Update, Dec. 3: On Monday, Berkeleyside reported on what appeared to be the end of service for its robot food delivery fleet, Kiwibot, after the company sent out an email with the subject headline “ ☠️⚰️ Kiwi is no more.” We talked to its founder and CEO Felipe Chávez, who said the service as we know it would be ending. The start-up was giving mixed signals however, as several hours later, around 10 p.m., Monday, Kiwibot sent an email saying it was not shutting down service after all.
Chávez wrote, “In the last 24 hours, we have received thousands of messages from the community, customers, and partners related to an email we sent today with the subject: ⚰️☠️Kiwi no more. First of all: KIWIBOT IS NOT SHUTTING DOWN. Our aim was to draw attention to the early ending of deliveries for this semester, but the email was incorrectly worded.”
Chávez went on to give “teasers” of what the company is planning to unveil on Thursday, including a redesign of the Kiwibot, which will look very similar to the old version, but be more durable and less prone to getting blocked by obstacles; plans for Kiwi Express, which it says will be the “first end to end robotic food delivery service;” details and updates about its Colombia office; and a formal introduction of the company new brand name, Kiwibot, and website, kiwibot.com. As Chávez told Berkeleyside, the company will be back in operation Jan. 21.
Original story: Berkeley food delivery startup Kiwibot (formerly Kiwi), familiar to many by its robots that roam the streets of the city, is shutting down.
On Monday morning, Kiwibot sent an email to its subscribers with the subject line: “ ☠️⚰️ Kiwi is no more.” The company wrote that two years after it started the company, it would be “ending the Kiwibot delivery service, effective December 15, 2019.”
Kiwibot’s fleet of insulated, remote-controlled robots delivers hot and cold food items on campus and campus-adjacent areas of town. Founder and CEO Felipe Chávez started Kiwi in his native city of Bogotá, Colombia, in 2015, with people as couriers, rather than robots. When he brought the service north to California in January 2017 as part of UC Berkeley’s LAUNCH program, Chávez switched the service to robots (but with students in Colombia powering them). Kiwibot has said it has made 80,000 food deliveries.
Chávez, despite the skull and crossbones and coffin emojis that accompanied the grim headline announcing Kiwibot’s demise, is not yet ready to say his company is dead. When Nosh contacted him to find out why Kiwibot was closing, the founder said the company would “pause operations” Dec. 15 but “will have normal operations next year at the beginning of classes.” “We do that every winter because 95% of our customers are students,” Chávez said. He said the company will be back in business on Jan. 21.
But Chávez admitted that Kiwibot coupons and points users had will no longer be available, and that “Kiwibots, as we know them, are going to change.” He hinted that the company is pivoting in a new direction, “We’re going to announce something that we have been working on this whole year.” The announcement will happen at 4 p.m. Thursday. “We’re going to tell the world what’s next.”
While Chávez was unwilling to share any further details about what the new iteration of the company or service would be, he did confirm what we were all wondering: “Robots are going to be involved.”
Kiwi appeared to be the latest food delivery startup to join the list of the fallen, many of them founded in Berkeley. SpoonRocket, Munchery and Sprig, all launched by UC Berkeley grads, have all closed up shop. DoorDash, Caviar and Grubhub are still going strong, however.
Stay tuned on Nosh; we’ll share more details as they emerge about what’s next for Kiwibot.
Cirrus Wood contributed reporting.