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  • Derin Mutlu

Building a student startup during Covid: our journey and lessons learned

Hi there! It’s been a while since we last spoke, so we wanted to re-introduce ourselves and tell you a bit more about what it meant for us to pursue a startup journey while we were still full-time students and under quarantine (miles away from each other) due to Covid-19.


The team at UCL Graduation Ceremony, 2022

If you’ve stuck around long enough by now, you probably know that we are a team of 3, but how that team came together actually goes way back to 2019. Before being business partners, we were classmates but, most importantly, good friends. We came together at lunch breaks, always seeking somewhere new around campus, and essentially built our relationship around shared dining experiences. We found the most exciting ones to be the most authentic and unknown. 5 months went on like this, and then BAM!... The Covid-19 pandemic happened. Campuses shut down, restaurants shut down, we went back to our home countries, and our adventurous lunch breaks turned into us eating home-cooked meals on Zoom.

Okay, enough with the pity party. Fast-forward to February 2021, *covid situation remains the same*. We ended up picking an Entrepreneurship minor with no particular intention of building a startup right away. We came together as a team for our final coursework: identifying a problem worth solving and assessing its potential as an early-stage venture. And just like that, LocalMeal was born.


This post is not about LocalMeal, though, which is why we are skipping the whole “Lisbon” story. Again, if you’ve stuck around enough, you probably already know it (no clue what we’re talking about? visit our first blog post). Instead, we wanted to dedicate this post to our personal journey developing LocalMeal: our struggles, learnings, regrets and motivations. Still here? Let’s go.

We ended up completing our coursework without making any sort of big deal, yet we were proud of the project and had so much fun working together. We not only ended up receiving a first-class grade, but we also received inspiring verbal feedback from our professors and friends, which led us to think:


"Well, we love the idea and think there is potential.”

“Well, some people around us loved the idea too! And they think it has potential.”

“And, we don’t have any internship ready for summer, nor do we have the desire to do any random online work experience.”

“Actually, what do we even have to lose? Worst case scenario – if we epically fail – this is still going to be an invaluable learning experience (probably better than any internship)”

So yes, that is when we truly kickstarted LocalMeal: with an open mindset to take risks, failing fast but failing forward and, most importantly, to learn and grow.


It was DEFINITELY not easy at first, but we made it work. There were so many unknowns, but we chose to learn by doing and figure it out along the way. Communication was a big challenge since we were spread all around the world with huge time differences (shoutout to our co-founder Isabella from Los Angeles). On top of that, being quarantined had already made it extremely difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed, and if we really wanted to do this, we had to be persistent and determined.


Fortunately, we were lucky enough to enjoy each other’s company and were passionate enough about our idea to take ownership of our work. 2021 summer passed, and all of us dedicated at least some sort of work every single day, whether it was market research, creating a pitch deck, defining a product strategy, the list goes on… Sometimes it was just little admin tasks, and sometimes it was long hours of brainstorming, but regardless of what it was, we put in work every single day. Plus, we consistently had weekly catch-ups every Sunday. We were looking forward to being back in London in September and knew the work was going to be even better when we were all together as a team. And it did. As soon as we were all back in London in September, it all escalated. Here is a quick look at our milestones:



With that, we wanted to share with you four of the biggest lessons we’ve learned, which we believe are unique to the fact that (a) we were all students and (b) we had the crazy idea to build a startup about restaurant discovery while all restaurants were closed…


  1. Do it for the experience, and don’t be afraid to fail

  2. Start small but be consistent; it will eventually all come together

  3. Optimism is great, but you also need to be realistic

  4. Teamwork builds trust, and trust builds speed


We can't wait to show you the app that we have been working on for so long. Meanwhile, keep supporting local restaurants and stick around :)


Derin, Noah, and Isabella

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