Ratan Tata-backed foodtech start-up looks to ride on the growing delivery market
Aaj khane mein kya banega? (What do we cook to eat today?) This daily challenge of what to cook, and who will cook, led Saurabh Saxena and Anil Gelra, both alumni of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, to find Holachef Hospitality in September 2014. Holachef, which brings cuisines from master chefs’ kitchens to your doorstep, has been a hit with users.
The company, which recently raised an undisclosed amount from Ratan Tata, says it is bullish on the market. In June, it had raised Series-A funding of Rs 20 crore in a round led by Kalaari Capital and India Quotient. Prior to that, in February, Holachef had raised a seed fund of Rs 2 crore from India Quotient in the form of convertible notes. “It all started with a personal need. What to cook was a challenge day in and day out and there was too much dependency on domestic help. Else, we ended up ordering a lot and going out a lot. When we spoke to people around, we learnt we were all in the same boat. That was the genesis of Holachef,” says Saxena.
To Saxena, it is like living a beautiful dream. He says when Holachef had been launched, everyone had been sceptical and the start-up hardly had found chefs to come on board, as people were not sure if customers would order when there were so many restaurants.
On the day of launch, the portal did two orders and in the first month, 110. “We have now come a long way and are doing 2,000 orders a day, roughly translating to 4,000 meals per day,” says Saxena. According to him, it was the signing of a sous chef from Taj Banquets that proved Holachef had arrived. A sous chef is the culinary chef, appointed under the executive or head chef in any kitchen.
Within a year, Holachef expanded to eight localities in Mumbai. In Powai alone, where it began its services, it has 70 chefs. In all, Holachef has around 250 chefs on board. It has also initiated operations in Pune.
“Today, the level at which we are operating, there is a lot of inbound interest from the chef community. There are celebrity and sous chefs, wanting to come on board. These are exciting times for us,” says Saxena. The start-up has plans to expand to new localities, but it doesn’t want to spread too thin. It would like to first make its existing operations perfect. “Once we become absolutely sure of our processes, it will become easier for us to expand to new locations,” says Saxena. For Holachef, technology is crucial to its business model. It enables seamless processing of orders, back-end automation in predicting demand, and planning deliveries better.
Anand Lunia, founding partner, India Quotient, says Holachef can scale up without a lot of capital and manpower. “Chefs cook on their own, invest in equipment and are happy with a variable pay. Holachef is now ahead of competition, and it continues to double every two months. The team at Holachef is only of one year and has been making the right moves.” The food ordering market exists in smaller cities, too, and Saxena thinks the start-up can expand to 20-30 cities in India. “We also plan to take Holachef international,” says Saxena.
“Holachef combines the best of all worlds. It has a large, daily-changing menu while maintaining authenticity of taste because they have so many specialist chefs, working for them. It maintains quality, which marketplaces sometimes flounder with. Holachef has mastered the logistics, packaging, and quality control,” Lunia adds.
For now, publicity has only been through word-of-mouth. “We are active on social media as a new-age technology company, and we try to understand social media as much as we can. Paid media should come when people can’t discover you anymore and we are still being discovered.”
Saxena kicked off his entrepreneurial career with Mexus Education, while Gelra was earlier with Sodel Solutions.
Saxena says the idea is to provide a great mix of delicacies from around the world – all prepared by Holachef’s chefs. Also, they need to be able to design menus because that’s crucial to the portal’s everyday offering — a new menu each day!
The chefs who come on board at Holachef need to have professional experience, along with expertise in a certain cuisine.