Mexican food made from Laredo’s Grill in Seattle. Japanese food cooked from Akiko’s Restaurant in San Francisco. Thai food catered from Thai Sweet Basil in Tampa.
At one point not so long ago, such food options were hidden in a corner on the World Wide Web. But in the past three months, co-founders Daniel Petz and Stuart Murless have called attention to these restaurants through their food discovery platform, boam (best of all meals).
With nine team members – two founders in the U.S., four engineers in Hungary, and three employees in South Africa, Daniel and Stuart have built a food service platform that ranks the best restaurants in different cities.
“We believe that talent is universal. Our personal connections to those locations enable us to tap into a talent pool otherwise difficult to tap into for most American companies,” Daniel said. He identifies as Hungarian, and Stuart grew up in South Africa.
After years working in South Africa, Daniel met Stuart and they realized they both share a passion for solving problems in the restaurant-tech space. The two of them saw the high-quality but lower costs of labor compared to other English-speaking markets such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
“What we set out as a strategy is asking the question: Can we find the smartest, brightest, most capable people in any of these locations?” Daniel said. “Can we find the best engineers in Eastern and Central Europe? Can we find the best business operations people in South Africa and the U.S. to drive the strategy we need?”
The two founders credit their success to a cherry-picked advisory team. Since the company operates across three different continents, Daniel said they can find advisors based in locations spanning London to Silicon Valley.
“We have the objective that talent shouldn’t be restricted by passports or borders, and we will find a way to work around time zones,” Daniel said.
In this lightly edited transcript, Daniel and Stuart share how they started building boam.
How did you find your earliest team?
Daniel: Very early on, you have to use your networks and leverage friends, but you also want to do targeted outreach. The friends of your friends can give you recommendations for high potential individuals. On my side, it was a bit tricky because I hadn’t been living in Hungary for ten years now, and my live network was more restricted than it used to be. But we were still able to find an exceptional team. The cost advantage of building teams from these markets also meant that we were able to create a more senior and experienced team that we could have in the U.S. Our distributed strategy is not about finding cheaper talent but better talent for the budget we have.
Stuart: For recruitment, we found it was very effective to be on the ground. Sometimes just being able to have a coffee chat and meeting an employee makes a big difference. For both teams, finding one senior individual in the location to build a team was critical. A person at the best of their technical capabilities or personality can bring in others.
How did you balance time zones?
Daniel: If we look at the specifics, there is usually a nine-hour difference between Seattle and our other markets. That is a lot. Very often, that means most American companies who want to work with European or South African partners will have to be based on the East Coast. In our case, we felt that the proximity to Silicon Valley and being in Washington state, with a ton of technical expertise, was still a worthwhile decision. In response, we usually start at 7 a.m. every day to ensure there is a three-hour time zone overlap. As co-founders of an entity, we felt it was the responsibility on our end to make it work and not force others to stay up late.
The second thing is that you need to find those local leaders who can successfully lead your office even with limited, high-level direction. If we need to micromanage every person in each of the offices, this setup would never work. The first step is figuring out which markets you want to go in and acquire the talent that you want, but start with more senior leaders or super high-potential young folks.
The last puzzle piece is how you can communicate effectively between the different markets. We have a leadership team meeting every Monday where the two founders, the head of the Budapest and the Cape Town office discuss key decisions and our priorities. We also talk with the engineering and Cape Town teams twice a week to deep dive into topics on a recurring basis. We also have a team-wide end of the week debrief. It sounds like a lot of meetings, but it’s actually not. The daily activities are happening at the local level, and we just need two hours of meetings on Monday and one hour of meetings on Fridays.
Why the food industry?
Daniel: We have an underlying conviction that there has to be a smarter, data-empowered way to optimize the way we find food. Since I grew up in a restaurant and Stuart owned a restaurant before becoming an investment banker, we’ve both had experience on the other side of the table.
The first phase for boam is mapping out and understanding every single city in the U.S. We started with locations we were familiar with – Seattle, San Francisco, and the rest of the Bay area. There are a lot of commonalities between the markets, but you can also see a lot of differences.
Stuart: We have to create a rapid expansion to have every major market in the next 12 months, but it’s always difficult to estimate the time frame. We want to then offer solutions for diners and change the way they think about dining out.
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as co-founders of boam?
Daniel: There’s a strange dilemma that at the beginning of the company, you don’t have the money to find the best person or thing. People often go for the “good enough,” but that bites you in the long run, especially when it is about some of the more strategic decisions. I would caution people that as you start out the journey, be mindful of the early decisions you make. Even if you want to jump into things and get it done, it makes sense to find partners who can stay partners in the long run. They may seem out of your range in the short run, but those investments will pay multiple folds in the next few years. Also, often the people who could be a good fit for the long run understand your position and are willing to be flexible to help you from the get-go even with their pricing structure.
Stuart: The value in doing things manually before automating them. As non-technical founders, we don’t have the ability to jump into coding a solution. As a result, we often start off by testing an idea with simple manual execution. It can be painful, but through this process, we gain a lot of insight into the best ways to tackle a problem. When we are ready to spec something up for our engineers, we have a far better idea of the requirements and biggest pitfalls.