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Karl Brandt is the CEO of Mealtek, one of the UK’s leading personalised meal delivery services.
An ex part time professional athlete, Karl got sick of the one size fits all food on offer wherever you go so he set about using technology to make food to each person’s wants and needs.
For the first two years Mealtek have concentrated on professional an olympic athletes as well as fitness delivering around 10,000 personalised all over the UK. But the long term vision is make individualised food accessible to the masses.
We met with Karl to learn how he’d achieved his early growth in such a new and challenging market.
Rather than making something really simple and shouting about it from the rooftops, we’re trying to do something really hard and just concentrate on getting it right. The logic is that once people have experienced it they are never going to go anywhere else, and that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s far more product development than sales.
Better to have a great vision and communicate it badly than have a crap vision and communicate it well
Having a strong vision is everything. Without that you won’t get great advisors, you won’t attract the best talent and sooner or later your product will be found out. Too many companies worry about marketing and PR before they truly understand why they exist in the first place.
Put your ego aside and be flexible
Everyone knows that the first idea will never be the final business model. We initially thought it was all about tech, but then realised there were other things that were more important to the clients. You have to be quick to admit when you’re assumptions were wrong or you’ll soon dig your own grave.
Research thoroughly but then get on with it
We did a lot of research in the food industry but at some point you just have to dive in. Our philosophy has always been to move quickly and just do as little damage as possible.
Hire for traits
The priority goes traits, skills, then experience. If you’re hiring a sales person, you want someone who’s great with people and tenacious as hell. The rest they can learn.
Advertise jobs honestly
We make it really clear in our job descriptions that this is not an easy place to work and that the hours can be long and stressful. Of course not every day is like that, but we need to know we have people who will thrive under pressure when we need them to.
You must figure out very quickly if you’ve hired poorly. If they are wrong they will be miserable and it will affect the entire team, so it’s always better for everyone if it is brought to an end quickly.
Delegate, but not too quickly
I’m still involved in everything, but it can happen without me. I’ve done everything myself; I started doing all the cooking, designed the first production process, developed the basics of our first algorithm. I still occasionally mop the floors and clean dishes when things get really manic, and every time I have to roll up my sleeves I always identify a way to improve the process. It also helps to strengthen relationships with the staff.
Focus on simplicity
It’s been said a million times but the best technology is the kind that you don’t even notice. When you use Uber, it doesn’t occur to you just how many tens of thousands of man hours have gone into testing each stage of it. It just works. We launched a new piece of software at the start of 2015 to handle the January rush but we just assumed too much and did too little testing. The result was a piece of software that didn’t work half the time, and even when it did it was far too confusing for people to actually use. We had to bin it and start again.
Remember that even as a tech business, it’s still all about people
Our goal is absolutely not to become a faceless business hiding behind technology. On the contrary, our goal is to use technology to create a great product that is inclusive of the less tech savvy. We must understand what it is that people want from us, and often that is a human being to speak to, which is why our customer service ethos is so important.
We always make it right. We’ve never asked a customer for proof of something being wrong. We just assume they are being truthful and do our best to help. The minimum an unhappy customer gets a refund, but usually try and go further than that. It’s just the right thing to do. People are used to having to be aggressive when they have a problem with a big company. So we try to surprise them by being empathetic and owning up to our mistakes.
Do the uneconomical
If a customer can’t find what they want with us, we point them to other great companies elsewhere. Customers remember that and usually come back. The alternative is selling at all costs, which creates all sorts of issues internally with delivery. Everyone benefits by being open and honest.
If we had lots of money we would have made the same mistakes but on a far bigger scale. You need to fix the issues first before throwing money at them.
This is also really important for culture. As a team we’ve had to do things on a shoestring from day one, and it’s made us far more resilient and adaptive.
Don’t be greedy with equity
You want the best advisors in the world and a team of employees that will bleed for you. If that means giving away plenty of equity, do it. The alternative is you’ll probably fail so what do you have to lose?
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