Meet Ilkka Salo (pronounced IHL-kahill-yuh-ka) and Leo Wuoristo, the Finnish co-founders of Trybe, a platform that aims to stitch local communities together through the sharing of food. We caught up with the duo to talk Trybe, the challenge of scaling digital trust and whether technology and food is the secret to reviving local community.
IF TRYBE WAS A SUPERHERO, WHAT WOULD BE ITS ORIGIN STORY?
LEO: We weren’t blessed with any special gifts or bitten by a radioactive spider, but as a comic book geek I think about it like this. Trybe wakes up in a dystopian future where all food is massed produced, we get all our sustenance from pills and we spend our lives fixing robots who do everything. One day, Trybe sees a huge pile of cookbooks being burnt on a bonfire, and in that moment realises that ‘fuck it, I’m going to start baking lasagna’. Our origin story is that moment where we realise that the world is going in the wrong direction, and that things used to be so much better.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE NON-COMIC BOOK VERSION?
IIKKA: Last spring I was living in Queens Park, it was a rainy evening and found myself the eternal question: what should I have for dinner? I thought about ordering something from Deliveroo but I’d ordered so much restaurant food over the past few years that all I wanted was a home cooked meal. I decided to venture into the rain for groceries. In the stairwell I met my upstairs neighbour, the mother of an Indian family. She asked where I was going, and when I replied that I was buying groceries for dinner, she asked if I’d like to have some of her vegetable curry that she’d just prepared. I politely refused and turned to head out into the rain, and I was halfway through the door when I turned around and said that I’d love to have some, but only if I could pay her for it. Of course she said it was absolutely out of the question, after all we were neighbours. I had a £5 in my pocket, and I insisted. It was the best curry I’ve ever had. Shortly after I told Leo about this experience.
LEO: It totally resonated with me, and my own conviction to bring communities back together. My grandparents have always been in the res- taurant industry, so I have some idea on how the industry is doing. Street food is very interesting, as creatives who want to provide something different have to do it outside of the restaurant industry these days particularly in London where retail spaces are so expensive. Huge chains are safe, but at the same time they destroy creativity. The initial idea for Trybe was sketched out in an hour.
I’M INTERESTED IN YOUR INSISTENCE, ILKKA, ON PAYING YOUR NEIGHBOUR FOR A MEAL. HOW ARE YOU BUILDING A FOUNDATION OF CREDIBILITY AND TRUSTWORTHINESS INTO THE PLATFORM, AND HOW BIG OF A CHALLENGE IS IT TO GET PEOPLE OVER THE INITIAL HESITATION?
IIKKA: We’re building a social element into our community marketplace, so it’s very important that our cooks don’t feel like strangers. We’ve integrated peer ratings as you would find in Uber, as well as text-based comments and reviews like TripAdvisor. There is a much greater qualitative element when it comes to food, as opposed to taking an Uber from A to B. Food naturally involves a variety of tastes and preferences, so it’s very important to get that additional information to the customers.
LEO: We’ve noticed that, as a cook, you have a much higher likelihood of people ordering food from you when you reach 7 reviews. So there is still that initial hesitance and a small lag, but that’s common on any social platform. Having said that, the degree of hesitation that people feel has been smaller than we assumed. Finland is not the most sociable society, you can live miles away from anyone if you choose, so we naturally expected user adoption to be much slower. I think we have an inherent understanding that food is meant to be shared, originating from early tribal societies. That was our inspiration for the name.
WHAT DOES A 21ST CENTURY TRIBE LOOK LIKE?
LEO: Whilst locality is one thing, in urban life tribes can also be cultural. We have an amazing Brazilian cook on Trybe, and Brazilian people from all over London travel to her to pick up their food because it reminds them of home. Tribes can also form around shared values, hobbies and passions, and in our case a love of food.
ARE THERE ANY COMPANIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD THAT YOU TAKE INSPIRATION FROM IN TERMS OF HOW THEY’VE BEEN ABLE TO CONNECT PEOPLE AND BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER?
ILKKA: We take a lot of inspiration from YouTube. YouTube’s video publishing platform allows individuals to create content, build a brand and monetise it. They do a great job of creating peer- to-peer trust through their curation algorithms, which will allow you to discover new channels based on your preferences.
LEO: I’m a big fan of the Kickstarter model, and how it’s reduced the friction of starting someone of your own. I find it incredibly inspiring that you can remove the big machines and people just do things together when they find the right groups.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT SCALING A COMMUNITY-DRIVEN PLATFORM, IT MUST BE A CHALLENGE?
ILKKA: When we first launched it wasn’t to a huge geographic region, and we were inundated with people who loved the idea and wanted to help us to launch in their area. We were amazed at the response, and set about establishing a framework for how to make it work. We created a system of hyper-local area ambassadors, called Trybe Chiefs, and we provide the technology that allows those Chiefs to flourish. We take a small commission from each transaction, and we share it with the local Chiefs. We believe in broader wealth generation, and make sure that every stakeholder is able to capture a share of the value that we create together.
WHO ARE THE COOKS ON TRYBE? ARE THEY JUST PEOPLE WHO ARE LOOKING TO MAKE SOME EXTRA MONEY?
LEO: We have a diverse group. Some are street food vendors who are looking to supplement their income during the weekdays when trade isn’t as strong. We also love working with food bloggers. Bloggers spend so much time preparing food and taking beautiful pictures, and with Trybe their readers can actually experience the food. Then there are stay at home parents, who use Trybe not only to make some money, but for the love of cooking and meeting their neighbours. We also have professional cooks who do what I call ‘lean cooking’, where they test different recipes on Trybe to see which ones work and which don’t.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE MODERN AGE. CAN TECHNOLOGY BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER?
LEO: I believe so, but in the past five years it’s done the exact opposite. I’ve always felt that if I was ever going to build a startup then it would be to help people to meet each other and find where they belong. The dystopian in me says that the more we get connected digitally, we lose a very human part of everyday life. Food is one of the last bastions of the true essence of what it means to be human. It gives us sustenance but it’s so much more, it’s something people can share, it’s about culture and trust, and I believe that food can connect us through technology if it’s done right.
ILKKA: It’s true that technology can make the world feel smaller in the sense that I can talk to my friends in Australia and South Africa as if we’re in the same room. But technology can also be used to activate hyper-local communities, where geographic distance isn’t the pain point. The technologies exist, it’s a question of application, and if people feel that it’s worth doing.”
Check out Trybe here