Stephen Fry and a certain ex-PM are fans of this start-up. Have you heard of it yet?
The Shoreditch-based start-up launched in September, it offers an alternative to the traditional takeaway by creating a community of professional chefs who cook from their homes and deliver ordered meals, often themselves.
Top Brit investors Paul and Michael Birch (of Bebo-founding fame) are already involved and the business is seeking its next round of investment.
It’s a pretty radical shift for an industry that has remained unchanged years. With almost six months under its belt, I thought it was time for a quick chat with the man behind Housebites, Simon Prockter.
Here’s what he had to say…
So Simon, whereabouts in Shoreditch are you based?
We’re on Rivington Street. But I’m not a fan of the whole Silicon Roundabout thing.
Why not? Don’t you like the moniker?
This isn’t the hub of technology in the UK and I think the government are trying to ride on the back on it with the whole Tech City initiative. They’re wasting money and encouraging all sorts of people to start businesses who will most probably fail.
Wow, okay. Tell me about Housebites. Where did the idea come from?
It all came through a bad takeaway! No, honestly, I had been working on a social dining model where you could put on a dinner party and invite strangers to your house. But I realised it was going to take a while to get off the ground because it involved a complete behaviour shift for people.
I call this plan Housebites Mark 1. Part of this plan was that if the amateur chefs got good, they could start delivering to their neighbours too. Then the idea came. We ordered a market leading takeaway and jotted down all the problems with it and went from there.
They say all good start-ups begin by solving a problem, I don’t always believe it, but it’s true in this case.
- Are global tech giants good for Silicon Roundabout?
- Kevin Hartz, the Silicon Valley whizz kid taking on Old Street
- What London needs to build its own Facebook or Google
So were your investors Paul and Michael Birch in on the takeaway?
Not exactly. Paul had been involved with Mark 1 but I was under increasing pressure to make it work. It was during the Royal Wedding last year. I was at my desk at Tech Hub and I knew the original idea wasn’t working.
I was ready to clear out my desk, with enough money to get on a plane to the Philippines, go and work on a beach bar. Then the idea came.
I had investment from Paul Birch and another investor – they both knew the original plan wasn’t going anywhere and asked for their money back. Paul was away but I rang the other guy straight away and asked him to give me until the end of the weekend.
We had another meeting on Tuesday and secured the money again that week. That was April obviously so we got it off the ground in five months.
Great story! How much investment have you received so far?
We don’t disclose at this stage. We have only had seed funding so far and we’re in talks now to raise the next round. We are looking in London but also abroad to the European investment market. We’ll probably disclose numbers once we’ve reached the next stage.
How has the business been received so far?
Well the chefs involved are great. We launched the business with them on-board and most of them are still with us. It’s their start-up too. They see all of the exposure we’re getting and the love that customers are giving them through feedback and they love it. And of course as we grow, they are making more and more money. They are making a better living than they would in a restaurant kitchen.
So the chefs cook in their own kitchens?!
Yes, they love it. They work when they want and all from home. There’s something easy about working from your own kitchen – and it’s easier to keep clean! We follow strict health and safety regulations though. The chef’s kitchens are subject to regulation from local authority and our own inspectors.
How much of London do you cover?
We have three main clusters. There’s the Highbury cluster, Westbourne Grove and Clapham. These do stretch quite far though. Stephen Fry orders from the Highbury cluster and he’s in Mayfair.
Stephen Fry! Have you got any more celebrity fans?
Well just last week we had an order from an ex-prime minister and his wife. I couldn’t possibly confirm the name but we had to do a very special delivery involving fish (he’s on a diet, no dessert) and the food was collected by police.
Did they approve?
Well they gave us a five star review! As for Stephen, he’s been back a few times…
So when the food isn’t being delivered by police, I read it’s delivered by push bike?
Kind of. Around 90 per cent of deliveries are delivered by the chefs themselves and many of our chefs have bikes. We love the push bikes, in theory we’d love everyone to deliver in that way. Our chefs can’t always deliver themselves of course. Sometimes they’re too busy and once we grow I can’t see it being maintained.
But the chefs love the interaction. They also put little treats into the bags sometimes. Wesley Thomas (used to work at Soho House and The Graucho Club), who cooks in the N7 postcode puts chocolate mousse in the bag. We had chefs putting rose petals in over Valentines.
Apart from increasing your reach, what will you do with the next round of investment?
There are definitely things we can continue to reinvent once we have a larger network of chefs but I couldn’t possibly talk about that now.
Simon, you’ve started businesses before – tell me a little bit about your previous experiences.
My biggest project before this was SpeedDater Ltd. which I sold a few years ago. It was a speed dating site which ran events as well. We turned over a few million and franchised the business in Europe. We had the biggest dating events company in Europe.
Singles speed breaks (holidays for singles) was the part with the biggest revenue stream but it also had the biggest overheads…so the lowest profit.
We rebranded that part of the business as Adventura and it got quite big but it was really hurt by the recession. With a lot
of the bookings we had to pay upfront and as the recession hit suppliers started going bust, the pound weakened, the BAA strike hit and flights got cancelled and then, then the volcano started.
I tried everything to save the business, stripped it right back, brought friends in to do some of the work but unfortunately we folded. The day we put it into liquidation was the most relieving day of my life.
Well your experiences obviously haven’t put you off. You’ve covered love, travel and food. What could be next for you?
There are plenty of other areas to cover but this is going to take up my time for a while.
Fair enough Simon, I hope it all continues to go well!
Find out more about Housebites.com