Seattle startup Shelf Engine lays off 43 employees due to ‘challenging economic conditions’


(Shelf Engine Photo)

Shelf Engine is the latest Seattle startup to cut its workforce.

The company, which helps grocers manage food orders, confirmed to GeekWire that it laid off 43 employees due to “challenging economic conditions.” It didn’t provide an updated headcount; the startup employed 200 people in September when it raised cash from a group of celebrities. According to LinkedIn, the company currently has around 150 employees.

“Due to the current challenging economic conditions, Shelf Engine made the very difficult decision to reduce the number of positions at the company,” CEO and co-founder Stefan Kalb wrote in an email to GeekWire. “We are moving forward aligned in pursuit of our mission to reduce food waste through automation.”

Amid the broader economic downturn, many companies are being advised to reduce costs and extend cash runways, which often means laying off employees. Seattle startups such as Convoy, Flyhomes, Rad Power Bikes, 98point6, and Esper all had rounds of layoffs this year.

Founded in 2016, Shelf uses machine learning to streamline the ordering process for grocers stocking their produce sections, aiming to trim costs and reduce waste in the process. The company reported in September that retailers who use the platform can reduce food waste by as much as 32% while increasing profits. Shelf Engine makes money by marking up products it buys from vendors that it sells to retailers.

In September, the startup said that it was being used in at least 3,500 U.S. stores, with large retailers such as Kroger, Target and Whole Foods, as well as the food service company Compass Group named as clients. It also opened a second office in Denver.

Shelf Engine co-founders Bede Jordan (left) and Stefan Kalb. (Shelf Engine Photo)

Kalb got the idea for the company through another startup he co-founded, Molly’s, which provides healthy food to hospitals, grocery stores, coffee shops, gyms and offices. Kalb noticed the difficulty of building efficient fresh food orders and decided to build software that helped Molly’s purchase the right amount of bulk food to fulfill customer requests.

Kalb co-founded Shelf Engine in 2016 with Bede Jordan, a Microsoft veteran who was the principal software engineering lead for the company’s HoloLens team.

The leadership team also includes Deborah Alexander, chief operating officer and head of finance.

The company has raised around $60 million to date, including a $41 million round in March 2021 and a $2 million round in September led by celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White and Shawn Mendes. Other investors include General Catalyst, GGV Capital, Foundational Capital, 1984 Ventures, Correlation Ventures, Founders’ Co-op, Soma Capital, Firebolt Ventures, and Initialized Capital.

Shelf’s post-money valuation in September was about $180 million, according to PitchBook.

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