Next up in our Startup Showcase Q&A series is Thomas Buerki, founder and CEO of DigiMeals. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, DigiMeals creates custom digital interfaces to help users take advantage of smart kitchen tools — and help brands bridge the gap to connect with consumers. Their platform lets people surf and select recipes, order ingredients for through grocery delivery, and monitor their connected appliances.
Read on to learn more about how DigiMeals is aiming to bring on the smart kitchen revolution, and the particularly tricky parts of getting a food tech startup off the ground.
If you want to meet the DigiMeals team in person and see their tech live in action, register for SKS Europe in Dublin on June 11-12th!
This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.
Q: First thing’s first: give us your 15-second elevator pitch.
A: DigiMeals builds intuitive & user-focused cooking interfaces (and the platforms behind them) that manage recipes and integrate with smart kitchen devices. Our modular and multilingual solutions are easily customised and work seamlessly with existing sites, applications and ecosystems. They can also function on their own as low-maintenance standalone solutions, ideally suited to pilot new features or test products with new customer groups.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for DigiMeals?
A: It all started when some of us met helping an inventor of an ingenious smart kitchen device to develop and market his product. As with many new products, user adoption was one of the main challenges. But what we realized was that the appliance itself wasn't the problem. Instead, the issue was that people were skeptical about digital user interfaces because they had had bad experiences with recipe apps which were little more than digitized versions of cookbooks. They struggled to see the added value of digital recipes themselves.
For us, it was the complete opposite: we had seen the potential of the smart kitchen and a clear vision of how much easier, more successful and more exciting technology with the right user interface could make cooking. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands and set out to build a recipe solution that put the focus on a great user experience while enabling the full potential of the future smart kitchen.
Q: What distinguishes DigiMeals from other cooking interfaces?
A: Creating great user experiences is the key focus for us and we believe this is not achievable with a one-size-fits-all interface. Different user groups have very different views on what they consider value-adding features, or how something needs to look like to be familiar enough for easy adoption. Our solution is therefore not one single cooking interface but rather a set of features, processes and designs that can be combined in a very modular way to create the cooking interface that best matches the target users. And because it is always difficult to know in advance what specific interface a user group likes most, we make it easy to set-up pilots and test different interfaces.
Q: What role do you see DigiMeals playing in the smart kitchen ecosystem?
A: We see ourselves as a catalyst with the goal to bring more companies and people into the smart kitchen ecosystem. Our focus on easy, customisable solutions will make it as simple as possible for companies to get their technology to a level that is “smart kitchen” capable. At the same time, the user-focused interfaces will simplify the adoption of smart kitchen technologies.
Q: How will DigiMeals change the day-to-day life of its users?
A: Broadly speaking, we will introduce users to the possibilities of the smart kitchen. The exact impact will be different for each individual depending on their skills, preferences and many other factors. Some will find cooking easier thanks to smart kitchen devices and be more successful at making new recipes. Others might cook more often because they will save time or because they will find food preparation more exciting.
Q: Where are you at in your product development process right now? How big is your team, etc?
A: The underlying recipe and interactive cooking guidance platform is fully functional and already being used in solutions we have deployed for our partners. Other modules and types of interfaces are still in the test stage. However, thanks to the modularity of the entire system, they can be easily added later on.
The recipe solution with the most advanced modules and integrations that we have built so far is probably the platform behind a showcase “intelligent kitchen” of a Swiss kitchen manufacturer. It includes guided cooking tools that controls various appliances like the oven and exhaust fan, has a touchscreen and Alexa-compatible voice interface, and is integrated with a broader smart home solution. That means that, for example, the lights over the stove turn on when the recipe requires you to fry something and you have not yet turned them on manually.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of getting a food tech startup off the ground?
A: I think many of the most challenging aspects in our work are similar to what startups in other industries face. The influence from both sides — the rather traditional food industry and the highly innovative tech industry — does make some things trickier though. For example, one point that should not be forgotten when operating in food tech is that many users, as well as companies, still work with very simple technologies. So you have to be careful not to overcomplicate things by bringing in sophisticated tech solutions that users do not feel comfortable with, or in which they don't see any added value.
Changing habits is hard when it comes to eating and cooking, and it might be even harder because many of those things people have done the same way for decades or even generations.
Thanks for speaking with us, Thomas! If you want to see DigiMeals pitch their product at our Startup Showcase in Dublin this June, register here.