foodhost: Christopher Tau
The founder of foodhost on shaking up the dining market and his hunger for success
Tell us what your business does?
We’re a community marketplace for people to create and share local dinner parties in their area. The concept is simple; users sign up for free and scroll through a list of events happening in their cities. They can book a place by purchasing a credit which allows them to receive the host’s contact information, or set up a new event for others to join in. Members have a chance to message any questions they may have beforehand, and users can rate and review the occasion afterwards.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I was looking at successful peer to peer companies; and it puzzled me why no one has yet tackled the £150bn food industry in the UK.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I asked everyone I could, and talked to anyone who would listen – it’s important to get honest feedback. When you see the amount of cooking programmes on the television, or the endless food blogs out there, it’s easy to understand there’s an audience.
What’s your USP?
foodhost can help users to save time, money, and effort; while making new friends and enjoying great meals. This is possible because each host is also the guest, so everybody takes a turn in cooking in their own homes.
The public love this idea because it’s cost-effective, customers can save money on utility bills, and weekly food shopping through bulk buying. They get to try out new dishes instead of eating the same ones again and again. Wasted food can be put to good use and not in the bin; and it minimises the effort of shopping, cooking and washing up all week.
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?
The world works based on economics, when you pay for something you get something back, but often businesses cut corners to increase profit margins. We’ve kind of turned that whole model upside down. Our mission is building up communities and complementing consumer food choices through sharing. This means there are no compromises on the quality of the event because everyone wants to make a good impression.
Unlike restaurants with huge overheads to cover, there are no bills to pick up, no tips to leave, no waiters rushing to finish, and even no parking fees. What’s more, for the cost of one meal out in the UK (averages £20), users can attend up to 60 dinner parties on foodhost.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was working in the catering/retail sector. The pay was pretty good, so it was always going to be difficult to leave.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Honestly, no. I wanted to be in a band and travel the world, but opportunities like these don’t come knocking often. Running a business means you can control your own destiny.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I did put together a business plan, but I don’t think it’s essential. At the end of the day it’s the person who sells the idea, not the piece of paper.
How did you raise the money?
The company is completely self-funded.
How did you find suppliers?
I spoke to a lot of different digital agencies to gauge the market standard. I also looked online and used friend referrals.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
Nothing is easy; if it was, everyone would be doing it. The one thing that sticks out most is conviction. If you don’t believe in your product or service, nobody else will, no matter how good it is.
Where is your business based?
In the cloud mostly, I’m outside half the time so I carry a smartphone with me.
How have you promoted your business?
Aside from traditional and social media, we incentivise our users to talk through a referral programme. It’s too early to measure ROI though.
How much do you charge?
It’s free to join the website and browse around. Prices start from £2 per event. We wanted a mass market product so we took a bold approach to undercut the entire industry.
What about staff – how many do you have?
It can vary. We’ve outsourced our work so we could get what we needed without spending a fortune. There are plans to bring in more full-time talents in the coming months.
What has your growth been like?
We aim to break even by the end of our first year.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
Good – because when I wake up I really want to go to work, not the other way round.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Educating your audience. User behaviour is the hardest thing to change.
What would you do differently?
To start a lot earlier – there’s only so much you can learn from researching. It’s better to have an unfinished product out in the open market than have a finished one that arrived too late.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Make sure you’ve calculated the risk. Preparation wins half the battle, luck wins the other half.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
We want to be the leading player in this space by having a strong presence in all the towns and cities in the UK. Instead of searching for meals on Google or Yelp, hopefully people will be using foodhost.