ChefHost is an online community and marketplace connecting chefs and customers for bespoke and exclusive private dining, parties, events and alternate food experience. Co-founded by two Warwick Business School alumni, Abhinandan Balasubramanian and Yiu Yin Yau, ChefHost is a platform wanting to celebrate the passion for food among people who make it and those who eat it by matching chef expertise and availability with customers’ interest and requirements.
Abhinandan says, “The world we live in today is so well connected. Think of how many social networks we have. We are all just 5 people away from each other. We all want to be connected. And the best part about this is that we are creating demand and supply via this connected community. This has made the birth of marketplaces possible. Look at AirBnB, Uber, eBay etc. That’s what they thrive on. The Indian F&B and Hospitality industries combined are worth more than $150 Billion. Our focus is on disrupting this space with a marketplace model.”
He shares, “I love food and having lived alone in London and eating out on a daily basis, I drained out of places to go to eat and the old favorites got boring. How do you explore food further with your friends, colleagues or family when you can’t enjoy food that you have eaten 100 times over?”One day, he suggested to his friends to bring a chef home and eat exactly what they all wanted. Everyone loved it and they ate like kings. The next day, Abhinandan thought about what they had done and its potential as a business. He came up with business models around this idea, researched, and made execution plans. He spoke to a few people about the basic business idea, searched for developers, designers etc.
“I was too excited to stop. I shared my idea with Yiu Yin Yau (YY), one of my friends from Warwick. YY is a retail tech entrepreneur. We went to B-School together and we always shared a passion towards disruptive markets. YY told me how he could take this to Hong Kong, China and South East Asia. I loved the fact that he connected with the idea instantly and I decided to get him on board as the co-founder. The rest of the team we have chosen is also from Warwick, they are people with experience in food & beverage or hospitality. You can call us a Warwick spinout,” says Abhinandan.
He always wanted to be an entrepreneur but his perspective about entrepreneurship has changed completely over the years. In his words, “Earlier I defined it as being one’s own boss but through the years I have understood it is being one’s own slave!”
Abhinandan has spent his childhood and teenage years in Chennai and Bangalore. He did his senior years of schooling at DAV Boys, Chennai. It was a competitive class. He says, “My classmates wanted to be the highest scorer in the Indian Central Board Exams but I wasn’t really bothered. I used to be the odd one as I attended more days of inter-school cultural than I attended school. And this trend carried on at VIT University, where I did my under graduation in B.Tech Computer Science Engineering. I spent twice as much time organizing college fests than I spent attending lectures. By the end of my under graduation I had more extra-curricular activities in my resume than I had in academic transcripts.”
He wanted to hone his knowledge in Business and Management and headed off to Warwick Business School after graduation. Warwick made him fall in love with the world of finance. Watching the film ‘Wall Street’ over a 100 times, he got accustomed to the Gordon Gekko thought that ‘greed is good’. For him, it was either Goldman Sachs or his own venture.
He says, “It was the plan, and then I met Barry Shrier, Founder of Liquity, where I head business development currently. Barry is the mentor every entrepreneur deserves. On a daily basis, I get to learn at least 2-3 things on how to manage people and business working with him.”
“For long, we’ve had only restaurants and hotels as a means to grab good meals. What if we wanted to host a dinner or brunch or a party at home? What options do we have? Local catering or restaurants? They are expensive, relatively unknown, hard to find and even harder to pin down. We are more a luxury than a necessity, but that is not to say that ChefHost is only for a very niche market. ChefHost is an alternate dining experience,” says Abhinanadan.
He adds, “I am not accusing hotels or restaurants but we know that the industry has low margins due to high fixed costs. Chefs, however good they are, are not the highest earners. By democratizing their talent, chefs will be able to build a reputation and following. All of which might benefit the hotel/restaurant or its brand at the end of this. In short, every chef can be a restaurateur without the overheads and costs of running a restaurant. I am an avid cook myself and there is no greater satisfaction than experiencing the joy of appreciation from your diners.”
He shares that they are not competing with the F&B or Hospitality industry, but want to add an alternative experience in the ecosystem which has long been lacking from both the chef’s perspective and the diner perspective. It is free to register on the platform for both chefs and diners.
ChefHost takes a small percentage of the bookings made on the platform. Only the diner pays on the website. When a diner books a chef on the platform, ChefHost takes a percentage of the fee that a chef sets for booking. “We take 20-25% for the first 12 bookings per chef for a calendar year and 15-20% after that,” says Abhinandan.
He adds, “We vet and qualify chefs to make sure our customers, the hosts, can choose among high quality chefs. One doesn’t need to be a qualified chef, you could be an aspiring home chef too. We’ve been speaking to some of the MasterChef India’s contestants — that’s an example of the quality of chefs we are after. We have a database of over 5000 chefs from India, Hong Kong and Tier 1 cities in China. Our plan is to have 100+ chefs in each of the major cities we operate in by the end of the first year. We are targeting India and Hong Kong markets right now.”
ChefHost wants to serve everyone who wants to have a meal with friends, family or colleagues at the comfort of their space. But it is more useful for professionals, event planners (casual or corporate), food enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to host a meal without having to do any of the shopping, cooking, serving or cleaning. For chefs it provides an access to more opportunities to monetize their talent. “We want hotel chains to see the value of ChefHost, how it would increase their brand by a growing popularity of their chef profiles than dismiss this disruption by sticking to old systems and contractual limitations. We are in advanced discussions with major hotel chains in India. We are also partnering with complimentary services like gifting services, event management companies to expand distribution channel and offer complimentary services that will complete the ChefHost experience,” says Abhinandan.
They have closed a seed round of funding from angel. He adds that they are building an experienced board of advisors who share their passion for food and tech. They are also expanding their team and the next key hires are likely to be a CTO and CXO.