Rashmi Daga forayed into the food business in 2014. Within these few years, she has transformed her start-up, FreshMenu, into one of the leading food-tech companies in India, that services around 20,000 orders a day, through close to 40 cloud kitchens. The spirited entrepreneur takes MARWAR through her journey.
Over the last decade, the Indian palate has experienced an explosion of tastes with diners and foodies alike becoming more adventurous and experimental and trying out hitherto unexplored cuisines from around the world. The time, therefore, was ripe to introduce bold new tastes and flavours, and one of the first to capitalise on this window of opportunity was Rashmi Daga, who founded FreshMenu, her food-tech company, in Bengaluru, in 2014.
FreshMenu’s key differentiator was its daily changing menu. Every day saw its kitchens rustle up interesting fares from around the world and that left customers asking for more. Speaking about her game-changing USP, Daga says, “Today’s customers are constantly looking to eating something new. We realised that as a company, if we began by serving customers new dishes every day, it would keep things interesting enough for them to order often and not just once in a while.
Secondly, being an internet-first company [online ventures solely based on the delivery model], it was necessary for us to build in a lot of surprise and novelty into what we were offering, as otherwise customers would have no reason to check it out.”
The ever-changing menu, delivered fresh at the doorstep, had people hooked sure enough, and today, FreshMenu is one of the top online food ordering companies in India. Backed by investors such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Zodius Capital, the company has seen rapid expansion to boast nearly 40 kitchens in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi-NCR, which now together cater to almost 20,000 orders daily.
Building the business
From the beginning, Daga wanted to position FreshMenu as a brand that would prepare meals and deliver from its own kitchens, so as to control the entire process that typically ranges from creating the menu to sourcing ingredients, cooking, packaging and delivering. To get her venture off the ground, some of the basics that she focused on were getting the right vendors for the ingredients and convincing experienced chefs to buy her ideas and come on board. After that, it was time for ideation of the menu, sampling and testing out various food items and trying new recipes. Setting up functional kitchens came next in line, followed by working on the packaging and last but not the least, organising the delivery module and chain. Looking back, Daga says, “Within two months of sincere effort, we were up and running our first kitchen, cooking and coming up with new dishes and gaining traction with customers.”
Sustaining the competitive edge
FreshMenu is known for marrying new flavours with local palates, so as to establish a strong connect with consumers. This is where the company’s focus on innovating comes into play. Daga says, “We have an ‘Innovation Kitchen’ comprising chefs from different parts of the country, with expertise in different cuisines. To keep the menu interesting, we constantly whip up lots of new dishes. Once a recipe is born, we fine-tune it to achieve the best taste and price point, and then work towards ensuring that our marketing tactics and supply chain are in line with it.”
If the demand for creating innovative dishes 24/7 keeps the team on its toes, so does the crucial task of maintaining the quality, taste and presentation across kitchens. “Designing the recipe, training the staff, quality audits, monitoring customer feedback and tweaking the food wherever necessary—all these take a lot of effort from our end,” continues Daga. “And that is not easy, considering that we serve food that is fresh, not frozen.”
We realised that as a company, if we began by serving customers new dishes every day, it would keep things interesting enough for them to order often …
FreshMenu’s bestselling products are its burgers, wraps, desserts and, of course, meals in a bowl. Daga says, “We were the first to offer meals in a bowl. Not only are they loved by customers for the convenience, but also, are great to eat—anytime and anywhere.” The orders are procured via FreshMenu’s website and app, and also through third-party channels like Swiggy, Uber Eats and Zomato, with which the company has established partnerships.
Dealing with challenges
But the journey over the years has not been easy. Daga reveals, “Initially, hiring the right people and getting funding was a task for us. Later, when we were scaling up, after tasting our first successes, it brought its own set of challenges: recruiting more staff, negotiating with investors on favourable terms and juggling the multiple aspects of a growing business.” Speaking about the other challenges, she adds, “As we were an internet-first company in the food-tech space, we needed to constantly invent recipes, perfect our delivery chain, incorporate new technologies for our operations, improve our branding and marketing strategies and reach out to customers in newer ways.”
A diverse experience
What has helped Daga build FreshMenu into a leading player in the Indian food-tech market is the varied work experience that she had gathered across industries. After completing her MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, Daga began her career in 2003 as a business manager at IBM, where she handled an extensive portfolio of corporate and government clients. Two years later, she took up the role of a regional sales executive at LifeScan and worked with doctors, hospitals, chemists and patients. She then went on to work at Tutorvista, an online tutoring company where she handled multiple functions such as sales, recruitment, training, quality and operations.
In 2011, Daga started out on her own as an entrepreneur by starting Afday.com, a startup for selling curated art and craft products. She shut down the e-commerce platform a year later after realising that it wouldn’t go far owing to it being ahead of its time. She then worked with online jewellery store Bluestone. Here, she launched offline sales strategies like guide stores and home trial facilities that resulted in significantly higher customer conversions than online sales. Then followed a stint at Ola Cabs, where she forged alliances with online travel companies and large corporates to accelerate sales. “Every job helped me learn new skills and build a network of relationships, and all these experiences have turned me into a better entrepreneur,” says Daga.
Next on the cards
As the founder and CEO of FreshMenu, Daga has been heaped with accolades, the latest of which are the ‘ET-Facebook Woman Ahead’ award from ET Startup Awards 2018 and inclusion of her name in Forbes India’s ‘2018 W-Power Trailblazers’ list. FreshMenu, as a brand, has also earned its share of name and fame, including the ‘Best Dark Kitchen Concept of the Year’ award at Restaurant India Awards 2018 (South India edition) and two awards at Indian Chef Awards 2018, where it ranked third in the Team category and first in the Best Rice category.
So, how does she plan to keep up the momentum? In reply, Daga says, “We will continue creating new menus, cooking fresh food and serving customers dishes that excite them, so that we become stronger and more sustainable. As we grow bigger, we plan to expand to more cities, and ultimately to the whole of India.”