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VanChefs: behind the scenes of a takeover

VanChefs, an online marketplace that brings together event organisers and chefs, was doing good business. Clients were happy, revenues were fine and the company received a lot of exposure.

Nevertheless, in January of this year founders Emma Veerhuis and Lisanne Buik decided to pull the plug. VanChefs will make a fresh start with ChefPlaza and ToetToetFood, whom recently acquired the startup. Emma Veerhuis talks about the events that led to this decision: “I could write an adventure book about the last couple of months.”

The process didn’t take just a few months, it started after the foundation of VanChefs two years ago. It was mentally difficult and wearying to keep going on.

Why did you decide to stop with VanChefs, even though the company seemed to thrive?

Since October last year, we had been looking for investors. We needed investments for two reasons: for marketing and to get the technology up-to-date. Although on the outside our marketplace might have looked highly automated, in fact we often used Excel sheets. We needed to further automate our processes to make our service cheaper and be able to scale. Our aim was to close an investment deal before January.

One advantage was our large network in the startup scene, due to our participation in the Rockstart Accelerator Program of 2013. Also, VanChefs did the catering for TedX Amsterdam in November last year. This gave us the opportunity to present ourselves to a large audience and spread the message that we needed investors. We received many enthusiastic reactions. So, our hopes for a good deal were high.

We started to talk to possible investors and a couple of times we were quite far in the negotiation process, but in the end it didn’t turn out to be successful. Looking back, I think we focused too much on investors who normally invest in tech startups which are quite far in the process of technological development, a stage we hadn’t reached yet.

Meanwhile, the negotiations diverted us from our core business, which meant that sales were decreasing. Priorities were shifting, we had to drop many activities. Our hopes of finding an investor were slowly fading. You have to realise that the whole process didn’t take just a few months, it started after the foundation of VanChefs two years ago. It was mentally difficult and wearying to keep going on, so we decided to stop.

You announced this decision in a blogpost. What happened next?

We received quite some media coverage. Subsequently, one person after another came to us to say that he or she wanted to invest in VanChefs. I did consider it, but the psychological barrier to change plans after widespread media attention was big. Moreover, my business partner Lisanne already had made plans to go travelling and I didn’t want to proceed without her. We were a good team with complementary strengths.

After our decision to stop, we began looking for takeover companies and we found these in ChefPlaza and ToetToetFood. Tim de Visser, CEO of ChefPlaza, immediately showed interest. We are confident that he will lead VanChefs in a direction that corresponds to our views. This is important for me, because people will probably carry on associating my name with VanChefs in near future.

If a company is relying heavily on technology, you need to have the means and people to build and develop this.

If you could start VanChefs all over again, are there things you would do differently?

I think we had a very good idea and we were listening to our clients very well. But, it would have been better to pay more attention to the technological aspects during the early stage. It is very important to realise what kind of company you want to build. If a company is relying heavily on technology, you need to have the means and people to build and develop this.

Looking back, positive feelings dominate the negative ones. We had a very good last year: 50.000 people used VanChefs, we had a community of more than one hundred chefs throughout the Netherlands and a revenue of 300.000 euros. I certainly want to be an entrepreneur in future again. At present, I have a nice position at HEMA headquarters and I am involved in a brand-new food startup called Kitchen Republic. So, my less positive experiences with VanChefs will not keep me from starting new adventures in business.

 
Photo by Pieter van Marion (creative commons via Flickr)

Moniek Veltman
Moniek is a freelance text writer with a background in neuroscience and psychology.

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