was also the same week I signed up for Blue Apron! :) — I really had no idea what I had on my hands. I didn’t create Highrise. I didn’t know why 37signals/Basecamp bothered to build it. I didn’t know who its best customers were.

So we did a bunch of customer interviews getting to the real Job people hire Highrise to perform. Despite our headlines and website copy we found it wasn’t a group address book or a contact management tool. Customers were buying the fastest, simplest thing they could get up and running instantly to track leads and manage follow-ups. That’s extremely specific. But knowing that fuels a ton of decisions now. From marketing site changes, feature prioritization, and most importantly communicating to the world what we do.

If you were to interview me about Blue Apron you’d hear: I first signed up 3 years ago. It was a crazy time in my life. I had a three month old, and had just started a brand new job as CEO of Highrise that very week. Jason, the CEO of Basecamp, our parent company, introduced it to me.

He too was about to be a dad. Interesting connection. 🙂

I had zero time to worry about meal planning. We were ordering delivery and takeout way too much and feeling the effects. We needed help. Jason mentioned Blue Apron sends you everything to make a great and healthy meal. Perfect.

One wrinkle was that meals still felt like they were taking too much time. But I embraced it. What I thought was convenience I was looking for, became instead a way to retreat some from work and the craziness around me.

I could just cook and think about something else.

Eventually, however, the long cooking sessions won out and I took a break. Shortly thereafter you introduced the Family plan and I came right on back.

The Family plan was the perfect fit. We just have a family of 3. Our now 3 year old daughter is finicky. So two meals a week for 4 people most often turns into 4 dinners with the leftovers warmed up the other two nights. And it seemed like you got the message on time because more recent recipes take less time to make.

Somewhere in there is a path that might not be what you expected. Or want to take. But it might be a path only you can tackle better than Amazon.

Convenience or Luxury?

One of my favorite books in the world is Trade Off by Kevin Maney. Kevin explores how successful companies appear to either fully embrace High Convenience or High Fidelity. Fidelity being things like luxury goods or experiential products. A good example of convenience vs. fidelity are MP3s vs. concerts.

Companies that try to be both high fidelity and high convenience fail at both, and fail at attracting customers for the long term.

From our customer interviews, I know Highrise is a high convenience business. People come to us because they need a solution as fast as possible. If they have to get on a phone call with a sales rep to go through pricing options and possible customizations we will fall on our face.

I feel like there’s room here for Blue Apron to choose to either go for higher fidelity or higher convenience.

On one hand you’re nailing convenience, but I’m sure there’s more you could do to remove steps from your service like even faster recipes.

But fidelity might be a better choice. Amazon after all seems to always gun for high convenience. Maybe the farm to table work you’re doing is already the best way to combat their push to convenience.

Out-teach Amazon

We can all probably predict that Amazon isn’t going to get into the business of teaching me to be a better chef. But I really could use the help.

I have always hoped to master some principles of what makes a great recipe. I want to feel confident going into someone’s pantry and inventing a recipe with optimized ratios of salt, sweet, acid, umami, etc.

But I’m not confident. I’ve cooked so many meals already in my life and I feel like I’ve learned very little. It could be an interesting area to take Kathy Sierra’s advice to out-teach your competition. The process of cooking Blue Apron meals could become more of a learning experience on how these recipes come together if that was a path you chose.

Anyways, good luck. I’ve really enjoyed being a Blue Apron customer over these years, and think you’ll be able to keep competing well even with the likes of Amazon in the ring. I’m even about to make your Corn and Cheddar Enchiladas as soon as I’m done writing this letter 🙂

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: here, where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. Also if you’ve enjoyed this article, please help it spread by clicking the below.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.