Tweaking the (Un)Fair Isaac and Company score aka FICO

When we first got to the US, we knew that the first thing we had to do is get a credit card and build credit history so we can actually have access to goods and services like real Americans.

This is thanks to the FICO score, a thing developed in 1989, after the FCRA legislation was enacted in the 70s. That’s when Equifax was also born, which later gave way to the biggest identity heist in history, with over half of US residents affected.

What’s this FICO score? It’s what banks, real estate companies, credit card companies and other service providers use to understand if you’re going to pay your bills so they can offer credit of some sort. In principle it’s a good thing, giving access to credit to a broad part of society and allowing everyone to play the game and work towards that dreamy perfect 850 score (which is not worth the effort, by the way, as you’ll do fine with a 780+ score).

Image Source

But coming back to my issue with it, it’s very rewarding to people who were born in the US and have had credit histories their whole lives, granted they have always been on time with payments and disciplined with their finances. Sure, the ones who overextend, miss payments and default will be hit. But the ones who play the game can win at it.

Except for immigrants. 15% of the score is length of credit, so an immigrant who just arrived to the US is already way behind in the credit game. It will take them 5-10 years to get to a point where they can hope at a perfect score. This is because FICO scores +10 years of history as the best category and removes points for anyone who has less than that. This is the unfairness that I mentioned.

It could be fixed easily. By adding the word “proportional” to the way credit history linked to the moment you become a lawful permanent resident or a lawful non-migrant alien is calculated in the FICO score, they could level the playing field and give access to better credit to more people, not rob them by asking for double digit car loan terms or extremely expensive mortgage rates just because they weren’t born here. 

What’s the reason for this absolute anchor? Why having 10+ years of credit is better than having credit 100% of the time you’ve been here? Why 2 years of history is worse than 10 years? Will FICO ever change? 

I have started making the argument that credit bureaus need to rethink their business models. In an era of identity theft, hoarding customer information and selling it is no longer a sustainable business model. I should be able to own my own score, based on my own accounts. It should be in my best interest to add as much information to a secure, local datastore and then selectively share proof of these transactions whenever I need to prove my creditworthiness.

Not the other way around, to have 3rd parties store my data and share my information freely with lenders so they can advertise all those loans in my mail.

It’s time for credit scores to change. 

The conservative and progressive irony of liberals and republicans

Thinking about AI, progress, innovation and pro-business can only lead me to think about politics. Since I’ve been in the US for a while now, I’ve started to spot some interesting anomalies, contradictions in the way the two dominating ideologies tend to behave conservatively or progressively.

Why does this matter? It’s all about double standards and the idiosyncrasies that people are so comfortable living with. Harari makes it his mission in Sapiens and Homo Deus to reflect on and uncover the vast array of contradictions our society deals with every day. You might think this is a new problem, but It’s not. It’s as old as religion, the main source of contradictions – like thou shall not kill, unless they are an infidel. You get the point.

Let’s start with Phoebe, who’s a dedicated, lifelong liberal. She lives in California, works in tech, and spends her free time hiking, doing yoga and going out to brunch. Pretty familiar, no? While she values progress, at least at declarative level, she opposes change in her neighborhood, wants to regulate everything that may impact any people negatively (which, by the way, is almost everything people do out there), but claims that protects freedoms and is progressive. Progress in her mind is to protect and conserve the status quo of any kind, while slowly innovating within a government set box. She doesn’t know it, but she’s conservative.

What about Lindsey? She’s a dedicated, lifelong republican. She lives in Louisiana, works in the insurance business, spends her free time at the local social club, watches TV, likes to drive to malls and organizes regular barbecues. Also familiar, no? While she’s very conservative, at least at declarative level, she’s pro business, wants less regulations and more individual freedom for people to do whatever they want within reason and without harming others. Conservatism in her mind goes back to the constitutional rights that were put in place by the founding fathers, while everyone today can do pretty much what they like and try to find new ways to create value, without the government dictating what people can or can’t do in their communities. She doesn’t know it, but she’s liberal.

This is the main source of contradiction in the American culture today, as both Phoebe and Lindsey want the same thing, to live the best life they can with their families, their friends and within their community. They can’t seem to see eye to eye on most things because they don’t know they share a lot of things, much more than what sets the apart. So if both of them are both liberal and conservative at the same time, it is actually easy for them to connect, if they set aside the outrage TV and politicians instill in both, setting them up to hate each other. 

This time I have no solution for this, other than making people more aware that they are not so different from their political counterparts. Food for thought for 2020.

Image Credits

Surviving as an AI in the US – the most litigious nation in the world

In the past few years, AI advancements have made self driving cars mare of a reality than the remote possibility it once was. Thanks to GPU advances, algorithm improvements and lots of venture capital thrown at the problem, Waymo was the first company to release its fleet (albeit in a very limited fashion) in Phoenix, AZ.


I was talking to my real estate agent there about this amazing feat, when he raised a very good point – how can companies that develop self-driving cars protect themselves from class-action lawsuits brought about by ethical dilemmas like the one where AIs have to choose to kill the driver over an oncoming car or a grandma over a baby. This is a delicate problem even for people, as we’ve seen in recent studies, where each culture determining the statistic outcome. 

We can’t decide for ourselves, so it’s unlikely we can ask the AI to do that too and make it acceptable for all cultures, with a blanket procedure. 

Here’s an example:

A self-driving car encounters a speeding human driver on the other side of the road swerving out of control. It evaluates the problem and sees that it has two options: it hits the other vehicle and throws it off a cliff, killing the other driver and its potential passengers OR it swerves out of the road and into the canyon, killing its own passengers. Regardless of what it does, the AI will kill someone. This, in the US and other jurisdictions, will likely cause the company operating the AI fleet to be sued and held responsible globally for an isolated incident that they couldn’t control anyway. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of other self-driving cars operate normally.

This kind of blanket approach will likely cripple adoption and innovation at scale, due to the highly risky nature of driving today. Yes, you are far more likely to die in a car crash than with any other means of transportation known to man.

So could be a solution here? Treat AIs like franchises, once trained. Companies like Google, Uber, Lyft, Tesla and others could treat each AI, once trained, as independent entity, under a micro LLC, where the liability of that AI is limited to a number and to certain recourse. Whomever owns/operates it carries part of the liability, as to maintenance, configuration, potential fallback mechanisms, so that if an accident were to happen in Astoria, NY, it wouldn’t affect cars in Sacramento, CA. 

Right now, car companies don’t carry all the liability for their products, as long as they operate within expected parameters, as the decisions are made always by humans at the wheel. What if you could configure your AI when you buy the car to kill the grandma over the baby or protect the passengers over the other car? Then you would effectively release the AI and its parent of that liability and enable more innovation to be adopted faster. 

I viewed 22 houses in 3 days in Arizona. Here’s what I learned

This past few days I flew all the way to Phoenix, Arizona, to check out some property there. But you live in San Francisc, you may legitimately object. The housing market in the Bay Area is so bad that even people like me, who work in tech, unless they have been at it for a very long time, have very little chance to grab a decent property even remotely close to the city.

So we’ve started looking elsewhere. 

Phoenix, AZ, is that kind of place that people rarely consider for anything other than Grand Canyon trips or retirement thanks to the weather. That makes it affordable for people that work on the West Coast and that’s what drew my attention, too. 

That being said, I set a target of 3BR/2BATH, with a 2 car garage and got in touch with my agent Matt to schedule 20+ houses over the course of 2 and a half days. We saw all but one of them and learned a ton about what I want from a house:

  1. Houses older than me are probably not a good idea, unless they have been recently and heavily renovated
  2. If the photos look meh, then the house probably is worse, especially if there has been significant effort to photoshop the pics
  3. If there are lots of lighting units in the photos and it’s day outside, then place is a dark cave
  4. 2 car garage can mean 1.5 car because of cabinets or just a very narrow garage layout
  5. Carport means driveway, usually, unless they say covered
  6. Needs work, partially renovated means old stuff still in place because they work
  7. Let your imagination run wild with the back yard usually means it’s pretty big and unkept due to that reason
  8. Recently renovated properties need to be inspected very carefully, as sometimes they get a coat of paint, often in a rush
  9. Always check for cracks, walled in former doors, water damage on ceilings and walls. Every paint splash or change has a little story worth hearing
  10. Read the CC&R of the HOA – rules that you’ll have to follow if you buy within a home owner association area; can’t get out of those unless you run for and get elected on the board
  11. If you see old wallpaper, it probably will smell bad
  12. Some people like to keep their General Electric original 1977 stoves and that’s ok. Good for them
  13. Newly renovated kitchens must be checked for alignment on the cabinets – that crooked cabinet with the crooked microwave will be very expensive to change
  14. Check the tubs in the bathrooms for wear and tear – you’ll use that in the negotiation process. A resurface can set you back $500-$600
  15. The best way to see a house is with furniture in it. Empty places feel out of proportion and a room that seems odd when empty can be turned into a very nice living space with the right furniture

My thoughts on Initiative Q, the non-crypto controversial currency project

Some of you already know about this potential new Bitcoin or so-called pyramid scheme that others warn about, called Initiative Q, started by ex-Paypal people. 

For those who don’t here’s the rundown:

Initiative Q is an attempt by ex-PayPal guys to create a new payment system instead of credit cards that were designed in the 1950s. The system uses its own currency, the Q, and to get people to start using the system once it’s ready they are allocating Qs for free to people that sign up now (the amount drops as more people join – so better to join early). Signing up is free and they only ask for your name and an email address. There’s nothing to lose but if this payment system becomes a world leading payment method your Qs can be worth a lot. If you missed getting bitcoin seven years ago, you wouldn’t want to miss this.

Here is my invite link: Initiative Q Invites

This is what they give you when you sign up and can share invites. It’s the only way to get in the network and earn so Qs. Btw, if the link still works, I still have invites.

The essence of what the suspicious ones don’t understand is that the value will come from Q being gradually accepted as a better currency, not via people putting their own money into the network, like in an actual Ponzi, like Bitconnect.

The data you share is not that useful either, for any nefarious purposes, as an email is only good for spammers and today worth close to nothing. At scale, they could make a few hundred dollars from millions of users, but what would be the point? Oh, they may ask us to do KYC at some point? Sure, but by then they would have something to show for, otherwise this whole thing will crumble.

The monetary policy is also interesting: Qs will be released gradually, so only 1% can be spent at first, so users don’t dump the Qs and walk away. They’re protecting against dumpers. 

I’m also curious to learn more about the independent monetary committee, appointed via voting by all stakeholders in the Q payment network, that will control Q. Sounds like how Visa was founded, as a member-owned, non-stock for profit corporation.

People who call this the next Bitcoin clearly don’t understand either one or the other. Initiative Q, if successful, will be like a stable coin, where medium of exchange is promoted exclusively at the expense of any store of value.

What concerns me is its anchoring to the US economy exclusively, whereas there would be an opportunity to create a global stablecoin connected to several proportionally relevant economies where the Qs would be used. That would make more sense and would remove Qs dependency on the FED, for example, and its monetary policies.

Another concern is about who will put the first external money in. My hope is that they will raise venture capital and use that to provide early liquidity in the system, not take money from the average Joe or Jane. 

I’m sure a lot of these questions can be answered while they make their way to critical mass. $1 is probably the most valuable peg today, so it was a good choice to start with.

There’s a great response to a lot of the questions everyone is asking, and it’s coming from one of the team members, after this guy wrote a long and popular article questioning the model. Check out the first comment. Also one Q’s founders responded here.

What’s missing from Ebay Argos drop-off in the UK


I recently sold something via eBay and had to deliver it to Glasgow. It was a rather large package so regular post would have costed me in the range of double digits. That’s why I chose the eBay drop-off service via Argos, which I though would ease the process and make it cheaper. How wrong I was, you’ll soon find out. There are three episodes to this, all proving that the drop-off system needs a lot more work – both on communications & on operations.


As I said, it was a rather large package, so I spent the morning searching for something to use as packaging, as the eBay section did say that I have to do it on my own. Argos does not provide packaging, nor do they sell it, which is poor judgement, from my point of view. Anyway, I went out to ship it via the Old Street Argos, most convenient option for me, and, when I got there, the lady at the counter did not only charge me before checking if the package can be accepted, but then refused to offer me a solution other than a refund and instructions to go to the post office to get “proper packaging”. When I asked what that was and how should I have known what “proper packaging” is, she called the manager who simply said: The eBay pickup guy will not take it. She also quoted me, charged and refunded me for a “medium package”, a thing that would alter my decision making process.

Tried to get packaging at Ryman, but they only had it with the DHL delivery, which was quoted at £17, an amount I would regret to not have take later on.

Time wasted: 2 hours
Money wasted: £5 for getting there and back


On Monday, I went to the post office and got “proper packaging” for £4. Okay, over my budget, but that’s a learning point. Tried to deliver it directly via the post, but they would have charged me £16 on top of the £4 already paid. SO I decided to go to Argos at Old Street once again. Big mistake. This time the machine was not working and there was no one to fix it at the time I went to drop off the package, so I went home.

Time wasted: 30 minutes
Money wasted: £2.5 for the extra trip


Finally, on Tuesday morning, I decided to change the Argos and went for the one in Camden Town. Even though the other Argos had quoted and charged me for the “medium package”, this Argos rep decided that my package is actually large, so I had to pay £2 extra for the delivery. What’s more, even though the store opens at 9am, there were people standing outside of the store up to 15 past, since they were waiting for someone to open the door. And I’m not even going to mention how long it took me to wait for the package to be handled.

Time wasted: 30 minutes
Money wasted: £2.5 for the trip, £2 for the extra charge

All in all, eBay drop-off seemed like a good idea, but it’s so poorly designed and executed that it took me three days, more money and many hours wasted, whereas I could have just sent it via Ryman’s DHL, that included packaging with £17. It wasted me a total of £12 and 4 hours, plus the frustration. Good job Argos & eBay.

Image source: Wikipedia

Affiliate Marketing – Your Alternative eCommerce and Digital Monetisation Strategy

Emin Can Turan
Titus Capilnean

At the heart of digital marketing are the connections between brands and consumers. Affiliate marketing takes these connections to the next level and involves companies of all sizes, whether they are a start-up, SME or a big brand. It is cost-effective, highly targeted and data driven. Yet, the majority of tech-savvy-business-casual-nonchalant-scarf-wearing digital marketers are more or less unfamiliar with the concept and its benefits.

So, how can affiliate marketing help digital marketers reach their consumer base more efficiently? How can affiliate networks in turn do more in reaching out to those digital marketers of the future? Here are some points of wisdom for both marketers as well as affiliate networks to better connect to each other and in turn provide more value to the online ecosystem.

Affiliate marketing today while promising, is still in its infancy. The capacity to accurately target the right customers online merely scratches the surface of its potential. As yet, the concept is hardly utilised by many digital marketers or is simply unfamiliar.

Affiliate marketing, like the listening skills of men, is hardly used or the concept is simply unfamiliar.

Simplified, affiliate marketing is selling your products or services via publishers and in return, giving back a commission on a sale or when a certain target is met. The concept is built upon a win-win-win monetising model, where all parties (i.e. advertisers, publishers and consumers) get to be happy. Brands and agencies reach the right customer segment, publishers get their well-deserved commissions and customers get relevant ads.

affiliate marketing - how it works


Making this possible, are amongst others, affiliate networks. However, most of these data-savvy service providers are currently unsatisfied with the small marketing budgets big companies set aside for affiliate marketing. This is quite surprising considering it is currently one of the most cost-effective way to accurately target the right customer segment with the right content. Especially now, when the performance marketing industry is undergoing rapid changes, keeping up with the latest technological developments in affiliate marketing becomes more important. To make things even more pressing, other trends show that consumer purchase journeys become more fragmented, the online ecosystem more complex and user-attention spans shorter – not to mention the constant fluctuations in user behaviour.

User behaviour is changing more often than a schizophrenic on shrooms acting out a full episode of Game of Thrones

As new actors come into the digital ecosystem, social media, programmatic display and retargeting feature increasingly more in the user’s journey. Attribution models must both reflect and keep pace with these changes. This is exactly where affiliate marketing turns this potential threat into a huge opportunity in sustaining profitable growth. Affiliate marketing will eventually become an essential part of any company’s digital marketing practice, whether it’s a start-up, SME or a big brand.

As the ecosystem becomes more complex, content providers capture increasingly more niches, showing that the playing ground for affiliate marketing is growing and becoming increasingly more targeted. The concept already proves to be a more cost-effective alternative to traditional, less targeted, Display, CPM, PPC and Text ad-units methods provided by, for example, Google AdSense.

Truth in advertising

Moreover, the affiliate marketing business model does not only have to cater to big media publishers, price comparison sites, subject expert websites and loyalty websites, as seen today, but it can also cater for the niche blogger. Independent studies show that shoppers coming via affiliate sites are often more affluent, spend more on average, but also shop more frequently. It follows that the lifetime value of an affiliate channel customer is much higher.

PwC affiliate marketing

Source: IAB / PwC Online Performance Marketing Study, 2014

Tracking the true influence of a website on the purchase decision (i.e. the customer journey experience) is immensely important for a marketer. Whether it is a multi-device multi-browser or device agnostic, social related tracking cookie, code/cash-back or just a regular coupon/discount, it is important for the affiliates to be credited and for marketers to find out exactly which channels perform and which do not – and why!

That way, brands and agencies (i.e. the advertisers) can add more value by applying this acquired knowledge in better-targeted content and select more relevant IABs to promote their products and services. In turn, customers get less annoyed with inappropriate ads and waste less time on irrelevant deals.

Digital advertising: the end of traditional marketing and your old marketing professor’s career

All of the above combined with more competitive technologies to track customer sales funnels will ensure a consistent use by brands and agencies of affiliate marketing for years to come.

Points of Wisdom for Affiliate Networks

In the future, affiliate marketing will have a bigger voice in the advertiser’s budget, but only if affiliate networks concentrate more on product development (i.e. existing markets, new products or services), concept promotion, market development (i.e. new markets, existing products or services) and better alignment between publisher and the account management teams.

Affiliate Marketing


Let’s start with product development and promotion of the affiliate marketing concept. It is crucial for affiliate networks to be technologically competitive and build upon the brand awareness of the affiliate concept.

Here are some tips to do exactly that:

  • Education and account penetration: informing existing advertisers and publishers of the financial and technical benefits of affiliate marketing is key. There is still little known about affiliate marketing, even though it is built upon a strong win-win-win monetising model.

“Hands up if you really understand how affiliate marketing works. Now keep your hands up if you understand whether or not it’s right for your business. My guess is that there aren’t too many hands left up at this point.” – The Guardian

  • Marketing communications: this ties in with the previous point. Affiliate networks need to create more brand awareness and promote concept recognition to a wider audience via social media, newsletter articles (PR) and at business conferences.

“It is no secret that in this day and age, online presence = brand awareness. In fact, most marketing experts agree that how you present your brand online is the 21st century equivalent of your first meeting with a potential customer.” – The Huffington Post

  • Marketing tools: the affiliate channel is already well-known as being an expert at pushing sales, but less known for the role it plays in driving brand awareness and brand value. Introducing marketing tools for both publishers and advertisers that can measure the affect of different (experimental) campaigns on their brand awareness and brand value will create a whole new level of adding value to both advertisers and publishers alike.

“Companies are buying thousands of search terms across their lines of business, and new agencies keep popping up to serve marketers’ increasingly keen desire for innovative content, user tools, or social experimentation.” – McKinsey & Company

  • Mobile: inform, train and reward publishers that want to create mobile-friendly websites or apps that support mobile advertising. As most of you know, online purchasing is dramatically shifting from desktop to mobile; both publishers and advertisers alike need to be ahead of the game.

“Millennials are changing the mobile landscape. The group is projected to have a purchasing power of $2.45 trillion by 2015 and prefers mobile as their number-one way to be reached and interact.” – Mashable

Mobile strategy board room

Besides nurturing existing advertiser markets, such as, FMCG, online retail and travel, affiliate networks will also have to play a role being the dominant digital marketing tool in new markets with existing products or services (i.e. market development). We suggested two, which ties in well with the previously mentioned points of wisdom.

  • The start-up and young enterprise market: affiliate marketing makes perfect sense for start-ups and young enterprises as they are mostly on a strict budget, always want to see direct value for money, growth hack everything and are always looking to present valuable data to potential investors. Furthermore, consumer journey learning from insightful data can dictate lean strategy and budget allocation. It gives businesses the opportunity to be quick on their feet in decision-making and shifting priorities.

The nature of sharing best practices through WoM in incubations and shared workplaces, such as, Google Campus and IDEA Shoreditch, will organically increase the exposure of the affiliate marketing concept and its affiliate networks. Moreover, the ease of becoming a member of an affiliate network and partnering up with publishers fits in well with the fast-paced environment start-ups and young enterprises reside in.

Expected market value in 2017: $87.5 Billion

  • The gaming market: the gaming industry is one of the fastest growing industries. Gaming companies, such as, and Ubisoft, provide most of their games online, which aligns perfectly with the affiliate marketing concept. Also, gamers are a very unique customer segment. They have more tendencies to follow up on a sale after clicking a banner, than say, a customer looking to book a holiday to Istanbul.

The vast quantity of big and small competing gaming companies make it a very appealing market, especially since the click-acquisition ratio is much more favourable to both advertisers as well as publishers. Moreover, the huge customer base of gamers and the availability of a large amount of relating publishers make it even more appealing for an affiliate network to make this arena part if its company strategy.

Expected market value in 2017: $102.9 Billion

marketing and growth hacking

Finally, in order to compete with other affiliate networks, an affiliate network must build streamlined cross-departmental processes that encourage teamwork between the publisher and the account management teams. A continuous exchange of information is a big part of that in order to provide long-lasting value to advertisers.

The publisher team should first and foremost know its affiliates, segment them, make sure that it receives all the right data in terms of network intelligence, such as, traffic, user profiles, conversion data, suitability per product/category/industry and future development plans in terms of content. They should also keep a clear record of who was on board when and what results they generated for each client, industry and product category. This enables better decision making when recruiting new affiliates or assigning new campaigns to current ones.

The account management team, on the other hand, must be aware of the available data and the tracking capabilities of the publisher team, involve them in the client’s strategy formulation and assign the right marketing mix for each individual client, product or service group. It is also their responsibility to clearly understand the client’s KPIs and is ready to deliver on them. Lastly, in terms of adding value to top advertisers, the account management team must offer exclusive consultations to top advertisers by offering solutions complementary to affiliate marketing, such as, tracking data on customer behaviour and re-targeting via e-mail campaigns or social media.

target market


There is significant room to grow in the digital marketing arena, and within that, affiliate marketing can play a significant role in providing the right marketing mix, as long as teams, processes and technologies integrate to create the most value for clients and their customers. Ultimately, the objective is to make money and in order to make money, you have to target the right product to the right customer segment with the right content. The days of the traditional outward-bound marketing model of casting the message wide and hoping to catch a few interested customers is over.

The Extra Dish on Delicious business in the UK: A Unicorn start-up for food lovers

Needless to say how happy I am that The Extra Dish has had such amazing feedback and is now featured on one of the biggest news & business websites in my home country. I’ve translated the article below and plan to make it the first of many. Thanks & Alex Goaga for letting me put it up here, too!

Titus, 27, is at his fourth attempt in the world of startups. This time, along with two other partners, he chose a field full of flavor – a platform that connects people who cook at home dishes that are more more or less conventional and those who want to order home-cooked meals. The network is called

Meet the founders of The Extra Dish

The Extra Dish founders, Kate Wolfenden, Roberto Lucci and Titus Capilnean met in the Executive MBA program at the Hult International Business School where they worked together on several projects. After graduating, they kept a close relationship and the three are now working together for The Extra Dish.

Kate, 34, spent the past few years in the charitable sector and in the past had a business that combines pubs and street festivals in London. Kate is now working on WWF and will serve as a Non-executive Director for The Extra Dish.

Roberto Lucci, 46, is the one who came up with the idea in the first place. He helped build a tourism business focused on luxury villas, business that has achieved multi-million turnover and where he is now working to automate the processes using digital tools.

Titus, 27, has worked in the online industry in Romania from 2008 to 2014 on NGO campaigns, in agencies and in the corporate sector, when he decided to move to London. It’s the 4th attempt in the world of startups, having tried to build two agencies and a foursquare for websites on which he worked in various stages and in different positions.

The team is now expanding with Alex Nicolaica, who recently moved to London and will bring his expertise in marketing and digital built in the IT&C & FMCG sectors, and Aishlyn Angill, a Londoner who loves meeting new people and is excited by the big challenges behind such a business like The Extra Dish, where she can put her amazing sales skills to good use. Alex takes care of marketing strategy and Aishlyin of the operations and relationships with the home cooks.

Why The Extra Dish?

In Romania, such a platform would be a niche of a niche, as it would cover a still very small, only emerging market. However, only in the UK, convenience and take-out food markets exceeded 60 billion pounds in 2014. This includes all fast-food delivery, restaurant delivery services and convenience food sales in stores like Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.

“Roberto, a lover of good food tired of restaurants or traditional takeout, came up with the idea when he tried to order something from a local cook. He couldn’t find a solution to solve the problem and knowing that there are other people with the same needs, started working on the project with me and Kate, “says Titus.

The first iteration of the idea consisted of a Business Model Canvas, a few platform specifications & user journeys, a business plan and lots of enthusiasm. These were validated at Startcelerate London, Seedcamp Office Hours in Paris and LCIF London and also helped to attract about 50 people potential cooks who love doing this at home and to whom they will facilitate the connection with “foodies” in London.

The Extra Dish Startcelerate Pitch

“Looking ahead, our vision is that everyone who is a talented home cook should be able to use their talent through The Extra Dish. That translates into global infrastructure (directly or through partners) and a brand at least the size of Airbnb and Uber”, said Titus Capilnean.

What is the business model?

“The business model is simple and transparent – we create a link between people who cook at home and those who want to order home-cooked meals and we charge a percentage for brokering the deal (the order will have a set minimum value adding the delivery fees on top). We try to close the circle when it comes to take-out, as we have learned from all other food startups that we have studied while defining the concept of The Extra Dish. Our ambition is to create an ecosystem that will connect people passionate about cooking with those who want to order food cooked with love and care, and that means we need to cover all stages of the transaction – presentation, packaging, transportation, payment, so the only concern of the cooks is what to cook next and for those who order to benefit from an experience at least as good as ordering from a restaurant delivery service“ notes the young Romanian.

Currently, the team have been in touch with dozens of home cooks who have shown interest in being included in the platform and estimate that in the next 12 months, they will have about 500 active home cooks.

“From the marketing point of view, we are looking at a two sided approach, with the cooks group being our beachhead. The tactics and channels are somewhat different then for the foodies. For the home cooks we use recruitment events and cooking groups, cooking schools and generally we are targeting the information providers and learning platforms that they visit, like forums and cooking magazines. The initial focus will be on the cooking schools, as there we have the security of having a qualified audience of willing and skilled home cooks or future chefs.”

The other side of the market is that of users who want to order home-cooked food. Here we’re talking about standard channels: performance marketing, social networks, cooking blogs, but beyond acquisition campaigns, the entrepreneurs will work on retention and loyalty campaigns for users. They will also leverage platform usage data and personal preferences to generate the best recommendations.

Looking for investors

For the last few months months the three have been working at both the testing and modelling concept and presentations, pitches and individual meetings and are in discussions with a number of investors. “We want to enter in a partnership with one or more investors who understand the business and want to contribute actively to the its development, bringing on board their experience, network and ideas, not just the money. We’re a super strong team, enthusiastic and full of energy and will put all our “brain power” to good use to achieve fantastic results!“, says Titus.

They aim to fully launch platform in the coming months, with own resources and use the capital injection to ensure a consistent impact and strong growth. “In the coming weeks we are preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign where we would love to see contributions from everyone who believes in our vision and ability to go global. Of course, if readers (or my blog readers for that matter) are interested in our business, we are open to any investment proposal (just say hello (at) “.

For the first 18 months, the focus is on the London market, given that the main goal is to become sustainable before the next step into new markets. Most of the team is already there, the market is very large and very dynamic. “We want to cover about 50% of the London until next year and then to replicate the model and learning onto other markets. We’re looking at the US, especially the west coast, but the list includes 2-3 cities in Europe, too “.


The initial investment

So far, the founders have invested some thousand pounds in project and expected that they will continue to fuel it’s setup, “but our time was the main resource to date and consisted of tens of hours per week invested in documents, meetings and presentations. So the 6 months of dedication would amount to a total of £60-70,000” according to their own estimations.

“But back to the discussion about investment, we need at least £50,000 to launch and then a total of £600,000 pounds during the first 12 months to be sure that we can scale the business at the desired pace” set out by the “blue sky” scenario. The recovery time of such an investment is about 3 years.”

“In the world of startups, we would call our company a Unicorn, which requires a bigger initial investment, as it’s profitable only at volume. Investments in this type of companies support the fixed costs and the expansion, but when the business becomes profitable, the results are usually extraordinary. The other type is the Pony, meaning that the company produces enough income from the beginning and the only cash it needs is that which it helps it to grow faster, but the growth & gain rate is not as staggering. The Pony is a more common type of tech startups, easier to launch, but usually they don’t scale as much as a Unicorn,” concluded Titus Capilnean.

How to brand offerings and leverage the brand – A lesson from Apple

Apple_gray_logoIn these times of Social Media and Digital communications, when everyone seems to value speed above all else, it’s still important, from my point of view, to go back to the fundamentals of marketing & branding.

One company that stands out, from my point of view, with regards to branding, is Apple. They have created this psychological bridge in the minds of their followers (aka customers) between their offering (iPads, iPhones, Macbooks, iPods, Appstore etc.) and the need it fulfils – need to be connected and enjoy a vast selection of digital entertainment tools and, essentially, have a better life. Apple’s products deliver a consistent above the market user experience across all their devices, which consolidates the mental connection with every new product consumers buy and with every new service they use.

Apple’s genuine asset is the ecosystem that it creates with the mixture of technology and proprietary operating systems and marketplaces. They leverage this mixture to create the unique psychological image in the minds of the consumers that covers both the brand and the need. Customers now demand for an iPhone, not a smartphone, and for a Macbook, not just a laptop, even though the technology behind the two is not that different. It’s the status, the experience and distinct service offering that allows Apple to create more value through its strong branding.

Today, according to Forbes, Apple’s brand alone is valued at $98 billion and is mainly attributed to their omnichannel seamless experience delivery. Even though the methodologies to determine this number are unreliable, it serves as a benchmark against other companies with similarly strong brands. But one must remember that the brand without the subsequent innovation and strong operations is not a guarantee for success (see Polaroid or Betamax).

Apple did not create the need for a PC or a smartphone; they simply focused more attention to those needs by offering a different experience than other market players, thus branding that type of need and the offering it fulfils. One can see this in their advertising, in the way the products are designed, the way the Stores work (both on and offline) and in the way they have created a movement around themselves, a movement that constantly queues in front of their shops whenever a new product is rolled out.

Essentially, Apple can be branded as a design firm, a media platform, a publishing company, a software company, a computer manufacturer, but most importantly a cult. (an iCult, if I may). It uses its brand to effectively speed up the decision making process by connecting emotionally and supplying enough rational justification to ensure the customer is happy with her purchase.

The branding that Apple uses actively contributes to the realisation of the other, higher, tenets – the brand attracts a certain type of customer (segmentation tenet), creates a certain experience through which it fulfils an otherwise unmet need (tenet two) and is to my best of knowledge an ethical value creation business (tenet one).

Thanks to Apple’s great branding, the world is now, to a certain extent, a black and white picture – Apple and non-Apple users

Brands should whisper more

Last week, I stumbled upon a very interesting and rising anonymous, geo-location, text & picture based social network called Whisper. At first you might think it’s just a place for teenage rants, weirdos, shameful confessions, but it’s not.


A brand with the wit and the courage could go to Whisper and test products, test copy, get feedback, launch a new service or just brag a little. Here are strategies that could work.

Fashion brand for teens – cool and hip statements, true or not and confession games, quotes

Tech brands – post your latest gadget whispers

Industrials – whisper about the little things that make life work, like gas for your car, metals for your computer, watch, dishes, a “did you know that” campaign.

Want more? Drop me a line.