Ben Lipschitz is a problem solver. When his girlfriend had trouble juggling her high heels and flats, he invented the Flipster. When he saw the issues the hospitality sector was facing connecting producers and suppliers to businesses, he co-founded FoodByUs, the inaugural winner of our INNOV8RS competition.
Launched in 2016 with former Menulog managing director Gary Munitz and Tim Chandler, the former lead engineer at Menulog, Lipschitz’s startup aims to take the fuss out of ordering for the nation’s hospitality businesses.
Asked to give the elevator pitch for the brand, Lipshitz describes it as a “one-stop-shop connecting hundreds of wholesale suppliers with hundreds of restaurants, caterers and more”.
“It allows them to connect and search for anything they might need to run their restaurant or café – seafood, veg, even alcohol and packaging,” he explains.
“We bring it all together in the one place, which saves them a tonne of time and money too. We also act as a buying group, which gives small businesses that same purchasing power that is usually reserved for the bigger guys.”
While Lipschitz is a serial entrepreneur, he says entrepreneurship was not in his bones. Initially, he was set to go into the family profession – law.
“I’m the youngest of three brothers, and my dad is a lawyer. My first two brothers didn’t study law, but I did. My dad was like, ‘Finally, this one is going to study law.”
Unfortunately for his father, Lipschitz never succumbed to the law bug. So, despite finishing his degree, a career as a lawyer was short-lived.
“Personally for me, I realised if I want to work hard at something, I really want to love it,” he says.
Lipschitz says the tipping point was discovering what he was most passionate about whilst working at a commercial law firm.
“I was interested in business. But the bit that most excited me – driving the business, the revenue, the operations – I didn’t see the legal involvement as the core. Yes, it added to the mix, but I wanted to be in the driver’s seat. I really wanted to do these deals, not just advise on them. I felt I was a naturally hard worker and decided if I’m going to work hard, I might as well do something where I have skin in the game.”
The canny entrepreneur says he loves solving real-world problems and seeing that he is helping people.
“With FoodByUs, it was very much about understanding what was going on in the industry. Obviously, with my partners’ background in Menulog, we saw the value in bringing a marketplace together. Menulog was acting for consumers allowing them to select a restaurant and get a delivery. When we looked at the restaurants themselves, we realised they had a lot of challenges in procurement. In finding what they needed to run effectively. The more we dug, and the more we travelled up the supply chain, the more we realised, ‘hang on – we’ve helped consumers get their food – but how do we help restaurants get their supplies?’
Lipschitz says having the expertise of his co-founders has allowed FoodByUs to tick off areas such as marketplace and technology very early on when developing the platform.
“Still, you’d be surprised how little translated, as consumers behave very differently to businesses,” says Lipschitz.
“So even though we understood tech and marketplaces, very quickly we worked out these are not consumers. Consumers want an effortless shopping experience. They want everything to look beautiful, but restaurants don’t shop; they order. It’s an administrative task that they do every day. So, some of the interfaces we initially built weren’t the right fit. We realised it had be almost stripped back. It was a business-to-business tool.”
The founder says the most significant challenge as a tech player coming into the wholesale hospitality space is understanding how each of these businesses operates.
“There are 90,000 restaurants in Australia, and they are all small and independent. They’re your corner cafes, pizza places, and they have very different operating problems, and you have to understand them. So ultimately what we are building is a solution. It’s a solution to their procurement challenges – so you have to understand them.
For FoodByus, this meant understanding the nitty-gritty of their customers. What quality produce do they want? What does bad supply look like? Who is doing the ordering?
“Once we were able to understand that, we were able to build the right technology to solve their problems,” says Lipschitz.
To achieve this, FoodByUs was built from the ground up.
“It’s all built in-house, and we have a solid tech team. One of my co-founders built Menulog from the ground up, so I think that was a strength in our DNA from the beginning.”
However, building the solution was just the beginning. Now Lipschitz and co. had to sell it to the nation’s hospitality businesses.
“What is so interesting is if they are using technology already and you come in with FoodByUs as marketplace solution – they love it,” says Lipschitz.
“It’s a great sell as they’re used to tech, and instead of 15 different apps and suppliers, there is one.
“I think the hardest thing for us is when the business is using phone calls and text and even fax – when the chef is calling the order in, and it’s the way they’ve done things for years. So now, it’s like we are introducing this great marketplace that will save you time and money. But also, we are going to get you online and get you to change your fundamental behaviours.
“You’re asking them to change how they do business, and that’s the biggest challenge in the sale. You need to get businesses to understand that the tech can help and let them have the confidence to use it – and we can help them do that.”
Lippshitz says the business continues to evolve. “It’s definitely evolved since day one- you initially imagine it’s a linear journey, but it’s been a squiggly line. From an evolutionary point of view, the more we learn about what our ever-growing customer base wants, the more we grow.”
Find out more about FoodByUs
The INNOV8RS is a national competition to find Australia’s most innovative small businesses. This initiative is supported by Peugeot Professional’s range of commercial vans, which combine the luxury of an SUV with the practicality of a van. Good for business, good for life.
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