Cilantro is disrupting the F&B industry


Gian Saratz wants to make it easier for restaurants to thrive in a climate of intense competition. The F&B mortality rate is astonishingly high with approximately 40% of businesses shuttering their doors within the first 18 months.

To help restaurants expand their reach and improve their interactions with their customers, Gian and his team have created a user-friendly Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) called Cilantro. Using this solution, every restaurant can setup online ordering channels for their customers to place orders directly with the restaurant. Gian explains that Cilantro is a simple end-to-end solution for restaurants, like what Shopify is for e-commerce.

You might ask: what makes Cilantro different from delivery sites such as Food Panda? The difference is that most delivery websites are restaurant aggregators and, typically, take a high commission from every order. With Cilantro, however, the restaurant owns their online platform and maintains a direct relationship with the customer. With a flat subscription fee, restaurants can use Cilantro to manage their in-house dining, operate take-outs and deliveries, and engage their customers using communication and marketing automation tools, based on useful customer analytics.

Who are your top 10 customers? When do they love to eat at your restaurant? What parts of the city do they live in? Cilantro will tell you. And then, Cilantro will give you access to a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool so that you can use this data to create clever promotional campaigns, vouchers, newsletters, and loyalty programs.

In summary, Gian says, “Cilantro empowers small restaurants and restaurant chains to capture customers while providing data analytics and marketing.” Typical CRM systems can cost a hefty $20,000 to $30,000 to set up, because they require complex integration. Needless to say, this price is prohibitive for a small restaurant. Now, they can use Cilantro for a fixed monthly fee of $250, regardless of the number of hits and transactions.

Gian is steering steadily toward strong market traction, and his strategy is to target restaurants that are small, but run at least a few outlets, in order to gain a higher usage yield per volume of sales.


Cilantro launched with some angel capital contributed by his network of friends, and he is currently looking to raise a larger Seed Round to establish their market presence and improve the product. With at least four new restaurants signing up for Cilantro every week, he is paying close attention to the needs of their customers, and relentlessly sharpening their product. “We put customer requirements in the center of everything we do to understand them crystal clearly.”

What kind of investors does he want for the upcoming seed Round? “If I had a wish list,” he says, “We would work with investors who have been in the F&B space or who are familiar with SaaS business models, and who have access to later rounds of fundraising. It is important to work with people with relevant industry experience. We are looking for smart money.”


The worldwide spirit of INSEAD is exemplified in this multinational venture. Gian hails from the cool mountainous land of Switzerland, but he lives in tropical Singapore. His co-founder is based in Berlin running the product development, and their sales executive is hustling in the densely populated city of Hong Kong. Together, the Cilantro team is serving local as well as global markets.


Attracting talented people is a tug of war that is close to the heart of every founder. How does Gian find talented people for Cilantro? He explains: “Cultural fit is very important. For me, cultural fit and attitude is more important than skills or experience. We have a set of values in our organization, and we do not compromise on these values.”

For example, the team does not abide to a hierarchy at this stage. “We do not have bosses or managers. I simply coach them on the basics, and point out the direction they need to go and clarify the objectives.” The courage to experiment with boundaries is important. “I create an environment where everyone can make mistakes, learn and grow.”

Not everyone can handle the ups and downs of a startup, and Gian is attuned to keeping up their morale and motivation. “In the beginning, it is very exciting for the employee. You have to keep this energy going even though there will invariably be frustrations and set-backs along the way.”

Ultimately, as a founder, “you have to explain your dream, and why you believe in the vision.” This unwavering conviction is the beacon not only for his team, but for all his stakeholders.


Gian has a fascinating background that combines the deep thinking of academia with the street savviness of business. He easily speaks five languages: English, French, German, Mandarin, and Romansh. His education packs in Biomedical Engineering at Harvard Medical School, Mechanical Engineering at ETH Zurich, and MBA from INSEAD. And, most importantly, he is no stranger to the F&B industry with a strong track of businesses under his lead, including the creation and development of the leading health-food delivery concept in Shanghai and his role as CEO of The Zest Group that has a prominent presence in Singapore.

Cilantro was triggered by Gian’s itch to solve a prominent pain point in the F&B sector, bolstered by his business acumen in detecting huge market potential. “Restaurant operators are usually not tech savvy, and they are very, very busy. So, we built a product that is simple and will make their lives easier.”

Gian is in this business for the long-haul, and you are invited to come aboard this gastronomic journey on the Cilantro website: or contact Gian directly if you want to get in touch:

Author: Nazish Zafar is a PhD Sociologist who did her dissertation research on the small business economy. She writes about cool and interesting entrepreneurs from the INSEAD community for the dedicated global venture booster  Interested in getting interviewed for a feature? Drop us a note at

2017-08-20T15:19:17+00:00 January 15th, 2017|Stories|