We speak to the mastermind behind Just Cook, a foodie who transformed his knack for cuisine into a platform to turn every Egyptian workaholic into a culinary prodigy.
Born into a home of entrepreneurs – his parents own Fresh, an industrial empire worth $ 300 million – the entrepreneur broke out of his family’s traditional business to focus on the country’s most fruitful industry - and disrupt it: food.
Youssef Khalil's offspring, JustCook, taps into Egypt’s delivery-for-all culture to provide recipes and ready-to-use fresh ingredients to help Egyptians craft gourmet, homemade meals easily at home. In 13 months, Khalil grew the innovative concept into a full-fledged platform currently processing 40 orders per day. Every month, the platform updates a repertoire of 20 recipes, offering fresh and seasonal ingredients, washed and packaged in a box to fit the individual portions.
Having seen his father grow his business from 300 employees to 5,000, Khalil breathed the entrepreneurial grit at an early age. “As a child, I used to see my father speak to people, dealing with prices and market fluctuations; it becomes part of your DNA,” he says.
The 32-year-old entrepreneur, a mechanical engineer and a Hult Business School graduate, was undertaking his MBA in Spain’s Instituto de Empresa (IE) when the idea dawned on him. “I was at university and I had to end my studies with a project, so I focused on my most important need at the time: I was working a lot, so even though I’ve always loved cuisine, I didn’t have a lot of time to cook,” he says. “I presented the project in UCLA and ended up winning the competition.”
The startup capitalises on the rise of workaholics, a growing trend in the Cairene scene. “It was hard to think that it could work in Cairo at the time. People were saying ‘it’s a really nice idea, but it’s certainly more profitable if you stay in the USA'. Thinking of Egypt’s working women, however, Khalil decided it was worth taking a shot. “Nowadays, women work all day and their lifestyle is changing into a healthier one. They work out. This was the perfect match for them,” he says.
So, armed with a 500,000 EGP capital, his foodie obsession, and the drive to start off something unique, the entrepreneur kicked off with Just Cook in August 2015. “At the beginning, it was me who would cut the vegetables, wrap them up in boxes, and drive all the way to deliver it. I am a very big foodie, so I created recipes myself too,” he recalls.
The biggest challenge, he says, was creating demand. The business was new and it took time to educate the public on how the process works. “People didn’t really understand it, they wondered if they needed cooking skills. But we started with social media promotions, free meals, and discounts and, little by little, it started to pick up.”
Having bootstrapped his launch, the startup began growing at a 100 percent rate in the first months, reaching a rate of 40 orders per day and thousands of sales. As he now gears up to launch a new kitchen and cooking courses, the entrepreneur unveils his next big move: expanding to Dubai.
“There are very few competitors in the market and we have competitive advantages, such as a whole range of meals with desserts and juices. Besides, we have 20 recipes that change once a month, so they give people variety while preserving them for some time,” he explains.
From his office in Korba, Khalil delivers across Cairo - including the satellite city of 6th of October – following the ambitious aspiration to be catapulted as the ‘Google of food’. “Our idea is that you will basically be able to Google any recipe and find the ingredients ready to be cooked. We are also expanding to cooking classes and workshops for only eight people at a time, whether it is pasta, baking, or Asian food,” he says.
And chances are not slim, in a country of paradoxes where a sector that represents one of the largest income generating industries is not diversified. “Egyptian cuisine is not well-known abroad; the main reason, if you compare it to other cuisines, is that we don’t have gourmet items,” he says. “We don’t have chefs who take Egyptian basic dishes to the next level. It’s all very basic. In Boston, there was a restaurant that used to serve falafel, but with beetroot and cream, with complex flavours. If we did this, we would be able to enrich the world.”
But the explosive mix of tech and food has, to the visionary businessman, a lot to promise. “Since we created an app for people to order online, we saw a 20 percent increase in our orders. The easier you make it for the client, the more you grow,” Khalil explains, as he unveils his next endeavour, immersing himself into the financial industry with a soon-to-be-launched leasing business.
Find out more about JustCook on their Facebook page.
Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.