Egypt's booming food-finding platform Elmenus has just secured a whopping $1.5 million investment from Algebra Ventures, the country's largest venture capital fund, which was founded in 2016 and currently stands at $50 million. The investment will help the company expand its functionality, including a new AI-powered menu suggestion tool which hopes to be the most advanced of its kind.

Founded in 2011, Elmenus is the product of one hungry man’s frustration with the complicated process of checking out new restaurants in Egypt. Amir Allam was working a corporate job when the idea materialised to him. An avid foodie, Allam struggled with the lack of online presence for many restaurants, and felt that finding something new to eat in Cairo was sometimes a labor-intensive chore. The budding entrepreneur began developing his idea and started contacting local eateries, asking them if they’d be willing to put their menus online, so people could discover their restaurants in a more convenient manner. It was a challenge, but he started winning people over.

Allam quit his job – and immediately after he did so, the revolution began. “Shit, that might not have been the best decision ever,” he laughs grimly, conveying the insecurity he felt during that period of political turmoil, “but then 5 months later I was able to launch it and we got very good traction.”

Despite his business beginning during troubled times, Elmenus was a hit. Allam had invested about $3,000 in the launch, and not long after, he started accepting funding from friends and family. His social circle raised another $55,000 for him to develop his business, and that financing propelled Elmenus into a self-sustaining business. “We were focused on generating revenue from day 1,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur explains. “So that made us survive longer with less of a need for funding. Sometimes startups fall into the trap of raising money, money, money, without actually generating any revenue. That wasn’t us,” he says.

That $55,000 back in 2011 sustained Elmenus' growth, racking up one million monthly users, until Allam started seeking Series A funding for the business earlier this year. He remarks that Algebra felt like a “good fit” for Elmenus. “The money they invested with us is going to be used for growing our team massively, and trying to solve two things: helping customers make more satisfying food decisions, and facilitating easier online ordering,” he explains.

Allam’s passion for helping others make better food decisions is fueling Elmenus’ next big innovation, an app that hopes to become indispensable towards helping users “decide on the right meal, every time.” Over the years, the service has collected millions of data points about its users’ preferences, and that data is steering the development of an AI component to the site that will suggest something new and interesting each time, catered to the user’s taste.

“Think about it as a friend that knows too much about you. But then when you ask him where to go out to a restaurant, he suggests the same restaurant every time. That’s kind of a turnoff, right? You want someone to understand what your preferences are and can tell you, based on what you like, to go to that restaurant or have that specific dish. We want to be that friend,” Allam explains.

One of Allam’s favorite aspects of being involved in tech and the restaurant industry has been working with so many restauranteurs. “Restaurant owners are themselves entrepreneurs,” he continues. “You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about what makes restaurants work, and what doesn’t make them work. We’ve gained pretty good experience with identifying which ones are going to make it and which ones will not, just based on sitting in a meeting with them.” The young man feels he owes some of his success to his interactions with the restaurant owners, and notes that some of Elmenus’ best ideas have come from simply “having an open mind to getting feedback” from them.

Having recently reached its million monthly users milestone, the platform's founder now hopes to expand to other countries in the region. “We think there’s an opportunity everywhere to actually help people decide what to eat,” Allam asserts, explaining that wherever the company goes physically, it has a safe future in the food industry. “Egypt spends about 50 percent of its annual GDP on food,” he elaborates. New restaurants are opening almost every day in Egypt, and Elmenus hopes to become the primary resource for hungry users to find out about new dining opportunities. And so has Allam discovered a favorite new restaurant during his startup’s journey? The entrepreneur declines to share this valuable information, but we suppose if we want to find a decent place to eat in Cairo… well, there’s an app for that.

Photos by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.  

Check out Elmenus here.