The World’s Most Ruthless Food Startup: The Inside Story of How HelloFresh Clawed Its Way to the Top

HelloFresh blew past 100 competitors to become the No. 1 meal-kit company on the planet. The German startup is winning–but not by playing nice.

Dominik Richter is not a chef, a gourmand, or a food snob. It’s a Tuesday in March, and the 32-year-old in a hoodie has chosen to lunch at a kale-and-juice joint that could easily make you think you’re in Los Angeles, except it’s in Berlin. But rather than opine over the lactose-free yogurt dressing on the Super Green Detox salad, Richter is stabbing his pumpkin seeds and lettuce as if to establish dominance over the leafy prey.

It’s tough to discern whether Richter, the co-founder and CEO of HelloFresh–known for delivering the ingredients for Instagram-perfect home-cooked meals like Argentinian-Style Cod With Almond Herb Chimichurri and Chicken Thighs in Kimchi Sauce With Asian Pear Slaw, and now the No. 1 meal-kit company on the planet–actually derives any gustatory pleasure from food. „We’re in the business of creating meal solutions for different meal occasions,” he explains, perhaps thinking I’d never before heard of the concept called dinner.

The World’s Most Ruthless Food Startup: The Inside Story of How HelloFresh Clawed Its Way to the Top

Richter doesn’t seem to much care for the social aspect of food, either. He’s not a fan of work coffees or breakfast meetings or this lunch, for instance. He prefers to put his head down and work. „Leading by example,” he says with a German-accented lilt, explaining how he’s managed to become the king of a brutally competitive industry that at its peak had more than 100 contenders. „Being the one that is very structured, very motivated, very hands-on, doing everything that needs to get done.”

It was likely all these qualities that originally c. The German internet mogul was always prowling for future CEOs. He had a type–MBAs from elite European business schools who had done a few years at investment banks or consulting firms, often with a serious athletic streak–and collected them. Richter checked all three boxes: business school at the prestigious London School of Economics and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany (Samwer’s alma mater); a year at Goldman Sachs; a stint as a semiprofessional soccer player in Austria. As one of Samwer’s former executives puts it: „You could have chosen a hundred other guys–same look, same profile.”

Around the time Samwer decided to activate Richter on his latest venture–then under the name Jade 1314–the almost-­billionaire was feeling restless. During the prior four years, he and his brothers had amassed a fortune by copycatting overseas startups, building and selling European versions of eBay, YouTube, Groupon, Facebook, and more. Rocket Internet, their four-year-old flagship company, was a veritable clone incubator, having staffed and funded more than two dozen startups. (See below.) Yet even as his net worth swelled, Samwer was no longer content to just plunder market share from the innovators. He wanted to own entire categories.

„The time for blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely,” he wrote in an email to managers of Home24, one of his clone companies that sold furniture online. „Each country tells me with blood when it is time. I am ready–anytime!” E-commerce was a winner-take-all game, Samwer believed, Cedar Rapids escort sites and time was running out. Dominant players were the only survivors; losers were forgotten. Rocket entrepreneurs must be willing to „die to win.” „If i see that you are wasting my money, that you are not german detail oriented, that you are not fast, that you are not aggressive, that you are not data driven . then i get angry and do like in russia” (sic), he wrote, referencing his decision to strip Home24 managers there of their pay and equity. (After the email went public, Samwer apologized „to anyone who might have been offended” by its language or tone.)