Serving Scientifically Designed Meals to Patrons
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When passion meets profession – an idea is born with a vision to create difference.Seldom have we come across such inspiring tales of dreamers, who value their passion above all.The purpose of sharing this narrative is to bring forth an unusual entrepreneurial journey of a hardcore finance professional turn Foodpreneur.
Deeply engrossed in data analysis and number crunching day in and day out, Tapan Kumar Das, 40, tend to look at the world through the ‘Return-on-Investment’ perspective.His over a decadeexperience as Chartered Accountant (CA) at leading Finance & Audit firms and Head of Finance at various startupsrenderedhim a deep understanding about complex business operations.
He narrates, “I chose to work for startups to keep my entrepreneurial spirits alive, and have an opportunity to look at risks and ambiguities of a startup more closely. The many years of experience in startups helped me think differently and do things differently. My CA education helped me think how to design and execute business models, which are profitable within 3-4years.”
Before being titled as Flipkart’s first CFO in 2010 followed by a brief stint till 2012 as Advisor with QUA Nutrition – a platform catering to scientifically-designed nutrition and diet needs of sports persons,Dasworked with brands like Indian Terrain, YLG Saloon, and Health & Glow Retail, which further enabled him to adopt a more focused approach towards achieving end results.
Hailing from a small village of Orissa, named Jayapur, Das kept his impetuous zeal alive to start a venture of his ownwith an innate desire to turn his idea into a fruitful business that serves the consumers’ most basic need – food.
In early 2013, Das along with Ryan Fernando, who also runs QUA Nutrition, launched iTiffin in Bengaluru by putting in Rs 10 lakh initially. iTiffin is an online-cum-offline meal ordering and delivery platform, serving scientifically-designed healthy meals prepared by a team of chefs, along with food and nutrition scientists, who vigilantly check food quality and assure harmonious balance of taste and nutrients.
Das dates back his eureka moment way back in the year 2011 when he left Flipkart to work full-time on his dream project. He reminisces, “One afternoon, while having lunch, I was reminded of the healthy and tasty meal I used to savor in my village Jayapur. This was my eureka moment – I thought how great it would be if I could provide a wholesome and nutritious homemade food to people residing in cities, where dual career couples, independent bachelors and spinsters are working in huge numbers.”
Starting from a 3,000 sq ft kitchen space, iTiffin currently operates from a central kitchen of about 10,000 sq ft, with 2 full-time chefs and 5 food and nutrition scientists supporting over 1,000 orders a day along with 15 kitchen staff. iTiffin’s multiple distribution centres serve around 10,000 customers in Bengaluru. Post clocking revenue of around Rs 3 crore in its first year of operation, Das reveals his aggressive plans to hit Rs 100 crore in revenue over the next 3 years.
Overcoming Initial Hitches
Das, also an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus,admits that winning early customers, maintaining food quality to retain them, and raising initial seed funding was difficult; but as time passed, it became easy for him totackle these issues by introducing innovation and variety in the menu to avoid monotony.He soon roped in cricketer Robin Uthappa, who equally believed in his vision.
“Once, while chatting with Uthappa, he cribbed about how he found it difficult to get his food cooked according to his diet plan. Uthappa sounded more than a potential investor to, and the idea of whether Robin could become a partner in launching the business crossed my mind.” Das became friends with Uthappa in 2012 when the cricketer was taking his specific diet consultation from QUA.
He further narrates, “At first, Uthappa thought I was talking about scientifically cooked diet food for sports people. However I explained him that the market size is too small for serving a scientifically cooked diet for sports persons. Whereas, the general retail market of consumers is enormously large.” Impressed by the idea, Uthappa offered Das seed capital of Rs1.5 crore to set up iTiffin and target corporate customers initially.
Why chef driven food-techsegment?
The exceptional growth rate of chef driven food-tech segment in India is due to an increased level of awareness among people regarding the benefits of a nutritious and balanced food, and demand for home-like meals designed and prepared by professional chefs.The market is new and lucrative, and projects enough headroom for players entering the landscape.
“Chef-driven food-tech space is much bigger than eCommerce business, and even the margins are better, if one wins the entire value chain of production to customer acquisition to delivery. Running a food startup is a very operational intensive model, which requires constant monitoring to manage the venture’s profitability,” feels Das.
Moreover, chef driven business models assure that no compromise is done with food’s taste, nutritional components and hygiene factor. “Food and nutrition scientists and chefs play a big role to manage the USP of iTiffin. Therefore, we decided to manage in-house production of foodenabling last-mile delivery through our supply chain experts,” he points out.
Nonetheless, apart from running his venture, Das is keen on mentoring novice entrepreneurs and helps startups, operating in Retail, Healthcare &Wellness, and Agri-tech space, to grow manifold by encouraging them to use disruptive innovation. He truly believes that to become successful one should always surround themselves with people they trust and admire. The one message that he would like to convey to young entrepreneurs is to be open to new ideas, willing to learn andbe result oriented.
YoY Growth: 300%
Target Orders: 10,000 meals a day Bengaluru by 2016-17
Average price per order: Rs 125 - Rs 250
Average Customer Retention Period: 50% for 60 days and rest 50% for 15 days
Current Distribution Centres: 3
Production &Supply Chain Staff: Around 50
Revenue Target: Rs 100 crore over 3 years
Food & Nutrition Scientists: 5
Full-time Chefs: 2
Delivery Time: Pre-specified timing as per customers’ convenience
Next Round of Funding: In talks to raise $10 million to support multi city-growth plan
Expansion Plans: 6 new cities in short-term & 30 new cities over 3 years