Whisk: Nick Holzherr
Smart online shopping basket for recipes
Tell us what your business does:
Whisk lets users purchase the ingredients for any recipe they find on the internet via online supermarkets. People can add recipes they find to a virtual basket and, when ready to purchase, select the number of portions they want.
Understanding the users dietary requirements, tastes and demographics, Whisk accurately selects suitable items from the online supermarket, then looks at what is needed for the recipe, what ingredients pack sizes are being purchased at the supermarket, and suggests new recipes to cook with leftover ingredients.
We’re working on the finishing touches at the moment – it’ll be ready for the public in September.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Craig (my co-founder) and I have been passionate about food for a long time and we both really love to cook. It goes without saying that running a business is very time consuming, however, which doesn’t actually leave much time to shop for ingredients.
Online shopping seemed to take ages and we found adding individual ingredients to online supermarkets cumbersome – despite buying groceries online being a great timesaver overall. As technology advanced, we saw the opportunity to build a software tool to help in this space, and it all snowballed from there!
How did you know there was a market for it?
We’ve been testing the idea for over two years. We built a prototype, built another prototype, did surveys, interviewed people who cook – almost every type of research you can think of.
We also looked at the statistics for online grocery shopping and recipe usage and realised we were developing a useful, potentially profitable service in a growing market.
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What were you doing before starting up?
After graduating from Aston University, I set up Co-Go Coffee – a company serving high-quality, ethical coffee in cups on which we printed advertisements.
The business worked well, but wasn’t particularly scalable. We had lots of trouble growing due to a difficulty getting permission from councils and landlords to put our outlets in busy places.
I sold the business to a local rival and started a technology business called QRky, which offered a SaaS platform to manage and track QR codes.
Then, of course there was The Apprentice. Coming third was a great platform for a tech start-up that needs to grow quickly. The public awareness it comes with is probably unparalleled.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Not always. During university I did a placement with Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, working in their international investment banking department. I wanted to be successful and saw investment banking as a way to do that.
After the placement I entered a business plan competition, which I won. That gave me the confidence to start my own business and made me realise that this was actually closer to what I wanted to do. It’s a lot of fun, if very hard work at times!
How did you raise the money?
We pitched to a few VC’s and angels and had a fantastic response. Lots of people that we presented the idea to wanted to invest.
Getting the investment closed and money in the bank was another matter – hours and hours putting together legal papers with lawyers. Our investors come with a wealth of experience, having all succeeded in different, relevant sectors.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I face different challenges every day. Too many to list here! Generally, common sense and initiative solves most of them.
When there is something I can’t solve by thinking it over in a quiet space, I usually call on my friends (who act as advisors and mentors as well). I have a few people around me all the time that have been there and done it. They act as a sounding board for problems I can’t figure out myself.
How much do you charge?
The service is 100% free for users – including our apps and browser plugins
All our revenue comes from supermarkets and brands who advertise within the service.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Firstly, I’ve learnt that starting a business doesn’t require any type of genius. I’d have failed a long time ago if it did. It’s about common sense, initiative and lots and lots of perseverance.
When I first started my coffee outlet, the bespoke outlet we had ordered was delayed, despite us having paid for all the equipment with a bank loan. We had no choice but to start up without it, and sold coffee from what was practically an office desk for about six months. I considered giving up many times in those six months, but I’m delighted that I didn’t.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’d love to have built Whisk into a service that people use across the country. I hope that we will do the world some good, by saving on all those waste ingredients that are thrown away each year, and helping people explore more exciting dishes at home.
If we have sold the company by then, I’d like to be an angel investor myself and find innovative new company founders to invest in, and help grow their businesses. I’m really passionate about start-ups and would love to learn a way of doing it that works for me, then share that with other people trying to do the same.