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Saurabh Dhanuka, Founder & Chief Eating Officer at Jab We Ate

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Please write us a short bio of yourself.
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I belong to a conservative business oriented family and have been born and brought up in the city of joy, Kolkata. Kolkata has always been famous for its food culture and that brings out a big foodie in me. After completing my Exeuctive Planning in Business Management from IIM Calcutta, I started Jab We Ate. I have always been involved into digtial marketing and have worked with top class digital agencies of Kolkata, handling sales and marketing there. I am big Nachos addict and I love writing. I am also working on my first book and will release it soon. For me my failures are my biggest strength, I believe if you haven’t failed in something, you haven’t achieved anything. At Jab We Ate, I call myself as “Chief Eating Office” (CEO).
In your own words what is Jab We Ate?
Jab We Ate is an on demand food solution providing company where we are serving typically home cooked food with varied cusines like Indian, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and so on. Along with this, we have our own set up for bakery where we are baking and making customized cakes, cupcakes, desserts for any occasion like Birthdays, anniversary, baby shower, Bachelor parties, wedding etc. Moreover, we are also running an initiative that is called “Be your own chef” where anyone who is enthusiastic about cooking can register with us for free. They cook as a home chef for Jab We Ate and we get those dishes delivered to the right belly across Kolkata.
How did you come up with the idea of Jab We Ate?
Someone very close to me told me one day, “Love cannot be described, it must be tasted”, so I came up with an idea to fill the foodie’s belly with most relished home made food!!!
If you are someone staying away from home, you may relate to this. What do you miss the most about home? For foodies, the answer to that would be of course ‘Maa ke hath ka khana’. Often, we are challenged with the question – ‘Aaj Khaane mein kya hai?’ It is a crisis, no less, for many who are in a situation where there is no time to cook and eat healthy, home-cooked food.
I started Jab We Ate on a mission to solve this problem. We are on-demand, food delivery startup with a special focus on healthy desi style, home-cooked food which could be eaten on a daily basis. I wanted to bring simple home-made food as opposed to the lavish exotic sort to the corporate community as well.
I was in Mumbai for a project when after few days I started missing my home cooked food. I realized like me so many people shift their base from their home town in search of job and living. Most important thing which they miss is their home cooked food and hence Jab We Ate happened.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Jab We Ate?
There are no big shots involved in Jab We Ate. I seed funded it and have invested everything from my savings. After 6 months of extensive research on business models, opinion polls, and deciding on the various intricacies like the vendors, the venue, the brand name, taglines, color combination and every minute things, I started Jab We Ate with a dream in Kolkata.
I had to understand everything from the working of a kitchen, the sourcing of ingredients, the food storage and the menu. The work that we put in, from fixing the menu to the daily running of the place has probably been my biggest strength.
Soon I hired bikers and started delivering food from one location in Kolkata to another. Slowly we also started delivery food post mid night specially for IT class and BPO sector. It became a hit and we started cooking in two shifts. We deliver all cuisines, desserts and we are specialized into customised cakes too.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?
The biggest challenge in this industry is serving good quality hot food with complete freshness. At Jab We Ate, we work on a zero inventory model and start cooking food only when the order is placed, avoiding any kind of wastage. Hence, the food is cooked fresh every day, and that is what makes us stand out in the crowd.
Second most challenging factor is retaining of delivery boys. It was not at all easy to find people who were good with road sense as well as educated enough to operate smartphones. There has been lots of time where I have myself went to deliver food to customers.
We did lot of R & D to overcome these challenges. The first step was to cook fresh food everyday. We decided that we will cook only when the order is placed. Serving hot and fresh food to your customer has its own advantages.
Secondly motivation is key for people and apart from commercial interests, freedom of working on your own way becomes very important i.e. to do things the way they want. We taught the delivery boys the advantages of using watsapp and sms. They appreciated the fact and understood the efficiency of these technologies.
How have you been developing Jab We Ate since startup (i.e. what’s the developmental direction)?
It is very important to keep a track what your competitors are doing. I always try to avoid what they are doing and try to bring something new out of it. Who will deliver you “Ghar ka Khana” post mid night? This was something gave us a good rise. At Jab We Ate, I am managing sales, marketing and operations while I have outsourced logistics to another start up friend of mine. I have my chefs plus I have other home chefs who are always excited to work with us.
What kind of feedback did you get for Jab We Ate so far?
Touchwood not a single negative feedback in regards to food till date. People do complain about timely delivery but then it all depends upon traffic. There are many customers who asks me, “Saurabh, why do you charge extra for delivery”? Very politely, I answer them “Sir, I wish my bikes could run on water”. I believe you cannot afford to eat outside everyday, you need that home cooked food too. I started with lot of variety in terms of thali system like Punjabi Thali, Rajasthani Thali, Chinese Thali, Only Rice Thali, Italian Thali, Mexican Thali, even only starters thali and so on.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry ? What is your strategy against your competition?
I see lot of people starting same line of business in Kolkata i.e. the Thali system. I have also seen people selling thalis almost at 50% lesser cost to which I sell.
Still I was firm I will not reduce the costing. It depends on quality of the food. We only cook food in refined oil and our main USP is we work on zero inventory model. You need to pre-book your meals and we cook only if we get an order. None of them delivers food post mid night so that is something we are beating them out at.
There are companies who are selling either 1-2 cuisines or veg/Non veg. We at Jab We Ate selling all the cuisines, desserts, ice creams, platters, etc.
What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
I have always believed that a hungry customer is an angry customer. Food in India is a very big deal and if its reaching you at your doorstep it definitely stands out.
The food delivery market in India is worth $1.6 billion, growing at almost 32% a year. At Jab We Ate, our average order size is Rs. 400.
In food delivery industry main consumer might be a workaholic, a DINK (double income no kids) or maybe a complete family. Many consumers are too busy or too lazy to cook. I have seen that most consumers prefer ‘clean and well-packaged’ food for office orders. Unfortunately, most orders are placed in narrow time bands during lunch and dinner, making it difficult for us as well as for our delivery partners. We used to stand in front of IBM office in Sector 5 area of Kolkata with questionnaires to better understand food needs of our customers,”. No wonder, Even if you aren’t a hardcore foodie, you can’t but help notice that India’s food tech startup sector is as hot as Indian food itself and growing rapidly.
What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?
The food ordering industry is also subject to wild price fluctuations due to volatility in fuel and agri markets. Challenges will always increase, it will never stop.
But what is important is an attitude of thoroughness, quality and creativity which will help Jab We Ate to succeed. There are new opportunities not just in food, but in food for thought i.e. analytics. For example, Pizza accounts for only 6-8% of India’s food market – but there is no single Indian player who is even a tenth of Domino’s size. And once you start with servicing the home kitchen market, you can scale to the office and canteen markets and expand from cooking food to marketing restaurants too.
Were there anything that disappointed you initially?
When we started we had difficulties in delivering far off areas. Logistic is still a very big challenge in Kolkata. I wish we had some really good startups for delivering food in Kolkata. After I tied up with a logistic partner, things came to track again. It was a big headache for me. That time I realized and learnt that you should focus only on things you are good at. You cannot do everything alone.
What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier, why?
Nothing is easy in life. I wish being an entrepreneur was a cake walk. Being passionate is very important in life. If you are passionate about what you are doing, even  putting your luxury on risk becomes smoother. Secondly, Patience is a key to fight against any challenges that comes your way. Most importantly, Team Work -It should  be there. It makes work faster and more efficient.
For me starting Jab We Ate was not easy at all. Lot of R & D was done before I officially started Jab We Ate. I met lot of people in the same industry across India,  met so many logistic companies to check how delivery of food actually works.
What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?
I believe we Asians are born with better ideas, but yes as compared to western front, we are restricted in terms of support and technology. Western people have average ideas but have freedom to implement and freedom to experiment. They are not forced to give up upon failure, and here people started blaming and forcing not to make mistakes again. Also I believe the funding opportunities in Asia is much better than in Western countries.
What is your definition of success?
I believe success is when – Whatever you do should make you feel happy. Everyday you should have a motive to wake up in the morning. You should always do 1% things extra than what you did yesterday. If you are able to do this, it defines your success.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Coming from a traditional business marwari family is one of the prime reasons I stepped into this journey. Moreover, I have always followed people like Ritesh Agarwal  from OYO, Bhavish Agarwal from Ola. It was always so inspiring to read their success stories. If they can do something so big at such a small age why can’t we?
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Keep working hard!! Be a doer, not only a dreamer. You have come a long way to start your startup, don’t give up!!
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Please do not depend entirely on technology. People believe e-commerce is everything and going on only mobile is a big thing. I will never let Jab We Ate go only on mobile apps. Catering to every type of audience is a key to success. There are people who still feel calling and ordering for food is most effective and efficient way.
One most important lesson that I have learnt – There should be a balance between your personal and professional life. Spending time with friends and family is very  important. It is the most relaxing and the best stress buster.

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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