Last week, Venista’s Thomas Hintzen sat down with Pascal Ecker and Nils Kornder founders of mealmates to discuss their online restaurant, future plans and the perfect menu for a summer party.

Pascal, Nils, how often do you both still cook?

PE: Not really that often. Actually, I’m just cooking on weekends. Cooking is more like an event type of thing for me, like when I cook together with my girlfriend. Whenever we do cook, however, we won’t do ordinary things like scrambled eggs or pasta.
NK: Same for me. To be honest, I never cook for myself, and even on the weekends I’m happy to let my family do the cooking.

So you rely solely on mealmates during the weekdays? 

PE: Approximately 95% of the time. Most of our team members in fact do so literally every single day. I personally also enjoy exploring new places from time to time. I really appreciate good food and love to collect new inspiration. Even while I was still a University student I always went out to eat a lot although I had to pay one or two additional Euros to get something really good.

What is mealmates about?

PE: In simple words: Nils, me and the rest of the team have the mission to provide good food, easy delivery and reasonable prices on a daily basis. We try to give our customers a chance to have a tasty meal every day at an adequate price. Even when there is no time for cooking or for going out to eat, they now have an alternative to fast food. Currently we deliver more than 150 meals a day in Cologne’s inner city and in the neighboring quarters Ehrenfeld, Nippes and Deutz.

Has this mission, as you call it, also been the driving force for setting up mealmates or how did you come up with the idea?

PE: Well, it actually was a mix of our passion for food but also our desire to become entrepreneurs. Of course there was an initial period when we solidified our business model. There wasn’t one single specific moment of inspiration that led to a concrete business plan. The concept, vision and mission just fitted extremely well with our personalities but we’d also lie to you if we were saying that there was not a certain business interest behind it.

mealmates was founded in 2015. How long was the preparatory phase until you were ready to take off?

NK: It started really fast. The first time we ever talked about it was at the end of 2014. So right at the beginning of 2015, we started to create our business plan and then actually founded the company early in February. Just one month later, we got our business going and since then have been delivering our dishes around town.

You are a team of three founders. How did you meet?

NK:  Pascal, Shahin and myself all studied in the Netherlands in Maastricht. Pascal was one year below Shahin and myself, but we somehow got to know each other through mutual friends.

PE: As you might have forgotten, I first met Shahin because he was my tutor for statistics and mathematics.

Okay, so you teamed up in Maastricht. Why did you choose Cologne for your headquarters and also to start your service here?

NK: Although we met in Maastricht, originally we are all from Cologne or the near surroundings. It’s as easy as it may sound: This is why we came back to Cologne and started our business here.

EatFirst, a similar project from Berlin, had to shut down its business recently. What makes you think that you will do better?

PE: EatFirst really focused on short delivery times instead of building their business on great food. We don’t want to say that they offered bad meals. But for us the delivery time is not the most important thing. We focus more on the food quality of our business but are still able to deliver our meals within 20 minutes. Of course in rare cases it can take a bit longer, but we accept that as long as our taste of dishes is superb.

Would you say you are more like a food service instead of a delivery company?

NK: Yes, and the reason is simple: we have an own kitchen and cook in our company. Together with the kitchen team and several top chefs we contemplate regularly about what the perfect delivery food looks like. mealmates’ goal is to provide fresh food at the push of a button. And in our time that includes to deliver the food to customers. Therefore, the delivery service is a means to an end. We speak of a high-quality online restaurant.

When is a meal tasty enough to include it in your menu?

PE: That’s an easy question to answer. We organize test meals. Each Wednesday a team of our chef, several external chefs, Shahin and myself meets. During that meeting the chefs propose different recipes and we try everything. As we recognized early on that we sometimes are a bit too biased towards our own recipe suggestions, we have also installed a group oftest consumers. If both groups of people consider a dish to be good, it will make it to our menu.

Who are the members of the test group?

NK: We would love to just randomly ask some of our customers if they want to test our food for a new menu. Unfortunately it would be too big of an effort at the moment. Nevertheless we also do not just want to ask our family and friends. So in the test group there are a lot of start-ups living next door with us at the Startplatz, a local co-working space and also incubator. These guys tell us their honest opinions towards our ideas and won’t keep their criticism just because they like us as friends.

Okay, we’ve focused on the culinary part quite a lot. Let’s swing over to the technical part of your company. So far you are available via a website. Are there any plans for a mobile app?

PE: Absolutely. mealmates stands for fresh food at the push of a button. Therefore, an application is absolutely useful. I think there are only a few business models in the B2C field which are as suitable for an application as mealmates. However we have started with a website because the development effort was significantly smaller. Remember, we started to deliver our food just two months after we had the idea.

You say you are open to an application. How often and through which channels do you get feedback from your customers?

PE: We receive our feedback in other ways than a normal restaurant, where you can just tell the waiter if you were satisfied with your order or if anything was wrong with your meal. Although we don’t have the personal interaction, our advantage is that we know a lot more about our customers than a normal restaurant or local shop ever will. We can track easily and fast if customers come back or not, how often they come back or how long they stay. This is tracked through our website. And we get also suggestions via our social media channels.

NK: Furthermore, our customer can give us a feedback via a template directly after ordering something from mealmates. And sometimes, when we have new meals, we also send out a feedback email to the people who ordered on that particular day. All these feedbacks are of course part of our culinary meetings. So for instance, when I get an email from a customer and he writes something like: ”Usually everything is good, but today it was not that good. Please have a look at this”, then this feedback will be considered in the next meeting and provides great value to our company.

We from Venista got in contact with you because you work together with one of our portfolio companies, GTX. Can you explain how GTX helps mealmates in the delivery process?

PE: For our logistics it is really important that there is a reliable and good communication between mealmates and our customers. The customer needs to know when the delivery man will arrive so that they can meet on time. Our concept is that we do not ring at the house and bring the food upstairs. Our customers have to catch up their order at the front door. In order to time this meeting perfectly, the delivery man always sends a SMS. It is crucial that the SMS is delivered on time and not after 2 or 3 minutes, because otherwise that would be a waste of time and experience. In order to have a guarantee that the messaging works, we spoke to the GTX team, which specializes in business SMS solutions. They are also our neighbours as our offices are based right next to each other so we have a direct and personal link to their team.

Since we at Venista are always looking at business ideas from an investor’s point of view, we need to ask how you’ll be able to scale your business and what your future plans are all about?

PE: Of course and as you might expect, our goal is to grow and turn mealmates into a big company. Even in Cologne there is still vast potential. At the moment we really just cover the inner city and also have not reached the penetration rate a city with more than a million citizens presents.

NK: Besides of that, we will also have a look at other cities in the future, because we think mealmates will flourish in all urban regions. Based on our first seed round in October 2015 we want to inspire more investors to support our future plans.

Pascal, Nils, thank you very much for the interview. One last question. I need a tip for our next summer party. What do you think would the perfect three-course-menu consist of?

PE: As a light summery starter, I would recommend a Gazpacho. It’s kind of a cold vegetable soup which is tasty, but not too heavy to begin with. I would continue with something from the barbeque for the main course, like a grilled fish and fresh vegetables. For dessert I’d also suggest a simple dish. What I like to eat is a kind of a fruit curd consisting of low-fat curd, milk and red fruits; berries, cherries, whatever you like.