BBC TV Apprentice finalist Nick Holzherr officially launched his ‘Whisk’ food app business today (January 7), which has integrated the online delivery systems of Tesco and Waitrose.
In the 2012 TV series, Lord Sugar rejected Holzherr’s business plan for an app that analyses online recipes and cross-references them with online supermarket inventories to enable the user to order the ingredients for home delivery.
Despite this, Holzherr secured more than £500,000 from angel investors and venture capitalists and has now integrated the app with the online shopping systems of Tesco and Waitrose. The app has also been launched for iPhone and Android devices.
Holzherr told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We want to remove as much of the hassle as possible involved in buying ingredients. We’re about integrating the places to go for recipes with the places consumers go to shop. It’s not about price comparison, it’s about convenience, which is the biggest driver of grocery purchase.”
To develop the software, Holzherr gathered a team of experts in ecommerce systems, including one with a PhD in semantic technology. His co-founder developed the transactional functionality of Lastminute.com and Expedia.com.
Data crunching challenge
“It’s been a lot more difficult that we’d thought and has taken much longer to develop than we’d anticipated,” he said. “The biggest challenge has been data crunching and building a system that can understand all that content.”
Holzherr says his team has relished overcoming the data hurdle and the end result – the user’s data profile – is now Whisk’s biggest asset.
“The data is where all our value lies. When we talk to brands and big business everyone is interested in how we’ve managed to do this stuff. They appreciate that it hasn’t been possible before.”
Storing users’ age and gender and tracking their search histories enables the app to match them with more appropriate recipes and ingredients, according to Holzherr.
“Once you have the data it’s not hard for the computer to work out the best combination of ingredients. And matching pack sizes with recipe ingredients eliminates waste because it suggests recipes that will use up any leftovers.”
Five supermarkets on board
A third major supermarket is already in the technical integration process and Holzherr aims to have all five multiple supermarkets on board “within months”. His long-term goal is to integrate smaller players such as the local butcher and greengrocer.
Whisk has also had interest from supermarkets in the US.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere. But the US doesn’t have our type of market with five major players that all deliver nationally to our door. We’ll be focusing on the UK market for now.”
Lord Sugar: ‘bothered’?
And what of Lord Sugar, who wondered who “could be bothered” with such a business?
“I don’t hold any grudges,” Holzherr laughs. “He’s sent me a couple of emails wishing us the best of luck. He’s actually really supportive: look at all the work he does for British entrepreneurship. He has a TV persona but he’s not a horrible person. He just has strong views about what works in business and what doesn’t.”
Holzherr believes appearing on the show has helped him to build the reputation of his business by opening doors and giving him strong media training.
“The biggest thing about being on the show is that people know a little bit about what we do, which has helped us to grow.”
Once the launch is out of the way Holzherr plans to focus on getting the five main supermarkets on board and developing the features of the app to enable it to make wine and ale recommendations to accompany certain recipes.
“Initially we were told this wasn’t possible. But we’ve gone back to the people who doubted us and they’ve been really impressed with our work.”