Meet Diego Sanchez and Magda Sternik, Co-founders of Foodswiper and ex analysts at Citi bank. Diego studied physics and went on to rank within the top three computer science students at Cambridge University where he did his Masters. Magda is also a budding computer science enthusiast having studied at Edinburgh University. Magda’s childhood involved building electronic circuits with her Dad and Diego claims food occupies 80% of his mind, so it’s no surprise these two joined forces over coffee breaks and are now developing London’s most visual and creative food delivery app.
Getting to Know Magda and Diego
How did you meet?
Magda: We both joined the grad scheme at Citi. We had two months of classes before diving into work so we would often go for lunch or coffee, which was when we discovered we were both passionate about our own individual side projects. With time, we met more frequently outside of work and the more we talked about our own individual pursuits, the more it made sense for us to work on something together.
Why did you give up high salaries, status and stability for your start-up?
Diego: I’d known from my very first day at Citi that I wanted to eventually start my own business. My intention was to a) learn as many transferable skills as possible and b) save as much money as possible. It was vital for me to manage my time well at Citi so that I could build a project around my work there… which meant saying goodbye to my evenings and weekends.
I won’t lie, it was a difficult move to make… giving up the constant salary and comfortable lifestyle. It was also difficult trying to convince friends and family that leaving the corporate world was the right thing to do. It’s not that they didn’t want me to do what I’m passionate about, it just so happens that your closest friends and family have an instinctive desire for you to be safe. They are scared of risk for you.
Magda: I guess the decision to move into the start-up world was also driven by our personal qualities; I’m an adventurous person. I was born in Poland, went abroad to study abroad and then hit the corporate world in London. Because of these things I’ve gained so many different experiences, which only makes me thirsty to experience more and learn new things.
“It’s not that they didn’t want me to do what I’m passionate about, it just so happens that your closest friends and family have an instinctive desire for you to be safe. They are scared of risk for you.”
Are you left funded or seeking investment?
Magda: We’re currently self funded and aren’t looking for investment yet. We’ll use our own savings for as long as we can. We want to get the product as close to perfection as possible before we look for funding. That way, we can lead our own vision and focus on quality before scaling. For the time we remain self-funded, we avoid conflicts of interest and build the product for the longer term.
Diego: The main problem with investment is that when different people put lots of money in, they all want something different in return. At the moment, since there are only two of us with shares in the company, it’s very easy to agree on our goals. Another problem start-ups often encounter is that they build revenue too quickly and disintegrating shortly after, which is something we want to avoid. Also, particularly in financial markets, people want to buy and sell quickly, which is not on our agenda. Because we are self-funded we can develop the product without compromising too much.
Are you paying yourselves a salary?
Magda: No we’re not, which is actually quite typical of tech start-ups. Well, apps in particular. It’s usually within 2 – 4 years that you make any money and we’re in no rush to pay ourselves a salary at the moment. We’re lucky that our savings get us through whilst we develop the product further and invest everything back into the company. Thankfully we don’t have a very expensive lifestyle so it’s going well for us, but we are working towards the benefits which we hope will come later down the line.
Why did you choose London as your base?
Magda: It was an easy decision – there are plenty of resources for start-ups in London, you never have to go far to get support, regardless of what it is you’re after. There are also lots of opportunities to meet people doing similar things. It’s fine to read online about what you should and shouldn’t be doing as a start-up, but learning from the people you meet face to face is invaluable. We’ve already made lots of mistakes (and plan to make even bigger ones, ha!), but throwing ourselves into an environment where we can network and learn from the mistakes of others means we progress much faster.
How do you compete against other food apps?
Magda: There are lots of food apps out there… but they all present the same problem: the tedious task of reading through menus containing lines and lines of boring text. How are you supposed to decide what to eat when you haven’t seen what the food looks like? It’s similar to testing your luck in the lottery and is super upsetting when you order a dish only to find yourself crying when it arrives because you wish you’d ordered what your friend got. We started to think that there has to be a solution for this… Wouldn’t it be much better if we could see pictures of the dishes?
Diego: The lack of images on other food apps meant there was most definitely a gap in the market for us. Foodswiper presents you with pictures of food. And when we say pictures, we don’t mean professionally photoshopped, deceiving images, we mean real photos that real customers have taken themselves. Foodswiper learns what you do and don’t like, so it presents a personalised range of food pictures for you to swipe through (yeah, a little like Tinder!). If you’re a pizza lover, you’ll only be shown pizzas; we develop the app based on data analytics so it’s very easy for us to detect food preferences such as someone being a vegetarian.
But we won’t stop there as food apps also currently lack integration with social media, which is why we are making food orders a social experience too. Users can mark meals with ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, share their images, recommend to friends and provide customer reviews.
Soon enough, people will be able to see a photo of an amazing meal their friend has just uploaded and with the click of a button, they can order that exact meal for themselves. This really excites us because there is a huge gap in the market for such a high level of food order functionality and we are determined to be the first to make it happen.
“people will be able to see a photo of an amazing meal their friend has just uploaded and with the click of a button, they can order that exact meal for themselves.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Magda: Firstly, that there’s not enough time in a day and secondly, that we have stepped ridiculously far out of our comfort zone – which is both prettifying yet exhilarating. We’ve had to learn the full 360 degrees. Obviously we know the technical side very well, but we’ve had to master marketing, growth hacking and logistics all at the same time.
What is the lifestyle as co-founders of a tech start-up?
Diego: Too often the lifestyle of start-ups is idealised because of selection bias on social media. People post instagram photos when they’ve secured funding, but they don’t post images of themselves dying at a computer night after night until the early hours of the morning. It’s tough work; you need grit and determination. We’re working 70 – 80 hours per week and at the same time we have to remain human by remembering to exercise, socialise and feed ourselves properly. Often, at least one of these things goes out of the window – but it’s super important to try and hit the basics to avoid burnout.
“It’s tough work… We’re working 70 – 80 hours per week and at the same time we have to remain human by remembering to exercise, socialise and feed ourselves properly.”
That being said, we are enjoying managing our own time and productivity, rather than rocking up at the office at 9am every day just to make sure you don’t get fired. Start-ups can be gruelling work, especially when you’re bootstrapping at the beginning, but you learn an incredible amount of skills in a very short period of time and get to see your actions having immediate effect. So yes, there are pros and cons of the lifestyle, particularly when you’ve come from a large corporate, but either way you work with the mind set of immense will-power and commitment to each task.
How did you execute a validation plan?
Diego: Our first stage of validation took us 2 hours. We drew the app in some really snazzy software, otherwise known as ‘paint’, and showed it to different people. Everyone liked it and understood it. The second stage was building the app, but it was horrible because there was so much we were doing manually which should have been automatic, but the important part was the fact we had a functional version of the app.
“…you simply cannot rely on assumptions; you need to look at behaviour and analytics.”
After the app was up and running, the next task was gathering LOTS of data. This is crucial as you simply cannot rely on assumptions; you need to look at behaviour and analytics. So we applied scientific methods to running tests and used each piece of resulting data to modify the app accordingly. We looked at things like peple not clicking on a button we thought they would… Why was this? Was it not useful? Were they not interested? Were they encountering problems? We were constantly showing the app to people, watching how they use it and collecting feedback. We evolved the product based on this information.
We also had lots of what we called ‘creative thinking days’ where we would come up with an idea then test and trial it all in the same day. The validation project highlighted the most amazing part of working as a start-up… you have an idea and you implement it within one day. This doesn’t happen in the corporate world. You have an idea and it goes to the board for a month where it sits for political discussion and approval before it goes anywhere.
“you have an idea and you implement it within one day. This doesn’t happen in the corporate world. You have an idea and it goes to the board for a month…”
Rebel Wrap Up
Can you reveal your plans for growth?
Magda: We have plans to grow beyond London, but for now London is our focus. Londoners are particularly curious and are good at trying new things so we’ll work locally to polish the product and expand when we feel the app is in its best state. Our model is scalable for many cities, but because we are still early stage we need to focus on meeting consumer demand. We want to be in a good position against competitors who have already done this. But when we do expand I have no doubt our model will leverage growth.