How to Sell in an Overcrowded Market?

No entrepreneur would ever get into a ‘Me Too’ situation because being the first in the market with a product or a service is almost like the Holy Grail for any start-up. But in the food tech industry, there are enough apps to order food, choose wisely, stay fit, and so on. Enough to confuse you. Result? There are just a few who survive to rule the food app roost.

Sandeepan Mitra

Sandipan Mitra

“We saw that while there were several food aggregators who could satisfy customers’ hunger needs, there was still an unattended area – corporate canteens” – Sandipan Mitra

So, if you cannot be a Swiggy or a Zomato what do you do? A smart guy will sniff out the gaps even in an overcrowded, highly competitive market and carve out a niche for himself. Like Sandipan Mitra and Uttam Kumar of Hunger Box did.

Says Sandipan, “we saw that while there were several food aggregators who could satisfy customers’ hunger needs, there was an unattended area- corporate canteens.” Read on to know what it takes to be successful in a highly-populated marketplace.

Sandipan had some experience in the food-tech industry – he had built India’s first food ordering app JustEat which was bought over by Foodpanda. Says he, “there are enough apps for food in the B2C space but B2B has been ignored. We realized that here lay the opportunity. Technology was helping people book tickets, and buy food, but nothing could ensure that the food being served in offices was safe to eat. The responsibility of a caterer ended with an FSSAI license.

“The pandemic hit our business badly. But now slowly things are beginning to look up. We are at almost 70% of our pre-pandemic numbers and hope to cross it by June.” – Sandipan Mitra

“So, we thought, how does a corporate body ensure that the food is prepared hygienically, is stored and served properly so it doesn’t go bad? Yes, there is the FSSAI, however, we felt that we could use technology to give institutions much more from their cafeterias.”

The Beginning:

In 2016, Sandipan began by doing a small survey. “We asked a few admin managers of large companies what was it that they wanted from their catering service. In addition, we also asked the employees what they needed. And it was indeed a surprise to know that food was the second most important issue for employees after transport. In fact, companies looked at it as a tool to keep their people engaged. Employees wanted more choice, safe food, ease of payment, and so on.”

With these parameters, they set out to design an app that would serve not just the company but also the employees and the vendors as well. “Our app helps employees place an order, pay online, and cuts off the wait-in-queue for your food tray. Additionally, it also enables them to rate the food. For the vendors, there are several checks, and kitchen audits, to ensure the food is cooked hygienically, stored properly, and served well. In addition to that, it can also predict how many plates of biryani will be needed on a Friday? For the corporate body, they get to know what it is that employees want, how much is being wasted, and so on.”

Hunger Box went live on Sept 24, 2016, with one client. “By December that year, we knew what corrections needed to be done. For example, one very important issue was when the internet was down. We could not afford to crash because of that. We knew that if we worked perfectly at one site then we would succeed everywhere.”

By early 2020, Hungerbox had 126 clients and managed over 550 cafeterias across 18 cities, serving 5,50,000 orders a day. But Covid came and threw in a spanner. These numbers took a beating. Says Sandipan, “Now slowly things are beginning to look up. We are now at 70% of our pre-pandemic numbers, serving about 3,50,000 orders a day. Though I must add that our client base has grown as we now have 150 clients and close to 700 cafeterias spread in 24 cities. I think by June we should cross our pre-pandemic levels of 5.5 Lakh orders.”

Moral of the story? Even if you cannot be the first you can still be a winner if you look in the right direction and carve out a market for yourself.

 Contact us if you have a story to tell: rashmi.ghosh@tiepune.org

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