As any Jew will tell you, the supermarket isn’t exactly the ideal go-to place for Kosher food. The problem isn’t so much that there aren’t any Kosher products out there – in fact, there are many, the team of KosherDev assure us, but that very few of them are labeled as such. And rightfully so, as labeling a product Kosher is only justified when the market is substantial enough for the producer to consider, which is rarely the case outside of Israel and perhaps a few other places with medium-to-large Jewish communities.
Cofounders Jevgeni Levin and Mihail Beshkin. Photo credit: Kosherdev“What if there was an app for that?”
As it often happens nowadays someone thought to ask that question – Mihail Beshkin (37), one of the two co-founders of KosherDev. Being Jewish himself, he abides by the Kosher rules, and was familiar with the effort people have to go through to find food that is Kosher. The problem, he says, was that in Estonia there are no special stores for it.
“One of my friends started keeping Kosher two years ago,” he remembers. “And he used to call me up to ask about where he could buy Kosher food. His calls were getting so frequent that at one point I even became the go-to guy for all things Kosher. That’s when I got the idea: what if there was some sort of an online database that you could access with your smartphone on the go?” Together with Jevgeni Levin, an ex-programmer who currently runs a small product-developing company in the gaming area, Mihail decided to launch the Is it Kosher app, mainly as a side-project, as both of them had, and are still keeping, parallel engagements.
The app was initially designed as a global platform to simplify the search for Kosher products anywhere in the world, by instant access to about 40 different resources and databases of Kosher products. It currently works on Android, Web browsers and iOS, as well as on Amazon’s Kindle, and uses inbuilt tools to scan the barcode and render the info to the user in almost no time. So, all the users have to do is a point their smartphone (or simply speak the product’s name) and the system will automatically roam through its entire database in a matter of seconds to let them know on the spot if the product is Kosher or not.
To make sure the info is accurate, the data is gathered in multiple ways from Kosher certification houses who either provide API-based access to their data, upload lists (csv, xml), or manually enter data into the system and keep it up to date with the help of a customized admin web tool.
It is catering to a very well defined, albeit rather niche, target audience: Jewish people who are keeping Kosher. Even though the market research efforts were, by their own admission, “minimal at best”, Mihail and Jevgeni were able to narrow it down to the basics: 13,5 million Jews worldwide and 15% of Jews following Kashrut – which led to an estimate of 2 million followers of Kosher.
They currently have more than 10,000 registered users from 83 countries and there have been more than 40,000 downloads since the app’s launch. Not too bad for a team of three (the two co-founders plus their iOS developer, Alex Hamilton). What’s more, the project has been partly crowdfunded.
A lesson in crowdfunding
We are actually considering running a Jewish only type of crowdfunding campaign, just to see if there will be any difference in results.
Crowdfunding is not really the newest trend, but its perks continue to lure young entrepreneurs who haven’t had the chance (nor, perhaps, the will) to pitch their ideas to actual investors.
With their Indiegogo campaign, the KosherDev team managed to raise a little under 7,000 US dollars out of their initial 50,000 US dollars goal, and ended up having to bootstrap, investing close to 5,000 euros out of their own pockets.
But overall “the crowdfunding experience was super interesting and educational,” says Jevgeni. “We did expect to only achieve a small fraction of our goal, due to us not investing in marketing and this being a very niche product with a very specific audience, but at the same time with the investment and results we did achieve we managed to get things going. So I would say that it was a successful campaign, and also that we learned a lot.”
Financially, the app is not generating any profit as the developers want to keep it ad-free for the time being. But there are discussions about potentially allowing ads as of next year, as well as developing premium (paid) features that would generate revenue.
They are also planning to expand the sharing functionality of the app to allow for the sharing of location and price of the products with friends through Facebook and Twitter, as well as the option to download the database so the app can be used offline anywhere in the world.
The app currently counts 10,000 registered users. Photo credit: http://on.fb.me/1mmCWd2Next up: Is it vegan?
The road so far has not been without challenges, Jevgeni assures us, ranging from finding the time to develop the app, through their funding limitations, to unwillingness to collaborate on behalf of certain certification houses.
“Some challenges were foreseen and tackled right from the start, like data collection issues. But most were (and still are) unforeseen and so they are being handled on the fly by just putting our minds together and trying to work out the best option to proceed,” he explains.
And with the app catching on quickly, it was only a matter of time until they realized that they could start serving other markets of people with dietary restrictions, be it by choice or due to medical reasons. The team is already testing their Is it Gluten Free? app on some platforms, while their project Is it vegan? is next in line to launch. And they will even continue to rely on similar funding methods, says Jevgeni: “We’ll use crowdfunding again, but are actually considering running a Jewish only type of crowdfunding campaign, just to see if there will be any difference in results.”
Coming back to Is it Kosher?, the current goal is to reach 1,000 unique users a day and perhaps get a bigger partner to help take the project further. “We don’t really want to tell you more just yet,” Jevgeni jokingly says, “because we don’t want to jinx the process.”