International investors back Flipdish as Irish VCs miss out

Company founded by brothers Conor and James McCarthy hits $1.25bn valuation

The State is getting better at producing tech companies that can scale quickly, as the latest investment in Flipdish shows. The digital food-ordering platform, which was founded by brothers Conor and James McCarthy in 2015, has just achieved so-called "unicorn" status after hitting a $1 billion (€871,920)-plus valuation. Not bad for a company that was valued at $25 million just over three years ago.

Flipdish becomes the fifth official home-grown tech company to receive the unicorn accolade, although there are rumours that some more publicity-averse companies may have also previously hit that milestone. With Stripe, the most valuable privately-owned company in Silicon Valley also now co-headquartered in Dublin, it seems as though Ireland is currently a hotbed of entrepreneurial tech talent.

What is also impressive is the kind of backer lining up to invest in Irish companies. Chinese conglomerate Tencent, owner of the hugely popular messaging platform WeChat, has rolled in behind the company in the latest investment. It has previously backed the likes of Uber and Tesla. US investment firm Tiger Global, another backer, has a portfolio that includes Stripe, Peleton, LinkedIn, Facebook and Airbnb.



The McCarthys, who are now multimillionaires on paper following this funding round, showed their entrepreneurial nous long before they got the idea for Flipdish. Conor, who turned 40 last year, previously designed successful online poker games, while James (37) found success with ecommerce business, which sells in more than 40 countries.

Conor came up with the idea for Flipdish after experiencing at first hand just how difficult it was to order a takeaway online. But while the company had a smart proposition it also faced stiff competition, with the likes of Just Eat holding sway. Competition has tightened since then with the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats entering the market.

But Flipdish’s proposition, which allows restaurants to have more control over their deliveries and costs less than competitors, has won favour at a time when takeaways have never been so popular. Moves into areas such as digital ordering kiosks, which may have seemed a high risk at the time, now look prescient in an era when Covid still dominates.

Other shareholders

Despite a dilution of stock, the McCarthys are believed to still own a sizeable chunk of the business. The new investment is obviously good news for them, but other shareholders also gain. Angel investor Gianni Matera is one such backer. The Italian invested at seed stage through his investment vehicle Growing Capital in partnership with the European Angel Fund Ireland.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Matera said the company’s success provides strong evidence of a thriving tech ecosystem.

Alan Merriman, co-founder of Elkstone, an Irish multifamily office operating in wealth management, venture capital and real estate, was another early backer of Flipdish.

“I saw there was a huge opportunity in the marketplace and I thought the guys could get there with the proposition they had ... I wasn’t thinking at that stage in unicorn terms but the Covid crisis has accelerated things substantially,” he said.

Mr Merriman said it was disappointing that no established Irish venture capital firms or institutional investors directly invested at Seed or Series A level in either Flipdish or LetsGetChecked, another Irish unicorn that Elkstone has backed.

“Both companies tried very hard to get Irish money but were unsuccessful. This is a pity because the more Irish companies there are backed by Irish people, the more everybody benefits,” he added.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist