Technology startups often base their business models and products around London, given the number of sectors established in the city.
This is true of Uncover, a startup founded by Chris Steinau and two others, which has created an app that aids the rapid discovery of London restaurants.
Uncover is based in King's Cross, and has grown to 14 staff over the past two years. We put Steinau under the spotlight to find out more about Uncover and his fellow founders.
If you want to take part in the V3 Startup Spotlight contact Roland Moore-Colyer.
Previous startups under the spotlight have ranged from fintech firm Ormsby Street, to referencing app and cloud platform firm RefME, customer feedback system provider truRating, and social network data library digi.me.
What does your business do?
Uncover is an app that helps you to discover and book London's most desirable restaurants at the last minute.
We‘ve curated a shortlist of top restaurants based on user location and their preferences, only showing the restaurants that have guaranteed tables, and allows users to book them instantly.
The latest feature of the app is the launch of our own mobile payments platform, which also supports Apple Pay. This means you can now pay or even split the bill all with the swipe of a finger.
Who founded Uncover?
I co-founded the business along with David Saenz and Dan Ziv. David was born and raised in Los Angeles and is our chief executive. He also has the lucky job of exploring some of the world's best restaurants right here in London.
My other co-founder, Dan, is our head of product and was raised in Tel-Aviv, Zurich, Switzerland and London. Dan got his technical background during his service as a communications officer in the military.
Before co-founding Uncover, he worked as a corporate lawyer in the Israeli tech scene. As for me, I worked for five years in investment prior to Uncover. I also worked at YPlan where I co-founded the business development department.
When was Uncover started?
I met David and Dan during my MBA at the London Business School - they too were doing their MBAs. We got together and began working on Uncover at the end of 2013. We starting testing the product last year and went live in February, just six months ago.
Why did you choose to develop Uncover?
Every so often Dan, David and I would decide to go out for dinner at the last minute and tried to get into one of London's hot spots.
As expected we were often turned away or had to wait a long time before being seated. Sometimes we got lucky and the restaurants were able to accommodate us straightaway, because they had a last minute cancellation or a guest didn't show.
We felt that this is a very frustrating experience for diners and restaurants, then eureka. We had the idea to help simplify this issue and the Uncover idea was born.
Tell us how you got your business off the ground.
After we had the idea we started talking to a lot of users and restaurants to really understand the issues that they face with what was already out there.
We took all their feedback and built a prototype, a very simple version of our app, which offered the basic functionality of making bookings at London's best restaurants.
Within four weeks of being online we seated hundreds of diners in the participating restaurants. The feedback from restaurants and users was just stunning. They really loved it. Armed with this data and feedback we raised our seed round and continued building out the team and product.
Are you based in an incubator or startup centre?
We are in an office with loads of other startups. It is a great atmosphere and you get to meet a lot of interesting people, all of whom are going through unique stages of their business journey.
What level of funding have you received so far?
We have received £1m in seed funding so far.
What challenges have you encountered to date?
Like all new businesses there are teething challenges but this makes it all the more worthwhile.
When you have a business like ours, you need to have an open mind and we found that we were constantly tweaking the way users would experience the app. We want to make the whole process seamless and that requires a lot of work.
On the other side, getting London's top restaurants on board was not easy, especially in the beginning.
London is one of the most visited and most desirable cities in the world so it was important that restaurants partnered with an app that was user friendly and reflected the positioning of their restaurant.
We worked hard for something that would be beneficial for the consumer as well as the restaurant. When the restaurants saw what we had to offer, we soon had a very strong roster for our users to choose from.
What's been the biggest highlight of your business to date?
Getting to the point where top London restaurants are now approaching us to come on board. This is in stark contrast to when we started and it is immensely satisfying to know we have a service that is desirable to the user and the restaurant.
What does your company do to relax or have fun after a busy day?
This might be obvious, but we love eating out at one of the many amazing restaurants London has to offer.
We are all foodies. We live and breathe for quality food and service. There's no better way to relax than enjoying great food and drinks at our restaurants.
What are your favourite and worst things about running your own startup?
My favourite thing is the personal fulfilment that you experience day-in and day-out as an entrepreneur. Also, seeing how exited users and restaurants are about our service is an extremely rewarding experience.
However, this comes at a price. I love being an entrepreneur, but it does mean having very little free time, something every business person can relate to.
If you could emulate the success of another startup, which would it be?
I am fascinated by successful marketplaces and some of them are a great inspiration for us. Uber doesn't own any cars and AirBnB doesn't own any properties. They created a marketplace that didn't exist whilst solving problems that people faced. That is what we are doing.
I'm going to cheat and say all three of the AirBnB founders: Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk. They found a problem and they created a solution whilst embracing the latest technology and changing the way people travel forever and becoming a household name.
Coffee shop of choice?
We're based in King's Cross and there is an amazing place near us called Noble Espresso, an independent place, so check it out.
Beverage of choice?
Well seeing as I am German I have to say beer. The best has to be Veltins if you want to grab a pint.
Purl in Marylebone is my stomping ground. It's a speakeasy bar and an absolute hidden gem which does great cocktails.
I would say Uber as it's got us out of some tricky situations.
Do you benefit from startup communities and related networking?
Yes, definitely. It's essential. We started via the London Business School community and extended into the wider startup scene like Innovation Warehouse, meet ups and getting in front of the right people at the right time.
Could the government and technology industry do more to support UK startups?
Of course. Always. The UK is on the right track to nurturing startups in the right way but there is more to do in understanding entrepreneurship and what support is needed to help the ecosystem thrive.
We need to reward people who start their own business and need to ensure people can find help and advice when they need it. This education should start at school age and explain how being part of a startup or even running your own business can be great for them.
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