Two years ago I made a decision that changed my entire life. I decided to quit my corporate job at Accenture to co-found FLAVR, a peer-to-peer platform where everyone can sell homemade meals to their neighbors. We started full of ambition and absolutely no idea what would happen. And boy, a lot happened. Talking about a rollercoaster is an understatement. Fortunately, I had some kick-ass back-up: my friend and co-founder Moos Tits. Together, we were ready to conquer the world.
In only 2 years, we created a fully working two-sided market place. We worked together with the government to create the first ‘sharing economy law’ in Europe. Over 20.000 users registered on our platform. FLAVR homechefs sold over 25.000 homemade meals, worth over €200.000 in transaction value. Unemployed people were able to monetize their talent for cooking and started their own business. Families were able to go on a much needed vacation financed by their additional FLAVR income. Neighbors got to know each other through FLAVR and new friendships were born. I’m extremely proud by the impact our young start-up had on our users’ lives.
However, two-sided marketplaces are extremely difficult to build: you need to attract both supply and demand. This also means that you need to double your marketing efforts. Not only in work, also in cold hard cash. Further, you need a team of developers who are actually building the platform. And since technology standards are rapidly increasing, it’s a never ending job. I’m trying to say that you need money to finance this type of business. We raised €650.000 in total, both through an early stage technology VC and business angels. We were in the game. A lot of people congratulated us on our fundraising, the press attention we got, the meetups we organized, the pitches we gave, etc. But we couldn’t care less. Our reality was based on two KPI’s: customer acquisition cost and user lifetime value. Every euro spent, you need to earn back. We were measuring, analyzing and optimizing these KPI’s every single day.
One of our investors explained us a very simple yet accurate marketing model. As a business, you need to be relevant and distinctive in order to grow fast without too much funding. Relevant for the market, distinctive against your competitors. This however implied once again that we needed to be relevant and distinctive twice: demand and supply. We nailed it for our supply side, but the relevancy for our demand side was debatable. Our demand-side was growing (much) slower than we expected. That inevitably meant that we were burning too much money. Or we weren’t burning enough, who will say? The only thing we knew, was that we didn’t have the resources to invest even more in our market and buy our first customers. We concluded that we needed to rethink our company’s strategy and turn our business around. We had to cut costs. Drastically.
We had to let go all of our employees. We had to fire the very people that became friends and who were so much invested into making FLAVR successful together with us. This was without a single doubt the most difficult period for Moos and myself. These people were our heroes and we felt responsible for them. A top-notch team makes or breaks your company. Finding and hiring these people is very tough, and we messed up multiple times when we just started our business. We lost a lot of money and even more time because of poor hiring, so having to say goodbye to these champions was hard. Crazy hard.
But there was no time to waste. We restructured all company processes, customer support, marketing campaigns, development roadmap, financial plans, general strategy, etc. FLAVR evolved from a 10-man company to a 2-man company overnight. We repositioned ourselves from an aggressive growth oriented start-up to a sustainable/organic growth oriented start-up. And it worked. Our community is kicking ass just like before. This summer we had 2 awesome interns, Annelies and Tim, who brought so much new energy that new growth plans were created once again. We gave Tim the opportunity to become our new community manager, taking charge of almost all (newly streamlined) operations. FLAVR was back on track and continues to grow organically ever since.
However, after two years of crazy hustle and going through high ups and deep downs, FLAVR reached a certain level of maturity. We were able to kickstart the organic growth strategy and it has been growing sustainably ever since. Although we are still very passionate about FLAVR and its value to our community, Moos and I decided to step back from the company’s daily operational management. Of course, we remain the majority shareholders of our company and as co-founders we will always have an active role as mentor in FLAVR.
Since this is the closing of a chapter and the beginning of a new one, it feels only right to thank some people that helped us through our venture. First of all, we want to thank our community. These very people bring life into our company. We have been amazed by the energy, talent and passion these people put into their food creations. Further, we also want to thank our former employees, the FLAVR maffia. You guys (and girl) know how much you meant to us and we cannot thank you enough. Also, we want to thank our investors, our mentors. They believed in us from the very start. It was a privilege to work together with these people that brought so much experience and knowledge into our company. They simply made us better entrepreneurs. We also want to thank our incubator, Start it @kbc, to provide us with the perfect environment to go through this particular and exceptional experience. This environment packed with other young and ambitious entrepreneurs is priceless, especially when you were — like us — first time founders. Last but not least, we want to thank our families and partners. They kept us on our feet when we got another uppercut and were almost knocked out. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of sacrifices, but it most certainly also does to the people close to you. To all the people that helped us during the recent two years, a big and genuine thank you.
In case you’re wondering: what’s next? Well, obviously FLAVR will still remain an important part of our lives. After this tremendous start-up rollercoaster, Moos and I can barely imagine a life without FLAVR. But we also want to leverage all our lessons learned from our past journey on a new venture. We have so much more experience than we had two years ago. And most important of all, we have a more-than-solid co-founder relationship based on deep trust and respect for each other. We are ready to kick-ass so hard our feet will hurt. Therefore, we are very proud to announce you our newest venture, Poppy.
As from January 2018, Poppy will launch a new mobility solution with its own ‘free floating’ car sharing service in Antwerp. We will work with a fleet of 100% electric Volkswagen e-Golf and Audi A3 g-tron (powered by natural gas-CNG). More concrete, Poppy will launch with 350 cars in Antwerp and the surrounding Antwerp region. From experience, we know how important good foundations, partners and investors are. Therefore, together with D’Ieteren Auto, we decided to work out a corporate venturing model. In short, we will combine the strengths, speed and agility of a start-up with the power and resources of a publicly listed company. And regarding that kick-ass new A-team? We are making some great progress. Michiel, our former FLAVR lead back-end developer will join Poppy as the Head of Engineering (read his story here) and Niels Peetermans, former co-founder and CEO of Conversation Starter joined our team as Head of Operations (read his story here). New challenge: definitely accepted!