La Belle Assiette wants to disrupt Europe's catering industry. It started off by bringing tailored dining experiences to customers' own homes with private chefs. Today, it also plans to shake up business and event catering by offering online booking. Having achieved significant growth since launching in 2013, CEO and co-founder, Stephen Leguillon, explains the importance of building the right team and remaining true to your original values when scaling
"With our private chef service, La Belle Assiette brings the best elements of the restaurant experience to customers' own homes. We take all the stress out of hosting, whether it's a candlelit meal for two or a dinner party. Based on their own preferences and budget, customers can book a menu created by a private chef out of the hundreds we've handpicked. The chef then buys the ingredients, cooks the food in the customer's kitchen, serves it at their dining table and cleans up before leaving. It's ultra convenient.
"We're active in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and the United Kingdom. In the UK, more than 330 chefs offering their menus on La Belle Assiette. We have more than 700 chefs in Europe and have served more than 30,000 delicious meals to date. We take a percentage of the cost of the booking; the rest goes to the chef.
"The private chef marketplace was the first step in our vision for the future of the catering industry. The Elior Group ['a global player in the contracted food and support services industry'] acquired a minority stake in the business in mid-2016, which will help us accelerate our second step - entering the corporate catering market.
"I founded the business in Paris in 2013 with my business partner, Giorgio Ricco. We figured that the catering market was going to shift online, which offered a great opportunity. We had private chefs as friends who found it hard to market themselves and wanted to go online. This opened our eyes to the entire industry's challenge, so we decided to build an online marketplace for it.
"We raised angel funding worth €80k and launched our first website in March 2013. By the end of the year, we'd built a network of some 200 chefs in France, while raising a further €300k in angel investment.
"In 2014, we launched in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the UK. We raised seed funding worth €1.3m, and created a new, far superior website. In 2015, we launched in Germany and in 2016, extended our services to catering delivery.
"International growth was our aim from the start. I don't believe that selling in just one European country is enough to guarantee long-term sustainability. If you don't build critical mass - others will.
"We never doubted our business model's scalability - the market opportunity was there. The European catering industry is worth €18Bn. How have we managed to grow? We've invested heavily to create fantastic products that caterers and our clients really value. We might be involved in food, but we're first and foremost a technology company. We also hired an excellent product and engineering team, and have listened carefully to our customers, so we know what they want.
"A key lesson we've learned is that each country is different. What works in one country, might not work in another. That's why we've built local teams in each country and have let them create an approach that works in that market.
"Our core values have been critical to our success. And despite our significant growth, we've safeguarded our original core values. We spent a lot of time defining our values. We 'start by doing', because we believe that 'being done' is better than 'being perfect'. We 'build trust', because it's the basis of every good relationship. We 'take food seriously' because we understand its value - without being snobbish about it.
"We also spread enthusiasm and like to remain optimistic when faced with challenges. We're a family; act like one, share our successes and we're proud of each other. We expect excellence from everyone connected to the business.
"Each of our values is as important as the next. Giorgio and I invested a lot of time early on thinking about what values we wanted the business to have and be known for. Our recruitment process is rigorous - we make sure we hire the right people. They have to realise the importance of our values and company culture. We won't hire anyone who doesn't fit our values and culture. Both have helped to drive our success and growth."
Stephen's key advice on scaling a business
- "If you have a scalable business model, the market opportunity is there and the timing is right - why wait?"
- "Realise that scaling a business can place great demands on your time, thinking and energy. It must mean a lot to you."
- "Don't underestimate the importance of building the right team. Recruits must be totally committed to safeguarding the values that make your business special."