Freezer No More was about to cease to exist.
It’s almost midnight on a cold late winter night in Brooklyn, and there’s little movement at the failed startup’s grocery delivery hub. But Pavel Danilov, CEO of Fridge No More, couldn’t resist the urge to tidy things up.
It might be the muscle memory he’d developed after working 16-hour days, seven days a week, for the past two years. Or maybe it was the faint hope that a last-second buyer would swoop in and save the 15-minute delivery company that he and his Russian co-founder, Anton Gladkoborodov, thought was their ticket to success in the United States.
For the next hour, Danilov ignored the fact that every banana, loaf of bread, and bag of chips that surrounded him never made it to the customer’s door. Even though his 450 delivery workers had already done their last job, he was still moving food to its correct shelves and making sure refrigerators were properly closed. “It didn’t really make sense,” Danilov said, looking back on that rocky moment last March. “I didn’t want my store to look like garbage.”
As the tech industry recession worsens, a growing number of startup founders who have blossomed into the 2020-2022 boom are facing a new sense of dread and insecurity. “In the next 20 months, 50 to 60 percent of all early-stage companies will fail,” General Catalyst CEO Nico Bonatsos recently told Keith Clarke of The Information. “It would be a very sad situation.”
Many founders of these companies may soon discover a side of entrepreneurship that gets less attention than triumphant success stories or explosive scandals: the desperate final months of searching for a way out. Waves of anxiety and despair set in as the slim hopes of survival faded away. And possibly the awkwardness of settling into a new job where they are no longer the boss.
The story of the final days of Fridge No More, told here for the first time, offers a glimpse of the unfortunate reality for founders who believed they had hit the next big thing, only to find their business vulnerable to threats. It is more acceptable than them. Thought. Danilov and Gladkoborodov had created a product that customers enjoyed and saw revenue increase for months.
But little prepared them for what came next, as investors pulled back on their funds and the era of easy money was winding down. It’s a story that’s been repeated many times in tech boom and bust cycles: the story of founders who arrived too late to the party.