The Cloud: Soaring High in the Foodtech Stratosphere

The Cloud: Soaring High in the Foodtech Stratosphere 

CEO and Co-founder George Karam explains the phenomenal rise of The Cloud, a platform that redefines the rules of restaurant operations.

You often describe The Cloud as “the Airbnb of kitchens.” What does that mean?

In the same way Uber helps with underutilised cars and Airbnb helps with underutilised homes, The Cloud helps with underutilised kitchens.

Our thesis is that there’s an ample supply of kitchens. We tie up with existing restaurants that cook on behalf of virtual brands, 80% of which we own ourselves. We provide the recipes and packaging to the restaurants that utilise their equipment, staff, and ingredients to produce the food on demand and according to our end-to-end process – in a way, we turn these restaurants into multi-brand cloud kitchens. 

We advertise and market the brands, tracking all the customer experience data points with our technology. We have a fleet of freelance drivers for delivery, connected to our system via our app. That way, the restaurants gain not only additional income but also additional efficiencies, including delivery and customer experience best practices. 

Before starting The Cloud, you worked in fields completely unrelated to Foodtech, mainly finance. What made you take such a leap?

While I was working [at Faraj Fund], I developed a passion for food and opened with two friends a healthy foods restaurant in Abu Dhabi; it took us two years to set it up, with close to AED900,000 in capex investment, but operations were really hard. So, we started thinking about ways to transform this restaurant into a grab-and-go type of operation, and about tying up with different restaurants to deliver different types of cuisine.

By the end of 2018, I opened a virtual restaurant. That’s when I realised the biggest disruption in the last 50 years was coming to the F&B industry. I was operating from the office and without any license, and I still had the same space on food aggregators as any large restaurant! This business model was super scalable. By November 2019, I launched The Cloud alongside my co-founder Kamil Rogalinski. 

Since then, we’ve raised $22 million through multiple rounds of funding. We’ve scaled to 91 cities in seven countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, US, and Lithuania) with 110 employees, 1,400 restaurant partners, and 30 brands. We have even acquired our competitor in the UK. We’ve successfully pioneered this business model with the key support of Hub71, and we’ve had a positive impact on the Abu Dhabi economy, creating between 400 and 500 jobs because restaurants had to bring in more staff to keep up with the demand.

What challenges did you face?

For the four years and a half that we’ve been operating, every year has had different pains that we’ve had to tackle one after the other.

For example, for a good customer experience, preparation time has to be 15 to 20 minutes maximum, but some of our partners would take up to one hour. So, we invested in feeding more data to the restaurants from that perspective. We realised some items had a high prep time, so we removed them from the menu. We had challenges with delivery, so we invested in logistics to be able to deliver faster. We had challenges with quality control, so we streamlined that aspect by educating restaurants.

What types of restaurants do you partner with today?

For 40%, we work with mom-and-pop shops that produce very good food but struggle a bit financially because they have no expertise in marketing and technology. 

Now, tying up with The Cloud doesn’t mean you’re a loss-making restaurant; you can be very successful and we enable you to scale even further. For example, we also work with large chains that have usually invested heavily in their operations, but not so much in marketing, digital, and technology. The Cloud comes in to bridge this gap.

Our business model is built on very strong partnerships, whether we work with a one-outlet shop or a 100-outlet chain, because if they’re more efficient, our brands are more successful, the customer is happier, sales go up, and everybody wins. 

What other plans do you have in the pipeline?

We want to become a three-sided marketplace with kitchens, restaurant brands, and a data creation/support function. For example, a brand in Dubai that wants to launch in New York could simply do it through our platform, matching with a kitchen to cook on their behalf, getting market insights, being connected to influencers, etc. This model would be very scalable, allowing the business model to transform and brands to scale up. We’re building this technology in-house, like we have since the beginning to solve each challenge, aiming to have it ready in the next 24 months. 

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