This man is making Entrepreneurs out of home cooks

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With the recent trend of ordering food online growing more than ever, Rohit Tiwari, CEO/Founder of Food Mario started his own food delivery service with his peculiar zing added to it. He combined his years of experience and learning as an entrepreneur with his zeal to make an impact in the society to create Food Mario.

The start-up has been gaining international popularity. Just few months back, Food Mario was selected among the top 5 out of 1200 global start ups that participated in UNDP Youth Co:Lab that was held in Thailand. In this interview with Mr. Tiwari, we unravel the story behind his start up

What is Food Mario and how did you come up with this  idea?

Food Mario is a platform that connects home chefs and customers. I was in conversation with one of my mentors around a year back when the idea for Food Mario came up. Food delivery industry is booming on the global scale and Kathmandu has its own share of these start ups.  We wanted to break the value chain by adding an element that would be distinctive.

In our research we found that only 27% of women in Nepal are currently part of the workforce but most of them have enormous experience of cooking and they do that really well.  This seemed like the addition to the value chain that we were looking for.  We decided to put these elements together on a technology platform to create Foodmario.

You often speak about your own mother’s experience of cooking. Is that one of the inspiration for starting food Mario?

Definitely! My mother has been cooking for me since I was born and she does that with so much passion and love that you can taste it in the food she makes. She has skills, experience, does her work, but she has never contributed financially to family or probably she never got the chance to do it. With Food Mario, many other women like my mother will be able to make their own financial contribution to their family right from their homes.

What were you engaged in before you started food Mario?

I’ve always had a knack for doing something on my own. It started with my first venture 6 years back during my fourth year of engineering when Nepal was facing 14-15 hours of load shedding. I started importing LED lights to Nepal. After that, I  was selling solar lights and hopped on to another venture of selling and buying goats online. I have tried a few more things like importing air purifiers and selling it here but that was just opportunity money.

The learning from those experiences are helping me to run Food Mario. E.g during my goat venture I realized that for me its not always about money or the number of goods sold. I was really connected to the farm for my goat venture and it really had an impact in the village we started it in. I could have raised fund for that farm. I raised seed fund for Food Mario within a week of operations.

What is the geographic reach of Food Mario?

It is a very close circle right now. We have few cooks outside ring road but since our main focus at the moment is “on time delivery”, majority of our cooks are confined to ring road.  Nevertheless, in few months, we will  expand and have a bigger geographic reach.

How big is your team?

We are a group of 17 right now, 9 of them are delivery boys and the remaining are interns and other staffs. When I started Food Mario, it was a one-man army; then I hired a delivery boy and it was just the two of us. We have been growing ever since and we are planning to hire 15 more by next month.

What is your business model?

We call our business model co-organizing. Every time we deliver our food, we ask the customers to recommend a home chef and that’s how we’ve gotten 90% of our chefs. Obviously, there are a set of protocols they must follow like wearing gloves, hats, using certain quality of oil, having hygienic kitchen etc. So, if the cooks agree to it, they can just sign up and start cooking. We keep a margin from the sales.

How do you decide the menu?

We don’t, the chefs do. Three cooks can cook the same meal that can have different prices and style. For ex: We have vegetarian thali in our menu for Rs.120,  Rs.250, and Rs. 330. The prices may depend on the ingredients being used or something else. It is entirely their decision when it comes to pricing of the food.

 

How do you maintain the consistency?

We do not, and I think that is the beauty of it. Home cooks don’t follow a set of perfect recipes so, if you eat the same thali from the same chef tomorrow, it may be a little different. Probably the vegetables are going to be different or achar is going to be different. Taste can be different.

How is the response so far from the customer regarding home cooks?

It has been pretty good. When people like food from certain chefs, they order from her every single. It is more personal than a restaurant because when you eat at a restaurant, you don’t know the cook but with food Mario, you know exactly who is cooking. So, the customer feel connected to the food and the person they are buying it from. We’ve home cooks who make 3 – 4 lakhs per month from Food Mario so, the number says it all.

In terms of numbers, how many chefs and customers did you start out with and how much have you grown so far?

We started with just one home chef for a month and we had around 15 to 20 customers at that time. We have grown to 25 chefs and now we get 150 to 200 orders per day. We have around 600-700 active users who order once or twice a week and 40% of the customer’s order every day.

Have you noticed any trend with the kind of orders you get?

A very interested thing we came across was when one of the home chefs started selling Haluwa ,the sales soared up. It was very popular, probably because you don’t get haluwa in restaurants and people love and crave these kinds of food.  We’ve also noticed that food Mario has become an everyday food ordering platform because of  its affordability. So most our orders come the age group of 20-29. Our major customers are start-ups and small business entrepreneurs. It’s probably because they are technologically savvy, and they have limited spending power and we are more economic.  e.g if you order from some restaurant, you need at least Rs.500 with you which is quite expensive.

What type of payment gateway do you use and what kind of trend do you foresee for online businesses in Nepal?
Around 70% customer prefer to pay online, and we want to make our own wallet for their convenience but as of now, we are talking to few wallets like Khalti and esewa. However, it is not limited to just these wallets though. People can use their SCT card but that is not the trend I see.

Could you tell us about any of your women chef who would have benefited from Food Mario?

Our first cook, Neeta Rai used to sell 5-6 meals a day and now she caters to up to 90 orders per day. You can see the significant difference in the number itself. She once mentioned that she doesn’t have to write “housewife” in her daughter’s dairy anymore and even such a minor change has had a significant impact on her life. Recently, she got an award as one of the top 7 women entrepreneur in Nepal from a program called “Google women will”. Food Mario was just a platform for her to showcase her skills and hard work.

Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?

I don’t really know what a social entrepreneur is, but I consider myself a business person whose work has a bigger impact as a by-product.

For more  information on Food Mario, check out their Facebook profile here or click here to see their full menu and place your order.

Rohit Tiwari can be reached at info@foodmario.com.

Interviewed by Thryza Dow and Edited by Jasmin Karmacharya