Banana bread, sourdough, chicken breasts, chocolate cake, and Dalgona coffee!
Amid the first COVID-19 wave, people across the world experimented with cooking. But as the months passed and COVID seemed to be here to stay, cooking fatigue set in. But having nutritious meal became extremely important as a major chunk of the population got infected.
In the midst of the pandemic, ailing patients, people taking care of them, and others wanted home-cooked, nutritious food delivered to their doorstep.
This is why Shivang Gupta, who had just passed out of a B-School and was working at an insurance firm, left his job to start HomeChef Maagic, a platform to provide home-cooked food to people in Mumbai.
“The idea took root when we had lunch in the office. We used to wait for one of our colleagues; she used to get lunch from home and it would be really tasty. It had a very authentic taste that you cannot really find in a restaurant. So I thought why not start a portal where home chefs could put up their dishes and become entrepreneurs,” Shivang says.
The founder started work on the idea in August last year, and the platform was officially launched on January 25, 2021.
HomeChef Maagic aims to provide every individual the opportunity to eat healthy and delicious home-cooked food, and a way for passionate and hardworking home chefs to share their love for food with everyone.
The founding team includes three more people – Shivang’s friend, Madan Poddar, who handles finances, Babita Gupta, head of chef relations, and Rohan Gupta, who heads business strategy.
Shivang handles marketing and operations at the foodtech startup. The founders bootstrapped the company with a personal investment of Rs 4-6 lakh.
Shivang Gupta (left) with childhood friend and co-founder Madan Poddar
When launched, the platform received about five orders per day. Barely six months later, 85 chefs are fulfilling 20-30 orders per day. Shivang says that taking February as the base month, we “had a growth of ~50 percent in March and more than 100 percent in April”.
“Combos and thalis are among the most in-demand options,” Shivang says. The prices for food items range between Rs 45 and Rs 1,200, depending on the ingredients used for preparation. So far, the platform has delivered more than 4,000 orders.
All orders are delivered using micro-delivery platform Dunzo. HomeChef Maagic charges 15-20 percent commission from chefs on every order.
Getting chefs on board
“The home chef onboarding process is not very difficult but we do have very strict health and hygiene policies,” Shivang says.
Aspiring chefs need to go on the website to fill a form asking for their personal details; someone from the firm finalises things after a call. An agreement listing the terms, conditions, and hygiene policies is signed, after which chefs can start advertising their products.
The platform also offers a subscription programme that lets home chefs create their own online presence. This offers real-time support to set a website and social media handles with marketing collaterals and dedicated links to take their menu digital.
People already selling food through the platform get a two-month free subscription. Shivang claims more than half of their chefs have enrolled and started paying for the subscription-based services.
The team of four full-time employees makes surprise visits posing as delivery personnel to conduct checks. “If we find someone flouting rules, we don’t work with them,” he says.
Scaling up and other challenges
Awareness about the platform has largely grown through word of mouth and WhatsApp groups. “We initially distributed pamphlets in our apartment complex; that got us at least 15 leads,” Shivang says.
Facebook and Instagram, among sources, are used for gaining more customers and chefs. The founder refrained from revealing their social media marketing cost, but said the investment was low as they “want to keep cash burn in check”.
However, food is a very tricky business. “Initially, the challenge was to get the packaging in place. Even if the food is good but if oil leaks out of the container then the whole experience is ruined for the customer,” Shivang says. “We have to be very mindful about small things.”
The food delivery space is extremely crowded. Deep-pocketed players such as Swiggy and Zomato are ruling the space with ecommerce giant Amazon also set to enter soon. Many branded restaurants have also started their own food delivery system to save on commissions paid to delivery aggregators.
Apart from the biggies, Prime Ventures-backed FoodyBuddy’s Chef Buddy also offers a service similar to HomeChef Maagic.
Going forward, Homechef Maagic plans to board at least 1,000 chefs across Mumbai and “capture 10 percent of the city’s population as customers”.