Hanging with Jody Mlikota & Nicky Jurd from Gathar

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Gen caught up with Cairns based Jodie Mlikota and Nicky Jurd from Gathar.

Gathar is on a mission to change the way you entertain at home. Through the Gathar marketplace, cooks and chefs connect with hosts looking to create amazing dinner parties at home, without the hard work.

For those who love to cook, Gathar offers the opportunity to turn your passion into cash. As a Culinarian you design your own menus and deliver awesome dining experiences at homes in your local area.

Watch our interview or read the transcript below:

Gen: Hi guys, my name's Gen George and I am from tamme and Like Minded Bitches and everything else, I'm not even sure where to begin with that one. But today I am here with the amazing founders of Gathar. So who the hell are you?

Jodie: Hi Gen, I'm Jodie.

Nicky: And I'm Nicky.

Jodie: And yeah, we're the co-founders of Gathar, a foodie's marketplace.

Gen: Awesome, and how did you guys get started?

Jodie: So, I guess we've known each other for a few years. We are both based here in Cairns in hot tropical North Queensland, currently going through a heat wave. So, my background is events and marketing and so for thirteen years, different roles in marketing and events in Queensland and in Sydney, and sort of globally. And Nicky's background is very much tech and foodie.

Nicky: Yeah, so I started a website developer company back in 2000 when the internet was all shiny and brand new, and we've been making online software since the world began, pretty much. But in my spare time, my passion is being a crazy foodie, so I'm the annoying person that usually tells you what ingredients you can find where, and I really, really love to cook, so in a way it was a beautiful meet because Jody is great at entertaining, but doesn't like all the hard work that comes along with it, and I just love to do all that hard work.

Jodie: We're kinda both sides of the marketplace.

Nicky: Yeah, we are. We're the marketplace.

Jodie: So yeah, I guess I had this idea of studying entrepreneurship, but I guess it's a pretty simple idea and probably something that many have had before, and Nicky and her partner Kaj had the same idea a few years ago, so when I came to them with this concept and said "I would love you guys to be on board at the top of my list of co-founders", and they were like “well, funny you mention that, because it's something we've been thinking about for a while”, and they're really involved in Airbnb, and you kind of know the sharing economy really well so, it was just a good, serendipitous meeting.

Nicky: Really good fit, and we had just started building our confidence for food, we had been thinking about "What could we do in the food space?" because we won a cooking competition.

Gen: Oh, wow.

Nicky: Yeah, it was very high pressure, intense, Master Chef-y kind of thing, but it was a really great experience so it had definitely launched that thinking of what do we do with this now? Yeah.

Gen: Amazing, and so what's your business model? How does it work?

Jodie: So, it's a two-sided market place and on one side we have our culinarians, so the people that love to cook. Not necessarily just chefs, you can be a chef but you can be like Nicky where you just like to spend your nights and weekends cooking, always thinking about different dishes and love being in the kitchen, so we just say they're passionate cooks. They load up menus, so Nicky's got a menu up there, a Mexican based three course, she prices it at 80 dollars a head. And then on the other side of the market place we have people like me that love having dinner parties but don't love running around all night and having to deal with the hard work and not actually getting to sit down and enjoy it.

Jodie: So I jump on as a host, and I pick Nicky's Mexican menu for eight of my friends, I click on it, book it, and Nicky comes over with all the ingredients, cooks, cleans, does all the hard work, and we sit back and enjoy, and also get to know Nicky, I think that's the really cool part of the marketplace. It's really about the community and the connection, and by people coming to your home it's pretty personal, you get to know them, you get to find out why they love to cook and why they chose this menu, and why this dish is important to them and the backstory behind the ingredients and why they're doing it.

Nicky: It's a bit like a Chef's Table experience, so the upper echelon of those five star restaurants where you really get to hear the chef's passion and you get to watch them prepare the whole thing all the way through and talk about it, so it's a very intimate experience, but also a very personalized experience and not that different to going out to a restaurant in terms of pricing, especially when you consider you get to drink your own wine at home, and that's pretty much all you have to do all night, is be a lovely host.

Gen: That's awesome. So, coming from the moment of having that conversation and to then launching an NVP, what did that journey look like?

Nicky: It was an interesting road, actually. We did a lot of test cooks and ...

Gen: I'll volunteer. I will volunteer.

Jodie: It was the best part.

Nicky: We had no shortage of volunteers, actually we did a really fun cook where we cooked for a group of entrepreneurs on the Great Barrier Reef, and Naomi Simson was one of the mentors for that entrepreneurial group, so it was an absolutely incredible North Queensland day where we cooked outside and ...

Jodie: It was a tough cook, Nicky cooked like a pile of fish tacos on the middle of an island for these fourteen entrepreneurs, and we tried to just keep her shaded.

Nicky: But it was a great experience, and it just showed us how far the platform could go as well, so we did a fair bit of testing and research to see how the concept would work and where were the issues from both the cooks end and from the host end, and built the NVP around that.

Gen: Amazing. [inaudible 00:05:02] your camera?

Jodie: Oh, it's out of focus. Yes, sorry. We might have to disconnect it and reconnect it, that might do the trick.

Nicky: That's how we fixed it before, hold on.

Gen: Yeah, fair enough.

Jodie: [inaudible 00:05:16] really fuzzy.

Gen: Yeah, sorry all of a sudden you just went ...[crosstalk 00:05:21]

Jodie: That's strange.

Nicky: There we go. Are we good to go?

Gen: Yeah, we're just gonna continue as normal.

Jodie: Yeah, so that whole journey, really from concept to NVP was sort of April to October, so Precedence, our awesome tech partners, they built the platform. We officially launched the platform in October, here in the funnel, so in Cairns and Port Douglas and then we went to Brisbane three weeks later, so we jumped quite quickly to kind of go into a metro area and now we're sort of two months live officially with the platform and starting to work out those marketplace liquidity issues that I'm sure all marketplaces deal with.

Nicky: Yeah.

Gen: So what other sort of things do you look at to understand where the supply and your demand is, and understand the metrics that really drive your marketplace, so your economics?

Jodie: Yeah, I mean we are, that's our priority at the moment, is trying to get them down. We had a bit of a, I guess, easy run in our hometown, which is why we launched it, yeah? I think a lot can be said. Some people would say, "why would you launch in a small regional area?" But for us, we had this great community, really great support from the media. Nicky obviously knew a lot of foodies, so we could easily build the marketplace based on [inaudible 00:06:35] and people we knew. And now, we're getting to Brisbane, where people don't know us, and we're starting to work out, okay, what do we actually need to do to recreate? On the cooks side, we find it's really about the community and word of mouth, still, so it's really about working with cooking groups and foodies. They're all pretty connected, so once we go out and talk to a few, and say "do you have any friends?", they generally will go, "okay, yeah, I have five people that will want to do this as well."

Jodie: So that side of the marketplace is really about the conversations that we're having, and those sort of connections. And then on the other side, it's about building that trust and awareness for these new kids, which we didn't have that issue here in Cairns, because people knew us, so they were like "yeah, sure, come into my house and cook for us." Whereas in Brisbane, they're like, "what do you mean, you're gonna come over and make dinner?" So there's that first level of awareness and trust, which we're working with media in general, and get some strategies to corporations. And then it's about the conversion side, so really using our digital marketing channels to really convert them over from engagement to hosts.

Nicky: In our hometown, also, we didn't have to court the media, they came to us. So it was a very, "ooh, what are you guys doing? We want to focus, take a photo of you, put you in the paper," and all sorts of things. So we've had really amazing media coverage. In fact, Jodie was a cover girl on a magazine.

Gen: No way!

Jodie: [inaudible 00:07:58] as a co-founder. It was awful. I didn't realize. You must think like, it looks easy to be a model. It's really hard, and I hate having my photo taken.

Nicky: She looked at me ...

Jodie: It was really awkward, so I'm really happy from now on to photo some chefs and cooks and food, not me.

Nicky: That's a big challenge when you go into the big metro spaces, is building up that same level of awareness and trust, and leaning a little bit on that contact who already are in those industries to [crosstalk 00:08:26] for us.

Gen: Fantastic. And then how do you ensure that you guys are remaining scalable, as a tech business, rather than falling into the trap of becoming, I guess, a small business, more of an agency style approach, right? [inaudible 00:08:39] for example, I'm in San Francisco, so a launch in San Francisco tomorrow without you two having to hop on a plane; how does that, how do you keep, [crosstalk 00:08:47]?

Jodie: That's the part where we're really lucky that we have Precedence. So, the other part of this team is Kaj, and he is our automation expert. Like, you can probably talk more to this, but yes. He can see straight away where a system and automation tech can come in to do what I'm doing manually. And he knows it so well-

Nicky: He's my business partner, and we've built a lot of online software that had global scale, so from that perspective, we're not really worried about the tech behind the scenes. We're more worried on customer acquisition and getting the word out there, which is a good problem to have, I think, that we don't have to worry about the tech background behind us.

Gen: Yeah. So then, I guess then, what's the next steps? You're two months in, obviously very exciting, but how you plan on the next six months, making sure you guys can take that next level of growth?

Jodie: Yeah, so our phase at the moment is really getting, I guess, market share in the regions that we've launched in, and then going out to Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, on either sides of Brisbane. And then Feb-March next year, we'll hit Melbourne. So, we plan on being in Melbourne by, sort of, midway next year, and then Sydney after that. So, by the end of next year, we would really like, and check back and hold us to that, to really have scaled to those regions. And we'll learn a lot from those metro cities, and probably change a quite a lot. We already have quite a lot, in the last two months, to things like grazing boards, which you would know, are really popular. Grazing tables.

Gen: Yes!

Jodie: So we have them straight away in the marketplace, cuz people really wanted it from both sides. So we're really open, we still know we're in that product-market fit stage growing, and as much as we have a plan for the next 12 months, we know that there's gonna be a lot of unexpected things.

Nicky: There are funny little issues that come about like that, too. So grazing tables are sold by the meter, and our [inaudible 00:10:41] is sold per person, so we have to make some adjustments to be able to sell grazing platters in the traditional way that they're sold as well. But every city has its own food culture, and we really need to tap into, what is the particularity of [crosstalk 00:10:56] and then, how do we solve some of their dining problems along the way so that we can appeal to those different groups.

Gen: That's great. And obviously, being such a small team in the beginning, which is great, you've got to settle in as long as possible, you've obviously got your own vibe, your own culture. Next stage of then hiring people, how do you think you're gonna really emulate that culture?

Jodie: We started talking about that yesterday, actually, weirdly. It was like one of those conversations where[crosstalk 00:11:23]. Yeah, I guess what we want to do. Our brand is about fun and food. And anyone who joins the team needs to have that passion. We're about coming to work and having a laugh, and so how do we scout that? I guess it's about trying to find someone that truly gets excited like we do about what we're doing, and trying to keep that as we grow.

Nicky: I must say in our own company, Precedence, we've maintained that same kind of vibe here, in that everybody in our building is obsessed with coffee. So we include it in our job description, even, what kind of coffee that they need to be able to make. And we get the funniest responses. And when we get those good responses, we know this is a good cultural fit, this person. So sometimes it's being quirky at the beginning and making sure that we're true to the brand, and talk through what are our expectations.

Jodie: And trying to get as much diversity as possible. Like we talked about, we don't want to hire people exactly the same as us. We want to get all different mindsets in, because really that's creating culture.

Nicky: Yep.

Jodie: It's not about just what we like.

Nicky: And that helps us, expose us to brand new spaces that we don't understand yet as well. One of the things I'm really excited about, our platform is being able to tap into the migrants of Australia and the cuisines that we'll never find a restaurant for. So in Brisbane we connected with a lady from Iran, and she has a whole community of Persian cooks, which, I've never been to a Persian restaurant, but I would love to have her over at my place to cook for me.

Gen: And hear her stories.

Nicky: We are reflecting that diversity in our cultural team as well, it'll be great.

Gen: That's great. And from that, I guess, sorry you're out of focus again if you wouldn't mind.

Jodie: Ahh, sorry. Must be the heat. Our camera's melting in Cairns.

Gen: Yeah, totally fine! So I was gonna ask then, is there like, podcasts or books or networking groups, or what do you rely on, I can see you again, thank you. That works, that you guys look at?

Nicky: [crosstalk 00:13:21] I'm a crazy podcaster. One of my good mates is a podcaster, and I have it on my grand plan list of things to do, to create a Gathar podcast, which talks through the foodies we have on the marketplace. I think my favorite food podcast is called Gastropod, it's such a cool name, and they talk about food through the lens of science and history. So you get a really interesting background about food. And [inaudible 00:13:46] very well researched, these two ladies. And they recently had Nigella Lawson on, and that's when I went "oh my goodness, could I have a podcast and meet Nigella?" Cuz I could be [inaudible 00:13:56], that'd be great.

Gen: I've heard her [inaudible 00:13:58].

Nicky: Yeah, that's the real trouble with them. And Jodie, you have that start up podcast that you listen to.

Jodie: I listen to a lot of [inaudible 00:14:06] you probably know really well, but yeah, I like [inaudible 00:14:10] and Jason[inaudible 00:14:12]. Have you met him in San Fran?

Gen: No, no I haven't.

Jodie: I would really like to. But the start up community here, and also in Brisbane where we feel is a bit of a second home for our start ups, at a start up weekend at [inaudible 00:14:28], the crew there's been super supportive, and just fellow founders, just like, we're just amazed. People like yourself, we'd reach out to and ask advice for, like, how willing they are to actually share their journey and go, okay, we're 12 months ahead, this is what you're gonna come up against. I can connect you with this person, so we're really surprised. It hasn't hindered us at all, being stuck in the tropics in terms of being able to get that support.

Nicky: Gen, are we fuzzy again?

Gen: Yep, sorry I was just waiting for you to finish your sentence. It's totally fine. It adds a bit of extra flavor to the interview, you know?

Nicky: Have you ever seen it before? I don't even know how to diagnose it.

Gen: I've never seen this before, because at first I thought it was your, you were just using your computer, but then I realized you had a mic, and you know, which is fine.

Nicky: It looks like a butt plug.

Gen: I'm not editing that out, just so you know. We're gonna leave this one raw and uncut, specifically for that.

Gen: So, are there any other communities being in North Queensland? I mean obviously, coming to Brisbane, there's been this fish burners and things like that, do you get involved in those sorts of spaces, that'd be great.

Jodie: Yeah, and we try to just jump into as many things as possible. We went down to Stockholm, went in that pitch comp, I'm gonna start up around in Melbourne on Tuesday, so really we're seeing the fact that we need to [inaudible 00:16:00] as an opportunity to get into all these new cities and meet everyone in these new ecosystems. Everyone's been super supportive. The amount of founders that have helped us so far, just given us great advice, or you know, kind of let us know about different groups that we can tap into. It's super awesome.

Nicky: There's some good ones in Brizzy. Like Wandering Cooks, there's this really cool little co-cooking space, and they have lots of small food businesses and a commercial kitchen there. And they've been amazingly supportive, quite a lot of their cooks have come on board. And we've had some really good chats with Le Cordon Bleu, the French cooking school, so we'd really love to have their students on board and cooking with us.

Gen: Have you heard of Cookitoo, as well?

Nicky: Yeah, I came across that recently, actually. Do you know about that?

Gen: Yeah, she's actually here in San Francisco, so you can rent out commercial, Airbnb for commercial kitchens, which is really cool. So they've got a really interesting network, the type of people that use them, so I can connect you guys after.

Nicky: That'd be great!

Jodie: Yeah, thank you!

Nicky: We do have an interesting little space in food licensing. In Queensland, we don't need a license to cook in someone else's home, but in other spaces we may need to lean on a commercial kitchen to be able to explain the platform, so that is something we'd really love to connect with.

Gen: Awesome, too easy! So the question I always ask is if you had a super power, what would it be and why? And it doesn't have to be start up related, it can just be-

Jodie: Yeah, at the moment, I would say a portable personal air conditioning system.

Gen: I'm opening up the door in this phone booth as well.

Jodie: I [inaudible 00:17:41].

Nicky: I'd be a super taster, to taste more things. There's a chance I'm already a super taster, I only recently found out that people who are bitter sensitive can taste more scope to all the flavors, but particularly to bitterness, so I think that would be a cool super power, to be able to taste a dish and instantly know all the ingredient make ups, so I can be like "oh, I know how to recreate that!"

Jodie: I don't know if I want that super power with my cooking. [inaudible 00:18:17]

Nicky: I must say one thing that's a bit bad about being a, I suppose, a super taster, is that I can often taste rancid oil, and so if you go to a fish and chips shop, and the chips are a bit funny, it's usually cuz the oil's old, and straight away I'm like, oh no, can't eat it.

Jodie: With great power comes great responsibility.

Nicky: Yeah.

Gen: [inaudible 00:18:41] So, sorry.

Nicky: What's your answer, Gen, what's your super power?

Gen: Um, I, to be honest, I'm still working on that. I have, I think I would like a little bit of every- I'm very much a get in, try everything kind of person, so I'm like, oh, for five minutes I'd wanna fly, for five minutes I'd wanna time travel, for five minutes speed. Attention is very, very short lived.

Nicky: I think you need a teleporter. You do so much traveling.

Gen: Yeah, or immune to jet lag. That would save me some time, that's for sure. Or not having to put up with hangovers after Like Minded Bitches events.

Jodie: That's a super power I'd like.

Nicky: I actually don't get hangovers.

Jodie: Really?

Nicky: Yeah, I've never spewed from alcohol, either.

Gen: You're insane.

Jodie: I'm gonna change that.

Gen: [inaudible 00:19:35] Challenge accepted. So if people would like to support you, where can go to sign up to the site, download the app, like, where do they need to do?

Jodie: So our website's gathar, G-A-T-H-A-R, not E-R, so G-A-T-H-A-R dot com, or dot au, we've got both. So you can jump on there, obviously all our socials is Gatharing, so G-A-T-H-A-R-I-N-G. It'd be great to have your support on Instagram, on Facebook, and if you know of anyone that loves to cook, we're expanding, so if anybody out there is a foodie, and thinks this is for them, or they know people that are, we'd love them to spread the word and join our community.

Gen: You should check out Collabosaurus, they're a marketplace for, obviously, collaborations, hence the name. But for either finding chefs or for businesses or cool experiences it could be something worth speaking to them too, as well. But I'll introduce you after this.

Nicky: What a cool name, Collabosaurus.

Gen: It's awesome. But anyway, thank you so much for your time today, ladies.

Jodie: Thanks, Gen!