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After our three previous super-engaging dinner conversations (see the Quantified Self review), we kicked off our fourth The Fetch Melbourne Dinner on Tuesday 2 July with a topic that was sure to stir up conversation, considering how much Melburnians love dining out, quality coffee and laneway bars – food startups – with our guest speaker, Liisa Vurma, co-founder of the social networking foodie community, Eat With Me.
On a windy Melbourne night, 11 Fetchers came together to discuss the power of food, share food experiences, debate ethical vs convenience, and ultimately decide – why Melbourne is perfectly placed to become the food startup capital of the globe (And the answer: It’s YES!). In addition to our guest speaker Liisa, by chance we were spoiled to have several other food startup founders also in attendance – Athan Didaskalou of Three Thousand Thieves and Jack Barker & Xavier Verhoeven of Where The Truck At.
Comparing stories and experiences between the three startups naturally added to the experience and conversation!
We usually invite an attendee to share their thoughts on the Dinner, so it was great that Xavier was keen to do so … here’s his review:
I’m an introvert. And having spent a long five or so years pursuing a degree in psychology, I’m probably even more aware of that fact than most other introverts.
Like lots of other introverts, I played with computers and the internet when I was younger, which led me down the path of being interested in startups, and eventually co-founding my own, wherethetruck.at. For the bulk of you who have no idea what that is, we have a website and iPhone app that map out the amazing food trucks around Melbourne and Australia.
But all this is to explain that when The Fetch announced an intimate dinner to discuss food startups, I was immediately equal parts eager and hesitant.
Eager to go and potentially learn from a bunch of other awesome entrepreneurs and fellow digital guys (figuring that most Fetch subscribers are probably digital focused) working on or interested in the world of startups relating to food. But hesitant to get out of my comfort zone and meet a bunch of new people.
So I did what any self-respecting introvert would do in that situation – I got a mate (and wherethetruck.at co-founder) to book the tickets for us. And I’m really glad I did.
The twelve people that made up our small party in a private room at Trunk certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of conversation. As is obligatory at an event where most people don’t know each other, we did an introduction round robin, with about 50% of the table founders of current startups – a pretty great start.
With the formalities done got to defining what makes a ‘food startup’. The short story is that we couldn’t easily define why eatwithme.net, threethousandthieves.com or even a food truck might count as ‘food startups’, or why most restaurants aren’t considered startups.
The longer version involved thoughts around innovation, disruption, and following a slightly less trodden business model path. Perhaps to quote The Castle, “it’s just… the vibe”.
And just like the plethora of restaurants that seem to pop up in Melbourne every other week, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of startups from the Melbourne foodie community.
After all, everyone has to eat.
I was particularly interested to hear from Eat With Me.net’s founder Liisa Vurma, after signing up on her site around a year ago, but never getting involved with an event because, well, I’m an introvert. Eat With Me events are actually similar to The Fetch dinner, with the aim of bringing friends and strangers together to share meals, often around a guiding theme. It sounds like a great community, and I definitely want to get along to an event soon (with a friend, of course).
We didn’t talk about Eat With Me as much as I initially thought we would, but then with a conversation as diverse as local councils’ issues with food trucks, sourcing ethical and sustainable produce, how convenience and quality can are often at odds in our decisions, and the absolute genius that is avocado subscriptions (of varying ripeness to ensure optimally ripe avocado every day of the week), there was a lot of great conversation to get through.
In the end, though, there was one thing we all agreed on: when it comes to food, Melbourne is spoilt for choice – we have incredible food, amazing coffee, and enormous variety.
And there are a bunch of smart Melbournians working on innovative ways to make that choice even greater through the next breed of food startups, and maybe even share a bit of the Melbourne food culture with those who don’t have it so good. It’s great to be involved in one little piece of the pie, and it’ll be great to see how these food startups evolve.
This week, latte drinker Kat Loughrey, trialled the new coffee-driven startup, Three Thousand Thieves, to discover the joys of quality artisan coffee being carefully selected and delivered right to your door.
You’re not Melburnian if you don’t drink coffee, right? I’ve always enjoyed a coffee from a cafe, however the notion of making coffee at home or the office had always been lost on me – that is until I brewed my own high quality coffee, courtesy of Three Thousand Thieves, causing a stir around the office with the alluring smell wafting down the hall, and in return brought many interested faces to my door.
“We are a service that compliments your existing coffee habit, not competes with it.”
Three Thousand Thieves is a monthly coffee discovery subscription, best described as a wine club for coffee. Every month, they hunt down and curate Melbourne’s best artisan roasters, and then deliver it straight to your door – either as coffee beans or ground coffee. Most roasters offer subscriptions of their own brands, but what makes Three Thousand Thieves unique says founder Athan Didaskalou, is that they are the first to bring them all together and offer something different each month in your delivery.
The experience: The moment the box arrived at my office, the tantalising smell of the coffee beans was the first thing you notice. Once the box was opened, your treated to a 250g bag of carefully selected coffee beans, an outline of this month’s coffee on brown card, plus some photos of the Melbourne-based roasters – a nice touch. A simple yet well-crafted experience, all with sustainable packaging.
The coffee: Now the big question – so how was the coffee? I was treated to Balaclava’s Common Ground Coffee – L.E.S Blend. Now I’m no coffee expert, but I can hand-on-my-heart say that it made a delicious and hearty brew, without any bitter after-taste. It certainly perked up my day at work!
I had a chance to chat with Three Thousand Thieves (TTT) founder Athan Didaskalou, over a hearty brew to learn more about his experience in building this side project:
You have a day job, what are the challenges of balancing a growing side project at the same time?
I work as a strategist for DT. DT promotes a culture of entrepreneurship and learning-through-doing, and working in that environment definitely rubs off on you. Bosses all love the idea, in fact I have a few of them as customers! My business model is based on a monthly cycle, and because of this, managing the workload is a lot easier – I only have a couple of late nights preparing before delivery day. I think it’s important to maintain the balance between work and the venture on the side. It’s also about setting your priorities from the get go. It forces you to be organised and cracks down on procrastination. With the right business model, you can do something a little fun on the side and maintain your sanity.
What inspired you to start TTT? Is your aim to grow it into a full time business for yourself?
Like most people in Melbourne, I love my coffee. This came from a problem I wanted a service for myself: why can’t someone find me all the different coffees in Melbourne and sell them to me?! I hope to continue to grow the business in parallel with my career in digital. The two go hand in hand – what I learn from in one I can use on the other.
How do you find and select the coffee that you provide?
Word of mouth is the only way. Everyone always has their own special place, with their favourite special blend. It’s about talking to the right people to find these places. Then it’s all about taste. We have an espresso on location, and take a couple of bags with us. My partner and friends are all coffee nuts, so if we all like it, it becomes the chosen one for the month!
What can we expect in the future?
Going international! The demand for Melbourne coffee is huge, especially in the US and in Asian majors like Hong Kong and Singapore. Feedback from customers has shown us that people love to make coffee at home, but don’t like the typical wankers that usually condescend the everyday drinker into trying something new. We want to break down those barriers and run education pieces on cold drips, pour-overs and the like without the snobbery.
In your mind, how does Melbourne coffee compare to the rest of the world?
Melbourne is the quintessential coffee city: our culture has geared this one thing into a thriving economic beast. Rarely can you find so many coffee houses, so many roasters, so many people obsessed with quality than what you do in Melbourne. New York for their pretzels. Naples for its sauce. Melbourne for its coffee. We live in a rare one-in-a-million city for coffee fanatics.
Favourite spot to enjoy coffee in Melbourne?
There’s a little gem in Kew called Adeney. Bit of a drive, but take your partner and someone’s dog and enjoy getting away from it all before the weekend kicks in.
About our Curator // Kat Loughrey is the Melbourne Curator of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Kat is also a Digital Executive in the sporting industry by day (fuelled by coffee) and can be found exploring Melbourne’s arts and music scenes by night. Follow her on Twitter at @KatLoughrey & @TheFetchMELB.