Why do students set up their own companies? And how do they turn their business ideas into reality? In this series, student entrepreneurs talk about the incubation stage of their start-ups. Today, Mayeul and Elvinas tell us ‘a story of setbacks’.
Skip the line
Bluechef is a platform for ordering, payments and loyalty in restaurants. Restaurants get to know their customers better by enabling customers to order and pay in the restaurant on their phone without an app. It’s web-based, which means that customers can go to a website or scan a QR code where they get the restaurant’s menu. By ordering and paying through the platform, the restaurants gather more information about customer preferences. The benefit for customers is that next time they go to the restaurant, they get a customised menu based on their previous preferences. This has advantages for both the restaurant and the customer. Co-founder Mayeul: “On the one hand,we improve process efficiency. For instance, in the Erasmus Pavilion you’d no longer have to queue. You could just sit down and order from your phone. There’s also improved customer experience due to personalisation.”
The idea started when Mayeul was still at high school in France. “I noticed that there were a lot of opportunities to bring digital services inside physical places, like restaurants and museums. My co-founder Elvinas and me were often frustrated about the speed of service in restaurants, or more the lack of speed. We therefore started looking into ways to improve the efficiency of restaurants.” When Mayeul arrived in Rotterdam to study IBA, he started looking for a technical co-founder to build the platform. One possible candidate was Elvinas, a first year IBEB student, who immediately saw potential in the concept. According to Elvinas, they were a natural match: “There were originally more co-founders in the initial team who left, but we were organic from the beginning. Because you spend at least eight hours a day together, you need to have fun, otherwise it gets pretty tough pretty quickly. Trust is the most important factor between co-founders and being friends helps develop that.”
The departure of co-founders wasn’t the only setback that the two students encountered. Another problem was that they didn’t really know the restaurant industry and it is hard to meet restaurant owners to promote their business to. Fundraising also took longer than expected. Starting your own business is therefore ‘a story of setbacks’, according to Mayeul and Elvinas. “Every business that says they had no major issues in their initial phase is lying. We have more setbacks than wins, so you need to celebrate every win you get.”
One of those wins that helped them and their company to grow was Rockstart, an accelerator programme in Amsterdam. Despite being the youngest and least experienced of the applicants, they were accepted on the accelerator programme. Mayeul: “Somehow we managed to get on the programme with only a ten-slide PowerPoint and our enthusiasm. We kind of got the wild card of the batch. They were like: ‘Okay, here are these young dudes, they seem to know what they’re doing, they don’t look too stupid, let’s give them a chance.’ They saw that we were young and motivated with a good idea, team and product.” This programme is like a pressure cooker for businesses. You get mentors, guidance, pre-seed funding and you work in an environment where you get to meet a lot of people. This opportunity helped Mayeul and Elvinas figure some things out about the direction Bluechef would take in the future.
Bluechef has worked with New Fork (in the food court) in the past, but this was mostly to improve efficiency. After this, they switched their focus to customer preferences. People expect personalised service today, look at Netflix and Amazon, but that doesn’t yet exist in restaurants. They realised that not knowing their customers is a bigger problem for restaurants than the inefficiencies. So, they changed the direction of Bluechef’s focus. Although they launched the project three years ago and they still aren’t making any profit, they want to keep going to see what happens. Elvinas has a more explicit goal:“One of the better feelings is other people liking your product. I’d really like a friend to recommend Bluechef to me, that would be really cool.” They’ve also just entered into a commercial partnership with Lightspeed, which sells ordering screens and cash register systems for restaurants. They have upcoming tests with client restaurants of Lightspeed. In the future, they will therefore be targeting fast casual restaurants that work with Lightspeed, so that Bluechef’s platform is integrated with Lightspeed’s operations.
Due to the partnership with Lightspeed, Bluechef has good prospects, according to the two friends. If there’s one thing that Mayeul has learned during their entrepreneurial endeavours, it’s the value of discussing ideas. “Don’t be afraid to talk about your idea with other people. Ideas are worth nothing and if you don’t talk about your idea, it can never get better.” Elvinas emphasises: “Many students hide their ideas because they’re afraid they’ll be stolen. Most of the time it’s the other way around: if you don’t talk about it, you miss out on the opportunity to get valuable feedback.”