Uncover: Christopher Steinau, David Saenz and Dan Ziv
Co-founder Steinau on how his three month-old start-up has secured partnerships with top restaurants and Uber, alongside $1.5m investment...
Name: Christopher Steinau
Company name: Uncover
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 27/01/2015
Tell us what your business does:
Uncover is the UK’s first same day restaurant reservation app that provides users with last minute availability to some of London’s hottest restaurants, from trendy innovators to Michelin starred classics.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The business was created out of opportunity, as we realised that diners and restaurants both need help finding and filling those last tables. One night 15 months ago, Dan, Dave and I were out in Soho and spontaneously decided to go for a great meal at the last minute. Even though we know the London restaurant scene very well, we ended up walking around for an hour trying to find something interesting that wasn’t fully booked.
That’s when it dawned on us – what if we could eliminate the need to traipse the streets, call restaurants one-by-one, or do endless research on the internet to find an amazing restaurant. What if there was one resource that provides smart, real-time recommendations based on last-minute availability, and that’s how Uncover was born!
How did you know there was a market for it?
This question needs to be answered in two parts really, firstly from a consumer perspective and secondly from a restaurant perspective.
We were almost certain that we weren’t the only ones who’ve experienced a problem when trying to find a good restaurant in central London at the last minute, so, we started asking around and found that there were a lot of people who felt the same way. We knew that once we were able to provide last minute availability to popular restaurants, the tables would naturally get booked.
From an industry perspective, we knew from a number of our contacts in the restaurant world that if a particular place is very popular, people don’t tend to call and ask for same day availability, expecting the restaurant to be full. However, there are always last minute cancellations that result in empty tables, and empty tables mean a restaurant is losing out on profit. Our provides a solution to both issues and matches an eager audience looking for a spontaneous meal to popular restaurants that have that last minute availability that needs to be filled.
What were you doing before starting up?
David Saenz, co-founder and head of restaurants, as a partner at global law firm Greenberg Traurig, where he represented hospitality clients including The Plaza Hotel and many New York restaurants. David also served on the executive committee of Slow Food NYC, and he has consulted with food tech start-ups including Taste Savant and Menuspring. Dan Ziv, co-founder and head of product, worked as a corporate lawyer in the Israeli tech scene, and worked on cross-border strategy and business development at PayPal’s CEMEA headquarters in Paris and with the VC fund Index Ventures in London.
I head up marketing at Uncover after spending five years in investment banking at Sal. Oppenheim (affiliate of Deutsche Bank), I transitioned into the tech sector and joined YPlan, a VC backed last minute booking app for events, where I co-founded the business development department and learned the nuts and bolts of scaling a two-sided mobile-only marketplace.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes, all three of us have always dreamed of running our own businesses, we all met at the London Business School. We’re all very entrepreneurial by nature, have similar interests, and also have complimentary skill sets and experiences. We particularly bonded over our love for great restaurants! So it made sense for the three of us to get together.
How did you raise the money?
After we came up with the concept we ran a trial for about a month with a simple, but beautiful early version of our app. The data that we generated from this trial was so encouraging that we decided to raise money and when went through a round of seed funding that saw us pull together $1.5 million from professional investors. Our angel investors including Philip Wilkinson, founder of Kelkoo and Keynoir, and Keith Willey, professor at LBS strategy and entrepreneurship.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
At the moment we’re charging a flat fee to each restaurant based on each diner we deliver. In the longer run, we believe that it is essential to align our revenue stream with our restaurants’ interests so we are taking all of the data from our bookings flow and will be working with the restaurants to create a pricing model so that both sides feel they are getting the best deal possible.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
One major hurdle we faced initially was signing up restaurants before we had a product or users. We knew we wanted to launch Uncover with great restaurants on the platform so that even our first users would be blown away by the choice. This meant a lot of networking and relationship building with the best restaurants in London so that they felt confident that appearing on our platform would benefit their business. Their faith has been rewarded, and hearing how happy they are with the initial results has been very encouraging.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Our first big breakthrough came when we went live with an end-to-end real time system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the market. It was exhilarating to see a restaurant upload a table, for that table to appear in a split second on the app, for users to engage and read all about it, and for the first user to book.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Follow your heart and build your business on something you really believe in because if you don’t you’ll struggle to make it a success. Don’t just go with the flow, challenge conventions, think outside the box and aim high as nothing is ever out of reach.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
We all want to be managing an evolving, breakthrough app that has transformed the way people discover and book restaurants, and has revolutionised the entire going out experience. We want Uncover to be available in all the major ‘foodie' cities around the world with the hottest restaurants on our books and we also want users to be able to plan, book and pay for their great dining experience at the last minute through the app.
We’ve already partnered with Uber so that our users can book transportation right in Uncover to get to and from restaurants, and we’re launching mobile payments through the app this spring.