Santiago Schmitt first started working on the idea for a business that would make his mum’s weekly online grocery shop easier when he was just fourteen years old. Although the concept was far from developed then, at the age of eighteen he launched his product – a browser extension called FoodLama.
FoodLama makes online grocery shopping with dietary preferences, allergies, and intolerances easier – all while sitting on top of grocery sites. By automatically showing users the products that fit their requirements as they scroll, and by making personalised recommendations on the go, FoodLama aims to bring ultra-personalisation to grocery shopping.
Here, Santiago reveals how his personal experience helped his startup become a success.
First-hand experience can provide valuable insights
When I was a toddler, my mum discovered I reacted to corn and its countless derivatives. Though finding this must’ve been a relief, it also opened her eyes to the challenge she faced. Even whilst knowing the ingredients to avoid, she found them everywhere. In bread, jams, toothpaste – even in the formula milk I drank when I was an infant. This wasn’t made easier by the rest of the family. Alongside my own allergies, my brother’s gluten intolerance and mum’s veganism made it a real challenge to find products everyone in the family could eat. Often we stuck with what we knew.
Through seeing the struggles my mum endured in finding new foods for all the family – and the time she spent doing it – I wanted to find a solution that would give users peace of mind when it came to the weekly food shop, and would make it easy to find new products.
It was my first-hand experience with the problem at hand that made me understand the product details that were integral. From saving time by not needing to read the ingredients, to highlighting the best products that fit everyone. Those insights are what turn a good product into a great one.
Personal experience gives your business journey purpose
Speak to any business owner and they’ll tell you that launching a business requires vast amounts of persistence. As a founder you’re not just in charge of running a company but putting your all in to make it a success – it’s what makes the highs high and the lows low. But despite what people think motivates you – achieving the big milestones, closing big funding rounds, becoming profitable – what keeps you going is the knowledge that you’re building a product that will help millions of people, and on a mission that’s personal to you. One you truly care about.
Most businesses have to dig deep to find their ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’, however, we knew ours from the start – to make grocery shopping with allergies, intolerances, and preferences easy. Whether it’s helping users cut down on time spent searching for delicious new products, or providing them with more choices than simply shopping in the dreaded ‘free-from’ aisle, our startup has a meaningful mission that aligns our team and means our business journey is laser-focused.
Personal experience can also help attract the right people
Creating a successful business is also about finding the right people. When your mission is crystal clear, it makes it even easier to find those people. Even if the end goal isn’t personal to them, having them buy into the idea of the problem you’re trying to solve means you already have a dedicated team ready to champion the cause.
I recruited a small team in January 2020 from Imperial College London, all paid in equity. Leading the project, they spent six months building out a proof of concept and determining how best to approach the challenge. It was no easy feat to persuade the team to join without being paid a regular salary (at first), but they did so because the personal story resonated, and the idea that we were doing something that would revolutionise the weekly food shop for millions excited. Once our proof of concept was complete, I met my co-founder, Damilare, and we went on to raise a round and build a team of 12 to develop FoodLama further.
Whilst personal experience doesn’t unlock instant access to big achievements, it allows you to have a defining core to your business. One that puts fire into the vision for everyone around, and ultimately brings you closer to achieving your mission.
Whilst personal experience might not give you instant access to the big achievements, it does help you make your case when it comes to persuading people why they should back your business and join you in your mission to create something great.
FoodLama is a Google-backed browser extension founded by Santiago Schmitt and Damilare Ogunleye. It sits as a layer over grocery sites, showing users what they can and have as they scroll, and giving them personalised recommendations.
Try FoodLama today at heyfoodlama.com