Genie(us): We spoke to the founder of Cambridge’s first snack and drink delivery service

We spoke to the face behind the yellow Bike seat cover

Let me start out by painting the scene. It’s 11pm, you’re hungry (despite having had a good portion- sized dinner), in fact, you’re not just hungry, you’re ravenous and the constant alarming, gurgling noises creeping from your stomach are not helping the situation. You sneak out into the kitchen in search of a snack to satisfy those needs. You open your cupboard. Empty. “Typical”, you think, whilst proceeding to look in your neighbour’s cupboard to see if you can steal a little something with the hope of them not noticing.

You sulk back to the room, but you are not going to be conquered in this situation. For everyone that has been in this predicament (myself included), I am very sorry for how deflating this has felt. However, fear not! Who you gonna call? Genie!

Same old, same old (image credit: Úna McGeough)

It is ironic that the night I chose to write this article, I had fallen the victim, yet again, of an empty snack cupboard on what was looking like a potentially chill Friday night. It was about midnight when the desire to shake out an assortment of snacks, and form them into a food platter just seemed like the best idea I ever had. Of course, much to my disappointment, I wasn’t prepared enough to have actually purchased any of these necessities.

However, in the darkness of it all, my housemates lit up the room with a lightbulb that sprung on top of their heads. “Guys, why don’t we try the Genie app? Plus, our friend has a discount code we can use!” It was a true game- changer that night, and from then on, I vowed to make everyone aware of the Genie app and how it could transform people’s lives- from 6pm right the way through to 2am (I promise this isn’t sponsored!)

Whatever the situation genie has got you covered ! (Photo credits: Tim Chan)

I spoke to one of the co-founders behind the bike seat covers you’ve seen all over Cambridge, Tim Chan, to find out more about Genie and what starting up a business as a young entrepreneur entails:

“We built Genie from scratch in two months”

If you thought Genie came out of nowhere, you’re not wrong! Tim told me that they “built Genie from scratch in two months”  after starting with “some ideas on a whiteboard in July.”  The incentive began over lockdown, as Tim recalled what it was like to be in a student´s shoes and “how limited the options were late at night as a student in Cambridge.” It is especially worse now with Sainsbury’s closing at 10pm and Tim reminded us how it feels “when you’re four weeks in and deep into your overdraft, Deliveroo’s a luxury that you just can’t afford.”

While we were busy facetiming our friends for weekly goss, Tim had been “talking to some other alumni from Cambridge”. They had seen a start-up company with a similar idea in the US and he said “we thought ‘why the hell do we not have this solution in the UK? So we built it!”

In mid-August they committed to turn the dream into reality and he says “straight away we were in a race against time to launch for the start of term. From then it’s been non-stop work every day.” There was certainly lots of work going on behind the scenes, with the team having to arrange a multitude of tasks, from building the app, to finding a partner to sell alcohol and finally beginning to make themselves known- all before term started. And here was me stressing about my summer reading list and never actually doing it!

“it was a natural place for us to start”

Some REFRESHING pics (image credit: Tim Chan)

Tim told me that Cambridge was “a natural place” for Genie to start, having recently graduated from the University. He tells me this has been a benefit to the business since it means “we know the students, we know the colleges, and we know exactly how difficult it is to get things past 10pm!”

Genie’s oath to all students is that delivery takes 15 minutes, and there are no empty promises here since they are based in central Cambridge. He tells me that in their warehouse “we have two rooms for storage: one containing dry snacks on shelves, and the other with fridges and freezers containing soft drinks, milk, cheese, ice cream, frozen foods etc.” but due to high demand he says “we’ll definitely need to move to a bigger location soon.

A down-side to this, however, is that unfortunately, some out-of-the-way colleges are not currently covered by Genie’s delivery radius – sorry once again Homerton and Girton! However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with Tim telling me that Genie is planning to expand their services to these colleges next term.

“We’re essentially trying to be that friend who does the run to the shops for you” 

I´m telling you, this stuff is LITERALLY accessible- even during isolation! (image credit: Tim Chan)

One of the company’s key priorities was that community spirit was to circulate around students. Tim told me “When we were thinking about Genie and what we want to stand for, we didn’t want to be a distant company like Deliveroo or UberEats, but really, we’re just like our customers.” Not only are the co-founders recent students “but many of our riders are students”. He says that this means that “in every step of the delivery process, we have that connection and understanding.”

The priority here really is on friendly, speedy and efficient service, with Tim telling me that “we’re essentially trying to be that friend who does the run to the shops for you.” Tim described his riders as “amazing”, commenting that “using students as riders has also helped to give Genie an edge over other delivery services, with riders and student ambassadors having in-depth knowledge of the colleges and being able to make speedy deliveries via shortcuts, “including all the weird side gates”  and, let’s be honest, is there anything worse than waiting for a takeaway only to realise they’ve gone to the wrong side of college and its up to you to chase them down!

Genie has also been keen to use student ambassadors to spread the word in the college, with Tim telling me he’s really keen “to create a community where we get direct feedback from students and know exactly what students want.”  and says that it’s been a great way to spread the word within colleges and entails students’ needs. 

“We’re now looking to expand”

Getting that contactless, covid-secure delivery! (image credit: Tim Chan)

Whilst the pandemic hopefully won’t last forever, Tim hopes that this Genie- in- a- bottle service will be sticking for good. He tells me that “when we launched, we really didn’t have much time to think about [future plans] because there were about a million things to do in a day.” However, from the reception this term and student feedback they’ve received, he is confident that Genie can continue to grow. He tells me that  “we’re now looking to expand our team and build new sites in other university towns.”

Genie’s post-2020 vision is that students all over the country won´t need to waste time searching for that umbrella if it’s pouring outside and they are in dire need of snacks. The aim is that all we’ll have to worry about now is being subjected to some judgemental looks because we’re walking to meet the driver in our fluffy pyjamas- although admittedly this is what I’d be wearing to the shops anyway!

Indulge in some snacks along with a ‘thank you’ note and a bottle opener to really get the party started (image credit: Tim Chan)

Speaking to Tim has made me realise how much dedication, passion and careful planning has gone into receiving my midnight snacks, and I for one am so glad that we now have a  convenient, affordable and very accessible alternative to stealing form our housemates (and vice- versa), as well as supporting small businesses and local initiatives – and where else would you get a personalised thank you note and bottle-opener from!

Yes, with Cindies now laid to rest *sniffles* and covid creeping out after 10pm *stops sniffling in case people think we have covid*, things might not be the same, but at least Genie is here to make our lives easier with some supplies to bring that household party indoors.

If you would like to get more information about Genie, simply go onto their website, look up their Instagram, or just download their app and get those orders placed!

Cover image credit: Tim Chan

This article has not been sponsored by Genie.