Jane Kou is confronting Australia’s food waste problem head-on with an innovative app that connects people to excess food available at discounted rates.
Kou started Bring Me Home in 2017 as a university project where people used home-printed coupons to access surplus food at restaurants and cafes that would otherwise go to waste.
In August 2018, the business launched their food rescue app in Melbourne and now connects thousands of customers to more than 100 participating businesses.
Customers can search for businesses in their area to find available food, pay for the items in the app, then collect the food from the vendor at a specified time. Customers can save up to 70 per cent on food items, earn points and track their impact for every meal rescued.
Since launching, Bring Me Home has saved more than 3200 meals, equating to more than 7000 lbs (3175 kg) of food, and more than 6400kgs of carbon emissions avoided.
Kou’s passion for making food accessible and affordable drove the idea for the business, in addition to solving the food waste problem.
“My parents grew up in poverty, were immigrants and had a lack of access to affordable food. I grew up knowing that the world has enough food to feed everyone, yet there were still people going hungry,” she said.
Getting the business off the ground
While Kou was studying her master’s degree at the University of Melbourne, she noticed that many people were “food insecure” or would skip a meal to save money. They were not the type of people that charities would distribute free food to, and Kou saw a gap in the market.
After some research, she found European start-up Too Good To Go which connects people to nearby food retailers with surplus food. She worked with them while completing her studies and eventually asked if she could launch their service in Melbourne.
The company decided to rather focus their efforts in Europe before expanding elsewhere but were happy for Kou to launch her own similar business in Australia.
More than a year later and Bring Me Home’s Melbourne-based team spans 8 people, with an additional software development team based abroad.
“Growing at a rapid rate hasn’t been our main challenge… It’s more about having to be resourceful,” Kou said.
“While we want to drive growth, we have to be really careful with how we spend the money and when we spend the money.”
Kou launched Bring Me Home with no investment so had to think of innovative ways to raise funds to get the business off the ground.
She applied for the Startmate accelerator program, Australia’s most prestigious accelerator programs for budding entrepreneurs.
While hundreds of people apply for the accelerator, Kou was one of just 13 businesses selected to participate in the 2018 Melbourne cohort.
Businesses accepted into the Startmate program are given $75,000 in exchange for 7.5 per cent equity.
The accelerator involved a 3-month, full-time intensive program where all participating start-ups worked from the same co-working space. Participants gained access to leading mentors, entrepreneurs and investors in the Startmate network who they can approach for advice. The program also included a 1-week trip to San Francisco to meet with venture capitalists.
Kou had weekly meetings to discuss business goals, which she admits was intense but “a good way to keep you accountable”.
She said undertaking the accelerator program at Startmate helped her gain credibility when starting out, and later when approaching investors.
“Investors look at you very differently once they know you’ve been through a program like Startmate,” Kou said.
Following her stint at Startmate, Kou met with investors and secured $100,000 in seed funding which covered the first 10 months of operation.
She recently ran a month-long equity crowdfunding campaign and raised more than $418,000 with 503 investors.
“At the moment, things are really intense. And it’s crunch time. But in some ways, it fuels me,” she said.
Looking to the future
If you think Kou has high ambitions for Bring Me Home, you’re right.
The company is in the process of expanding to Sydney and she hopes to eventually have a presence in every major city across Australia.
When looking at expanding, Kou admits she’d do a few things differently, including approaching large chains and franchises from the outset.
“When we started in Melbourne, we partnered with a lot of independents, but we are now shifting to partnering with franchises and larger networks. This will allow us to have a broader reach,” she said.
Kou also has plans to scale the impact of Bring Me Home across sectors into the B2B market.
“Retail food waste is only a small fraction of the food waste problem. We’ve got our eye on other parts of the food supply chain and we’re working on scaling our impact across sectors,” she said.
Her big-picture goal? To become Australia’s leading food rescue app and the world’s most eco-centric company.
“We want to be known for finding and rescuing quality goods that don’t belong in landfill,” she said.