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Something new is cooking in Split’s startup ecosystem, and we mean figuratively and literally: GammaChef is the new chef in town! This excellent cook, that is not very talkative, prepared lunch for the Split Tech City team one day, and let us tell you – it was delicious!
You might wonder why this chef with great cooking skills lacks social skills so much that we made note of it in our article. Well, because the chef in question is not programmed to talk and socialize, but to cook! (Yes, you’ve read that right!)
We’re not joking with you, the new chef in our city is a robot. While some of you may be appalled by the very idea of a robot cooking for you and wonder how in the world can anything made by a robot taste nice, we ask you to withhold your judgment for a little while and get to know the team behind this innovative idea and learn the story of their startup journey.
It all started when two friends, Dražen Drnas and Đulijano Nola, were having coffee together and were talking about possible problems they could solve using technology and innovation: “We were throwing some ideas around. At the time, the VR glasses were a big thing, so we were considering going that route but dismissed it because we wanted to solve a problem that is more of an ‘everyday issue’. At the same time, we were nearing lunchtime and Dražen expressed the desire to not have to cook lunch when he gets home, but to have it ready when he arrives. And that’s how the robot-chef idea came to be.”
However, there is a long way to go from an idea over coffee to co-founding a startup company: “From the very beginning, we were both driven by our culinary and engineering curiosity, as well as having fun creating something new, but after a year we decided to make a business out of it.” That is how GammaChef came to be back in 2016. “Our idea was to create a robot that can cook any one-pot dish. All a human needs to do is to put in the ingredients and press a button – the robot does the rest!”
During the initial stage, Đulijano and Dražen were tinkering in a garage in order to come up with a functioning prototype. And when we say “tinkering” there truly was absolutely everything you can imagine: from asking a mathematician friend to solve the issue of the stirring pattern to disassembling a Roomba vacuum to use its engine for an early prototype idea and everything in between. They truly were trying to solve everything on their own.
While their families grumbled about all that time they spent in the garage messing with a robot that is supposed to cook like a human chef, the confirmation that they were on the right track came from an unlikely source: “Dražen’s mother in law is very ‘old school’. She couldn’t believe we were attempting to make a robot that will cook and she thought that, even if we do succeed in building one, it will never be able to cook anything palatable. So one day, when we had a working prototype that managed to cook a meal, she came along and we talked her into tasting the dish.
She ate it and then asked for more. That’s when we knew we’re on the right track with our initial idea.”
However, being on the right track with the idea of a robotic chef did not mean the work was done and there were no surprises left in store. The GammaChef team’s initial idea was to market the robots as at-home kitchen appliances. While this idea was accepted with enthusiasm to whichever manufacturer they’ve pitched it to, it would ultimately fail at the marketing point because most of those manufacturers were either afraid that the robot will make their current products redundant or didn’t see the reality of a robot that cooks as something that can realistically happen now and not in fifty years time.
An additional issue with this idea was the high manufacturing costs that would imply a high final product price in the end, making the robot difficult to sell to ordinary homeowners. That’s when the first pivot happened:
“Like any startup company, we also had to adapt to the evolution of our own idea.
Especially when it came to finding a market for it. While we haven’t given up on the idea of possibly having a big enough production of robotic chefs to cover the demands of the market in terms of it someday being a home appliance, realistically we agreed it is not possible at the moment. Therefore, we pivoted in a new direction for the time being.” A valuable lesson in accepting your limits at a certain time and pacing your growth in order to succeed.
The new direction they turned to was restaurants. In collaboration with Podravka, they planned to market the robot as a restaurant appliance. However, that idea wasn’t realized in the end, either. This resulted in a third pivot:
“The ‘failure’ to market the robot as a restaurant appliance, gave us something else – an idea to start our own robotic restaurant franchise.”
Therefore, the GammaChef team is living proof that perceived failure can produce some magnificent new ideas because, without this obstacle on their journey, we wouldn’t have Bots&Pots. (A catchy name, indeed!)
So, you might ask what is this third pivot in the form of Bots&Pots robotic restaurants supposed to look like. The team readily shared their idea, while the robot was stirring our lunch and mixing in the last of the ingredients: “The idea is that you can get your dish cooked by a robot and be able to see it in action.
The previous idea of having it as a restaurant appliance didn’t put any spotlight on the robot itself and we wanted to make it the star of the show, so to speak.
Of course, human chefs will also be present and put the finishing touches on your meal as well as do other things that need to be done – preparing ingredients, cleaning the robot, and making sure everything runs smoothly. However, the robot will do the cooking. The benefit of the robot doing the cooking is that you know exactly when your dish will be ready. With robots, there is no in-between. Things are either 1 or 0 – they are or they aren’t. Humans will teach them recipes, yes; but in their preparation, the robots will be so exact, you will know when your dish will be served down to a second.”
The GammaChef team has already taught the robot how to cook many of the recipes that will be on the Bots&Pots menu. The online ordering platform is also already up and running. They are testing everything on a daily basis and fixing any minor details that still need to be polished before all of you can sample the delicious robot-prepared dishes at the sci-food bistro they plan to open.
“The location has been picked out, the interior is being redesigned and furnished, and we’re working on getting everything ready so Croatia can have its first robotic restaurant soon!”
After enjoying the dish the robot prepared for us, we can definitely say we’re so glad that Dražen and Đulijano’s bubbling pot of ideas came to a boiling point and produced a product and service that are marketable. The first restaurant in the Bots&Pots robotic sci-food bistro franchise is set to open its doors in autumn this year.
We can’t wait to sample more tasty dishes prepared by our robotic chefs and wish the GammaChef team great success in their startup journey!
Photos by: Bruno Dubravec