When working as a technology consultant, Amir Allam realised the frustration he had with finding up-to-date restaurant menus and pictures of their dishes was an issue that many others faced. So he decided to launch Elmenus in 2011, an online food platform that helps people decide what to eat with the help of digitised menus, while helping to bring Cairo’s roster of restaurants online. The platform now has more than a million users and has curated more than 7000 restaurant menus and has raised $1.6 million so far.
We spoke with Allam about his entrepreneurial journey.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I did not really know what an entrepreneur meant or what a startup really was. For me, it was just a problem that I wanted to solve and I did not think about anything else. There was a very clear problem and I was very curious about solving problems in general, so I tried to solve this in the most creative way possible and then I learned as I progressed how startups work and how scaling works.
When did you know this was a viable business?
I think deep down from the beginning, I knew that this is something that could go somewhere because I had a couple of other ideas that I was also considering but somehow I knew that elmenus was going to be something that would be in demand because of the insight I got from talking to everybody. Also of course, when we got big traction and our first advertiser it started to make sense that this could be an actual business and not just a side project.
What were you biggest challenges when you first started elmenus?
We needed to really educate the market. The restaurants did not understand why they should put their menus online, a lot of them were really against the idea. They thought their competition would look at their menus and see what they are serving. It took a lot of legwork and going to the restaurant owners myself and talking to them and trying to convince them that this is something that is inevitably going to happen. Surprisingly, until today, there is still a lot of education that needs to happen in the market and people need to understand the benefits of being tech-enabled. The second challenge was always hiring the right people and the right talent. You need to understand the patterns of the highest performing people, the passionate people and those who are just looking for a job and would not really put everything they have into it.
What challenges do you have now?
How to scale quickly. You have a lot of moving parts at the same time and you are trying to figure out how an industry can be taken to a very different level to enable everybody online and to make the processes that are usually inefficient and offline more streamlined. Sometimes you have to get in with your own hands and try to solve the problems the restaurants have either with the technology or their own processes.
How do you maintain momentum after seven years?
You need to be very focused on what you want to achieve. So, if there is a problem, you need to be very clear on how you want to solve it and how you can take it to the next level. Since day one, we have been trying to solve the problem of making the right decision at the right time for each user and this has been sustained as a vision and it gets very exciting as we progress trying to figure out different solutions.
But it is not easy to sustain your passion and motivation for a long time. A lot of people either give up or they struggle to renew their motivation for the business and I think this is something that one has to be very conscious of. So, unless you have the right motive and the right incentives and the right people to work with, and all of this is aligned, you will be in big trouble.
What is next for elmenus?
Currently, we are really big on trying to personalise recommendations and this is mainly helping the users with the dining decisions throughout their day we have a lot of data and insights on how to solve it and we are currently materialising this into our product. We are getting better at figuring out how to make online ordering a much smoother and more pleasant experience for everyone.
What do you expect for your industry in the next decade?
The restaurants industry in Egypt is very interesting. Egyptians spend 50 per cent of their income on food and we are one of the first pioneers in the world to figure out how to get anything delivered to your home. The delivery economy is very big in Egypt so I think the industry is at an exciting point where we are transitioning that into online platforms. Restaurants, users and brands are hopping onto that bandwagon and trying to make the best out of their online presence and what that can bring to them and the data they can utilise. What is coming next is very exciting because there are a lot of problems to solve for restaurants and for users and we are at the intersection of being a good mediator.