Picky eaters: how one app is spotlighting sustainable and ethical venues
This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try out new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, click here.
Natasha Zone is the CEO and founder of onezone, a “curated discovery app”, which puts together lists of the best bars and restaurants in different major cities across the globe. Increasingly, the 30-year-old entrepreneur says: “Young people care about where they are spending their money and what kind of brands and businesses they are supporting.”
Indeed, environmental and social governance (ESG) credentials have become a key consideration for consumers. A survey by YouGov found that 69% of gen Z consumers in the UK would be willing to pay more for food and drink products that are environmentally friendly, compared with 53% of baby boomers. A global survey of millennials and gen Z by Glassdoor, meanwhile, found that 76% feel that a diverse workforce is an important factor when shaping their opinion of a company.
In a bid to capture this market, the onezone app allows users to filter businesses according to a range of ESG criteria, such as the sustainability of their supply chain and the ethnic or gender make-up of their leadership teams.
There is in-app reservation functionality for “onezone-approved” venues, Zone explains. “Our users can do everything in one place. The idea is to make it easier to organise your discovery from start to finish, from research to booking, all in one go.”
The app is available only on Apple’s iOS, but it has achieved more than 135,000 downloads since launching in April 2021. An Android version of the app, Zone says, is due for release this year.
Investors in onezone, which now employs a team of eight, include Lord Waheed Alli, the former chairman of Asos, and Clerkenwell Boy, one of London’s largest food and hospitality social media influencers. At the time of writing, the app is available to use in London, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin and Barcelona, but the aim is for it to be a worldwide proposition.
A filter for quality
Zone, who studied politics and philosophy at the London School of Economics, previously worked for private family offices, designing itineraries across hospitality and travel for a range of clients.
Where open-forum aggregators such as Google or Tripadvisor run the risk of allowing negative reviews to “distract from the information you’re looking for”, Zone reflects, her app aimed to do the job of separating the wheat from the chaff. “We’ve done the hard work, so users don’t have to,” she claims.
“Most people tend to only write a restaurant review if they’ve had a negative experience. If they had a great dining experience, on the other hand, they’re likely to thank the staff and perhaps just tell a couple of friends. I think that’s come through for both the consumer not necessarily trusting what they read on those platforms and restaurants not wanting to be on them.”
Guided by the “pillars of diversity and convenience”, Zone wants onezone to be the go-to guide for where to eat and drink. “It’s not like some of the seasonal media round-ups you might see,” she says. “We’re constantly updating, changing and pointing out the places and people with interesting causes and stories.”
Zone says onezone has a team of “expert curators”, with an “instinct for quality”. She admits that onezone users must take a leap of faith and “trust” her team’s judgements on which venues warrant their billing as the best in their cities, but is confident that those judgements will be proven right. The app also allows users to make suggestions and give feedback, she points out, which she and her team review regularly.
What happens in the event of a user having a negative experience with a onezone-listed venue? And what if a onezone-listed venue suddenly did something that misaligned with the core values of the app? “We would review every situation individually,” Zone says. “You can’t guard against someone, somewhere, at some point, perhaps not having the best time. That’s just a natural risk of going out. We’d need to see if there was a trend of this happening at the same place, though. If a company did something that misaligned with our value system, we would remove them from the app. We’ve done it before. If a company fails to meet our standards [for behaviour, social responsibility or inclusive practices] then it’s gone.”
People have a right to be selective
A basic version of onezone is free to use, but users can upgrade to the premium version for £3.99 a month. Premium subscribers can redeem a range of perks, including free dishes and drinks, at many of the onezone venues. Zone points out: “If you redeem one cocktail, you’ve already more than made your money back.”
Nevertheless, it seems curious, particularly within the context of the cost-of-living crisis, that young people would be so willing to sign up for a subscription of advice on where to go out. “People have a finite amount of money,” Zone says. “I don’t think they necessarily see it as paying for the advice but rather paying for peace of mind. People might not be going out as much as they used to, so, when they do, they want to be sure that where they’re going is excellent. People are considered and selective now, rather than taking the risk of getting it wrong.”
A woman with ambition
Six of onezone’s eight staff are women, which Zone says was a conscious decision. As a female “technopreneur” she urges more women to “take the leap” and pursue their ideas.
“Too many women probably doubt themselves,” she says. “I’m looking for women to join our board and it’s hard to find them. I don’t meet that many women in the hospitality sector and technology, which is why I am really keen to spotlight them [on the app]. I am determined to have a strong female team and find those mentors and leaders to show the next generation what is possible.”
Zone says that a lack of precedent can make for nervous investors. “It’s not that I think that they [potential business partners] lack faith in women. It’s more that they just don’t see women [in the tech industry] as often. It is really important that we start to normalise that sight,” she adds.
As an ambitious founder, Zone says her “obsession and passion” are key drivers for the business. “The idea is that you should be able to land in any city in the world and the app will have you covered,” she says. “Amsterdam is our next city. We’re hoping to launch our US operation later this year.”
For Zone, a good 2023 “looks like the scale of the onezone community and the company continuing to drive progression via the curated discovery of independent and minority-owned businesses in cities around the world. We are raising £1.5m in funding to do just that.”