Abhishek Singh could never get enough of the finger-licking Imli chutney(tamarind paste) his mom made. “Words fail me when I brag about my mother’s culinary skills. Her Imli chutney always got me thinking that she is one amongst thousands of amazing home chefs who have a gift, but are clueless about the ways and means to reach out to the world,” gushes Abhishek. So when he was doing his Bachelors in management, he made up his mind to start a platform for all such gifted chefs to showcase their creations. Imly.in thus made a humble beginning in March 2013, by sharing one corner of the office space, at a commodities trading firm in Mumbai suburbs.
Pavan Mishra is the other co-founder alongwith Abhishek. The three member team has designed a simple online platform, where delectable fresh food could be ordered from kitchens and homes around the city. Imly is perhaps one of its kind marketplace model that aims to reach everyone who has a passion and love for cooking and now through the site can even earn from their culinary talents. Chefs have to create a shop-in-shop on the site and then upload their best food creations. The portal showcases food across various cuisines (Asian, Bengali, Punjabi, Mexican etc.), veg and non-veg food, sugar free and indulgent, low cholesterol, fatty fried foods and the list goes on. “We give our chefs complete flexibility & freedom to control their online presence, irrespective of where he/she is located. So they can decide the dishes they want to display, daily capacity & order that they can serve, preparation time, prices of the dishes, select the areas of delivery or a pick up, so that customers can come collect their orders, minimum and maximum quantity, track orders, packaging etc. All these are required fields on the website at the time of setting up the shop,” explains Pavan.
This is not all; the chefs can shut their shop for a small vacation and reopen when they return. All services provided by Imly at this point are free, with no set up costs, no commissions from sale of food items or any credit card details punching etc. Additionally the team does free food photography only in Mumbai as of now. This is to ensure consistent image quality for all the newly set up shops. There are innovative search options for buyers as well, like searching chefs by location, by cuisines, their particular tastes — so if you who want something that is eggless, sugar free, low-fat and prepared as per Jain traditions — he can find dishes that match his exact criteria(provided they are listed on site).
The lead preparation time varies from product to product and is decided by the chef. The minimum lead time is one day for most dishes to three days for dishes which have a long preparation process. Additionally chefs are required to define the minimum order on each dish they list, in terms of the minimum feasible quantity that can be cooked. They also restrict their daily capacity for each dish, so as to ensure that they are not inundated with orders that they can’t manage. So as soon as the daily capacity specified by a chef, for a particular product has been exhausted, the system stops taking more orders for that item, for that day. “Since everything is free, at this point we are not earning any money out of the business. When the time is right we will implement a freemium revenue model,” says Abhishek.
Currently the startup has taken a two-week delivery pilot between Bandra to Colaba to try the logistics and then make permanent arrangements for the same. At present all payments are made in cash to the chefs when the food is delivered or when the customer goes to pick up the item. In future, the site has plans to install a payment gateway as well. Imly.in was among the first batch of startups that participated in the India Quotient Bootcamp held in Mumbai for a period of 50-days.
All startups face their set of challenges and in case of Imly, Abhishek says it was quite an effort pushing and convincing home chefs to join them. “Initially a chef registered through references but now as the word of mouth is spreading, a lot of chefs are signing up and setting up shop themselves,” he says happily. The website recently crossed the 50 chef mark, but efforts to meet potential chefs who cook different meals each week, continues. Even buyers can refer home chefs by clicking on ‘Suggest a chef’ button on the website page. Before any chef store appears on Imly they go through an approval process to ensure everything is in order. However no quality checks are done from within the system as Imly.in is a community driven site where buyers and foodies’ rate, curate, review and effectively decide who performs well on this platform. Chefs from Pune, Delhi and Bangalore in addition to Mumbai are already registered on site.
“There are a few sites catering to home chefs but they do not offer complete experience as we do. Bakemela and Cooked-at-home are listing sites with the inability to order, Samaas has a predefined menu and is a restaurant where the chefs happen to be home chefs. BowlsToYou has a very specific focus on salads and PotluckMe is an online pop up shop,” says Pavan about competition.
The model operates on both online and offline platforms where on one side, chef acquisition will primarily be driven through offline and traditional channels, on the other, buyers will need to be targeted through online media. For example, currently the website and its services are promoted by way of distributing pamphlets and running a series of Twitter competitions online.
In the next 6 months, the site has a target to get onboard at least 100 home chefs from Mumbai alone on the platform, as well as further expand to Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. There are also plans to introduce native mobile applications for the site. More service options like same day delivery, standard and hygienic packing, etc. will be introduced soon. “We haven’t received any complaints or negative feedback till date. With home chefs, I believe their food is an extension of their own personal brand. They are not only selling food, they are selling themselves and they take immense pride in what they do,” says Abhishek.