Max Von Poelnitz is the founder of online meal delivery service NOSH, sister company to ready-to-cook food delivery service Secret Ingredient. He tells The Loop HK the best and worst parts about starting your own food tech company.
A Little Background
German-American Max Von Poelnitz was an asset manager in the real estate realm before he decided to start his own F&B venture, Secret Ingredient, to provide an easy-to-make meal solution for time-strapped professionals. A few years later, NOSH was born, going one step further with a fully cooked meal delivery platform that focuses on freshly sourced ingredients. The company recently secured funding from the Alibaba Entrepreneur Fund.
You deliver quite a bit of food to hungry mouths on a daily basis. How do you make sure everything is consistent and passes quality control?
For quality control, the main way we do it is through weight. Weight is a good indicator for us, so we’re able to weigh out every single ingredient, just like a hotel does. And then there’s the taste test. Everyone in my kitchen is constantly eating.
What made you switch from corporate to startup?
The reason I did the full 180, was really a matter of wanting to do more. I felt that in the corporate world, you’re stuck with a certain job description and a 9 to 6 mentality that I didn’t want anymore. But why I chose to be in Food (& Bev), I honestly couldn’t tell you. I just wanted to solve a problem that I had in my own life.
I had no business training, no chef training, no delivery or logistics or accounting training, nothing. I kind of just dove into it. Some entrepreneurs plan meticulously, but I’m more the ‘just do it’ kind of guy. I jump in, and as the problems come I try to fix them. It means that my life is probably more hectic than most, but I like that.
What were some of the toughest challenges of starting your own food business?
The first challenge when I first started the company was that I started with my personal savings, and I did everything. The hardest days were when there was a typhoon or rain, and people were still ordering, and you still needed to make the food. At that time at Secret Ingredient, I was cutting veggies in my kitchen, I was packing myself, I was ordering and doing the delivery. We went to Japan Home Centre and bought these plastic boxes and we put the Secret Ingredient bags in there. I would wear a poncho and literally do the deliveries myself. That happened for about 5 months. But it makes you hard. Once you work 20 hours, you can’t really complain about it. And it’s good to know every facet of your business inside out.
And the most rewarding moments?
I say the two most rewarding things for both businesses is: watching an employee become as passionate about the company as you, in two weeks. It’s like: why do you care so much? It’s incredible, it’s amazing to see people care about something that was just an idea in your head.
What advice would you give someone starting a similar line of business?
If you really care about your staff, the customers will get taken care of. Does that make sense? Also, depending on your age and where you are in your life, I would say just jump into it. Just do it. You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go back to school again. You go to business school, it can cost up to two hundred thousand US dollars. For fifty thousand dollars you can start a company and learn just as much, even if you fail.
I recognize that if you have a family of four and other responsibilities, maybe that advice is a bit more challenging. But I generally would say that the rewards and lessons learned would be so much higher than the time and money spent.
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