Vidit Singh, Undergraduate Class of 2022 My body battles the sharp chill of the wind that
Rosheen Dhar, Class of 2020
The latest Ashokan venture on the block is Otto Eats-a meal subscription service started by Bharath Srinivasan (Class of 2020). Bharath’s target market is primarily those living by themselves, dissatisfied with current food options, and are looking for an everyday solution to eating quality food. The food is fresh, healthy, portable and pocket-friendly, and has been delivering to Ashoka every day for the last 2 weeks. Sounds tempting? Well, if you aren’t convinced, read ahead and find out more about the way Otto Eats was set-up, their current operating strategy and their future plans.
Why don’t we start by talking about what Otto Eats is exactly? Why would someone want to subscribe to a plan?
Otto Eats is an online food delivery system where you get to pick a subscription plan with a duration and pick your meal for each day from various choices, which then gets delivered right to you, consistently throughout the week. There is a week-long plan which you can use, to start helping you ease into the month-long plan eventually. You will also soon get to customise what you want, so if you want a specific cuisine or have any dietary issues, we could address that and tailor your food to your individual needs even though we’re doing large orders. The idea is that you get a subscription-based plan where you get to choose what kind of food you want every day, but importantly, you end up spending less each month than if you were to go to food outlets every day.
What inspired you to start this company?
I’ve always been looking to create something of my own and take a risk and see how things work out. I thought of the idea halfway through last semester and I thought that it made more sense to start it here at Ashoka as a test market because a lot of people were dissatisfied with the kind of food they were getting on campus. When you start a business, you can either solve a problem or try to make a daily activity more convenient — and I chose the former in this case. Many people thought of ways to resolve the issue and when I came up with Otto Eats, I knew this had to be the solution. In the process of trying to find a solution to a problem on campus, I realised that this is an idea I can take outside.
What was the process of creating this venture like? What difficulties did you face?
Right after the idea was formed, I knew that the hardest thing would be to personally get people on the production side to coordinate exactly with what I would have to source, the everyday food orders. So I spent a lot of time scouting caterers, suppliers and virtual kitchens. A lot of these were requests that they usually don’t work with. I met a lot of people to whom I had to sell a vision, and it didn’t always work out, but a few important players saw the potential. After that, it was about getting permits for food vans to cross certain borders, figuring out how to deal with police checks where you could lose all your resources in one day, figuring out a way for the administration at Ashoka to be okay with the idea.
Another hardship along the process was the IT end because I only have a minimal background in computer science. I had to teach myself how to half code the website and manage the logistics behind the entire process. All this plus the course load of college meant that there were definitely time management issues.
When we launched, I had an entire marketing plan ready. But at the same time, I did not want to start with too many people because I wanted to make sure that the first week went smoothly, with close to zero inconveniences. I’m really glad with how it went because I’ve learned a lot. When we come back from the mid-semester break, we have a lot of plans to make it even better.
What does your team look like right now and do you plan to expand it in the future?
For the last three months, it’s just been me. Around the beginning of February when I wanted operations to hit campus, I got in touch with Dhrupad Dhamani, a first year. He’s coming in as someone handling operations and finance, and we take care of the marketing side together. Moving forward, there are a few segments of the workflow where I feel could be automated. I feel good about having had everything in my control but now I’m looking to expand my team slowly. Maybe have a team of around five people because we have a lot of ambitious plans to take the company outside.
How involved are you in the backend of the production process?
Initially, to sort out where the food comes from, I had to spend a lot of time with around 25–27 places, meeting with the owners, tasting the menus and looking at their resources and production spaces. I was able to narrow it down to one space where I was happy with the way they cooked, the way they treated their employees, and with the way they managed their resources. I found it fit for both of us to have a working relationship. Now once we’re here and it’s running off a virtual kitchen model, I don’t have to be as active with the backend and I do have people taking care of it for me.
So far, what kind of feedback have you received from the students on campus?
In terms of convenience as well as the quality-to-price ratio, the feedback has been great. The same goes for the taste. From the responses we’ve received, I’ve learned that some things that I personally like aren’t what some others prefer. We’re able to rectify things and implement changes by the next day. It’s good to learn about our mistakes because what’s in our customers’ best interest is on ours as well.
What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing?
With regard to the entire process, I wanted to make it as convenient as possible. This means that there are times when people want to cancel their meal for the day and it’s only fair that we let them because that’s what we offer — convenience. But when this happens, it is tough to relay information at the right time because, on the production end, each order that a person makes requires resources that are bought a week in advance. We incur costs before someone chooses to opt out for a day. But I’ve recently figured out a way to work around this and we’re implementing the solution soon.
Who or what, if any, are your biggest competitors on campus?
The mess catering system seems to be the obvious competitor but I don’t think they are right now. This is sort of an uncontested market space right now whether it’s at Ashoka or outside because no one big right now is offering credit-based month-long plans. Personally, I don’t see why someone wouldn’t try out the plan but I also see why they might choose not to. People want some sort of tester before they commit to something that’s a long-term plan and you need to build a sense of trust with potential customers. This is exactly what we’re working hard to build right now. This is something that is less expensive than if you were to eat out every day for a month, which is what we were going for.
What advice can you give someone who is looking to start something of their own on campus?
I’m still in the process of how I’d like to go about things. I’m learning new things every day so I don’t think I’m qualified to talk about this. A lot of people I’ve met have told me about some really great ideas and the only thing I’d say is to step out there, have a solid plan, and work according to it. This could mean giving a lot of your free time up, but I guarantee that it’ll be worth it. A lot of times this means hitting and missing, pitching and not being accepted by a lot of people. In the beginning, it’s a lot of trial and error. You have to work hard at it and eventually, something will click. I’ll just say that until we’re around twenty-five if any one of us wants to start something, we’re allowed to sort of hit and run a lot of different initiatives. It doesn’t have to be the first one that’s successful. I’m not even sure this will be, for me. But eventually, I think one of us is going to get there.
Where would you like to see Otto Eats a year down the line?
We’ve already got requests from geared housing communities, certain colleges and some workplaces. They have expressed that there is a need for a service where you get consistent food delivered, while at the same time offering varying choice. The beauty is that Otto Eats doesn’t expect you to make as many commitments each month as other current delivery ventures each month, helping you save money for other needs of yours. I would like if the employed sector, the youth, families, and anybody else that could benefit have this as their trusted solution for daily food, wherever they are. That would be wonderful.
Book your Meal Plan at https://www.ottoeats.in/