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



Please write us a short bio of yourself.
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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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