The Story of eatclever: How a Bootstrapped Startup Uses Transparency to Take on The Big Fish

"We could be bankrupt any other month."

That’s a rather unorthodox slogan to attract talent. But unorthodox is exactly how one would describe eatclever. “In job ads we are very open about low salaries and the risk to suddenly lose your position," says Mohamed Chahin, one of the three founders and CEOs.

Eatclever is a bootstrapped eCommerce startup with big ambitions. As a home delivery platform for healthy foods they aim to take on market leaders like Lieferheld and Besides a healthy angle and unique business model, what stands between them and the industry giants is a mountain of funding.

Being brutally honest, most importantly to themselves, has been a conscious strategy to deal with their resource scarcity.

No more pizza, please

Like most men in their twenties, eatclever’s founders were struggling to combine a busy lifestyle with a healthy diet. Easy alternatives to pizza were neither tasty nor healthy - and mostly not even cheap.

"Eating healthy is expensive", says Mohamed. "It requires time for planning, money for ingredients, effort for cooking. Not to mention the worst part - cleaning up afterwards."

The founders Mohamed, Marco and Robin met in Lüneburg in 2012. The chemistry was right from the start and they started working on the meanwhile retired food delivery service aggregator This is how they set foot into the delivery service industry.

You are what you eat

Eatclever’s uniqueness comes from its focus on healthy food and its franchise-like business model.

The major food delivery platforms are open to every type of restaurant and food, with customer ratings as the only quality indicator. Anything with the right taste and price will do. Food is categorized (pizza, Indian, sushi, burgers...), but this says nothing about the healthiness of a dish or its suitability for a certain diet.

Eatclever sells food from partner restaurants, receiving a share of the revenue. However, on eatclever the dishes aren't labeled by kitchen but by the various ‘shades of health’: low-carb, high-protein, vegetarian, vegan, etc., with every dish including detailed nutritional information.

Mohamed discussing the early idea for eatclever

Instead of building up a chain of restaurants to share their recipes, eatclever grows in a sort of franchise fashion, using the infrastructure of existing restaurants. Restaurants can join when they pass inspection and are able to prepare the dishes from eatclever. This setup keeps overhead costs to a minimum.

Growing on a lean diet

Starting out in Hamburg, eatclever is now active in twelve German cities. Their growth depends largely on how many restaurants they can win as partners. When starting a partnership with a kitchen, Robin comes over to train the chefs how to prepare eatclever’s recipes with selected ingredients.

Their main challenge has been a lack of marketing budget to create the necessary mass of users. Mohamed explains that personal networking has been their most important marketing channel. “You yourself are your prime marketing tool. Through networking we have secured our most important opportunities.”

Photo shoot for viral campaigns

On the hungry customer side, social media is where most efforts are directed at. One can hardly be surprised anymore by the virality factor of food pictures. Facebook and Instagram are grateful platforms for this.

But traditional press relations have also been valuable. “When you have a good and unique concept the press is willing to listen to you”, explains Mohamed. “Making it into the newspapers has been a real boost”.

If you're not strong ...

A second challenge when you have no money: how to attract talent? Eatclever has chosen for transparency, being very open about their situation and addressing their candidates with the promise of being part of a big idea and having a real impact.

Wrapping them in a funny tone, they placed job ads that featured low salaries and the risk of losing the position in Eatclever’s possible bankruptcy any other month.

This bold approach seems to pay off. Being open about their size and situation makes them sympathetic to end users and adventurous job searchers alike. Mohamed: “Our employees stay longer than they’d have to. For us, the team consists of heroes, and we treat them that way”.

Still, it seems crazy to think that eatclever will beat big fish like Lieferheld or when they don’t even make enough revenue yet to support themselves. “You have to be a bit crazy to reach new heights. Innovation comes with risk and venture. You might start off being the only one believing what you’re planning will work. To convince others is your first mission.”