Software is Eating the Catering World

FeaturedSoftware is Eating the Catering World

“The key challenge is to adapt our service to local demand. Clients consume catering services in very different ways in each country.”  Stephane Leguillon, Founder of La Belle Assiette

La Belle Assiette, the French startup that brings a chef to the comfort of your home raised another round of seed funding to diversify its product lines.  Starting as a private chef hire, to make entertaining easier for busy urban professionals, it soon discovered that there was huge demand for catering services that married the artisanal aspects of cooking at home, a chef’s creative input, and the need to entertain at a larger scale.

I sat down with Stephen Leguillon, CEO and co-founder of La Belle Assiette to find out more on the latest round, and what is store for the company in the next 18 months.

I love the concept of entertaining at home. I grew up enjoying great enogastronomic cultures within my family (that is a fancy word for combining amazing wine and home-made food with your family and friends around a table, talking for hours on end).

We have French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Swiss, Dutch, Spanish, and German-Jewish blood running in our veins and as diverse culinary tastes.  We entertain regularly at home, for pleasure and business, and no cuisine is out of our reach, plate, glass, and palate.

Entertaining at home was a requirement for my father in his work as editor-in-chief of the financial newspaper Jornal do Comercio, Jornal do Brasil, Globo TV, and founder and executive producer of major television networks.  Political pundits, economists, and a rainbow of philosophers of different persuasions graced our tables, debating current affairs and the global economy, enjoying meals with wines from producers we knew well.

I later did the same in Paris and New York, gathering friends, colleagues, and professional acquaintances to keep a finger in the pulse of the media and the tech industry.

To break bread, to share a meal, that is at the centre of community building in many cultures, and in my book. Nothing like great food and wine to bond with colleagues and friends.  While a student at Columbia University, and at the same time working long hours at Bloomberg TV and at the UN, I was keen on making time to cook and entertain whenever I could, as my son was little and I would rather have him around, instead of dragging him out in the evening or having to hire a baby-sitter.

Thanksgiving dinners and end of year celebrations were always at our home, to enjoy food and wines from different cultures in the company of my lovely, cosmopolitan, well-travelled friends and acquaintances. When I moved to France I discovered that the French love and value entertaining at home as much as our family did.

There is nothing more pleasurable than sharing great food and wine around intelligent conversation. But then the time it requires, add the hours shopping and cleaning, and entertaining at home can fall wayside, if one leads a busy urban lifestyle.

Enters La Belle Assiette.

A private catering service that will cook, serve the food, and clean? Count me in.

If you do not know what to offer your mother this coming Mother’s Day here is a great option. Get her a La Belle Assiette private chef for a day.  She will love it.  What better way to outdo your siblings and ensure your place in her heart and her will? Just kidding. Not.

Interview with Stephen Leguillon, CEO and co-founder of La Belle Assiette

Maya Plentz: What do you know now that you did not know when you launched?

Stephen Leguillon: I didn’t know how large La Belle Assiette could really be when we launched. At the start, La Belle Assiette was focused on the Private Chef Dining service. Our aim was to make entertaining at home simple, enjoyable and delicious. Private Chef Dining seemed to be the most appropriate service to deliver on that mission. However, over the past 2 years, we’ve seen our clients ask for all sorts of catering services including buffets, canapés, and office lunches. This still matches our mission, but on a much larger scale. With time, La Belle Assiette will be expanding from a relatively niche market of Private Chefs to the huge market of Catering.

MP : What are the plans for expansion?

SL: We are currently expanding our service line to enter the events’ catering industry. Over the next 6 months, La Belle Assiette will launch 4 new catering services: Buffets, Canapé Receptions, Office Lunches and Cooking Classes. To execute this service line expansion, we recently announced that we have raised a further €1.3M in funding, bringing our total funding to €3M. This is a huge task and the current focus of the company.

MP : Who are your main competitors in France and the UK?

SL : We consider every player in the catering industry as a competitor, whether online or offline. However, we’ve identified that this industry is very fragmented, with a lack transparency and is ready to go online. Today, we estimate that under 1% of the catering market sales are booked online. We expect this to change fast, which will radically change the industry’s competitive landscape.

MP : What is your competitive advantage?

SL : Our competitive advantage comes from two key concepts that define La Belle Assiette. First, we determine the prices on our site and the expected level of service for each price point. Only then do we let suppliers (chefs and caterers) create menus which deliver on that price/service ratio.

This means that it becomes very easy for clients to select their budget and view hundreds of menus at that price point. This is a huge innovation in a market that lacks transparency. It also requires La Belle Assiette to operate expensive curation, to make sure the price/quality ratio is respected. It is key to our success and challenging to replicate.

Second, La Belle Assiette works with chefs that create their own menus. Even though we define the prices and expected service level, the food you taste is the chefs’, not a standardised menu that you’ll get at a traditional caterer.

MP : What are the challenges to increase market share abroad, in the UK and US in particular?

SL : We have already expanded in the UK, it is our 2nd largest market after France (where we started). We expect the UK to become our largest market over the next 18/24 months. There are no defined plans for the US yet.

The key challenge is to adapt our service to local demand. Clients consume catering services in very different ways in each country. Sometimes even within a country, clients in different regions have different catering needs. This requires a lot of client contact, listening and learning.

MP : Different markets require different approaches, what are your 3 top tips on scaling to the UK and US markets?

SL : Have a team with local knowledge to expand into a new market, you need to understand it and have an extensive local network.

“Start by doing”. This is actually a core value at La Belle Assiette. We believe that planning only gets you so far, and that you should start by trying to pitch/sell/do rather than over-plan. You’ll get market feedback much faster and that will generate much more value than an extensive plan.

Centralize as much of the operations as possible. Working for the local team responsible for the market expansion is tough. It’s a great help if a lot of the operations are handled centrally at HQ. This enables the local team to focus on generating value and not worry about operations.

For example, at La Belle Assiette, our customer support operations are centralized in Paris, where we have English, French and German speaking team members. Same goes for online advertising, finance etc… Try to keep “local” just execution that requires local market knowledge and/or presence.

MP : What about emerging economies? What are the opportunities and risks in Latin America (Brazil and Argentina), India, China?

SL : There are huge market opportunities for La Belle Assiette in emerging economies. Catering services are developing at a rapid pace as the middle classes expand. However, it would be too early for La Belle Assiette to explore those opportunities, but we’ll get there!


London Fashion Week AW15

London Fashion Week AW15

Georgia Hardinge

Georgia Hardinge was born and raised in London. Truly a cosmopolitan soul like so many Londoners, she chose to study fashion at the Parson’s School of Design in Paris in 2008, where she she won the best designer award for her graduate collection. Her work is strongly influenced by architecture and sculpture. Her use of pleats, and the delicate craftsmanship required when it is applied to silk, are as satisfying to the eye as the new fabrics and textiles that she likes to experiment with.

Graphic design, colour bloc, and a sense of privacy, modesty, permeate the AW15 collection. These models look inward, and their clothes speak for them.  The cobalt blues and subdued canary yellows are playful, powerful, young, fresh.  And Beyonce and Lady Gaga cannot get enough of her. She is a darling at home in the UK, and a household name in the US.

georgia hardinge georgia hardinge2 one

Julian Macdonald strikes black, with Goth inspired looks, and vibrant colours




LeWeb: Wearables and the Future of Health

LeWeb: Wearables and the Future of Health

LeWeb 2014

Paris, 10/12/2014

Day one at LeWeb 2014 was about the increased adoption of wearables to track workers’ health stats, IoT generated data and its attendant issues of privacy and data ownership, and how 2015 will see the collaborative economy take off for good.

At the Crowd Economies on the Rise panel led by Jeremiah Owyang, Founder and Chief Catalyst of Crowd Companies, the debate centered around building trust in the collaborative economy ecosystem, and how adequate government frameworks are needed in order to legislate privacy issues, and this tsunami of data being generated by shared services and products, by wearables, by devices talking to each other.

Continue reading “LeWeb: Wearables and the Future of Health”

Tech Tastes Wine: on the spotlight

Buy tickets here for the next Tech Tastes Wine on Jan 14th 2015

By Henry Teitelbaum

Tech Tastes Wine held its second networking/wine tasting event at Google Campus London last week, bringing together tech entrepreneurs, investors, and members of the fashion industry, for a taste of what some of London’s sharpest tech innovators are working on and to sample the fabulous Italian wines imported by Vini Setteponti.

We showcased not only the exceptional quality of the producers’ white, rose, and red wines,  but gave technology start-up entrepreneur Anthony Francis and technology consultant Chandeep Khosa the chance to present their innovative products and services. The event took place at Google Campus Cafe, just off Finsbury Square, in Tech City.


We started with the tasting of the dry, well-balanced 2013 DOC, Campo del Monte, a white wine from the Valdarno di Sopra region. This wine had the crisp citrus and honeydew overtones of the Malvasia grape, and evoked a positive response from everyone, setting the stage for our first tech presentation.

Anthony Francis, the co-founder of CampusBoard walked us through his online event management platform, which is also a professional matchmaking service for the tech community. He  showed some of the exciting new features of the startup’s platform that helps Google Campus London members, as well as the broader tech community, to find out about tech events, hire consultants, and identify co-founders.

Next we tasted Osato, a 2012 rose,  also from the Valdarno di Sopra region.  This award winning organic dry wine, produced primarily from the Cabernet Franc grape,  displayed enormous charm, conjuring subtle notes of rose and pomegranate.

Our second presenter was Chandeep Khosa, a Drupal front end developer, technologist, educator and mentor in all things Drupal. Mr. Khosa, who has recently returned to London from Brazil, where he was involved in social startups, now runs a digital consultancy, Imagine Creativity. Following his recent appointment as Head of Development at fashion e-commerce NOT JUST A LABEL (NJAL),­m, the world’s leading designer platform for showcasing and nurturing today’s pioneers in contemporary fashion, Chandeep treated us to a tour of some of the features available through the  fashion e-commerce site, and spoke about the importance of integration between e-commerce features and content management.

The final two wines presented were reds made from Tuscany’s iconic Sangiovese grape. The first of these, the 2011 La Salceta’s Ruschieto, offered a chance to experience the young and brash flavors of a minimally processed wine, with characteristic cherry notes, good balance and some unapologetic round tannins. And last but not least, we wrapped the night with the Segaticci 2006 Chianti Riserva, a DOCG wine that after 14 months of oak aging and additional years in the bottle, displayed a depth of character and a level of refinement that proved hard to resist.

In attendance at last week’s event were Richard Klin, an investor in the real estate space who is exploring possible investments in food and wine tech, Yoann Turpin, CEO/Founder of Kaifuku Capital Ltd, a hedge fund, Kate Spicer, journalist with the Sunday Times, and Maya Bonkowski — whose startup GetPiTop  is running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. GetPiTop helps children build their own computers from any material.

Henry Teitelbaum is a wine writer and journalist/blogger, market commentator, translator and financial intelligence reporter with 30 years’ of field experience in the US, Europe and the UK. He runs his own website,, and has published articles and in-depth market intelligence reports for Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, Thomson Reuters, and The Financial Times Group.

Tech Tastes Wine

Tech Tastes Wine are monthly wine tasting and networking events where entrepreneurs can meet with industry experts and angel investors to have enlightened conversation about the topic they are consumed by: build great global companies.


Hitch: Because Your Friends Know Better

By Maya Plentz

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Are they born or made? Some say they are born, wired that way. Some say it can be taught. The reality lies in between.  Some have entrepreneurial veins. Some are pushed into it.  What is certain is that entrepreneurs need the right conditions to grow and develop their ideas. They need a space where they can meet with like minded people. They need mentors who were in the trenches, who trail blazed before them, so they understand that new ideas need nurturing, and need to be put to test in the real world.

Anton Gu at TechHub
Anton Gu at TechHub

The way the economy is moving dictates the level of interest in creating companies, for recent college graduates, in some cases. When hiring in the investment banking sector – or in much of the economy, for that matter – contracted, during the Great Recession, entrepreneurship gained new followers.

Our current obsession with young celebrity entrepreneurs also fueled the explosion of entrepreneurship advice  in the last decade. Which created a whole new chapter of start-up advisory, from the ashes of the late 90’s dotcom crash. There are excellent professionals dispensing advice, entrepreneurs who earned their stripes actually working for a start-up that had real products and services, and funding.  And VC’s, who write cogently about what it takes to create, launch and run a tech company. If you are not already familiar with this quite good source I suggest you subscribe to Mattermark, they do a very sharp newsletter compiling all the writings of the day by VC’s and entrepreneurs, from the blogosphere/online media.

The number of accelerators, incubators, websites, workshops, meetups and – gasp, even books teaching the new entrepreneur class how to become the next Mark Zuckerberg has grown exponentially. How to lean this and and bootstrap that. To Canvas or not to Canvas. But there are also loads of start-up poseurs, dispensing advice they read in books, and entrepreneurs doing little more than vaporware.

Yet there are those that regardless of the weather conditions outside will always seek to experiment, create, and have a huge appetite for risk. Huge. Beyond what most common mortals have. And they have the discipline to carry through their ideas to implementation. And they are trying to solve real problems.

Stroll by Bonhill Street in Shoreditch and you will find Google Campus, a place that welcomes these souls interested in creating value, ready to risk the tranquility of a steady paycheck. Walk in any day of the week and you will find aspiring entrepreneurs of all stripes, persuasions, ambitions.

We met with three of them to find out what makes them tick. And  we met with Luka, who is 11 years old and has already created his first start-up, selling and renting school supplies to classmates. More on that later. It nicely makes a case for the personality type that naturally gravitates towards entrepreneurship.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Anton Gu, the founder of Hitch. The app that will finally get you engaged, in the traditional sense. That is, if your friends do match you.

Who: Anton Gu

What: The definitive app for those interested in getting hitched.

Why: Because after your mother only your friends know you better. You do have friends, don’t you?

Where: In the savvy hands of your friends during dinner parties in the company of lovely strangers.

How: Download it and start matchmaking or be matched.

London London: How did you come up with the idea for your start-up?

Anton: It all came from personal experience. I went to a concert with a group of friends. There was a girl there, a friend of a friend, that I have never met before. I liked her. She only stayed for 15 minutes and left before I had a chance to talk to her. The next day I was sitting at home, thinking how could I reach her? I could ask our mutual friend for her number and text her out of the blue, “Hey, I’m that guy at the party last night, Steve game your number” and so on. But that might be a bit awkward and who knows, she might get annoyed at our mutual friend for giving the number away. There’s got to be a better way.

At the same time, some people just love the idea of setting friends up. A guy at work might be perfect for one of your friends, they have so much in common but have never met. Set them up! You never know what might happen. Maybe they will really like each other, start dating or even get married! Then you get to brag about how you are the one who brought the two together in the first place and are partly responsible for what it turned out to be!

And guess what, the app works for both singles and people in a relationship. Because they are matchmaking their friends!

What trends do you see in the online dating industry?

There are many dating apps out there at the moment. The vast majority are providing random suggestions, refined by mutual interests, hobbies, sports and so on. Some services use location data and tell you: here are the people in your area, see what happens. In reality, it is just a computer algorithm that provides semi-random matches. And that’s the problem. Everyone in the online dating industry is missing the point – and I don’t mean it in a small way, I mean it in a big way.

People are happy to receive suggestions of what movies to watch, what albums to buy, but should it be the same for relationships? Especially when you are looking for someone special? The experience has to be more personal with a human touch and it cannot be replaced with an algorithm, no matter how good it is.

So we took a step back and thought “Why not replace the matching algorithm with a person?”. Who knows you best – what food you enjoy, what music you listen to, favourite sport? Your friends! And it just so happens that those friends sometimes suggest who you might like. So we built Hitch around relationships – friends set you up with someone, you chat and if it works out, they are the heroes that brought the two together. You cannot replace that experience with a computer algorithm.

What advice would you give to founders that are starting to develop their MVP?

Advice for founders – I’ll break it down.

1. I have a full time job, but I have this really great idea which I know will work but I’m not sure what to do.
Quit your job and start a company. If you are worried about finances, wait until you have a little safety net. Then quit. You cannot build a successful venture part time. You have to be committed. That’s what differentiates people that just talk about how they have these great ideas and how they could make millions if they wanted to; and those that might/might not have a great idea and just give it a go. When you do that, your learning curve just explodes and that’s how progress happens.

2. We are working on an MVP.

Start with a problem. There are a lot of products out there that are completely pointless, they may be popular for a very short time and then they disappear. The concept has to address a need. You need to figure out why people would use your product, whether it is an app or a website or an invention. Spend some time on this, do research, don’t invest anything until you know you have something.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to address multiple things or problems. Niche products are much easier to develop, build and grow. Lean Startup is a great book to read on that. Build something quickly and as cheaply as possible and get it out there no matter how bad it is. As long as it is aimed at a problem, people will use it. There will be someone who will give you feedback – this is extremely valuable because the majority of the people will ignore what you are trying to offer. Then there will be people who will give it a go and forget. What you are left with after that are the people that get it and just might get in touch with you on how to make it better. Listen carefully to these people and take everything they say on board. They may not necessarily be right – ultimately it is your responsibility to choose the right direction for the product. It is not easy, but that’s what differentiates successful ventures from failures. As long as you can say – right, I have an open mind, I accept I may be wrong and if so, I will pivot the idea towards where the demand seems to be – it will work out.

3. We are in, but its not going anywhere / we don’t know what we are doing/this is failing.
First, take a day off. Go for a long long long walk. Balance the arguments. The most valuable thing you can ever do is to accept your mistakes as quickly as possible. Then move on. Ego is a dangerous thing. You have to let go sometimes and just move on. Having said that, if you think getting somewhere will be without hiccups, you live in a dream world. I highly respect people that have an enormous conviction in what they are doing, based on crude facts. To make something great, takes courage. Here is another interesting one for you: 9 out 10 companies will fail. What does that mean? The odds are against you and you will most likely fail. But, to me that means only one thing – in order to be definitely successful, you just have to set up 10 companies, no?

What do you listen to when you are working?
I do my best work when there are no distractions.

Having said that, when I think of some reaaaally big concepts and imagine the future (which I do a lot), I tend to listen to a lot of soundtracks to movies like The Dark Knight, Inception, V for Vendetta, TRON and so on. Hans Zimmer is a legend.

What do you enjoy most and least about living in London?
Most: diversity. This is probably the most important factor. Nowhere else in the world, and I mean nowhere! do you get as many individuals from different countries and cultures living together. And when you think what that actually means, you know you live in a great city.

You want to know a really big idea? Ok here it is, humanity is still thinking too small. We are all different, we have different skin colour, different languages, different beliefs. But when you look at us on a planetary scale, or as a species, we are the same. We live on the same rock that goes around the sun, share the same resources and have the same biology. So what the human race needs to do is to start acting like an entity – and London, through it’s sheer diversity of individuals and cultures, is a good example of that. If Britain realises and embraces that, I think London has the potential to become a global capital.

Least. The Tube. The tube sucks, I do not understand why a city like London does not have state of the art infrastructure. It’s starting to happen, Jubilee line, Crossrail – but it has to get better everywhere else. Why in the world are the trains not separated from people standing on the platform? Isn’t that ridiculously dangerous? Like I said, they’ve done the right thing on the Jubilee line and I salute their efforts, but in order to keep the heart of the country moving, infrastructure has to be higher on the priority list.

What was the last book you read? Do you read on paper or e-book?
I tend to read both. e-books are easy – cross-device, you can read anywhere these days and don’t need an actual book. However, I like the idea of owning a physical book for some titles that I think are more important than others.

Currently, I am reading through the earlier works of Ayn Rand (Rand is an interesting one. It will never go mainstream. But a small minority of people who truly understand her, know that she was well ahead of her time). Steve Job’s biography I am taking very slowly, partially because I am drawing a lot of parallels between his life and mine. Innovator’s Dilemma is another great title, Lean Startup – I mentioned earlier.

Real camera or smartphone?

Smartphone, its always in your pocket. Having said that, I really like big beautiful pictures taken with professional cameras. I cannot wait for virtual reality to go mainstream, think taking pictures in 3D will be awesome.
Favourite brunch spot in London?

Ah, there are so many…would be unfair to name just one. I probably don’t have one, I love exploring places I’ve never been to before.

Anton showing Luka what they do at Google Campus

Friends know better
T: @AppHitch

 Start-up at School (Make Friends Right Away)

Well, if you thought that hearing of celebrity entrepreneurs that created their first companies at 12 was interesting,  imagine my surprise when I met Luka, at a private view at the Rosenfeld Porcini Art Gallery.

He is definitely in the category of those “born with it”.


Smart as a whip, he came up with the idea of renting school supplies for the forgetful souls in his second grade class. Now, that is the first step creating a start-up: identify a market need, or see one where no one else sees it. Then test the product/offer. How many of his classmates were willing to pay for the service? It turns out quite a few did. Then his disruptive vision met with the school’s regulations. Was it a tad mercenary to rent pencil and pens to those who had forgotten? Or was he supplying a much needed service? I quite liked that this young gentleman had the insight of offering a service that solved a real problem.  Both to those who forget and those who in the past helped the forgetful, just to find out later that their beneficiaries had forgotten to return the goods borrowed 🙂 Luka was living in Berlin, and his parents are both musicians. His dad Dom Bouffard, played with Lou Reed and collaborated with Bob Wilson, and now the family is based in London. We had the pleasure to give Luka and his mom, Ali MacInnes, (who recently worked on the soundtrack production of A Most Wanted Man) a quick tour of Google Campus/TechHub to see what entrepreneurs are up to. Photo credit: Oliver Epp

#alli macinness #dombouffard #campuslondon #techhub #entrepreneurship #startups #startupculture #startuplondon

Andaz Hotel

Andaz Hotel

Andaz hotels collaborate with local artists and top interior designers.  What better way of geting to know a city? In Amsterdam, Andaz invited Marcel Wanders, the Dutch designer internationally known for his contemporary take on Delft blue vases, and his interior design projects that contrast tradition and modernity.

In London, the Andaz Hotel on Liverpool Street, the most civilised hotel in the heart of the City, started a fabulous series with local artists. Why I say civilised  – you may ask? Picture this. You walk in through the magnificent lobby, are invited to sit for your check-in, and someone will hand you a delightful libation, in the morning is fresh juice, in the evening a glass of wine or something sparkling.  Then, with his iPad, he will proceed to check you in.

Luck you if you booked a  room designed and conceived by the artist that has been invited to create the first Room With a View of the series.

You are definitely in for a treat.

Andaz Liverpool Street invited four British artists to celebrate the surrounding area, East London, Hackney, its rich history and multiple vocation. You have the financial heart of London, the tech startups environment, the art galleries and designers, all in a 5 mile radius. They rest upon sacred ground, with hundreds of years of history. London’s rich trade history with the Far East shaped the fashion mores of its dwellers.

We were invited by Andaz to take a peek on the first of the series, created by London artists Chris Price and his wife and collaborator Delisia Howard, who explained the creative process and the history of the Pearly Queens and Kings that inspired their work for the first room of the Room With a View series.


After seeing the room we went to the Champagne Lounge, where the most delightful canapes were served. If you have not yet visited Catch, and its adjacent Champagne Lounge, I urge you to go. After 5 pm the place is usually brimming with City professionals, and the accidental tourist.