Marcello Giannuzzi (MG) and Kartikeya ‘Kat’ Shukla (KS) (Both Executive MBA, 2014) and Finn Callaghan (FC) are the team behind DubbaHood, a company that connects home cooks with people looking for freshly prepared meals in their neighbourhood a la ‘Airbnb for Food’. We chatted about entrepreneurship, belief and, of course, a lot about food.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
MG) I had a great experience. I remember the first day, when I came in for the introduction and I was wondering what the hell I was doing at Cass as London was such a different experience from my background – but step-by-step I discovered how much I would enjoy the people and being around that environment. It was a fantastic adventure and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities.
KS) I could not agree more; landing in the middle of London was quite an experience! You have to figure out the rules. There are so many people from different parts of the world and you all have to try to get on, which was a challenge at the beginning. But then sometime along the journey you end up forming life-long relationships.
KS) I think that’s a little bit of what the Business School is about. Marcello is from Italy and I am from India, and we met in London and decided to start a company together. Cass played a big role in that but we mustn’t forget Nancy (O’Hare) either, and she’s from Canada! So many people come together and met at a place called Cass, in London, where many of us had never been before. This international aspect is an important part of our company’s story.
What did you do after?
MG) It’s been about three years since we left. We finished at Cass in 2014 and didn’t go straight in to this. I’ve been working in Switzerland in the meantime. I clearly remember being on the New Venture Creation module, thinking that’s definitely not me! But the concepts were in the back of my mind, so when Kat and I talked about this idea a couple of years later it really turned a light on in my head. I realised that this is what I want to do and is right for me.
How did DubbaHood come about?
KS) My background is in business development and sales in the technology start up space. I have travelled 200-250K miles annually for the past 10-odd years, which has taken me around the world. Many people find that tiring but I enjoy it, meeting people and eating good food wherever my work took me. It just so happened that during my MBA I ended up living in Surrey in a very white neighbourhood, without many international food options or restaurants, so if I wanted to eat authentic food from somewhere like Brazil, then I would have to travel in to London.
So I was thinking, how do I get authentic food? Where do I begin? I went to Vietnam for an elective in Hanoi and the food places there, wow! I went to a place recommended to me for chicken by a local friend. It was the most authentic, delicious BBQ chicken cooked along the side of a road and over the course of the week we were there for the elective, I took several groups of friends and they all loved it. Marcello was one of the guys I took there and we ended up bonding over this amazing barbecue chicken and potatoes done in the Vietnamese style.
We talked about life and work and food and that’s when the idea really came together – we realised that what brings people from around the world together is a love of food and music. Well, we decided to focus on food! It was in Autumn 2013 that we had the idea, and it took from then until 2015/16 to say we need to do this; the world needs this. Once we started working on it, Nancy stepped in to help us and then we approached Finn to join the team to lead marketing and growth.
Where does the name DubbaHood come from?
MG) The name for me is about discovery. In DubbaHood, the first part of the name comes from the Dubbawallas in India. Dubba is the container in which fresh home cooked food is carried by these food couriers from your home, through this incredibly complex transport system, ending with the delivery of the meals to the right office where you work. That means they offer something that you don’t get elsewhere, the ability to eat home-cooked food, and to help communities get together, and this is where the “Hood” comes in, as we are connecting neighbourhoods through great food. We are trying to marry the concept of authentic and fresh home cooked food within neighbourhoods and brining people together using that hook.
What does DubbaHood do?
KS) We are a tech company which helps connect people who cook great food with people hungry for great food. We want people to connect with each other in their neighbourhoods. Nothing brings people together more than stories about food. It’s about the passion for fresh and authentic flavours; we’ve had enough of fast food and ready-to-eat. For this generation, it’s all about finding out what say, Marcello is cooking, what Kat is cooking, what Emma is cooking and how do I get a portion of that food for my own meal tonight. If you know the food is good (and our ratings and review system helps you with that), you will want to get your food from there, and that also helps the cook make a little money, as well as make new friends and connections along the way.
MG) Behind any recipe there is a story to tell, and it’s that connection to other people that you just don’t find everywhere. Those memories that home-cooked food brings and the story that is behind each meal is something not on the market today.
FC) It’s convenient too. Perhaps on a Monday night the last thing you want to do is figure out what you’re cooking. So what if you could meet with someone who has already done that for you so you don’t have to cook tonight? You find the person in your neighbourhood, take a short walk to pick up the food and it’s job done! And having someone in your neighbourhood who would cook you a fresh meal when you’re entirely focused on starting a company and don’t want distractions… that would be heaven to me right now!
What’s been the biggest challenge?
MG) Really for me it’s been to get out of my shell and stretch myself. I live in Switzerland and I work in the regulatory department for a big corporation. Even though you can definitely be an entrepreneur, building your own company requires a different and a more flexible and resilient approach to work.
KS) The biggest thing for me was to get the idea – and now we are moving to the execution stage in the journey. Execution of the idea is key and it requires incredible focus, resilience, and belief in your team and yourself. We are constantly looking for people who love the problem we’re trying to solve and want to come in to start contributing, and making a real difference. HR and organisational behaviour problems, these are the biggest priorities for us right now – it is critical to have the right culture to enable growth.
FC) When you’re a start-up, you could be the tech person one day, the customer service person the next and the marketing person the day after that, depending on your current list of priorities and deadlines. You have to make sure that you don’t let something important slip through the cracks or it could have a knock-on effect on other areas. It can be incredibly daunting to learn everything you can, about an area where you have little experience, in as short a time as possible. As Marcello said, it certainly forces you out of any comfort zone you may have. But it is truly exhilarating when whatever piece it is that you’re working on is successfully completed.
Do you have any advice to share?
MG) One word: Belief. You need to really believe in your idea, even if it’s a stretch and not within everybody’s grasp. Believe through the ups and downs, and it will become reality.
KS) Communicate. Good communication is key, whether internally for good or bad news, or externally to investors and people you are hoping to get interested.
FC) Patience. Working in a start-up is an entirely different experience to an already established company. In a company, there are processes in place and established roles and responsibilities. In a start-up, there is no structure, you’re figuring it out as you go along and success doesn’t happen instantly, so you need to be patient. Yes, you will have setbacks, you always do in a start-up, but you’ll have many more if you’re not patient with yourself, with others and with the journey.
So you’re looking to hire new people?
MG) One of the things at Cass that is very important is access to talent. The journey just started for us and we want to tap into the Cass network to say we are here with this great opportunity, get in touch with us if you want to find out more or of you think this is a business you’d like to be contribute to!
KS) Hiring is critical and so is putting a good Advisory Board in place. We’re a growing company so it is critical to put the right team together including getting the right investors on board.
Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
|Favourite place in London:||Tate Modern||Borough Market||Tate Britain and Modern|
|Favourite holiday destination:||Cambodia or Vietnam||Hanoi||Palau|
|Must check every-day website:||FT||News sites in particularly Tech Crunch||Twitter (for multiple news sources)|
|Dream travel destination:||Myanmar||Alaska||Vanuatu|
|Cheese or chocolate:||Cheese||Chocolate||Cheese|
|Favourite place in London:||Launch lab!||Regents Park||All the canals and independent coffee shops, especially St Katherine’s Docks|
|Favourite holiday destination:||Gold coast||Goa, it’s where my family is from||Himalayas|
|Must check every-day website:||gowherewolf||BBC news||My news aggregator Flipboard|
|Dream travel destination:||Phi phi islands||Brazil (but I’m going later this year!)||Venice|
|Cheese or chocolate:||Cheese||Chocolate||Cheese|
Three BSc Business Studies (2013) alumni have formed Tailify, an influencer marketing company. We caught up with CEO Fredrik Segerby (FS), CMO Fredrik Martini Andersson (FA) and CPO Didrik Svendsen (DS) at their new office at Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
FS) When I moved here in 2010 I didn’t know anyone and I’d never been to London. I met Fredrik and Didrik quite soon after I arrived because we were all in the same class at Cass. In a class of about 120 people there were maybe 20 Swedes and at least 25 people from the Nordic countries.
FS) I focussed my time on entrepreneurial extra-curricular activities and found the Cass Tech City Society. I’d always had interest in entrepreneurship and technology so it made sense to take over the society. It was created by Axel Katalan and when he graduated, Didrik and I took it over. Actually, when we graduated we passed it on to my brother. It’s a family thing!
FS) We all lived together during Cass and still do, it’s been six years. We have always discussed different business ideas FA) and discussed them with our professors like Wane Holland and Peter Hahn too.
FA) We actually came up with the idea for Tailify first during the exam period. I have to admit that we spent time on this when we were supposed to be studying! DS) I remember we were working at the Bloomberg terminals looking at this Tumblr that inspired us, whilst others were doing proper analysis.
You were always destined to be entrepreneurs?
FS) Yes, we all did our dissertations on topics related to start-ups and entrepreneurship. When we graduated we got together that summer and really crystallised the idea for Tailify. We’d been through a couple of ideas already but we thought that this was something we could really make something of.
FS) Fredrik and I actually went to the same high school (but in two different locations) and that’s when we started to think about entrepreneurship. Business Studies was a great course for that and Cass was a good choice in terms of the entrepreneurial community, because there are lots of societies, lectures and competitions, the Cass Entrepreneurship Fund. The course didn’t just focus on finance, which is what a lot of people want to do. It had a broad scope so we could niche into our entrepreneur field.
FA) Even after we had left, people at Cass were willing to give feedback, and do things like help with job postings to the student network.
What did you do next?
FS) In a way we went straight to Tailify but it took around six to eight months before we were really committed to it full time. Didrik actually went to work in Bangkok in the meantime!
DS) I decided I wanted a role in a tech venture in Asia, so I did some research and found that the South-East Asia economy was good. I went to Bangkok and while I was still out there Tailify started gaining traction and I thought it might be going somewhere. Six months after we graduated from Cass we all met up in Stockholm at Christmas and said “OK, let’s do it”.
FS) We decided that if we were going to really do this we have to commit to it completely, and that meant that we couldn’t be all around the world. We knew we would have to be in the same place and do it full time, so we gave it another three months and then we all moved to Stockholm.
FA) There were small signs throughout the process that we should continue. For example, we won a competition pretty early on, before we went to Stockholm, which gave us £15k in consulting services DS) and office space. FA) After that we got investment from Scandinavia’s largest seed fund. DS) So that was really good that things kept coming.
What is Tailify?
FS) It’s influencer marketing. We connect people with a lot of followers with brands to try to see if they can do a campaign together. For example, you are a blogger with one million followers who talks about fashion – why wouldn’t H&M want to work with you? You’ve got a huge audience and an authentic voice to these people FA) and you can influence their consumer purchase decisions.
FS) We act as a manager for the influencer, so we are the person in between the brand. We found that the brands really want to work with people who have that influence and the influencer really wants money, but usually they don’t have the knowledge of how to take that forward. What we do it make the interaction more professional for both sides and make it easier.
How did you come up with the idea?
DS) When we were nearing our exams and dissertation at Cass I was showed this Tumblr for men’s fashion. They were nice things, and I wanted to buy them. I saw that someone with beautiful content had now inspired me to purchase something and I began to wonder how many others are doing this too?
DS) This guy from Tumblr, he had 100K visits a month so next I wondered, are brands paying him? When we found out they weren’t we realised that in Scandinavia, 100K visits a month would make it one of the biggest fashion sites! You quickly see that when hundreds of people do this and have this influence, it’s larger than traditional magazines and other advertising portals and much more powerful. They have lots of followers but nobody helps them work with the brands so we thought let’s structure it.
FA) The influencer economy is like the Wild West at the moment, with actors, managers, agents and people who just want to make money. We are trying to bring structure and transparency. When you look at the biggest brands and most powerful influencers, you don’t know how many people there are in between them, and it can be five different parties all being paid.
FA) We thought about TV ads and we wanted to make it as easy to buy influencer marketing as you can traditional advertising. We are getting closer! Currently we have a platform where we can create and distribute campaigns and measure the results. The influencer has the app and the digital manager packages up the ready-made offer from the brand saying when to post, the hashtags you need to use and all the other details, and you get paid instantly when the brands approve your content.
What’s next for Tailify?
FS) Recently we became a global partner with L’Oréal, who are the third largest advertisers in world with 500 sub-brands. Our primary customer is digital marketing agencies and global consumer brands. So we’ve focussed on that and a few other partnerships. It’s a growing market, and influencer marketing is the fastest growing. FA) After our seed second investment we’ve grown the team, committed the platform to selected partners and are planning to introduce it to a larger part of Europe later this year.
DS) We’ve had some big learning to do too. We have been trying to push technology on the advertising world and realised that we were trying to be too optimistic. We have been very enthusiastic but realised that the ad world moves a lot slower, and it needed to mature a bit. We can now scale with an unfair advantage because we’ve got that technology ready. For example we’ve just partnered with Europe’s largest affiliate marketing company. It’s still early on but with our technical advantage we can play with companies bigger than us.
DS) If anything we were a bit too early to the market. FA) Tailify has had two stages, the first time we went out to find out and learn as much as possible and fail plenty. When we first met, our focus was too much towards the platform itself and didn’t push far enough on the sales side. When we came back to the UK we changed the focus to speaking to clients and since then we’ve grown 30% each month for the past year. DS) People are now ready to listen to us.
FA) It’s been really good to get some of the largest brands to pick us as their preferred partner for large scale influencers. Our product has been validated so we can now be really niche on what we offer – we think we have really hit the nail on the head.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
FA) We worked a lot in small teams at Cass and that helped when we started out; the hardest thing is to create a company culture where everybody feels good and is as productive as possible. It’s still an ongoing experiment. We don’t have the answers, but during the past four years the biggest lesson we’ve learnt is how to get people together and to use their skills in the right way. You have to find out who is good at what, and to really get to know your staff. We didn’t have niche interests at Cass, DS) we were generalists FA) so we can work with customers, brands, marketing, and finance. It’s very good for us to have that broad background.
DS) We’ve been fortunate enough to do everything, and to work towards doing whatever is our strength. As generalists we’ve had the opportunity to figure out what we are actually good at and sharpen those skills.
DS) Looking back at Cass, what really helped is the way we were encouraged to enter competitions and at the same time to go about our work in a really academically rigorous way. At Cass it’s all about doing really good work, which meant we always deliver quality in presentations and competitions, so we come off as trusted.
FA) When we pitched for our investor we were 22 years old and didn’t have much experience. We took a really academic approach, because we knew what investors react to. DS) I actually did my dissertation on how people get cash from venture capitalists! FA) But on the other hand when you use that approach it takes time. On our journey we have generally tried to do things fast and not be afraid to fail; the truly academic way is not to fail.
DS) Studying Business Studies at Cass they teach you to recognise the opportunity, but we know now that 99% of the time it doesn’t have to be perfect. For example, your pitch to L’Oréal has to be solid, but the rest of the time you just have to get it done. I would say that Cass doesn’t teach that part.
Do you have any advice?
DS) It’s a long list! FS) The biggest thing for me I think is don’t be afraid to fail – we learned quite quickly it’s better to fail quickly and learn than to take the time to be perfect at the start. DS) It’s a cliché but it’s true! FA) We made a lot of mistakes before we came back to London, and at that point we listed them all in Excel to learn from them. The best way to become better is to fail.
FA) I completely agree! If I’m going to spend nine, ten or 12 hours a day at a job, in the end it’s not that difficult to succeed. People read about companies like Facebook, and how 99.9% cases of start-ups fail, but I think a smart person who works hard will always succeed.
DS) London is an ecosystem with so many accelerators and investment schemes it’s easy to get money. Large corporations have people who must try to innovate; if you have a good idea with value someone will buy it. You don’t have to be next AirBnB to get enough revenue, and certainly this path is not harder than trying to climb the ropes at one of the larger organisations.
DS) Just try something out and get feedback! At Cass you have time and long summers: the summer vacation is three and half months. You can use the summer to test out an idea – throw £500 at it and do it while you study FA) especially with the professors and great environment to help you.
DS) Reach out, the alumni network is there! Don’t think you need a summer internship, recruiters want to employ someone who has tried and failed in their spare time. People think it’s a risk but if you do it whilst you study it can be more valuable than anything else.
DS) And Tailify would love to have more Cass people on board.
Finally it’s the quick fire question round!
|Favourite place in London:||This part of London around Cass||Cass and the office!||Clerkenwell|
|Favourite holiday destination:||America||The contrast to London of going home to Sweden||Going home to my village in Sweden is the best way to relax|
|Must check every-day website:||Tailify.com and Instagram, all social media actually||Cass alumni!||Forbes, Quora, Adweek, Tech Crunch and all social media|
|Dream travel destination:||Manchester…ok Cuba||Blackpool our South Sweden||Cuba|
|Cheese or chocolate:||Cheese||Chocolate||Cheese|