This article is a part of the CitySparks series sponsored by Verisign
“A lot of food tech businesses are founded by ‘tech people’ as opposed to ‘food people’,” observes Gaurav Jain, founder of Mast Kalandar. He adds, “But they realise soon enough that this is a different ball game from tech.” He believes tech is an enabler in the food tech business, not the core of the business and says, “If the focus is not on food, the business is not going to succeed.”
Gaurav is well placed to comment on this distinction given that Mast Kalandar was among the most successful chains in the food business for several years before successfully transitioning to the food tech business in the form of MK Dabbawala. It was an early instance of two people giving up lucrative corporate careers to venture out on their own. The year was 2006 and the word ‘startup’ wasn’t in the ordinary Indian’s lexicon.
Gaurav and his wife, Pallavi, set up shop in a 3,000 sqft space in Bengaluru and, over the years, developed the Mast Kalandar brand to become synonymous with light, delicious, home-style food. Their unique selling proposition remains authentic home-style North Indian food, a mix of cuisines from Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi. Today, they have over 600 employees and 45 outlets in four cities - Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai.
Their first website, mastakalandar.com was set up in 2008, a simple corporate website in the pre-app and pre-smartphone era, with the ‘store locator’ function being its primary focus. Over the years, the site has evolved, adding functionalities and finally metamorphosing into MKDabbawala.com in 2014. Customers logging on to the website now have the option of ordering from a daily menu or from the full menu.
The name MK Dabbawala was chosen because the daily-changing menu is very much like the dabbas people take from home to their offices. The team chose a .com domain name since it remains such a familiar and popular top level domain. “We never even thought of anything but .com,” says Gaurav.
Then and now
Food tech startups have been the rage in the past 18 months and Gaurav realised that the segment addressed pain points that exist in the traditional restaurant model. While ordering food over the phone, typical issues a consumer faces include inconvenience in getting through to the restaurant or error in capturing the correct delivery address by the person taking the order. Repeating one’s address and other details during each and every order is annoying. Ordering through an app or a website, where the basic information of a consumer can be saved, takes away these pain points and makes the entire system easier and hassle-free.
Gaurav says, “The daily changing menu, called ‘Aaj ka Dabba,’ is both efficient and exciting. It is efficient because of the smaller number of dishes offered, which allows for a higher number of orders that can be managed in lesser delivery time. It is exciting because the menu changes every day, which is not possible for a traditional restaurant.”
Aaj ka Dabba
While restaurant profitability is governed by space availability (a restaurant that seats 50 at a time, can barely handle more than 200 customers during peak hours), the online delivery format brings with it the flexibility to handle many more orders. The MK Dabbawala app is available on Android and iOS and while app downloads have surpassed expectations, the website remains a significant generator of traffic and orders. The full menu is accessible via the website and at the restaurants. Both platforms together have driven huge revenue growth month on month.
According to the founders, existing retail outlet kitchens of MK Dabbawala have doubled the orders due to traffic on their app and website. Dedicated kitchens have also been set up to handle the additional demand.
Gaurav clarifies, “I have never believed in going the app-only route. Customers who are more comfortable with the website should not be forced to use the app. We plan to continue with both options.”
MK Dabbawala continues to grow with its .com. What about you? Go Big, Go .com!
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