Life after The Apprentice: Exclusive interview with Whisk founder Nick Holzherr

By Chris Lee

Despite being knocked back by Lord Sugar on BBC TV’s The Apprentice in 2012, Nick Holzherr managed to secure the £170,000 of funding he needed to form his latest tech venture, Whisk, this summer. The new service enables customers to convert recipes automatically into shopping lists within online supermarkets.

Holzherr is a keynote speaker at the Conversion Conference in London on 27-28 November and ahead of the event New Media Knowledge caught up with him to learn more about Whisk and the challenges he faced setting it up.

What was the inspiration for Whisk?

Both Craig [Edmunds, Whisk’s co-founder] and I are big fans of food and cook regularly – often ordering food online. When the supermarkets started launching ways for Web services to connect to them we thought it would be great to create a way to make online grocery shopping easier. We’re both busy people and although like cooking, often don’t have time to go the supermarket. We have been working on Whisk for over two years as a concept – experimenting with different ways to create recipe to online grocery market tools.

Briefly explain how it works and what the user experience will be

Whisk allows users to purchase the ingredients for any recipe they find on the Internet via online supermarkets. The user adds recipes they find to a virtual basket within Whisk. When ready to purchase the users select the number of portions they want and Whisk, understanding the user’s dietary requirements, tastes and demographics accurately selects suitable items from the online supermarket.

Users can download a browser plugin so they can use Whisk functionality on any recipe they find, they can install a phone app on their phones to manage their shopping list and take it into the store with them offline or recipe websites can integrate our buttons as "widgets" for all their users to use. As we grow, we’d like to make Whisk available on as many different devices and platforms as possible with as many mediums of recipe content.

How will you make money on it?

Firstly – the system is totally free for users. Retailers pay us affiliate fees when we transact grocery baskets – so effectively pay for high-value users – people who like food, like good ingredients and shop for groceries often.

We also generate money from brands, who can place their product into user baskets. A brand could, for example, choose to "swap" a standard product for their branded product in specific user’s baskets. All these revenue streams allow us to make the service free for the end user and the advertising / product placement will be kept to one or two relevant adverts / placements for each basket.

How do you intend to market it both online and offline?

We have a variety of marketing methods. Primarily, our strategy to implement our button onto recipe websites with widgets means people will start seeing our button on all the recipe sites they visit. That’s very powerful for us. We pay recipe websites a revenue share in return for doing so – so they have a real incentive there too.

We use all the usual online marketing channels like social media and SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay-per-click advertising). Having featured on in the final of the BBC The Apprentice 2012 and pitched Whisk to Lord Sugar, our business does benefit from good PR too. We’ve seen a lot of positive articles written about our service so that’s been a hugely successful marketing tool for us too.

What were your biggest challenges when setting up this online start-up?

The biggest challenge was getting the right people to work for us. The technology, as was hinted at by Lord Sugar in BBC’s The Apprentice, is very complex. It includes semantic technology and machine learning, both technologies one needs an intelligent team to build. This is the type of stuff the big technology giants are getting into – and as a start-up – it’s a challenge finding the right people to help us build it.

We were lucky to be approached by lots of candidates from appearing on the TV show and are very happy with the team we’ve put together. It’s now a race to get our functionality onto recipe websites and used! It’s a very exciting time.

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