Markus Stripf is co-founder and co-CEO of Spoon Guru, which is helping consumers find out about food and how it affects them, be it in diet or allergy through the use of AI tech.
Spoon Guru is a company that has made huge strides forward during the pandemic, thanks to the launch of its Immunity Support TAG and investment from the VC arm of retail giant Woolworths. I was keen to hear more of the story and share the advice of its co-founder.
Markus has an unexpected background for a tech guru, having taken a BA in Commercial Music at the University of Westminster, followed by an MA in composition for film and TV at the University of West London. He started work for a company called Peoplesound and then on to Warner Music.
Initially, he was their Director of Digital Properties, then VP for Strategic Technology and eCommerce, and finally Managing Director of Warner Music in Europe. As MD, he was responsible for setting up and running the international direct to consumer business.
From this time, he also earned a reputation for disruptive innovation. The music industry was utterly changed by digital innovation and took such a long time to recover. Markus was at the forefront of the music business’ transition into the digital world.
He might have stayed in music had he not married someone who suffers from severe food allergies. Standing in the supermarket one day, watching his wife struggle to work out the contents from skimpy labels, he had his light bulb, disruptive moment. He became determined that there had to be a better solution for allergy sufferers than existed at that point.
Spoon Guru – helping allergy sufferers everywhere
Spoon Guru – otherwise known as Google for Food, scans barcodes on food products and tells the user if the contents suit their dietary needs and easily avoid anything that they have an allergy to or that is unsuited to their diet.
Markus believes that bringing digital technologies to market is how to empower the consumer. Spoon Guru aims to become the world’s leading food search and discovery answer and the potential to help allergy sufferers is huge.
I asked Markus how difficult it had been to make the leap from the music industry and a tech start-up. He explained that both need the same skill set. Only the culture is different.
He sees that as the leader, he has to “inspire people to buy into the mission, much easier if you have a good mission. You can then make people understand what they are doing is for the greater good. I believe in leading from the front and setting a good example, but that is just my style; there are lots of others, of course”.
Markus was charming, unexpectedly slightly diffident, and generous with both his time and his advice. He talks with massive respect for his support team, telling me that over 30 years, he has developed an excellent network of people whom he can rely on and trust.
Marcus also advises that “investors should be a great source of wisdom as they have the knowledge and experience of building companies behind them,” which is advice I heard several times talking to people for this book.
Spoon Guru was aimed to go global from the start. Markus wants to solve this problem for as many allergy sufferers in the world as possible. It now has a comprehensive list of almost every food product known. While it started as an app, they have been so successful that the app was phased out a the end of 2020 to so that the business could focus on its retail partnerships.
Spoon Guru’s business model is based on licensing its technology to retailers around the world. In the UK, it is Tesco’s, Woolworths in Australia and New Zealand, and their partners’ list is growing all the time.
In the wake of COVID-19, Spoon Guru was able to support its retail grocery partners by quickly pivoting its proprietary algorithms to create the Immunity Support TAG which helped consumers find foods online and in stores to strengthen their immune system. Getting the right nutrition has become an additional crucial arm, in addition, to help for allergy sufferers.
The TAG was developed by Spoon Guru’s in-house team of nutritionists and data scientists and deployed with immediate effect to be leveraged by retailers to power online shopping and food discovery, along with labeling physical products and aisle markers in stores.
In the last quarter of 2020, they also secured Series A funding with W23 – the Venture Capital arm of leading Australian retailer Woolworths Group. The multi-million-dollar investment will be used to expand Spoon Guru’s footprint with online retailers across North America, Europe, and APAC, at a time when governments are putting a greater focus on the importance of food and health to boost the nation’s health, with better nutrition and helping allergy sufferers everywhere.
Marcus on Work-Life Balance, Failure, Cash Flow and Partnerships
It doesn’t come as any surprise that when we talk about work-life balance, Markus replies that it is “completely normal to be occupied with business the whole time.” But he does find allowing too much of this can stultify his creative side, so he makes himself take time to meditate and do yoga.
We also got onto the topic of failure. Markus feels that “too many people are afraid of failure and the British particularly are super-critical in comparison to the States where it is almost celebrated. They say that Silicon Valley’s success is based on two things; one is their access to talent and two their levels of forgiveness. Most of the CEO’s there have failed before, and their experience in doing so is valued”. Therefore, he advises people to “just go for it, not be afraid of failure, to make a contribution and solve a problem.”
He observes that many companies, especially start-ups, get into trouble with cash flow. The other big pitfall is recruitment, where only one mistake can have a dreadful effect on the company. He says that “yes, they are unhappy, but you also end up very unhappy, and it takes a long time to recover. The same with the interview process. People say going to an interview is stressful, but actually, there is a lot more pressure on the interviewee as they have the responsibility of avoiding long repercussions.”
Markus believes business partnerships to be vital, especially if you are a start-up wanting to scale, be it to different verticals or economically or geographically. The more alignment you have, the better. With a new start-up, it is often useful to align with competitors even. But overall, he says, it is most critical for new markets because you won’t have the expertise.
For many businesses, interlinking with other companies can be a big step forward in achieving your goals. They can help you achieve your delivery, bring you to the attention of entirely new audiences, give you credibility.
Without partnerships, Spoon Guru would not have the reach to help enough people with allergy or dietary needs, the mission that is crucial to what they do.
You might like to read about another entrepreneur whose company has grown globally through the power of partnerships, The Startup Club.