Backing entrepreneurship | since 1999 | Linas Matkasse
Food for Thought — A Very Personal Interview With Europe’s Meal-Kit Pioneer LinasMatkasse
LinasMatkasse-founders, the Swedish siblings Lina Gebäck and Niklas Aronsson, about the inspiration, first steps and personal challenges on their way to scale a family business internationally
What should we eat for dinner? By providing a tasty answer to that question, two siblings have made many people’s lives a whole lot easier. Since Lina Gebäck and Niklas Aronsson founded LinasMatkasse in 2008, the Swedish company has successfully revolutionized the food retail sector — and in the process, kicked-off a whole new world-wide industry. Early-backed by the VCs Creandum and Acton Capital, the team expanded all over the Nordics. Today, the LinasMatkasse Group delivers 20 million meal-kits with 1.1bn SEK revenue per year, has more than 250 employees and nearly tripled the number of new customers in times of Covid19.
LinasMatkasse was the first-ever meal kit company. Niklas, what inspired your idea?
Niklas: I was very much open to a new business idea in the autumn of 2007, but I struggled to find “it”. Around that time, my wife Malin came home from work one day. She had just picked up our hungry kids and stopped by the store, she was trying to figure out what to eat that night. I remember her asking me: “What is it with family dinner!? Everyone eats the same, why can’t I just stop at a traffic light, roll down the window, reach out and get a packed bag handed to me!?” So, I began thinking about that. My initial idea was to deliver meal kits to kindergartens as a pickup place, because I thought home deliveries would be too expensive. But then I got a text message from a friend, writing, “Niklas, read today’s paper! Someone is starting up the idea you’re exploring”. The company he was referring to was called Middagsfrid and they delivered directly to customers’ doorsteps. That really stressed me out, but this early competition also inspired our speed of growth. We ran fast and went on to become the best-known brand in Sweden. Many believe that Linas Matkasse is the pioneer and in one way we are, but Middagsfrid was actually the first to launch.
Lina, what was your initial reaction when your brother told you about his idea?
Lina: Honestly, I was skeptical at first, because I believed that people would like to decide for themselves what to eat. I thought: “Why would anyone outsource the pleasure of food shopping?”, but since I loved planning and shopping, the idea sounded like fun. Soon, I realized that people preferred leaving the everyday dinner planning to somebody else, getting it packed and delivered to their door.
…and the company initially involved your whole family?
Lina: Yes, Linas started as a true family business. It was invaluable having people around to help with all the different things that are coming up in our early start-up days. Malin, Niklas’ wife, created content for the website and commercials; our cousins designed the logo, marketing materials, and took care of online marketing; my husband started to work with us, and so did our father. He, for example, printed the recipe booklet at home. As the company grew and the number of booklets increased, Dad had to install extra ventilation (by himself, of course) in the room where the printer was. He also took care of the packaging, delivered bags to customers, and until now, our Dad is responsible for Linas’ Corporate Social Responsibility projects in Sweden. Every week, he delivers excess food to charities.
Regarding the personal as well as the business perspective: what were the biggest challenges for you as first-time entrepreneurs and along the way?
Lina: As the face of the company and with my professional background as a dietitian, I was determined to make our product perfect: tasty, nutritious, inspiring, no food waste… At the same time, I paid a great deal of my attention to thoughtfully and professionally communicate with the media and with our customers, which I did a lot. During the first four to five years, we worked pretty much 24/7: evenings, weekends, during the summer holidays. It was our own choice, there was no other way for us to do it. But all the wonderful feedback from our customers inspired and challenged us to improve and develop. We had made their everyday life easier. They told us that they were now eating better, the food was tastier, more varied — and that they had learned how to cook. To see the impact of your work first-hand, was truly awesome.
Niklas: When you start a company from scratch without funding or savings, new challenges are part of your everyday work life, like needing a good developer and being shocked by the salary levels those guys have. We found one of the best, and since he turned out to be also a great businessman, we paid him commission based on bag sales. A solution quite outside the box, but it worked very well.
But looking back, my toughest personal challenge was to decide if and when to step down as CEO. I never had any vision of becoming the CEO of a big company, but all of a sudden there I was. I talked to the board, but mainly to the Acton guys in Munich, and got the best encouragement and support to stay for a few more years. In retrospect, I appreciate that a lot. It made my ride with Linas much longer than it would have been otherwise.
Speaking of Acton: Since they invested in 2011, LinasMatkasse has grown more than tenfold. What made you working with a VC from Munich?
Lina: As we were growing extremely fast, their experience and guidance were important. I also appreciated that the Acton guys have taken a genuine interest and involvement in Linas business. That motivated us as founders.
Niklas: The Acton team was a good mix: number driven on one side and an entrepreneurial mindset on the other. They understood what’s important for a founder to keep the ownership and feel the freedom to lead. We had a good gut feeling about both Jan [Schultze] and Sebastian [Wossagk] and realized that they shared many of our core values on how to responsibly scale a business. It does also help to have investors with whom you get along really well on a personal level. Our journey together has been great, and both Lina and I really enjoy their company.
“Niklas wanted us to be the biggest, I wanted us to be the best”
It was Sebastian who said that the two of you, as founders, were a good mix as well; the perfect match compatibility-wise.
Lina: Yes, we were. Although we hadn’t worked together before, we soon realized that we complemented each other very well. Niklas as the true entrepreneur with a strong focus on marketing, sales, and scaling the business. And I, caring for details and working hard to create a product to be proud of. We were like gas and brake: Niklas wanted to move forward fast and I wanted to make sure we could still offer top quality. He wanted us to be the biggest, I wanted us to be the best. Yet combining these different approaches was definitely a key factor for Linas’ success. We had surprisingly few conflicts, but a very open communication instead, definitely based on a lot of genuine trust.
How was your role in the company both back in the early days and now?
Lina: In the beginning I created all the menus myself. I was in charge of orders and in contact with suppliers and customers. At the same time, I attended events, met with the media and marketed our brand in different ways. As we grew, we employed more people and I built a fantastic team responsible for the menus, nutrition, and food safety. Two years ago, I handed responsibilities over to one of my talented colleagues, also an experienced dietitian. Today, I work closely with the marketing team and the chefs. I share my time primarily between product development and promoting and representing Linas Matkasse in public.
Lina, as the face of the company, you are well known in Sweden. Regarding that popularity, have you ever thought about expanding into other industries?
Lina: Our latest brand tracking showed that more than 50% of Swedes recognize my face. Yes, there are a lot of possibilities, but I chose to focus exclusively on Linas. As we were growing very quickly, I wanted to make sure we grew sustainably without risking our high quality and good reputation. At the same time, I was also growing my family and have since been blessed with four lovely kids. All of them have been to work with me, in all kinds of meetings — with suppliers, employees, the board. In 2010, when Sebastian and Jan from Acton visited us for the first time, about to invest in the company, my second child had just been born. Of course, I brought him to the meeting. Balancing work and family life has always been important to me. So, there wasn’t much time for anything else until recently. Last year though, I published my first cookbook.
Since founding Linas Matkasse in 2008, the company has served over 50 million meals, grown to become the market leader and revolutionized the whole sector. In retrospect, what are the reasons behind your huge success?
Lina: The fact that we fulfill a recurrent need that many people — mainly families with children — have every day: “What should we eat for dinner?”.
Niklas: Timing! Up until we started, food e-commerce was yet to take off. When we began, people were not afraid of buying online and our twist was appreciated and became kind of a new trend.
Also, we had very few internal obstacles, our team was stable and super focused on doing a good job and going the extra mile. I recently had a talk with a former colleague, who said to me: “I now realize that the experience we had at Linas, is something I can´t expect to get anywhere again. Our gear, the drive, finding solutions, taking pride, working until we were done, and the way we were backing each other — that was simply extraordinary.” We had a strong company culture. Even visitors noticed that there was something in these walls that you picked up the second you entered the door. It’s hard to tell what it was, but there was a special vibe.
With your business model you have basically kicked-off the whole meal kit industry. Marley Spoon, Munchery, HelloFresh, Blue Apron: They all credit Linas Matkasse. How does that make you feel?
Lina: We´re proud to be a role model. And it´s really cool that we revolutionized the way people buy food, from going to the store to letting someone else do the planning, shopping and delivery.
Do you think Linas meal kits can change the way people eat in the future?
Lina: I often hear now that people simply eat more consciously since they started to use our service and that they waste less food. The need for convenience, less food waste and healthy eating were my most important goals when we started. Today, 12 years later, it´s even more important.