Mohamed Ismail Jamal, 41, got the idea for watscooking.com, while eating biryani with his family, to give the large number of homesick, immigrant professionals of Bengaluru a taste of home. With more than 5,000 registered home chefs across over 100 cities on his portal, Jamal explains what they do and what happens next. Edited excerpts:
Why did you see a need for a website like this?
I was eating chicken biryani with my family in a reputed restaurant and realized that my wife made a much better version. So, I asked her how much would it cost to make a similar portion at home. She said around Rs70-80. The restaurant, however, had charged us Rs240. While it made sense—when you factor in the ambience, service and taxes—I also began to wonder about people who simply wanted a good plate of biryani and couldn’t cook it themselves.
This got me thinking about people who were away from home due to work or education and did not have the time or inclination to cook. There are home-makers all over the country who are excellent cooks and there are people craving for good home-cooked food, so it would make sense to connect them on a web platform. This way, homemakers could make money by cooking an extra portion while starving people could get a good home-cooked meal. India has a number of homemakers whose skills are largely underutilized and we saw this as a great opportunity to empower and create micro-entrepreneurs. That was the rationale behind watscooking.
How does it work? What are the current offerings?
Any aspiring individual who cooks well can get on watscooking and list the dishes they can offer in a matter of 10 minutes. They can offer home-cooked food, home-made chocolates, cakes, sweets or food products like masala powders, pickles, etc. The sellers have the option to deliver food themselves or get it picked up. Users can identify the people offering food and products within their neighbourhood either using the website or our mobile app and make a request to connect with the seller. They can then communicate with each other and close the transaction.
What was your initial investment? Do you plan to seek funding?
When we started, we just wanted to enable homemakers to earn from their homes. Surprisingly, a large number of people began to show interest, both sellers and buyers, in a short span of time. So, we realized the need for a more comprehensive platform, a mobile app, customer service, etc., and invested more than $40,000 to get to where we are now.
We started yearly membership subscriptions, from as low as Rs599 per year for sellers on the platform a month ago and got more than 100 paid sellers. With more than 100 million potential home-based sellers, this business model is highly lucrative and the market is global. Now, we plan to seek funding to strengthen technology and marketing.
Can you give me a sense of scale? How many home chefs do you have registered? How many cities?
We currently have around 5,000 registered home chefs across 100-plus cities and around five countries (US, UK, UAE, Singapore and Malaysia). We have the most number of sellers in tier-I and tier-II cities of India, with 1,200 in Chennai, 900 in Bengaluru, 600-plus in Mumbai, Delhi and the rest in other cities. We also have 20,000 registered users already. Every day, we receive more than 50 new registrations—sellers and users. We hope to get around 100,000 registered home chefs in the next two years.
What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is the unstructured nature of the business. The sellers in the platform may have other priorities, such as taking care of their children. Hence, we introduced many flexible features on the platform—for instance, they can make their profile offline if they are travelling. Also, for the users, we emphasize on networking and social aspects rather than seeing the home chefs as commercial sellers. The core concept of the platform is to enable a sharing economy based on peer-to-peer trust rather than a buyer/seller marketplace.
A home chef’s reputation is built on user reviews and ratings. The best rated home chef tops the list and it drives the quality. In addition, we have our customer support team monitoring their contents and transactions, regulating the quality.
What are the benefits of this for stay-at-home mothers/homemakers?
Watscooking enables them to earn extra money, get a sense of identity, lots of confidence and independence.
Where is this most successful and why? Do you see any trend among the people who opt for this?
The growth is phenomenal in metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, due to working couples, migrants and students living away from home.
What are your next plans?
We plan to introduce our next version of the mobile app, introduce festive portals for people to sell homemade sweets on occasions like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali. We hope to expand to more cities and reach out to more homemakers.