Over the last few years consumers have become accustomed to getting rides from strangers off the internet, sleeping in the houses of people they have met through the internet, and renting clothes from people off the internet, so it is no surprise that the next thing startups are trying to make happen is buying food from people we meet on the internet.
Launching today with $2 million in funding from private and institutional investors is FoodByUs, a Sydney startup founded by former Menulog managing director Gary Munitz, Tim Chandler, former lead engineer at Menulog, and Ben Lipschitz, former managing director of footwear brand Flipsters, looking to connect passionate home cooks with consumers.
The platform works by having the cooks, or ‘makers’, apply online to be listed on the platform. After applying they are taken to a system asking them to book a taste test where the FoodByUs team will, as the idea of the taste test suggests, taste test their food for quality control.
They will then be assisted with the basics of what comes with essentially setting up an ecommerce presence: pricing their products, setting up an ordering schedule, and photographing their range, with FoodByUs sending its own photographers to help.
On the consumer side, they simply browse the platform according to the product or dietary requirements, such as gluten free or paleo, select what they want, order and then select whether they will pick up the order or want it delivered. FoodByUs then charges the maker a 20 percent fee on each order.
The platform went live with a soft launch a few weeks ago, in which time Lipschitz said it has brought on a few hundred makers, most in NSW; among them, he said, are former professional chefs, Masterchef contestants, and of course, foodies.
With Chandler and a number of the team having previously worked at Menulog, Lipschitz said it has been able to go from the idea stage to launch in just a matter of months, with the team having “really got cracking” on the idea in February.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have the Menulog experience behind us, because as talented as the team is, any team would find it challenging. We’re really happy we’ve got it up in the time we did, and we found we got a whole lot right right off the bat because we did manage to anticipate things that both sides would want, like makers wanting to set their own schedule,” Lipschitz said.
“They’re not always available, on-demand, they only want to make on a Thursday or Friday evening in time for the weekend, for example.”
Another factor Lipschitz said FoodByUs anticipated is the fact that the makers just want to make food; they are not necessarily business people who understand the ecommerce environment, hence the support through the onboarding process.
Now, with the supply built up, FoodByUs is focused on growing the demand, with the funding it has received to go towards sales and marketing to get consumers on board.
Though the platform has been described by founders as an “Australian first”, it is in fact one of several to try its hand in the peer-to-peer cooking space: 2013 saw the launch of the very similar YourFork, now defunct, Welcome Over allows users to effectively host dinner parties for neighbours in ‘pop up home restaurants’, Neighbour Flavour connects home cooks to the hungry, and GetFoodi does the same though focusing on the dessert niche.
Given Lipschitz said he had not heard of any before, it’s clear none have cornered the market. Perhaps Your Fork was ahead of its time, coming too far ahead of the peer-to-peer wave, while Neighbour Flavour is yet to properly launch. A look at Welcome Over however shows upcoming dinner parties listed over the next few weeks, while GetFoodi has started connecting people with cakes.
A potential problem for these businesses could be the regulatory environment – each state around Australia has its own food safety standards, with NSW regulations stating that most local councils regulate home-based food businesses, with these councils able to conduct inspections.
However, Lipschitz said the startup is confident its onboarding process ensures makers are aware of their regulatory responsibilities.
FoodByUs is focused on growing its presence in Sydney before looking to Victoria over the next few months.
Image: Ben Lipschitz. Source: Supplied.