How Healthy Are the Products You Buy?
Julie Chapon’s app Yuka can give you surprising insight.
Yuka - Food & Cosmetic scanner
Find and eat healthy products
‣ Company: Yuca SAS
‣ Founders: Julie Chapon, Benoît Martin, and François Martin
‣ Mission: To help consumers around the world make healthier choices
‣ App launched: 2017
‣ Team size: 11
‣ Go-to emoji: 🥕
These days, even the most health-conscious consumer can be intimidated by labels, nutritional charts, and ingredient lists. Does that shampoo contain allergens or endocrine disruptors? Is this drink too sugary?
Yuka can provide those answers. Scan a product’s barcode and the app will flag irritants, carcinogens, and more.
The app was created by brothers François and Benoît Martin and Julie Chapon, the latter of whom made a career change after years in the business world, she says. “With Yuka, I wanted to dedicate my energy to a project that aimed to have a positive impact on society.”
Yuka has certainly done that: Chapon and team expected to hit 10,000 users in the first year; instead they hit a million. Today, the app has more than 27 million users worldwide who browse its database of 1.5 million food items and half a million beauty products. (To keep its analyses and recommendations objective, Yuka is independently funded.)
We talked to Chapon about hackathons, marketing tricks, and how to learn new skills on the fly.
What was your aha moment?
In February 2016, right after Benoît had the idea for Yuka, we took part in a startup competition called the Food Hackathon. We spent an entire weekend developing the concept and—to our great surprise—won first place. That convinced us that this idea filled a real need.
What’s the most important lesson you learned while building the app?
We learned we can do anything by ourselves—and that doing so can be more efficient than calling on professionals. Benoît had never coded before; he learned how at the age of 34. I’d never worked in communications before; now I’m in charge of communications for the app. Not having money forced us to be inventive.
What was your biggest challenge?
Spreading the word without press contacts or financing. We proceeded in a very manual, personalized way. We looked for journalists writing on food or health, then sent emails that mentioned their previous articles. That helped us find our first coverage in the press.
What apps and tools were instrumental in developing the app?
Machine learning was key. When a user scans a product that we don’t recognize, we let them add it to our database. To do so, we implemented machine learning to automatically pre-fill nutritional tables and ingredient lists, and to suggest the best categories. This helped our database grow quickly. Machine learning also helps when we launch in a new country, because our database can quickly reach a satisfying size.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
People are often intimidated about trying something new because they don’t feel capable, but the skills you have aren’t always that important when building a project. What matters most is motivation and the desire to learn.
Yuca SAS is a part of the App Store Small Business Program. If you are a developer and would like to learn more about the program, follow the link below.