Monday 15 October 2018

Irish tech firm feels it has the recipe for billion-dollar success with smart kitchen of the future

Ben Harris, co founder and CEO of Drop. Photo: Damien Eagers
Ben Harris, co founder and CEO of Drop. Photo: Damien Eagers
Drop started out with an interactive recipe app and synced measuring scales
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

The Irish company behind the universal app that "talks" to all appliances in the kitchen believes it is on track for billion-dollar success.

Drop's smart kitchen ambition involves new partnerships with big brand manufacturers such as Bosch, GE Appliances and Kenwood in the area of connected kitchen appliances.

And after securing $8m (€6.6m) in Series A funding last January, investors are recognising that the Dublin-based company is on the right trajectory.

"There's a vacuum right now when it comes to delivering the 'Kitchen OS' [kitchen operating system] ... because the large appliance manufacturers can't deliver the Kitchen OS as it can't be delivered by one single brand," Drop CEO Ben Harris told the Irish Independent.

"There is a market pull, a need from end consumers, and a technology push for this integrated smart kitchen to be delivered.

"Whoever delivers on being that Kitchen OS is a multi-billion dollar company. And we are better placed than anyone in the world to deliver on that."

Created by four like-minded techies with a passion for food in 2012, Drop's first foray into the market was with an interactive recipe app and measuring scales.

Still sticking with its ethos of empowering even the worst of cooks to create meals of restaurant standard at home, Drop had to pivot its output to meet the needs of the market.

Its smart solution now centres around its virtual recipe platform, which rewrites traditional recipes into a machine-readable format that can relay settings to appliances across the kitchen for an intuitive, interactive, step-by-step cooking experience.

"The scale is still out in the market but it's not a priority for us at all any more. It's really now a reference design for how well hardware and software can work together in a kitchen; it becomes not a scale or a recipe but an interactive cook book," said Ben. "But we're delivering that experience across the full kitchen and the Drop scale is now just one of the appliances that we support in the ecosystem."

Drop started out with an interactive recipe app and synced measuring scales
Drop started out with an interactive recipe app and synced measuring scales

Despite seeing that gap in the market and realising what direction to take the company in, Ben said it was an "incredibly hard decision" to make when a meaningful business and team is built around that hardware.

"To have to change and adapt that team to be a software platform and then get the validation from the market that large kitchen appliance manufacturers were wiling to work with us as well was tough," he said.

Drop's technology connects with the Bosch Series 8 oven, three GE ovens, and just this month, with Kenwood's kCook Multi cooking food processor. Its aim is to move beyond the large kitchen appliance manufacturers building siloed apps that 'talk' just to their own brands.

"What we are building is the one universal app that talks to all appliances in the kitchen.

"Whether you're making your Christmas dinner or even on an ordinary Tuesday night, you have multiple connected appliances that can be part of the experience," said Ben.

"You don't have to open up one Bosch app for your oven and one Kenwood app for your countertop appliance, it's a one-for-all. You can do all of your meal plans, ingredient delivery, nutritional information, control of appliances, storing of recipes all in the one place."

VC firm Alsop Louie Partners led the Series A investment, alongside Irish firm Frontline; the owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One, Ross Lewis; and Domini Kemp of Itsa, earlier this year.

The capital enables Drop to grow its 26-strong team and to introduce a new level of scalability to the platform infrastructure. In the future, users will also be able to buy the ingredients they need on a meal-by-meal (recipe-by-recipe) bases directly through the Drop platform.

"What's coming down the line is an integration into multiple brand, multiple categories. We (and our investors) understand that there's a cycle time for these products to get to market and then to be replaced in the home," said Ben.

"That's why we're adding support for non-connected appliances within the app also. That's really important so we can really cultivate a community. This all-singing, all-dancing kitchen is about five years away."

Drop has offices in three locations: San Francisco, for access to the market and where its sales & marketing, and leadership, teams are based; a small team in Zaragoza, Spain; and then a team of mainly product developers in Dublin.

Ben revealed plans for sustained growth (to over 40 employees) in the next 12 months, "not growing too quickly but not giving up any opportunity cost, that's a hard balance to strike".

"One of the things that I'm most proud of is the collection of employees that we've pulled together. We need to continue to ensure that we work hard but as smart as possible.

"There are a few companies globally that are focussing on the Kitchen OS platform so we've got to keep working to remain in such a good position."

Irish Independent

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