Tired of ordering in all that fast food from those same few restaurants? Have a healthy diet and budgetary savings as your main New Year’s resolutions? How about switching to home-cooked meals for your cravings without entering the kitchen? That’s at least the offering of an Islamabadi startup.

Plate101 is a marketplace that connects home-based chefs looking to sell their meals with foodies who want a simple and cheap answer to their hunger calls. It works like any other food discovery and delivery platform: go to the app, turn on the location and you will be shown the listed of the items available that day, along with their price, distance and estimated delivery time. You can also filter by cuisine, attribute (like meat or daal) or cost.

The app also has a list of homepreneurs and their respective profiles, which show their level, area and distance as well as reviews, if any. Once you have decided what to have, just simply checkout with the order by entering your details and you will get your meal in a Plate101 branded package. As for payments, cash on delivery is the only choice available right now but they have reportedly almost finalised integration with JazzCash.

Currently they have around 250 home chefs registered who can put up whatever they are cooking while operations are limited to Islamabad at the moment.

Enough about the functionality now, and let’s turn to the supply side. How does one sign up as a chef? There is the option to ‘sell food’ when you open the app, for which registration and phone verification is required. Once you do this, the supply manager will get in touch to explain how it all works and those interested are sent a company letter with further details. Post that, an onboarding takes place where the homepreneurs are guided about pricing among other things.

The startup was founded in early 2018 by Zeeshan Shabbir and Noor us Saba, a husband-wife duo, and is currently a part of the National Incubation Centre, Islamabad.

“After having a son, I took a break from my usual work and was planning to just cook on the side and market that. Zeeshan, who had been running a software house for years, suggested a tech-enabled platform and that’s how it came about,” recalls Saba, the CEO of Plate101.

With timely deliveries at the very heart of this business, the startup has so far stuck to an in-house fleet of riders, placing them in high frequency areas to ensure timeliness. But how wise is it to do everything on your own, incurring a heftier payroll, when there are players dedicatedly doing the same thing? “We actually want to switch to a last-mile operator to look after our logistics but haven’t found the right partner yet. Our past experience with a few didn’t work out too well so we are just holding until then,” says Saba.

How does it make money? Plate101 has revenue streams from both the demand and supply side: a commission is charged to the chefs for each booking with amounts settled end of the month whereas customers pay a varying delivery fee.

The venture so far has been bootstrapped with tech managed by Shabbir’s software house but recently the couple won $10,000 in prize money from the Women in Tech Programme. “It’s a milestones-based award so we got our first tranche of $2,000 just a while back,” says Saba. And now the couple is considering to explore external equity funding options come January.

The concept of homepreneurship has lately taken root in Pakistan, with platforms like Facebook serving as a useful discovery platform. Then the advent of new logistics players, and especially the Bykea and Careem bikes, with their stacks of dollars and a reliable brand name, has been a huge blessing, enabling the home-based chefs to conveniently get their orders delivered.

In fact, the list doesn’t end here. Another startup from Karachi, HomeChef.pk, is trying to pull off something quite similar and has a handful of options to choose from. How does Plate101 differ from the rest? To start with, its marketplace model is distinct from the likes of Bykea and Careem, who simply offer a means to outsource logistics without offering any visibility to the chefs or price details. Plate101, on the other hand, caters to just one segment and them alone.

Whereas in contrast to HomeChef’s mostly fancy kitchens with price tag hovering beyond Rs500, Plate101 has a network of small home-based chefs at much cheaper rates.

“The primary difference is in how we engage our community, which is a must when working with housewives. Plus, the way we want it to pan out is that if you a spare serving, just list and make a quick buck on the side,” Saba says.

Interestingly, rather than trying to bring large suppliers and kitchens, Plate101 focuses on smaller entrepreneurs and in a nutshell symbolises gig economy in the purest sense.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2019