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Isabella Mandich, co-founder at LocalMeal

StartIn: Hello and welcome on our Spotlight series. Can you give us a quick introduction about yourself and your team, please?

Isabella: I’m Isabella, a recent graduate in the Business Analytics MSc at Imperial College Business School. I was born and raised in LA and came to London to pursue my undergraduate degree in Management Science at UCL. I’ve been in London ever since and, in the meantime, co-founded a startup called LocalMeal, a platform designed to finally bring visibility to local, independently-owned restaurants (around London first!). Currently, Noah is my co-founder – he’s from Vienna and we met studying the same undergraduate degree at UCL!

StartIn: With your start-up LocalMeal you are offering hand-picked restaurant recomondations by locals. How did you come up with the idea?

Isabella: Our motto since the start has been “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” It may sound cliché in the entrepreneurial space but I actually don’t think this approach is quite as common as you would think.

LocalMeal started from the simple problem that so many us face: we don’t trust restaurant discovery platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google. This is because the small local gems are often not visible on these since restaurants with money can pay to be advertised. The star review system is also flawed: it’s biased (people only leave either really good or really bad reviews) and is difficult to interpret (what does 3.5 starts mean??). As a result, we often turn to word of mouth for recommendations because it’s the most trustworthy avenue. But sometimes, word of mouth is not possible. What if I’m traveling in a new city or I’m in an unfamiliar area of London where I have no one to ask for recommendations?

That’s how we defined our mission for LocalMeal: to bring the trust of word of mouth onto a convenient mobile app.

StartIn: Cool! You have quite a big start-up group. How did you meet each other and agreed to work on this idea together?

Isabella: My original co-founders and I were originally just friends studying the same undergraduate degree at UCL. Derin came to London from Istanbul and Noah from Vienna so you can imagine our joint interest in various cultures and food. After coming up with LocalMeal as an idea for one of our group projects, we saw an opportunity that we simply felt would be a shame not to chase. The timing was great – we sat down together right before the start of the summer of 2022 and agreed to jump into it and see where it goes. By now, Noah and I have jumped into LocalMeal full-time. While Derin has moved back to Istanbul for another job opportunity, she is still very much our prized co-founder and wonderful supporter of LocalMeal.

StartIn: And you also have developers working for you already – that’s exciting! How do you finance your start-up so far?

Isabella: So far, the biggest source of funding we’ve received was a £13k Innovate UK grant as part of the Young Innovator Award back in September of 2022. This chunk of money has mainly been dedicated to development and technical costs. We’re proud of the traction and awareness we’ve achieved with £0 marketing budget. When you aren’t working with much disposable cash, you realize how much can be done with so little.

StartIn: You are all doing things apart from LocalMeal – you are for instance studying MSc Business Analytics at Imperial. How do you cope to stay motivated and to keep progressing?

Isabella: It’s been a journey for us since we’ve experienced such drastic changes in the past year. When we were in our final year of undergrad, we all had the exact same assignments, exact same lifestyle and as a result, the exact same schedule. It was easy to coordinate working on LocalMeal all together. This year we are all doing different jobs aside from LocalMeal. This has required more organization, of course, but the key to staying motivated in times like these is constant communication. We do our best to arrange as many meetings as possible and to be as open and honest with each other as possible. And finally, the strongest point of motivation doesn’t come from us, it comes from our community. If we didn’t have people constantly engaging with our socials and telling us (often in person) how much they need this app, I don’t think we’d still be doing this today.

StartIn: Brilliant! To close off – what advise can you share with other students who also want to start a business, but struggle to finance it?

Isabella: Don’t wait for money to start. There is so much you can do with just an idea. You can build a team, design a product, but most importantly, there is nothing stopping you from building an incredible community from day 1. Talk to people, create a website, launch your socials. We truly believe that once you’ve built awareness and traction, the financial side will fall into place. If you take our specific case as an example, we worked on LocalMeal with no funds at all for about a year, and the traction we built is what got us the £13k grant in the following year. To sum it all up, dedicating every single day to small bits of work will accumulate into so much more value than you would ever expect.

StartIn: Thank you very much for sharing your story!

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We are currently looking for angel investors experienced in the foodtech, restaurant, or social network industries.