Housebites cooks up a storm as the new Airbnb-for-takeout

I must admit I was sceptical when Housebites first launched last year. It seemed a quaint little business attacking a hugely established market but in a way which looked, as least from the outside, to be unscalable. The premise of Housebites is this: the average person likes the convenience of take-out food (in the UK it’s called takeaway) but the food itself is usually unhealthy and processed. So why not capture all those wanna-be chefs, connect them with customers via location and, voila, you capture a potentially big business? It seemed all very well, but I figured they’d find a handful of chefs, but vetting them would be too slow. After all, Airbnb had scaled because anyone could register their apartment and start trading. How do you do that with your kitchen when you might actually poison someone?

I’m happy to say I was wrong – Housebites is now growing at a fair clip, now with 10,000 registered users. As CEO and founder Simon Prockter told me in the interview below, Housebites has tapped into a very disruptive model which could well change the whole restaurant industry. But more of that in a moment.

Housebites didn’t get it right the first time. It originally launched as a “peer-to-peer social dining platform” – allowing people to meet new people in their homes where one person had offered to cook. Realising that that one person was usually a chef or someone who wanted to be a chef, they pivoted the business towards these producers and away from the quasi-dating scenario.

Now, a chef registers on the site. Each chef is then checked out by a Housebites in-house chef for food standards, and quality of produce. Once approved – this process is faster than you’d think, especially in the case of trained chefs – the chef registered on the site what slots they are available for: say, 6.30pm to 9.30pm Monday to Wednesday. A user enters a postcode, sees what chefs are nearby and what they are cooking. You book what you want and the chef – or his delivery person – brings it round to your house.

Chefs choose their own hours and prices. Once they start getting bookings Housebites takes a 15% slice of the revenue. The platform is now actually enabling chefs to leave their jobs and set up their own businesses as Housebites chefs.

Quite why this model is working for Housebites – and why it could well affect the restaurant industry – becomes clearer when you look at the economics. The average UK-based chef earns £19,000 annually and usually has to stomach tough working conditions. And the reason they went into food in the first place – to create great food – usually boils down to being one of a number of workers in a kitchen, usually taking care of only one aspect of food preparation. Kinda dull.

As result most of Housebites chefs are now full time and even attracting the attention of mainstream newspapers as a result.

“Cooking is an art, and Housebites is restoring that,” Prockter told me. With chefs getting a lion share of revenue they are incentivised to open more slots – and repeat order rates are ticking upwards. A little like one-person retailers starting their own businesses on eBay, Housebites is doing the same for chefs.

Interestingly, the market is underserved. The UK is the biggest orderer of takeout in the world followed by Germany. But the options are usually limited to Pizza, Chinese, Curry style food – and is generally not healthy. In the US people tend to eat out or cook at home – that means Housebites is probably going to be a genuinely European business.

Housebites has been used and recommended by Stephen Fry, who has 3.8 million followers on Twitter (the biggest Twitter user in the UK), writer India knight and an unnamed former British Prime Minister, though Prockter declined to tell me who.

Admittedly Housebites has yet to have its Airbnb “trashed apartment” moment – trashed bodies anyone? Procker says there have been no cases of food poisoning to date.

It also faces some competition. Just Eat, which connects people with non-takeaway restaurants is by all accounts doing very well. But its business model – and its prices – are quite different.

With a growing and powerful network of chefs, could Housebites launch other kinds of revenue streams off the back of this? Prockter remains coy about that although he says more cities outside of London are planned.

It might be time to try out Housebites, and impress the neighbours with your “home cooking”…