When you invite your out station friends over and watch them ravenously attack the little tray of food you serve them, you know that their “ghar ka khana” radar is going berserk. In all probability, they’re cajoling their bleeding heart that still hasn’t recovered from receiving a shipment with the laddoos swimming in leaked achaar, and the parathas growing little baby parathas of their own.
A wholesome home-cooked meal – something that constitutes a majority of the reveries and daydreams of people living away from home – is surprisingly hard to find, even in the most developed cities and towns. But that’s about to change in most of the country, if one were to believe Neha Puri and her pilot venture- Cyber Chef: an app-based virtual marketplace curating home cooked meals. The company’s home ground Gurgaon, where Cyber Chef has begun full fledged operations, is already being engulfed in the warmth and magic of the kind of food their folks back home spend hours whipping up.
The Proverbial Entrepreneurial Leap
Neha always wanted to start her own venture, and knew that her start -up would be as much about technology as it would be about food.
I have always had an entrepreneurial bent of mind and was never conditioned to work under anyone. I wanted to be able to make decisions on my own and be responsible for the success or the lack of it that I achieved.
How Cyber Chef was born
Cyber Chef is a service that this foodie-turned-founder would have liked for herself, when she lived away from home in Warwick. “I lived away for 5 years and have missed home cooked food. We found a lady though, who would serve us home cooked meals that made for the happiest days for us.”
“When in India, I realised that there is an opportunity in this space. There are a lot of working individuals living in PG accommodations, or as double-income couples and nuclear families especially in a city like Gurgaon. Our target audience is this segment of Gurgaon and similar cities.”
Besides, today’s urban population has realised the importance of health and are looking for healthier options. Restaurant food is good, but due to time limitations of the target audience, they may fail to explore a wholesome dining experience, above all, not home cooked food. Cyber Chef wants to cater to the needs of this target audience by offering home cooked fresh food of several cuisines.
Did it pan out like she had always imagined?
Like any start-up, this one, though unique, and solving a rather pertinent issue, took off to a dawdling start. “A start-up has only one thing going in its favour: Ambition and a desire to grow. The first few months were tough before the processes could be streamlined and are now scalable.”
Amongst the more predictable challenges were assembling a competent team, inviting the home chefs on board, corporate communications and PR to convert the target audience into customers, planning incoming and outgoing logistics to serve the customers and locating vendors.
But Neha’s relentless efforts soon led them to their first oasis. “The major boost for us in the last 3 months of operations has been the number of repeat customers, where about 70% of the customers have come back to us, with over 10% of the customers having ordered more than 15 times from us in the last 3 months.
Maintaining customer satisfaction and providing them with meal Classics is what Cyber Chef works towards.”When you’ll spot your own Cyber Chef in your city
Currently self-funded, the company will soon prepare itself to raise the big bucks, so that other cities get their steady doses of nostalgia served with their food. Next up is the active volcano of food-tech start-ups, Bangalore. That will soon be followed by the city of dreams where everyone is mostly far away from home, scared, exhausted and hungry – Mumbai. “We plan on expanding our operations into 4 more cities, by the end of 2016.”
The app itself will see some new services. “We will be offering more options to our customers for all day dining by offering snacks. We plan to offer healthy meals to calorie conscious people. You know what they say, ‘change is the only constant.’ We know we’ll continuously keep doing something to keep our menu and business model exciting.”
Is living the dream exhausting?
“Not one bit!” she maintains. “Work should make you happy. The minute the work you are doing makes you not want to get up in the morning, it’s not going to work and will not lead to success in life. Working hard when in office and enjoying a good evening out gives me the ideal fix of relaxation that I need to refresh myself with.”
What’s her secret?
You learn the value of hard work by working hard. Being confident of myself and my team is what I believe will lead me to success. Experience comes with age and various events in life. I have also learnt to not be scared of failure or the challenges and to learn from every experience,
she concludes, proving that the best stories may well start with a dream, but only get to its fruition through instances of courage, self-confidence and perseverance.