This week, Community Ambassador Keith McGuinness was thrilled to interview Apprentice 2012 finalist Nick Holzherr about the upcoming launch of Whisk and how his appearance on the show has impacted the business.
How did you get started as a digital entrepreneur?
I have had an interest in technology since my dad bought me a computer when I was 15 and I started to build websites for local companies – even the odd bit of non-malicious hacking at the time. Getting into tech for business was however all by accident. I was interested in running my own business at university where I did a degree in business – and started a coffee business. We started putting advertising on the side of coffee cups, added QR codes onto the adverts and suddenly got lots of demand for our tech solution. From that, I did what any business person does – follow demand, hired a few developers and grew the tech side of the business.
And how did you come up with the idea for Whisk?
It goes without saying that starting a company involves long hours. Although I love cooking, I just wasn’t finding the time to buy the right ingredients for the recipes I wanted to cook. It frustrated me as it meant I ended up cooking the same dishes most nights, or eating out, which gets pretty costly. Many people I knew felt the same. Craig, my co-founder, felt the frustration too, and had the ‘eureka’ moment when Tesco released their public API in 2009. We both found that buying the right ingredients was the part of home cooking that involved the most faff. It was then that he realised that technology could solve all this hassle by linking recipes directly with online shopping.
Can you tell us a bit about how the site works?
Whisk enables people to purchase the ingredients for any recipe they find on the internet via online supermarkets. People can add recipes they find to a virtual basket within Whisk and then check out the ingredients for those recipes at their supermarket of choice.
Whisk will be launched as a browser plugin, an iPhone app and a button on recipes sites. There are so many amazing recipes online, many which don’t take much time to cook. We want to open out the wealth of food ideas the internet has to offer and make them really, really convenient for people.
On top of that, Whisk does lots of other interesting things that people discover as they use the system – like recommend recipes to cook with what you’ll have leftover (which is worked out by looking at the difference between what you need to cook recipes and store item pack sizes).
Have you had much interest in the site since the Apprentice ended?
The interest has been phenomenal. We were the most read story on the BBC.co.uk page for more than a day, have had thousands of users sign-up for our system and we’re talking to the biggest recipe brands, FMCG brands and supermarkets. We also attracted the attention of a great set of people who have joined the team – making it a pleasure to come into work every day.
Did your appearance on the show help you raise finance for the business?
Absolutely. The idea is ambitious – linking together the world’s recipes with the world’s brands and the world’s supermarkets isn’t a small challenge. The exposure from The Apprentice helps with that. Having a good team behind the business also helps quite a bit. However, important to note is that while The Apprentice gives us a “leg up” – everyone believes in the vision we’re working to turn into reality – no-one would invest in a bad idea that had a lot of exposure.
Despite not choosing to invest, did Lord Sugar have any advice for you?
I have a lot of respect for Lord Sugar despite not being chosen for investment. Lord Sugar recognised the size of the challenge and recommended I may have luck in the US finding appropriate investors. We were lucky to find these in the UK and have a set of knowledgeable investors on board who can help us. We didn’t need to go to the US, but Lord Sugar was right that it is certainly a big challenge!
Are you working on any other projects that you can tell us about?
I’ve been told time and time again that working on a single project and doing it well is the most important thing. I’m dedicating all my time to Whisk – so nothing else is in the pipeline – no. Or maybe, a L’Oreal hair campaign?! Just joking. Or am I?
Finally, what advice would you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs reading this?
I’d say test your idea as soon as you can. Don’t sit on it and wait for someone else to do it. Find someone experienced in running a company and ask them for advice if you don’t know what to do next. The best thing anyone can do if they have ideas and aspire to get them off the ground is start. Start designing your product, start contacting people who may like to buy it, start talking to investors. You’ll soon find out whether it’s a good idea or not – without spending any money or too much time.
About our Ambassador: Keith McGuinness is a freelance copywriter based in South West London. Connect with him on Twitter @mcginty312