New London-based startup is recreating the meal experience
Eating is such a sensual and subjective experience. From flavor to temperature to texture and scents, so many of our senses are stimulated with the simple act of eating. Breaking bread with family, friends, and even strangers, has been seen as a time of merriment dating back centuries. Dimple Lalwani fell in love with food while growing up in Madrid, Spain. Of Indian descent, she was exposed to a myriad of rich foods and flavors at an early age and joked that food has always been a key factor in every conversation, celebration or argument in her family.
She brought that tradition of delicious dining and socialization into her startup Social Belly, a social marketplace that allows foodies to host and attend dinner parties at homes or independent restaurants in London. They aim to enhance the way we eat out by giving us the opportunity to socialize and network over what we love most – meeting new people and enjoying a great meal.
The concept for Social Belly came to Lalwani, 25, after she relocated to London from Switzerland where she had been studying for a degree in International Hospitality Management at Les Roches. Though she was exceling at her new position as revenue manager at Marriott International and was soon promoted to senior revenue analysis manager for the majority of the London hotels, establishing friends was still a bit of a struggle.
“Soon after I arrived to London in 2013, I realized how hard it was to meet people when one is new to this city. This is when I combined my passion for food, cooking and hosting with my frustration at that time, not knowing many people. I worked on the idea during evenings and weekends and then decided to quit my corporate job to pursue [Social Belly full time]. I’m a creator by nature and connecting people is something I’m extremely passionate about,” Lalwani said. “We’re on a mission to remove the friction that comes with meeting new people. We’re not a dating site and we’re not a platform for professional networking. We’re essentially the ‘Match.com for friendships’ and we use homes and food as enablers that make this happen in a way that’s never been possible before.”
Social Belly was bootstrapped and early stage funding came from the #GetStarted Competition where they won 50,000 pounds ($71,000). Lalwani said the reward was a privilege and the funds “kick-started our product development with a simple prototype and brought further confidence in us and helped us validate the concept and that people are willing to pay to meet new people locally.”
While some of the work they are currently doing is not complimentary to scaling Social Belly, Lalwani recognizes that it is still necessary and beneficial beta testing. “We are staying relevant by performing different research activities that don’t scale at the moment. For instance, we are relying on focus groups with hosts and guests, brand ambassadors, and post-dinner interviews in order to not only be aware of the platform outcomes, but also measure our performance.”
How Social Belly Works
Social Belly is a custom, on-demand experience. Here’s how it works:
Social Belly Is Catching On.
User feedback has been positive and more than 100 hosts have joined the initiative. One user named Sergio was so impressed by the concept that he is now the head of marketing and business development.
They are on track to make $15,000 in 2016, have partnerships with Uber and Hassle.com and are building startup street cred. In addition to winning the #GetStarted Competition, Social Belly was listed among the 50 Finalists selected from more than 600 applicants at Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in 2014. Last year they also won the Anti-Pitch competition by Disrupt and in October we were one of the five MBJ Launchpad finalists who pitched at the Google Campus.
They’re currently raising a round of funding and have been pitching to angel investors in the United Kingdom. “It’s something I had never done before, however, with my team’s experience and my passion for this idea, it’s turning out to be a great experience.”
Social Belly looks forward to expanding to other major European cities very soon. To stay abreast of their happenings and when expansion takes place, join their newsletter.