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In Palo Alto, Even the Hummus Guy Has an E-Commerce Startup

"No matter what my investments, I think I will always be famous for my hummus," says the founder of the Wondermall app.

Nellie Bowles for Re/code

Walking down University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, you pass a bustling little hummus shop called Oren’s. “Ah,” you might think, “here is where someone named Oren makes hummus.”


It’s where hummus-maker Oren makes his seed investments. Because this is Silicon Valley, and Oren Dobronsky, pleased with his seed funding of interior-design startup Houzz (recently valued at $2.3 billion), now has an e-commerce startup.

Of course there’s also hummus, which is delicious, and which arrived (along with marinated beets, baba ganoush, falafel and a chicken skewer) when we sat down at one of the tables in the bustling shop a little after lunchtime.

“No matter what my investments, I think I will always be famous for my hummus,” said Dobronsky, 42, who imports the hummus from Israel and serves it in a decorative swirl, with a whole garbanzo and tahini-filled center.

oren hummus

His new app — Wondermall — is an iPad shopping play in which a user can scroll through a virtual mall populated with anchor stores like Macy’s and Banana Republic. You enter a store by tapping it, and you’re presented with a clean, navigable shopping site that looks a little more like a traditional catalogue than shopping the same brands on Amazon, where they’re depicted as more of a list.

More than 230 stores have signed up for Wondermall, and Dobronsky started building it out about four months ago. The next step for Dobronsky and his team of 25, housed near the hummus shop, is to begin building out Wondermall’s universal shopping cart, so customers can grab a jacket from Gap and some leggings from Lululemon, then check out in one fell swoop.

Wondermall’s faux mall
Wondermall’s faux mall

“This device was meant for shopping,” Dobronsky said, pointing at the iPad. “It took these brands many years to even build a website. I’m just mashing them, like in a Pinterest style, where you get everything at once,” he said.

Mashing like he does his garbanzo beans.orens hummus

“I bring people here for meetings, especially if I want to impress them,” Dobronsky said of the cafe.

And it’s where Dobronsky’s investments — Houzz, Chegg, Audible, and Tipalti — often hash out ideas. He courts the tech community, intentionally staying open late (midnight during the summer) for entrepreneurs who work odd hours. He has posted headshots of tech celebrities in back so his staff can recognize Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg or Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham if they come in.

Dobronsky is proud of the role his little shop has played in the Palo Alto community. He showed me a a tweet from Graham, and then a Secret post that someone anonymously wrote about Facebook buying Pinterest, and to which Facebook VP Amin Zoufonoun responded:

orens hummus

In 2000, Dobronsky moved from Tel Aviv to New York, where he met his wife in a tango-dancing class, and started investing in startups. In 2008, he came to San Francisco to be in the center of the tech world. But first, he set up his hummus shop, because he had heard there wasn’t any good Israeli hummus out west. The key is the beans, which he said have been perfected in Israel and cannot be replaced by local ones. It’s been a hit. This year, he opened an Oren’s in nearby Mountain View.

“It is how I met people when I came here. The Israelis all came to see if the hummus passed muster,” he said. And it worked — the founders of Houzz, easily his best investment to date, are also Israeli. “The startups, they need a place to work late and to eat, and we have healthy, delicious hummus. The best here, I am sure.”

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