Taking a bite of the takeaway market with the brothers from Nifty Nosh
Newry brothers struck gold with idea for ordering food online, writes Margaret Canning
Barry Lynch, co-founder of online takeaway ordering service Nifty Nosh, has always blazed a trail - even as a teenager at school as well as in his career. The Newry man was one of the first Northern Ireland students to take a GCSE computer science while at Newry's Abbey Christian Brothers School - a qualification that he's put to good use. The company was a runner-up in the excellence in marketing category in the recent Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with British Airways.
Mr Lynch, now 34, graduated from Queen's University, Belfast with a 1st Class Honours in BEng Computer Science - and now applies his IT ingenuity to developing Nifty Nosh, with his brother Ciaran, into a web vehicle for customers to order takeaway food.
The business now has 13 staff and six directors and in the past four years the venture has grown on average 33% year-on-year and today generates £2.2m in orders annually.
It has 300 outlets on its books, 60,000 Northern Ireland users and now plans to venture into the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Lynch explained how his high-flying career developed. "After university, I took a year to travel around Australia, New Zealand and Asia. On my return to the UK, I joined Detica Limited, a London-based IT consultancy, working on programmes for blue chip companies including Vodafone, Disney and Reuters.
"A project for the insurance firm esure.com provided my first insights into the mechanics and application of e-commerce."
His team came up with the ground-breaking car insurance product for women, sheilaswheels.com.
But home shores beckoned and he was soon back home, where he put his head together with older brother Ciaran, now 44, who was doing a Masters in IT.
"We examined global and local trends in online communication and came up with the idea of connecting local consumers to local retailers. Convenience for buyers and more sales for retailers equates into win-win for everyone," the father-of-one said. "Many options were explored, but it was the takeaway food market that struck a chord."
Intense market research was carried out into the US phenomenon of online pizza ordering, led by Domino's and Papa John's.
"Our two primary questions: could we build technology that would enable local family-run takeaways to benefit from this trend? More importantly, could we create a business model that worked? After over a year of research, planning and fundraising, I returned to Belfast and we began development work in July 2007. niftynosh.com was launched that December."
He claims the concept for Nifty Nosh is simple, as it gathers a customer's favourite delivery restaurants and provides one handy ordering platform.
"Users simply go to www.niftynosh.com, input their postcode and retailers in that area are displayed. Choose a restaurant, view the menu and make selections, place the order, pay by credit card and the food is on its way." The brand has grown from strength to strength, and has developed its online presence, with the mobile site now accounting for well over 50% of orders.
"We have also attracted significant angel investment and are ready to enter the Republic of Ireland market during 2015. The landscape has transformed."
Barry and Ciaran are buoyed-up by similar companies in the UK and US, Just Eat and Grubhub, achieving valuations of over 100 times earnings on their initial public offerings.
That's left him confident about the next stage.
"What was an immature and uncertain market is fast becoming the only way to order takeaway food, and Nifty Nosh is perfectly positioned to capitalise on this change in buying behaviour. But we are not complacent and continue to apply our IT expertise to innovate and enhance the service for busy retailers and hungry consumers."
The biggest revolution so far has been adapting to the trend for mobile ordering - which required a nimble response.
"I responded quickly, overseeing the release of our mobile website which now accounts for over 55% of orders and continues to mushroom.
"We are currently working to a mobile first strategy within our product pipeline, to reach even more customers," said Mr Lynch.
Facebook and email marketing is also a popular means of engaging with customers and increasing their loyalty, he adds.
"By optimising updates through the inclusion of appealing images and optimised website metadata, engagement has grown. Nifty Nosh now has an email database of 30,000 and 5,700 Facebook followers, while our Facebook page has a public rating of 4.2/5."
He is also thinking of the next generation of entrepreneurs in IT. He sits on the advisory board for Queen's Enactus, which taps into the entrepreneurial spirit of students and helps them set up social enterprises. He is also a guest lecturer at Queen's University and the Ulster University.