Three Reasons WhyYour Home Cooked Food Sharing Platform Won’t Take Off

And the hard thing to solve to change that.

Janos, Tamas and me posing for the press back when we thought our home cooked food sharing platform will take off

In 2013, I started working on Piqniq, a food sharing platform that would connect hungry people with amateur home cooks through a marketplace. As an entrepreneurial guy who had some experience with startups, I joined forces with two other guys. Tamas, who brought basic iOS and web programming skills and the original idea for Piqniq. And Janos, who is one of the most amazing networkers I know. The three of us became co-founders, and we jumped head first into the exciting world of food startups.

We focused on existing communities to try and kickstart home cooked meal sharing, and offices seemed the be the perfect choice. Hence the office mood on the initial illustrations for Piqniq.

Half a year and a lot of hard work later, we had everything seed investors are looking for.

- A diverse team, including “A-list” advisors.
- A convincing prototype and a relatively convincing business model.
- A clear vision.
- And major interest from both local and international media outlets.

No wonder we closed our first seed round with four different investors and their $600.000.

One of our early sessions with our “A-list” advisor: Peter Arvai, CEO of Prezi.com

Half a year later — following much internal debate — we abandoned our original idea, and focused the company on another opportunity.

With this short post, I want to share three simple, yet powerful realizations that led us to this difficult, but I believe wise decision. No, it’s not the government or legal battles.

Three years after the big “sharing economy” craze of 2013, food sharing platforms still keep popping up around the world. Their owner’s and investor’s hope is that it becomes the next AirBnB of food, or the next big marketplace for home cooked meals. In fact this very post is a message to a fellow I met through Medium.com, who just started one in Canada, with the backing of a local startup incubator.

Josephine.com: “Get home cooked meals from your neighbors.”
Yummber.net/en: “Extra income for people willing to share their home cooked meals with others.”
Eatwhith.com: “Join us at a communal table with hosts in over 200+ cities.” They went after tourists with moderate success.

If you ask me, no one should waste their time building such a platform. Not until someone solves the real problem holding us back. I will reveal what I think is the real problem in a minute. But first: the three simple, yet powerful realizations:

1. People are lazy.

Never underestimate the true nature of people. People are lazy. L A Z Y! Not everyone. But in general, they are. And that means they will not take that extra stop with the bus on their way home after work just to buy that otherwise delicious Hand Rolled Pappardelle & Braised Beef dish of your’s you learned from your mother. Make no mistake: they will say they love the idea. They will say they will try it. They will press the blue “I’m interested” button if you give them one. Hey, they will even tell their friends about you! But they won’t take that extra damn stop.

Now if you read this from the US, and you drive everywhere: this applies to you too. Even though you have a car, and don’t rely on public transport, you will not make that extra mile from your home to pick up your dinner from a stranger in the neighborhood, because… you guessed it: you are lazy. I am exaggerating here but the point is, we underestimated the nature of people in this regard.

2. Thank you! That was great fun, but thank you: not again!

Every major city has a large set of people excited to try themselves at — what I call — the “restaurant game”. Trying out what it’s like to cook for money, and host people at your own place. But finding and attracting these willing “players” gets harder as your marketplace matures in a given city. The reason for this is that most of your cooks — ones who successfully sold at least one meal on your platform — will typically drop out after their first, second, or third try.

I’ll never forget the eyeopening meeting where this has been confirmed to us. We met for lunch with Timo Santala, founder of Restaurant Day, an idea from Helsinki. At the time, Restaurant Day was already miles ahead of us, in many ways it was a mature, well working concept with lots of events across the EU.

“You guys have a great brand! You have great press! You seem to have found product-market fit! Seemingly, the thing is growing! But tell me, Timo… aren’t you struggling with keeping your cooks active? Isn’t it hard to keep people organizing events once they experienced the thrill of it, but also the brutally hard work that comes with it?!” — I asked.

His answer was less important to me than the change of his face, and the heavy sigh leaving his chest. Indeed: keeping users, and recruiting new ones was a big problem for them. After that meeting, I could never again look at Piqniq with the hope I had for it before. Why would we work hard on a platform we know will lose most of it’s users? And not just any users, but the producers, the engines of the platform?

Janos and Timo after coming back from lunch the day I lost all hope in our original vision.

3. Your best, most successful cooks will leave you fastest

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Applied to your food sharing platform, that principle suggests that 20% of your cooks will be responsible for 80% of all successful transactions.
Based on early signs of what we experienced, I’d offer a grimmer prognosis, something closer to a 3/97 rule. And that would be OK, had 3% of people stayed. But very likely, they will be the first to grow out their home kitchens, and move on. Either opening their own restaurants. Or finding their ways into professional kitchens one way or another.

Once we understood these three issues, we decided to channel our time, energy and money towards other opportunities in food tech. Eventually, this led us to the creation of FoodNotes, an app that helps you make a visual memory of anything you ate and organize them into thematic notebooks.

I left Piqniq just after shipping Foodnotes to the public.

So what to solve first?

A home made food selling marketplace will not become the next Uber or Airbnb in size any time soon. Apartments, rooms and cars share similar qualities as units of a platform. They are easier to build systems on. Food is a different unit, it comes in a thousand shape and form.

Having said that, it’s been my conclusion at the time, that the real bottle neck for such a platform is delivery. Or to be more scientific: logistics.

What I’d want future players to do for me as a cook is to:

1. help me get my pancakes across town
2. in under 30 minutes
3. for less than a dollar

If they could do that, it would help all the lazy people stay at home, but still be able to eat home made food.

It would help cooks like me be far more spontaneous about baking/cooking. I’d just bake them pancakes, and see who’s up for a few near me as I’m cooking them. Hack, I’d even pay for delivery.

The CPO (Chief Pancake Officer) at work. That’s me by the way at a startup party baking pancakes.

Of course with that ambitious goal, we have entered the still somewhat sci-fi world of drone deliveries, courier robots and teleportation devices. Ok, that third one is an exaggeration, but I firmly believe that if you want to help urban communities trade their food, you’ve got to start with distribution. And you’ve got to make it dead simple, and super cheap.

For many of our fellow competitors, the way to product market fit led through pre-packed cardboard boxes, let’s call this the Blue Apron model, or by focusing the platform on pre-bookable eating experiences targeting tourists mainly, let’s call this the Eatwith model.

Seemingly, a home cooked meal sharing platform is the perfect idea, praised by the media, and applauded by excited amateur cooks and foodies the world over. In reality however, with all it’s benefits it’s just one of those “black hole ideas” that suck in great teams like ours, and swallow them for good like they never existed. Stay strong, get out of it’s gravitational field. Or: if you are tempted to go inside, solve delivery first!

P.s.: arguments welcome ;)

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