006 – The Collaborative Economy and Food Innovation Hub with Alessio d’Antino from Crowdfooding

Notes and Links

Episode Transcript

Guy: [00:00:01] You’re listening to Good Foodies and this is episode 6. On this bitesized episode we’re talking to Alessio D’Antino from CrowdFooding. They’re building an amazing collaborative space in London to help food entrepreneurs and to help them get in the mindset of leveraging tech and innovation. And they’re also building a platform to help startups and corporates connect with each other. Alessio is a great guy with lots of stories to tell. We had a great chat. So let’s dive right into it.

The Interview

Alessio: [00:00:32] The collaborative economy could unlock three to five trillion dollars in economic value annually in tech only. Which is a huge number if you think about it. And the way that should be unlocked is actually via creating platforms that are continually open on the data side of things to enable corporates and smaller companies to figure out where the opportunities are to create business together.

Guy: [00:01:10] And this is very related to what you guys are doing at Crowdfooding isn’t it? Can you tell me a little bit about how that works?

Alessio: [00:01:15] We do connect large corporates and established food business with startups and scaleups to enable collaboration to better our food system. So at Crowdfooding we’re all about enabling enabling these collaborations on the one end. But at the same time we’ll work with a number of startups and we help and support them with their sales efforts.

How do we do that? They get to sell through our platform. So we lend them our technology – the e-commerce technology – to start channelling their sales into one place. But at the same time we also help selected startups to tap into alternative sales channels. Such as getting their products listed in Google’s offices or getting their experience listed on Airbnb.

Guy: [00:02:08] Wow fantastic. So it sounds like a very diverse mix of things. Could you give us a tangible example. Let’s say let’s say I make a peanut butter or a jam or some kind of packaged good like this. Maybe I’ve got some kind of innovative slant on it. If I wanted to work with you guys what kind of thing could we do? How would that work?

Alessio: [00:02:27] So it depends on whether it’s a very product driven company – like as you mention – a company that makes peanut butter is a great fit for us. We can do two things. First off, as I mentioned earlier, to help them channel their sales into one place and make sure they’re can run a number of marketing campaigns on the back of what we call “the sales booster”.

This is nothing but a marketing campaign and they build on our platform so that they can spend less time in chasing after clients and more time owning their online sales. On the other hand if we’re talking about a company that is a bit more established – let’s say a scale up – then if there is a fit within Google canteen’s and get cafeterias then that is an easy one. In the sense that we ultimately introduce companies to them and they get to choose the ones that they see are working on products that are a fit for their canteens and cafeterias.

With Airbnb, it’s slightly different. In the sense that they’re they’re looking for companies startups that can deliver experiences to their customers. And so in the example of a peanut butter company, if the company or individual is keen to develop a workshop to educate consumers about how to make freefrom or whatever form of peanut butter they would like to make then the educational side of things will make them suitable for being listed on Airbnb’s platform.

Guy: [00:04:12] That’s really cool. And it’s an interesting way of approaching marketing for a packaged goods brand is to find those experiences. Because I think more and more these days consumers are looking for something more than just a product. Maybe they’re looking for something that resonates with their values.

I mean a lot of the things that we talk about on this show, and over at The Food Rush, and the clients we work with at Sapling are all about companies who are doing good in the world; making something that is more ethical or more sustainable or more planet friendly. But I think that experiential element is really interesting and perhaps a bit of an untapped resource. What do you think?

Alessio: [00:04:50] Yeah I’m with you. I mean if the company like Airbnb decided to step into this space, I think there is a clear signal there. There is a market out there and consumers are more and more keen to actually experience things more than just passively buying products and being consumers of prepackaged products.

And I’m absolutely with you there on being really creative about how you engage with customers. These days it’s really difficult to grab their attention. Whether it’s on social media or on e-mail marketing whatever means the company decides to use. So again the experience side of things, one of the benefits of running a more experience driven business these days is that you can actually offer a unique opportunity to engage with your business, or with the individuals behind your business, in a unique fashion.

Guy: [00:06:03] I think something that’s worth mentioning about the experiential side is that the amount of time that somebody will be exposed to your business and your values and your product and your mission and all that good stuff is much longer. If you get somebody in for a workshop or for a seminar or something like that – you’ll have maybe half an hour, maybe an hour maybe more with them. Whereas if there’s some fleeting interaction on social media it’s maybe a few seconds. So yeah, really interesting idea and I think it’s something we’ll be seeing more of in the future for sure.

Alessio: [00:06:33] Absolutely, I’m with you.

Guy: [00:06:34] And in a similar vein to these food brands creating experiences, this is something that you’re trying to create yourselves at Crowdfooding, isn’t it? Can you tell me about the food innovation hub?

Alessio: [00:06:46] Of course. Well we’ve been working on this idea of building a space to really gather most of the startups we’ve been working with and also help them down the line to connect with some of our corporate clients. There are a number of different players doing their own things in terms of delivering events or workshops to the greater food startup community.

However, there is no one place in London – no go-to place – that gathers all these folks. So last year we made very good progress in conversations we were having with a leading co-working space called Huckletree that is all about bringing together tech entrepreneurs – people who work in the digital economy.

So it was again a match made in heaven in the sense that we had a pretty vast network of food startups. They had just built a new campus in West London – where I’m actually at right now. They wanted to get different people to curate rate different parts of their community. So yeah we reached an agreement a few months ago to basically build our food and food innovation hub within their facility.

Guy: [00:08:19] So just to simplify it a little bit. You’re bringing together all of the food entrepreneurs, primarily in packaged goods, into a co-working environment where there’s a whole bunch of tech entrepreneurs or people who work in the digital space. And you’re creating this space for them all to collaborate, run events and showcase their products and their and their services, right?

Alessio: [00:08:42] That is correct, yes. There are two other elements that I think are worth mentioning. The first one is that we do believe in the contamination between techies and foodie’s. So we decided to build our space at Huckletree West first because, as I mentioned they had already great community entrepreneurs. But secondly because we want to power our food businesses with the tech understanding that they need to turbo charge their online sales.

And the event program that we’re building is really tied up to growth hacking, digital marketing and really helping and empowering our food entrepreneurs to unlock business opportunities through tech. The other element that I think is worth mentioning is in the collaborative side of things. One of the biggest learnings that we gained by interviewing a number of food entrepreneurs is that one of the biggest issues they were facing was enabling collaborations with like minded entrepreneurs or other startups.

I think it is really fascinating that the food startup space here in the UK is particularly collaborative in it’s own nature. However, not having a place where you can make these collaborations happen more effectively and easily if you will was really an issue and so we decided to build this space to spark these collaboration among startups.

Guy: [00:10:30] And so what is the offer there? I believe you have a whole website dedicated to this food innovation hub and on there it says that there are four pillars of what the hub is and what somebody gets when they come and join you there. Can you briefly give us the overview of what those four things are?

Alessio: [00:10:47] The event programme is definitely the added value that the residents will get access to. We’re planning to run four workshops this year. They’re all going to be around helping food entrepreneurs to wrap their head around how to leverage digital marketing and social media to turbo charge their sales. The other element is the shared workspace and that means basically being physically located in a collaborative environment that helps enable these collaborations among startups.

Alessio: [00:11:31] I mean a very simple example of it would be a company that makes snacks, partners up with a company that makes drinks to deliver a package to our members. It can really be as simple as that. The beauty of it is that the space is quite big – I think it can hold about 700 members.

Guy: [00:12:01] Oh wow.

Alessio: [00:12:02] By becoming a resident of this space they actually get to sell through sort of a pantry, a food pantry that we’re building. And that will serve the broader community of Huckletree as well.

Guy: [00:12:15] And so that’s a great way to make some sales but also to get some valuable feedback. And I guess if you’ve got people who are all working in that similar space they understand the value of not just buying something, going back to their desk and eating it, but having those conversations with each other and talking about the product and giving that feedback.

Alessio: [00:12:35] Totally. Yeah, that’s exactly right. One of the other things we’ve discovered by interviewing food entrepreneurs is that they’re constantly working on NPD – New Product Developments. So having a space where they can also test out those concepts with a preferred target audience in the sense that most of the people that actually work here are in the mid twenties and thirties which oftentimes makes it a good target audience to tap into for most of the startups we work with.

The very last element of the Hub is another project we’re actually working on – which we’re building as we speak – is building up a media studio within our facility to help the resident startups to develop content around their products. That was one of the learnings that we have got from interviewing food entrepreneurs.

They struggle to find the space where they can also have some kitchen space where they can put a camera on and they can take some beautiful shots of their products. So that is one element and then the other one would be the podcast. That is going to be used to basically showcase and be a marketing platform for the resident startups.

Guy: [00:14:11] Wow, so all sorts of different things happening which is very exciting and all very close to my heart as well. I have a very similar outlook to you about the importance of food businesses embracing technology and using content to market their business. I mean it’s what we’re all about here at Sapling and it’s great to meet other people with a similar outlook.

A lot of this that you’ve just been talking about is very London centric. You’re talking about building a co-working space and an event space and a studio and a showcase in West London at Huckletree, but you’re also broadening outside of the UK. I mean you come from Italy originally but you’ve been travelling all over the world meeting people and really immersing yourself in this community. Can you tell me about your recent trip to San Francisco?

Alessio: [00:15:04] Yeah of course. I mean. I can try my best, Guy.

Guy: [00:15:10] Well, we only have a limited amount of time and I know you have so many stories to tell. But tell me about the the Global Food Tech Map and your trip to San Francisco to launch that.

Alessio: [00:15:25] We do believe innovation is global that it’s everywhere. We have to make this move of stepping out of the UK if you will. Actually the project was initiated in San Francisco three and a half years ago when I was living there. I have a personal connection with the city itself. But I went there two weeks ago to present the second version of our Global Food Tech Map.

This is a product that we’re really excited about as it basically functions as a mapping tool to showcase some of the most promising ag tech and food tech companies all over the world. We presented it exclusively for the Future Food Tech Conference that happened two weeks ago in San Francisco. We received a lot of positive feedback from corporate investors and entrepreneurs – that was pretty much their their audience.

We really believe that it can help corporates to understand what’s going on in the food landscape in terms of innovation. But also we envision it to become a leading tool to make these first connections between corporate and and startups happen. The second version of the map will give intended users the ability to request introductions to specific companies – up to three per month. And they will be able to build their own favourite list to keep track of the development of specific companies.

Guy: [00:17:24] So I guess you’re positioning yourself right in the centre of this conversation. You’re connecting yourself to the startups and giving them all sorts of help and resources, and a platform to to launch off of – a launchpad if you will. And you’re also connecting with the corporates so that you can merge those two worlds.

So lots of very exciting things happening. For anyone who’s listening, what would be your advice to them if they wanted to tap into this network and this community? How can they get started?

Alessio: [00:17:56] Well yes so…I guess I like to think that we’re a very open business in the sense there we do a number of different things and sometimes we struggle to narrow it down to just a few nuggets. But yeah, they go and reach out to us at [email protected] They can send us a message through our platform or through the Global Food Tech Map. We just want as many of them as possible to be there to increase our chances of connecting them with relevant stakeholders.

Guy: [00:18:37] Brilliant, that’s fantastic cause. And with all of your experience across the board – I mean you came from the corporate background, you’re now working in the startup world – it’s a tough industry to work in. I mean, starting a business of any kind is always very challenging. What would be just one last piece of advice you would give for somebody just starting out?

Alessio: [00:19:00] Well it’s difficult to distill one nugget! One things that we have embraced from very beginning and I’m a strong advocate of is starting really lean and being obsessed about collecting feedback from customers. To give a really practical example, with the Global Food Tech Map – and you’re a witness of it – we started about two and a half months ago, building the platform.

I felt there was an opportunity for us to bring this ecosystem of startups together. But I had no clue back then who was going to be our target customer. Or how were we going to monetise it. So we put customers at the core of what we were doing while we were developing the software and we have started understanding from some our corporate clients what they’re needs where when it came to understanding what was happening in the food space.

And so by running these surveys and interviews with some of our corporate executives we were able to actually understand what were the features that we were going to develop in the first version of the map. And then when we started developing the second version, I flew to San Francisco to test it out. We built some features that we thought were going to become handy for our corporate customers but that was [just] our assumption. In a nutshell: always question your assumptions with real customers feedback.

Guy: [00:21:00] Alessio d’Antino from Crowdfooding and you can find out more about everything they’re doing at crowdfooding.co.uk.

Guy: [00:21:10] On the next episode we’re talking food waste and compostable packaging with Ilana Taub from Snact. We had a great chat and Ilana shared some amazingly honest stories about the challenges of starting a food business. She also has some amazing advice for you on that episode as well. So do check it out.

Guy: [00:21:28] If you’re enjoying the show we’d really appreciate it if you’d leave us a review on iTunes. It’s a great way for people to find out about the show and learn about all the amazing things that businesses like Snact and Crowdfooding are doing. So, for more details check out our website at goodfoodies.co.uk. Thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate it and I’ll see you next time. Cheers.