My favourite food-ordering app,
We need to talk. You know I’ve always been your number one fan but lately our relationship is turning sour. At first I kept quiet in the hopes that you would change and that you’d allow room for both of us to grow together. But, clearly I was wrong.
I remember the dizzying moments of happiness when we both got together the first time. We both were startups, convinced that if we put together your mobile app and my delicious food we could change the world, one delicious plate of food at a time. I fell in love with the idea that people across the city could order my food through your app and you seduced me with any chef’s ultimate dream – people happily eating my food day after day.
Looking back, I realise the first red flag was when we signed our agreement. You slipped in a clause demanding that I be in an exclusive relationship with you, when as startups we both should really be okay with the other playing the field. Healthy competition never hurt anyone, after all. Yet, while I stayed exclusive despite losing out on several other opportunities, the same rule didn’t seem to apply to you – you went from having one vendor that sold salads to having almost ten. I was lucky that my food is quite specialised but hey, what’s with the double standards?
Regardless, when you raised your big round of funding, I was ecstatic. I showed the articles to my family knowing that surely this would be the turning point. And it was.
You requested that I lower my prices even more. The reason? You wanted to feed the masses and the only way that you could continue to offer the crazy discounts you did was, if I sold my gourmet food to you at the bulk rates my local street food caterer does.
You knew this would be a kick in my stomach. I couldn’t possibly change the quality of ingredients I use – my brand was at stake – but further lowering my prices meant that I would only earn a meager ₹10 – 20 per portion. I salute you though – you sure knew how to keep me reeled in. Your executive sitting in his rocking massage chair at your swanky new office promised me on the phone while I cooked yet another sad order of five plates that the situation would improve. You were expanding and soon the orders of 25+ plates would roll in.
And so, I ignored the fact that I had only earned ₹100 after toiling in the kitchen for 2 hours and waited. It’s been six months and I am still waiting.
Even crazier is the recent call I got updating me on your newest policies. Forget about increased orders, you’re now apparently on a ‘wastage reduction’ model and will not only be giving me even fewer orders, but you also will only pay me 40% for unsold inventory. Of course, you once again want me to review my prices. And, when I protest that doing so would mean I hardly even cover my food costs, you tell me this is how it is – take it, or leave it.
The real reason this relationship is turning toxic is because you keep expecting me to carry the burden of your mistakes. Why must I not be paid for food you were unable sell despite having a flashy “business intelligence system”, when that is the sole reason I work with you. And, why must I spend hours on follow up calls and paperwork to comply with the latest policy you’re experimenting with.
Sure, I may just be a home-chef and not in the big leagues like you are. But, I need to survive too. And, while you burn through your investors’ cash, I am actually burning through savings I’ve worked hard to build trying to keep up with your arm-twisting tactics.
Weird as this sounds, I am still rooting for you to change. I still believe in our dream to change the world, one delicious plate of food at a time. The question is, do you?
A Heart-broken Home-Chef
Disclaimer: This letter is not addressed to any particular food ordering aggregator in the market but to all companies following this model. It has been written with the intention to highlight how the vendor providing the food – arguably the most important component of the business offering – is being marginalized. It is my hope that survival of the home-chefs will also be taken into consideration as these companies grow.
Kshitij Shah says
Brilliantly written Perzen. The Food Tech space is going to get murkier and more challenging. I only hope these companies understand that all stake holders need to be able to make a living and slow sustainable growth is better than nothing.
Ankit Shah says
Wonderfully written Perzen. I can so relate to this nightmare. These aggregators do not understand that it should be a give and take rather a squeeze your vendor model. I hope this article reaches the correct set of people and they stop taking us for granted.
Good point well made. Glad you wrote this. Despite my (well meaning but misplaced) advice. You go, girl!
Damn well said Perzen. Its sad to see that these companies with their ‘bottom line only’ policies and no real idea about ground reality lure young aspiring entrepreneurs into these downward spiralling traps.
You love what you do, it isnt just a ‘business’ – they’ll never get that, they have no passion apart from the bottom line.
Go for it on your own girl and you’ll make it on your own strengths 🙂
Perzen PATEL says
Thank you so much for your support Kurush! I was once asked to sell them a Paneer dish for ₹50 when Paneer itself costs like 300/kilo. When I told them that it was unfeasible to serve 5 pieces of paneer in that price they said, just put one na, who will notice. But it’s my brand on the line if customers don’t like the dish and not the platform so it’s a catch 22 situation. I just don’t want to see other budding entrepreneurs getting conned into this trap and hence I wrote about this.
Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us. This was really an interesting article. I especially liked it because I am planning to start an online food ordering business and I believe in ethical conduct in whatever I do (similar to what you mentioned here). The only thing I feel missing from this article is the name of the app you were dealing with.
Anyways, here are my thoughts:
We can look at this from three sides
1. The App Business
2. The Partners (Restaurant’s or Chef’s)
3. The Customers
But before going into that, everyone here would agree that technology is/will be a core part of our daily life. We have to be connected with it in some or the other way. Doesn’t matter if you are a businessman, working, networking or anything else, to grow in today’s competitive market, we have to be connected.
Now, coming back to food business, if we have Lac’s of rupees to invest, we could probably buy a physical restaurant and give some time to build reputation leading to relative earnings. If we don’t, we either have to go for other business/job or would have to start by going online (virtual store at almost zero investment). And as we all know, kickoff is one of the most important part of any business. Virtual platform does exactly that!. It helps understand market, product and customer at relatively low investment which is very important to kickoff. In our case, this works both ways for business (having a virtual platform for Restaurant) and for Restaurant (having a virtual store on that platform for customer).
The only place where things get messy is when individuals involved in a business partnership have different interests/motives/goals. And unless you interact, it’s really difficult to truly understand each other. It takes time and experience to know what drives an individual.
Coming back to the three sides:
– The Customers:
I believe online platform is the best way in which customers get more options. Online store needs less resources and food can cost less if the process is optimized. This is also the way where customers can put their reviews for other customers to benefit.
– The Partners (Restaurant’s or Chef’s):
For partners, online platform give small Restaurant’s/Chef’s an opportunity to present their dish to wide variety of customers (independent of their physical location). Apart from revenue, customer reviews about their dish is one of the most valuable thing that Restaurant’s/Chief’s get from online platform.
– The App business:
Most app business start small by small people (this includes me). Initial model has lots of issues which are resolved as the business grows. But online platform is the best way we can connect business and customers at low investment.
Finally, I would conclude with this:
Experience is needed for both Businesses and Restaurant’s/Chef’s to develop. The trade off of having low investment in virtual platform is that it would increase competition and both side would have to figure out ways to stand out from the crowd. They have to choose from cost, quality or brand to gain more business. Some may choose shortcuts deceiving customers (like your Paneer case) others may provide discounts using big investor pockets and few of them would be able to accomplish this with quality food alone. Whatever they chose, there future will be decided by the customers.
So, I believe what you did in your case was perfectly correct. You were more on providing quality food to the customers than just running a business. But you should also look at other side, may be the person who interacted with you regarding the Paneer case was a sales person who had pressure from top or may be it was individual’s view or may be the whole business model was itself ruined by greedy investors/founders. Whatever the case, we can’t just pin point the whole thing on “online food ordering apps” technology. This is the reason I said you have the app name missing :).
Being a new guy in this business, I would personally like to get in touch with you to get more detail on how was your experience, how did you start, what are the real problems you think the app’s should focus on to provide a good customer service and many more…. Also, I am just starting up and would really love to have ethical persons like you to be a part of the journey.
So if possible, please do drop me a message nitin1518 @ gmail com. I would really appreciate your time :).
PS: I am not a good writer, so please excuse me for my typo and other mistakes if any.
Perzen PATEL says
Hi Nitin, you can reach me on [email protected] and I’d be happy to schedule a Skype call or meeting to share my thoughts. The article is representative of the rules within the ecosystem and is not about one specific app. I don’t believe in naming and shaming and hence I’ve not named anyone but these are standards set by all the major players within this industry at this point.
Shehzad irani says
A customer base is built on trust, as Howard Schultz puts it, one cup at a time, (or in your case one patra ni macchi at a time). Don’t be fooled that you can get away with one paneer in a plate, the customer knows… s/he always knows. no matter what they say (or do) don’t change your ethos, bawas built their brand on quality, trust and consistency. If it’s not that it ain’t bawa. When you come to the end of the book, you shut it. It’s time to write another story. Life’s too short to be spent on pencil pushers with no passion, credibility or faith in those who make money for them. Just my two bit.
Perzen PATEL says
Thank you so much for the positive comments. Agreed with you – book is shut on this chapter now 🙂
You know, a take-away joint linked to a food ordering app once told us what echoes your paneer experience and asked us to order directly or they were forced to cut portions or reduce quantities of the main protein. I would rather pay more and get a proper dish than have chefs forced to compromise. As it is I ignore all discounted items/restaurants offering so much percent off. I mean, how could they? Businesses don’t give you anything for nothing. It’s a shame to reel people in and slice away their essential value. I support your views in this article a hundred percent.