The Dishcover Story: Part I
How we discovered our entrepreneurial spark
It’s a bright day in the first week of September 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. The summer is still going strong in Western Europe with temperatures above 30 degrees Celcius. More than 400 master’s students gather at the campus of Nova School of Business and Economics (SBE) in Carcavelos for their “Discovery Week”, excited about what the next years of their academic journey might hold for them.
That’s where we — Paul and Florian — met for the first time. We got along well from the very first moment. Maybe because we seemed to have similar backgrounds. Having worked as management consultants after our bachelor’s, both of us took the chance to break out of the hamster wheel and look beyond our professional horizons. We had very little experience with entrepreneurship at that time. While Paul gathered some marketing know-how in a couple of internships and worked as a management consultant in different industries, Florian had mainly worked on developing cloud-based platforms for multinational organizations. Out of pure curiosity, we both ended up in the course Applied Entrepreneurship in the first semester. This is where the Dishcover story started.
Food Tinder: An Idea Is Born
“Get out of the f*cking building” — that is what Professor Miguel Muñoz Duarte told us about entrepreneurship in our first class. The guy should know: He had been a former marketeer for FMCG brands like Danone and Henkel, both in Portugal and abroad. He lived innovation from A to Z, worked with top-tier innovation consultancies around the globe, and founded several ventures himself (Ungap Education, iMatch). So we got out of the building and kept our eyes open on the hunt for a problem worth solving. After several open interviews and online surveys, we found two.
Whenever students wanted to eat out with friends from university, they experienced a combination of problems on their journey towards finding and deciding on a restaurant:
1) There’s simply too much choice when it comes to the selection of restaurants. Only on Zomato, a leading restaurant aggregator platform in Portugal, you could choose from more than 15,000 restaurants (in the greater Lisbon area alone!).
2) Different preferences and dietary restrictions (there is always at least one friend on a diet, right?) within a group usually caused inconvenient discussions.
In a group of six students — cheers to Priya, Jonas, Chris, and Julie — we developed an idea for the product vision: Food Tinder. Through a mobile application, consumers should be able to decide on a restaurant and receive a “magic group match” in only a fun couple of swipes, based on the pictures of the dishes offered. They could then book a table directly via the app and the restaurant would be charged a fee per guest. Additionally, this would allow us to collect data about what consumers liked or did not like and provide the restaurant with valuable insights. Great! We had an idea. But was there a space in the market for yet another restaurant aggregator platform targeting the niche of the niche?
We dug into the market potential. Studies showed that the restaurant and mobile food services market in European Union grew by 29% from 2011 to 2017 and achieved a massive size of EUR 279 billion in 2017 (Statista 2019). Additionally, people were increasingly going online to discover restaurants around them. The online search volume for “restaurants near me” grew by 2–3x globally from 2018 to 2019 (Clampet 2019). Promising numbers at first sight! When we had a closer look at the food applications market, we realized that the competitive landscape was already crowded.
However, there was a sweet spot for our idea in the niche of food apps that would leverage gamification to decrease the amount of information for restaurant customers and simplify their journey before visiting. We saw that we had to come up with a strong unique value proposition for our idea to differentiate ourselves from the high competition by the big players like Zomato and substitutes such as people’s Instagram feed.
More Than a University Project
We went on to craft the first value proposition for our idea, focusing on the consumer side first: Food Tinder is the easiest way to discover food with your friends. Just like Tinder gained its early traction through creating a novel and gamified user experience for college students and combined that with launching college-by-college, we thought that Nova SBE would be the ideal starting point for Food Tinder. So, we designed the first experiments and started testing. We created app mockups and launched a very basic landing page, food-tinder.com, that included download buttons for both the App Store and Google Play Store. We made Food Tinder look as “real” as it gets.
To build and increase traffic on the landing page, we sent short teasers to university groups on WhatsApp and Facebook, making students believe that Food Tinder was already available. The results of this first test were promising! We noted 279 unique visitors on the website of which 171 tried to “download” the app, resulting in a conversion rate of 61% (!). When clicking one of the download buttons, visitors were redirected to a second landing page, explaining that we were still building the product and they could sign up for our newsletter to get notified once it would be available. With the results in hand, we saw that there was potential and caught fire. This was fun! After a final pitch within the Applied Entrepreneurship course and the feedback of our professor that we “had something there”, we decided to give it a shot beyond university. To make it real (and not having Tinder sue our asses) we changed the name of the project to Dishcover.