A very easy paced entrepreneur. Strong believer in delegating power and creating sense of ownership within the organisation is vital to its success. Teams can make or break a business. I am very aspiring and believe every problem can be solved and larger the problems bigger the opportunity to build solution around it. Took a sabbatical for a year and completed Post Graduate (Diploma) in Marcom from St.Xaviers Kolkata at a late age of 40. Traveled length and breadth of the country and I am amazed by the potential, India as a country has to offer to her citizens.
In your own words what is Meratiffin?
Meratffin is an order and pay platform on handheld devices, allows users to discover delicious home cooked food in their neighborhood. It facilitates foodprenuers to scale their businesses by bringing them online and help them connect with their potential customers. Meratiffin is also micro entrepreneurship enabler.
How did you come up with the idea of Meratiffin?
Hunger pangs is a concern because “Hunger can strike anytime”, different day parts will have different food cravings for a human. Discovering gourmet to quench your hunger is a pain, one needs to consider so many things like place, options, price, safety, packaging, food temperature, time and many more factors. This consumes a lot of mindwidth and one may give up the idea of eating or consume wrong food at wrong time. This trend is mostly seen amongst Migrants. On the other hand there is a latent need for a woman to become self-sustaining. These women may have worked earlier or had to give up their job to bring up their children or some issues which lead them to job loss. Many of these jobless women have good culinary skills which can create a tongue twister and some have even commercialized their skill, they can be found everywhere. We just needed to bridge this gap. The opportunity we saw was in connecting hunger pangs with nearest home kitchen. Meratiffin was conceived to bridge this Gap. “With Meratiffin no more Hunger strike”. We empower micro food businesses (including women entrepreneur) to adopt IT to improve their business processes and grow their margins. Enabling them to come to mainstream and help them compete with big players and gain traction in the ever growing demand for safe food is our motto.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Meratiffin?
Finding home chefs or home kitchen was the first on our agenda, these businesses don’t have advertising budgets and discovering them was a concern. Classified and social media sites were handy. We connected with quite a few and spoke to them about their business plans. Interestingly every kitchen wanted to reach out and grow, they are aware about the opportunity and knew the demand is growing. The only thing they lacked was marketing. We started checking how they were managing deliveries and was surprised to find they had no issues, their support staff in the kitchen doubled up as a delivery runner. We could now stitch our business plan from here. We enrolled kitchens with logistics support in our phase 1 roll out. The insights we got from the home chefs helped us design and develop a product which was close to market fit. The best moment for us just began.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?
Difficulties came in galore. Financially we were sucked. We shut down consulting projects to stay focussed on Meratiffin, consulting was our Cash Cow. It was a Big risk and we were ready to live with it. We reached out to experts and they laughed at us, nobody gave us a chance, nobody encouraged us or had a word of wisdom. No encouragement, no support, the fun had just began. We knew we were staring at hugely competitive marketspace. Big names had deep pockets and could burn us out. Our release dates got delayed. Nothing seems to be working. But we stayed put as a team and were grounded. We believed in ourselves and believed that we could make a difference to human life and wanted to create an Impact.
The opportunity came from NASSCOM, we got selected for their 10K Startup incubation program. This gave us the deserved boost. Its a long road ahead and we are ready for it. We were awarded as the best startup by Nasscom 10K in October 2015. We were on the winning side of the first startup realty show (Egiye Bangla) to be hosted in our state.
How have you been developing Meratiffin since startup (i.e. what’s the developmental direction)?
We launched only one platform (Android), feedback helped us improve the product. We are launching iPhone version soon, we get constant request from iPhone Fans and it can’t be ignored it makes us really happy.
What kind of feedback did you get for Meratiffin so far?
Our playstore reviews speak for themselves. Large numbers of our users are happy with the App performance, these feedback are vital, we have listened hard and have used our learning’s to improve our User Experience. We are aware the road ahead is interesting.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry ? What is your strategy against your competition?
Competition is stiff in our industry. There are competition with access to large capital base and can disrupt any marketing plans. We believe we are ready as have carved a niche for ourselves in the space we occupy. The insight is “if you are Hungry you buy Food, you don’t buy discounts”. We facilitate food discovery at affordable prices which suits our user base and it is delivered on premise. No need to discount. Our User base needs food to taste similar as home cooked and we are focused on bringing the best home cuisines online. This is the biggest differentiation.
What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
Food has been the busiest sector overtime and is growing at 20 – 30% year on year. With large internet penetration and more people accessing internet on their mobile device it is good time for the industry. Online food delivery market is pegged at $ 15 billion and there is space for everyone who can add value. Having said this entry barriers are low, which is why there are so many failures in this sector. To succeed reaching critical mass early is very important and the cost structure should be driven around customer retention. Your sticky customers are your paying customers. They spread the word. Last mile delivery is also a critical component to succeed. We have figured that out early and are devoting all our effort to attain customer delight. We expect to see Big Businesses build around the Food Tech.
What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?
The industry is poised for a robust growth. Dual income families, more disposable income, lifestyle change, peer pressure, growing middle income families, convenience all these factors will drive demand for online delivery. Innovating our product and spreading across more channels and staying relevant to the user group will drive engagement and brand value.
Were there anything that disappointed you initially?
Disappointment for me is a state of mind. I get disappointed when I raise my bar and fail to achieve it, having said this as long as we learn from our failure and improve, I am happy. I take disappointment very constructively. It is an opportunity to introspect. It is also important to realize that in a team environment not all things can go right all the time, there could be a slip here and a miss there, as long as we recover and restore things asap all is well.
What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier, why?
Asian Entrepreneurs are like toughened glass. They are hard core, they can take crisis like a KISS and come out scratch free. I suggest global aspiring entrepreneurs to work in a Asian Venture for sometime before embarking on their own. We at Asia we are a different breed. For us there is no Give Up, we just do it.
What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?
Business Schools and Businesses are poles apart. West may have the best B School, we have the best Businesses who employ from these “B” Schools. This I guess speaks for all our Asian entrepreneur’s.
What is your definition of success?
Success is the start of any journey. With success one become responsible and to remember it is a label which others give you. It is also a motion you set for yourself. The motion can be happy or disappointing, one needs to balance expectation associated with success.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is a bug, it bites everyone, those who get infected turns entrepreneur. I wanted to be in charge of my destiny, I believe I add more value to the society being an entrepreneur, so the infection stayed.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
You need to be humble, smile at your hardest time, to realize that time will change and favor you, keep faith and push yourself to the limit. Also to realize that the luck quotient is only 1% and to make the most of it when you have it on your side.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Never give up. The Gold is not at the end of the rainbow, you need to collect small nuggets on your journey to the top, when you pause to review your count you will be surprised to see there is so much that you have accumulated. Don’t miss the small nuggets, they are the fundamentals on which you will build your enterprise. Stay relevant to your customer all the time.
Akhil is the founder of notNULL, Chief Marketing Officer at The Asian Entrepreneur Media Group & Part of Product Research team at InMobi. He is closely associated with a couple of startups as an evangelist & consultant. Akhil was also involved with Appknox (XYSec Labs Pte Ltd) & Kairos Society India. He aims at bringing in a legacy & empower everyone to do what they love doing. (https://goo.gl/LsNDjJ)http://www.asianentrepreneur.org/akhil
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