Bamboo wants to be the app you use to get your morning coffee or lunch

22 May 2017

From left: Bamboo co-founders Alan Haverty and Luke Mackey. Image: Tom Campion

Our start-up of the week is Bamboo, creator of an ingenious food app that lets you skip the morning or lunchtime queues.

“At its core, our app saves people time,” explained Bamboo co-founder Luke Mackey. “You tap a button and you can skip the queue.

“We’re a marketplace of great cafés and restaurants; users can pre-order, pay and earn loyalty rewards in seconds through the app so when it’s ready, you can just skip the queue, grab your order and go.”

‘You’re building quite a powerful product when it has the ability for people to make purchases with it more than 10 times in a week, religiously’

The app is focused on Dublin first, with more than 30 venues signed up and plans to expand into other cities overseas.

The market

“There are a lot of cogs and a lot of sides to our growth,” Mackey explained. “On the merchant side, Bamboo works great with on-trend cafés and restaurants such as speciality cafés, burrito bars and salad bars, [and] we offer it to corporates with in-house catering.

“On the user side, our primary demographic 18-35-year-olds who live or work in cities. We’d break it into two user categories of students and professionals, as we’ve seen strong uptake from each.

“Now that college is off, it’s nice to focus on one demographic and test different acquisition strategies. For example, we work with corporates who want to offer Bamboo to their staff as a way to save time and money for lunch or for coffee meetings.

“The opportunity is massive. We’re offering people an easier way to pay in one of the highest-spending categories for human beings: food and beverage.

“We have contactless cards, we have Apple Pay, so customers no longer have a payments problem – they have a time problem. The expectation has changed; now, time and convenience drives conversion. Dublin is a launch pad for us, we do plan to export as soon as possible. On-demand ordering is still in its infancy and there’s a lot of markets we can go after.”

The founders

‘We want to be the app people use when they get their morning coffee or their lunch’

From left: Bamboo co-founders Alan Haverty and Luke Mackey. Image: Tom Campion

“We’re both graduates,” said Mackey. “We finished college last year and jumped straight into this madness. My background is marketing and sales, I studied marketing in college and worked in a freelance capacity for much of it.

“My co-founder Alan Haverty is a computer science grad – an award-winning one at that. He manages most of the tech, I just ask, ‘Is this possible?’

“It’s not just us, we’re lucky to have an amazing team of five, and the reason we get so much done is because we all work outrageously hard.”

The technology

When you open the app, you can scroll through all the cafés and restaurants around you. You can tap into a store, browse the menu and place an order, and you’ll automatically earn loyalty points.

“As it is location-based, the app will let you know if you’re a six-minute walk from the café, or you can just order for a specific time. You get notified when your order’s being prepared and when it’s ready to collect. It’s already paid for so when it’s ready, you can just skip the queue and grab your order.”

Mackey believes that if the team executes its plans correctly, it can own a large chunk of a burgeoning new space within the on-demand market.

“We want to be the app people use when they get their morning coffee and when they order their food at lunch. You’re building quite a powerful product when it has the ability for people to make purchases with it more than 10 times in a week, religiously.”

Food for thought

Bamboo soft-launched in February in Dublin city.

“We have 30 partners on board now, 5,000-plus downloads and we are seeing 30pc month-on-month growth.

“Our retention rate is really strong; the users are taking advantage of the marketplace, with 25pc ordering from more than one store.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be content with it at this stage, but we’ve set targets early on and we’ve been hitting them. The feedback has been great – people love what we’re trying to do.

“We’ll continue to keep our heads down and hire some more people to increase the pace. We have a lot more to build before we’re truly happy.

“We’re raising a €400,000 Enterprise Ireland-matched seed round at the moment, which isn’t closed just yet.”

If there’s a gap in the market, there’s a market in the gap

Mackey explained that building a stable, two-sided marketplace is not a simple task – there’s a lot to manage.

“You’re selling a new product to partners have to gain their trust. They have to believe in the product and see its value, then it’s about marketing it to the different types of users and making sure their experience is exceptional.

“Managing growth is an unusual type of challenge; sometimes you don’t get the growth you want when you want it and sometimes you’re wary of handling the growth you have.”

Word of mouth works

Mackey’s views on the start-up scene in Ireland and Europe are mixed.

“I do owe a lot to it. I came into this whole ‘start-up thing’ blind and I learned a lot from others. That’s great in the very early days, the idea stage, when you can soak up as much as you can from others when you have the opportunity.

“I really do think once you’ve started a company and you’re in the trenches, every waking second should be spent working on that, and that alone.

“If you have a company and you’re spending time at start-up events or pitch competitions, there’s something very wrong there.”

Mackey’s advice to fellow founders is to get product validation as early as possible.

“If we’ve learned anything it’s important to nail your product and its user experience as early as possible so people actually care about it.

“The cheapest customer acquisition model is word of mouth, so build something worth shouting about.

“Be weirdly self-conscious about things like retention data and week-on-week customer growth and question it.

“Talk to your customers, the earliest adopters of your product, and ask them why they use your product and what you can do better.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years