Despite protests from Health Department officials who fear an epidemic of food-borne illness, Seattle-based start-up LeftoverSwap launched its app last week, enabling consumers to sell leftover dinner to their neighbors. An iOS version of the app is now available for free on iTunes, and the first confirmed swaps happened in New York last week, when an enterprising vendor hawked his partly-eaten bag of Pop Chips to a hungry peer.
The following day, two San Francisco users documented another LeftoverSwap exchange -- coincidentally also involving a bag of Pop Chips.
San Francisco's Health Department has warned, repeatedly, that it's illegal to sell food without a permit, and that anyone who participates in this new sharing economy venture could incur expensive citations -- up to $2,000, or three times the original permitting fee, according to Richard Lee, director of the Health Department's environmental regulatory program. But given the hype over LeftoverSwap, Lee is beginning to look like a Cassandra. His warnings about hipster hygiene appear to be falling on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the app-makers say that insurance, which includes separate $1 million policies for personal, business, and advertising liability, accounts for the bulk of their expenditures. Theoretically that should gird the company from lawsuits if anyone gets sick, CEO Dan Newman says. "At least, that's what we pay for," he writes in a somewhat tentative e-mail. "I should probably just say 'yes.'"
Otherwise, LeftoverSwap is a fairly slim operation, bolstered by "the multitude of free services available to developers," and a $300 investment. Newman adds that with various potential revenue streams -- including per-transaction fees advertisements -- and the possibility of venture capital or grant funding down the line, the company may have a profitable future. It's at least promising enough for the CEO to lard his correspondences with appetizing puns.
"This is the 'lean' start-up philosophy," Newman cheerily continues, "although the food listed may not be."