“I’m not really a foodie”, says Darshan digging into his biryani. The biryani is cooked to perfection, its flavours blending effortlessly into the yellow-golden rice. But Darshan is more concerned about everything that went into making the Biryani come up on the table. It was ordered from his company’s app after all.
Food startups have been in the news for all the wrong reasons these days, but Cookaroo is not your average food startup. Cookaroo aims to create value by bringing trusted restaurants and customers together, with its ready to eat, affordable and everyday meals. So whether it’s simple dal-chawal or a butter chicken meal, Cookaroo serves those for whom the everyday meal is a challenge. “We want to help those office goers who struggle with food options, or the lack of them, everyday.”, says Darshan Subash, the cofounder and IIM-Indore grad, who along with 2 of his ex-colleagues and IIM batch mates, Eraj Hassan and Nikhil Karanjkar started Cookaroo after quitting their lucrative tech jobs.
In almost a year since its operations started, Cookaroo has turned profitable at a unit level, and recently managed to raise funding in an environment that’s seen many established players falter and shut down.
Cookaroo operates at the intersection of two distinct foodtech models. Unlike say a Freshmenu, which operates its own kitchens, or Swiggy, which aggregates kitchens, Cookaroo uses the excess capacity of already running restaurants to prepare its food, and then employs third party companies to deliver it. The food is made on order and is hence served fresh.
Cookaroo had started off with outsourcing cooking to home chefs, but as the startup grew, the founders realized that it was hard to scale. “I can get 10 biryanis from a home chef. But how does it grow to 20, while maintaining the same quality? So it follows, that to be able to do that, you should start your own kitchen, but then how do you compete when competition have invested in multiple kitchens in the city?”, says Darshan.
And thus was born Cookaroo’s ingenious idea to outsource the food to private caterers or restaurants who had unfulfilled capacity during non peak times.
“This is a win-win for both us and the restaurants as we give them business when have they none, while we don’t have to spend a rupee in setting up a kitchen or dealing with home chefs. See, what do caterers and restaurants do during weekdays when the restaurant is empty? Like this one for example”, Darshan says pointing to the restaurant we are at which indeed is empty save for our table.
On the face of it, the idea seems to make sense, but why aren’t other players replicating it? “It has required a lot of background, field work, and sales skills that being management graduates, all three of us possess. While we understand ideas can and do get copied all the time, with our core business principles and now a good brand name in place, we are not too worried about competition,” the co-founders say.
But why a food business? The founders admit that the idea of a food startup stemmed not from a long-harboured dream – despite the fact that Darshan’s mother has been running a successful South Indian mess in Old bangalore or Eraj’s father is a hospitality veteran – but from a careful consideration of business plans. “At one point, we even had a checklist of ideas. Let’s do this. No. This. No”, laughs Eraj. But food is a problem we faced ourselves when we were working. “He’s really picky about his food”, Darshan says pointing at Eraj. “Some big offices have messes but you know how the food is there. And most offices that are small, the employees have to fend for themselves. Who can afford a restaurant everyday?”, Eraj asks.
“The best problems to solve are the ones the founders have faced themselves.”
Cookaroo started off in 2014 as a solution for office goers who found it hard to get home-like meals while at work. Initially it ran mainly from the homes of the founders, and aimed to keep things simple. “We focus on food you can trust and have everyday, without needing to make a lot of decisions.”
While the company has grown since then, having tied up with 15 restaurants and delivering 200 meals a day, scaling up is still a challenge the company’s aiming at meeting with a combination of responsible marketing and growth hacks. “We don’t believe in marketing bursts that go on a short time. We’re here for the long haul, and we want our customers to keep coming back, and that’s what we notice is happening.” Indeed, Cookaroo boasts of a 85% repeat customer base, and is often talked about on social media.
Being a daily presence in their customers’ lives, the company tries to engage with their customers and is known for many one on one gestures. Some of these engagement activities include personal calls to collect feedback about the food, surprise free add-ons, gifts on occasions and sometimes a surprise menu itself.
“We like to include these personal touches in our communication with our customers. Food is all about love, and little details.”
A lot of their marketing stems from social causes. The Cookaroo team is conscientious towards the environment and is constantly trying to make their packaging as eco-friendly as commercially viable. They had recently launched a “Responsible Waste Disposal” campaign for their customers. In another socially charged activity, Cookaroo had transexuals give out coupons at traffic signals. “With this campaign, we hope to spread awareness and break the mindset against transgenders and hopefully help them create a decent standard of living for themselves without having to resort to mendicancy.”, Cookaroo had said about the campaign.
Given that providing food and snacks is increasingly becoming important to many startups in the city, other than serving individual customers, Cookaroo has also been delivering bulk snacks to companies under corporate plans.
“We are completely changing the way people are thinking about food these days. While most restaurants want you to think of them during weekends, we want to be there for them everyday during the week.”, the Cookaroo co-founders say, as the last remnants of the Biryani are polished off, on this Wednesday noon in Bangalore.