The Italians, fairly or unfairly, are not renowned for their organisational skills – unlike the Germans. Yet Ploonge, the social network for foodies, has chosen Berlin as its first foreign venture to teach the city a thing or two about planning a meal. It’s a decision based on the city’s international flavour, and the reputation of the startup scene and its investors.
Aimed primarily at students and young professionals, users can see friends’ upcoming culinary events on the platform, be they in restaurants, bars, or at home. If it’s not a free event, you then pay up front for food and drink, recieiving a printable voucher to take along.
While it understandably has echoes of Groupon, it’s not the same business model. For the events that cost, users don’t always get a discount – rather, Ploonge instead markets itself as being a great way to meet new people, socialise, and eat good food. To avoid awkward evenings, users can only connect with people on the platform who they have met in person before.
Founded by Geo Bertolini, the model has spread to a dozen cities in Italy after launching in May and has received €300,000 from an undisclosed investor. With only 1,500 users back home, an overseas move might be construed as a bold move, but it’s a reflection of Ploonge’s European ambitions and the attractiveness of Berlin.
Giuseppe Colucci, head of operations in the city, said: “We decided to export the product here because we thought it would be the most receptive place in Europe – what with the startup scene, the tech knowhow and the investors.” They launched in Berlin in late September, using the StartuPizza event at Social Media Week to gain publicity.
Since then, however, they have struggled to find restaurants to sign up. Having only just stepped off the plane, this might become easier if Ploonge’s profile gets bigger. Yet for starters, the commission is potentially discouraging – Ploonge charges 20 percent commission on a house meal or supper club and 15 percent on a restaurant. This does fall to five per cent after the first event, yet it might be enough to turn off businesses who don’t know the concept will be a success.
For the user Ploonge does allow for an element of spontaneity, seeing friends’ events last minute and signing up, but in truth you don’t need a platform to organise a meal out with pals. Giuseppe acknowledged this, but said: ”At the moment you don’t think it’s necessary to have Ploonge, but it will become a necessity. The attractive thing is we want to to take people from their computers and make them interact properly – through the medium of food and drink.”
By that token, then, Ploonge is a genuinely social network, which focuses on real life interaction, as well as meeting new people face to face. Giuseppe is hopeful members of the various expat communities in Berlin will use the site too, as a means to source out food from home.
So far here it’s early days with only 150 members. The team are revamping the website to provide for different niches of people – such as vegans – and a mobile app for Android and iPhone is due in November. Ploonge is also recruiting well-connected city ambassadors to help build some momentum and expand their user and restaurant base.