I think we have all been there before, sitting around a boardroom table or standing within a room at networking events being offered stale sandwiches or cold chain store pizza as “snacks” to get you through the night. Not only is it boring, it is also extremely unhealthy – and why, especially in the startup space renowned for the pizza and beer combo, do we shovel mind numbing, un-nutritious snacks into our mouth knowing that within 30 minutes we will be restless, tired and wanting to leave half way through the speaker or presentation?
Sydney based startup YouChews wants to show business owners and corporates that there is a better way of doing things. The company is an online catering marketplace for interesting and unique food options that have been sourced from the local community. It allows businesses and individuals to source and order bespoke food options from otherwise unheard of food artisans that are trending throughout the grassroots of the foodie scene and bring them to the ‘masses’.
The startup was founded by Liz Kaelin and Phil Doran and is part of the current muru-D accelerator programme. For a short time, the company had Jo Cranford as its CTO who recently moved on to pursue other projects. But during that time, YouChews came along in leaps and bounds from a technology standpoint and now has a team of 12 people working within the organisation, nicknamed the “Chewsy Crew”.
Kaelin, who has a background in nutrition and dietetics, came up with the idea for YouChews after attending a lot of networking events within the Sydney business scene. Kaelin questioned why offices and companies would spend money on crappy food when there was all this interesting community food available to them at similar prices.
Setting out to prove product-market fit, Kaelin and Doran operated the business manually for the first year to get a sound understanding of what technology they needed and the types of activities they would need that technology to facilitate. Unlike other ‘tech-first’ businesses also part of the muru-D programme, by the time YouChews joined the accelerator it had already proven that it had a solid market, having made sales from day one even before a proper website was live.
But make no mistake, technology, as Kaelin says, is in fact the most important part of the startup.
“Technology is the most important component of the business” says Kaelin. “We have operated manually for the first year to really get the background and understanding of what we wanted the technology to do, and work out how we can introduce people to small local food businesses, but at scale,” she said.
Doing this has allowed the business to pivot slightly. At the time the startup started pitching to muru-D, the concept behind YouChews was that it would be like the ‘Pandora’ of catering. This meant that instead of knowing what they were getting, customers would just be surprised with the food that turned up to their event. Perhaps one of the biggest customer learnings Kaelin shared with Startup Daily was the realisation that users wanted both choices and different levels of budget options.
The way the site works now is users enter how many people they will be catering for and the budget per person they have in mind. The budgets start out at a minimum of $6.00 per head. The site then populates a list of food options for the customer based on group size and budget. Everything is then co-ordinated via the YouChews interface from start to finish, with the caterer being the one that delivers the food to the user. This is not just for quality control reasons but because every foodie on the platform has a story and this can easily be communicated with the user, creating an even greater sense of engagement with the platform and the YouChews brand – although this interaction does happen offline, as delivery is the final step in the UX process. Of course, YouChews makes its money by taking a clip of ticket from each order made via the platform.
At the moment, unlike all the other muru-D startups, YouChews is not preparing to go on the excursion to China. This is simply because getting a platform that has fresh food products to scale is dependent on making sure everything from a local perspective goes off without a hitch first. After the team is satisfied that they have gotten everything smooth sailing in the Sydney market, the most logical expansion plans for the platform are of a national nature first as opposed to going straight into an overseas marketplace.
“At the moment we are taking a step back from business development,” says Kaelin. “We already know that we [YouChews] has product-market fit and instead we are focusing on the technology and making sure that we get that right so we can reach scalability all over Australia”.
This decision is supported by the YouChews invested advisory board, who while not publicly revealed (until the upcoming demo night) includes a well-known figure within the hospitality industry and a financial and legal gun that has helped the company form some solid terms and conditions – something that is needed considering the industry being played in.
Although YouChews claims to be profitable right now, Kaelin acknowledges that a potential funding round following the completion of the muru-D programme would help the startup scale faster. But Kaelin and the YouChews team are currently on the fence as to whether that would be the right move.
“I am still on the fence about funding right now as the business is currently profitable, what it is going to come down to is identifying future investors that align with the [YouChews] vision in order for us to get that acceleration” says Kaelin.
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