I’m Dinal Ahmed – I am a qualified accountant and I actually work at a firm in Essex. I’ve lived in Essex all my life, so I’m born and bred around here. While growing up, my family owned quite a few restaurants. I’ve been working in the food industry for about twenty years. That’s where my passion for food came from. My grandfather was a farmer, and he came to this country in the 1940s. My father was a tailor here, and I’m an accountant. I like to tell that story, because it makes me humble to see where my roots are and where I’ve come from.
As I said, my passion is in food. I was actually a sleeping partner in a food business in Essex. I’ve seen how the likes of Just Eat have come in and brought technology into the food industry – which is great. You can just fire up an app and a few minutes later, your food is there. But it has made the interaction between the restaurant and the customer very impersonal. I remember working in the days where a customer used to come into a restaurant. You actually knew them by their name, or by their voice when they used to phone up and order. Nowadays, that’s lost. That made me think – how can we bring a bit of personality back? That’s where our name comes from: bringing together food and socialising.
Right now, the food industry doesn’t have a single platform to help itself. What I mean by that is, if you wanted to show your menu or share some news, there is no space for that. I got to wondering – how can we give the food industry all these tools in one platform? The concept of Foodilize is quite broad because we want to target restaurants and takeaways, but also food stores – anything to do with food.
Let me ask you a question. If you wanted to organise an event – say a wedding or a party – and you wanted it catered, where would you go? Would you ask friends or do a Google search?
Right, and word of mouth is a network, which is what Foodilize is, too. We bring all of that together in one app. So, in the app, you would type in ‘catering’ in your area, and it would show you a full list. You can then phone them up and make that connection. If you wanted to order a takeaway and you want to see the food – our platform will host videos from restaurants. That allows you to really see the dishes and get excited about what they have to offer. Foodilize is our vision of bringing the business and the customer together.
Starting up a business is daunting, and you want all the help that you can get. That was one of the struggles I faced. I’m actually signed up to the Brentwood Council mailing list, and one of those emails asked start-ups whether they wanted to go on a free seven-week course. I thought – you know what, that’s exactly what I need. I might be doing something wrong in how I approach my business, and that’s what I want to know about. I phoned up Colbea and I told them about my business concept, and they said their programme would be a perfect fit for my needs.
In one phrase: they helped me to focus on what exactly my business offering was. I’m one of those people that has an idea in their head, but when I try to explain it, I go on so many different tangents. When you talk to people, you want to keep their attention. The Weave has been great at honing that. If get a chance to see their videos – my week one presentation was appalling. By the time we got to the last one, Colbea and the Weave had helped me nail it down. I couldn’t have done it without Colbea and the Weave.
I had heard of the platform before I went on the programme, but like I said – starting a business is daunting, and I just didn’t know how to approach them. I knew that they would ask me to tell them about my business, and I wouldn’t have an answer. One of the biggest problems I have – if you have an idea, it’s your baby. When you talk to friends and family, no matter what they say, you’ll still carry on. That’s why Angels@Essex was great, to get validation of your idea from an independent third party. I think that’s a huge fear for entrepreneurs – your friends and family might tell you something is great, and you can spend tons of money on a bad idea.
I am pleased to say that I was. Angels@Essex liked my idea and were interested in pursuing the next stage of my business.
"I cannot wait to work with Essex again and, without a doubt, I would recommend anybody starting their own business to explore all these free opportunities."
Without a doubt. One of the biggest barriers to business is credibility. If I were to try and sell my product to a business, their very first question would be: “Who are you?” The University of Essex supporting the business is a credential that I’m very proud of. You can quite easily go to a restaurant and say that your business has that backing, and that credibility opens up opportunities. So yes, I cannot wait to work with Essex again and, without a doubt, I would recommend anybody starting their own business to explore all these free opportunities.
I’m going to give you a prediction. In five years, I would like to have at least 100,000 businesses signed up to the platform, and I would like about one million users to be signed up. I would like our company to generate revenues of at least ten million pounds. Although it is ambitious, the business has huge potential, because people love to eat all over the world. The idea is very scalable. We can go to any country and roll it out. Our ambition is to bring that personal touch back to the restaurant business – and that’s what Foodilize does. So, that’s my grand prediction!