India’s cultural diversity is found on our plates, and is a phenomenon across every major city and town that one visits. Indian cuisine is known the world over for its choice of spices, trends and methods of cooking, that leave people content and satisfied with their food choices. However, at the end of the day, if you keep aside the once or twice in a week fine dining outing, or even bachelors getting their daily fix from unhealthy fast food, there is a gap when it comes to people who do not have time to cook food in their own time, yet want to sample a healthy menu on a daily basis.
Contrary to the impression, the food business is not about generic assumptions anymore. Whereas, once a perfect location in a good place would make a restaurant generically placed to serve both families and bachelors, today this is no longer the case. The emergence of urban socio-economic lifestyles and increased awareness of the need for healthy food, has led to food businesses innovating across the board to serve new customer cohorts.
Today, at Bangalore Insider, we spoke to Kumar Setu, founder and CEO of Sprink, a meal subscription platform that provides homely, balanced meals to everyone. With innovative features like using AI to optimize the back-end operations to novel menus, below are the excerpts from our interaction.
Give a brief info about your startup?
Sprink is a meal subscription platform that provides homely, balanced meals to everyone, wherever they are at the office or home. Sprink aims to revolutionize the daily food market segment. Some of the USPs for the customers are:-
1. Daily changing menu (Sprink menu changes everyday giving the customers a non monotonous food experience during their subscription with Sprink).
2. Healthy, Homely, Balanced Meals –
(The food is prepared freshly with utmost care to hygiene. Each meal is made from high quality ingredients and cooked by skilled chefs.
The meals are less oily and spicy and made just how one would make it at their homes. 3. No delivery fee and no hidden/surprise taxes
As opposed to many online delivery platforms, Sprink meals are delivered on predefined delivery timings at absolutely free of cost.
4. Personalized menu
Sprink’s AI-driven backend profiles a user’s food preferences, eating habits and recommends to them the menu that is best suitable for them.
There is no one fixed menu for all but a personalized menu for everyone.
5. Rightly priced
Affordability remains one of the key factors in the business. Our meals when compared to an average order with online platforms are half the cost.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
The key reason to start Sprink was to build India’s largest food brand. Building a global, lovable brand in Indian food has remained a pipe dream for many entrepreneurs because of the complexity of our cuisines and dishes. This can be solved at scale only by usage of food science and technology. This is what we at Sprink strive to achieve, we have spent years building processes which can help us present the variety of Indian food to consumers.
With changing Indian family structure our food needs have continued to evolve over decades and we are now starting to depend more and more on outside food. However, the current restaurant business models do not enable us to consume our daily essential food from outside our kitchen. This is not just due to high cost but also because daily consumption of outside food continues to remain a not so healthy option. This is the gap we at Sprink are trying to fill. We are not just investing heavily in creating state of the art factory kitchens and hygienic processes but also an AI driven backend to optimize deliveries and a system that can make the menus personalized at scale based on a user’s likes/dislikes unlike most other restaurant brands who are forced to reducing offerings for everyone as they scale.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I worked in a few IT companies during my early career, immediately after completing engineering, but somehow found myself misfit for a 9-5 job. I wanted to do something of my own and hence started my first startup OffersForShoppers, a local commerce platform similar to Groupon in 2007. It was the early internet era and it was the time when mobile phones were fancy gadgets owned by few. So the startup
took time to build traction. And that’s when I realized that being an early entrant or first mover isn’t always good. Later I started a marketing and consulting firm with clients across the globe. I ran it for 5 years before taking an exit and starting what is Sprink now.
Where is your startup based? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
Sprink is based in Bangalore, and it’s the best place for starting a unique food venture such as Sprink. Bangalore is filled with food lovers and second home to thousands of migrants who are away from their original residence. This segment of customers are essentially living quite busy lives and often are struggling to get healthy, homely food. The third party apps and restaurants only fulfill their weekend cravings yet the issue for accessing hygienic, home-style food on a daily basis remains unsolved. Sprink, which is an ideal solution for the growing base of customers in Bangalore and other cities with the same issues of non-accessibility of healthy, quality, affordable food.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
There are so many things to do and so less time – this is the biggest paranoia. We are building Sprink with a vision to make it a brand which has to impact millions of youths and families so that it can eventually become a replacement of one’s kitchen. It’s an audacious dream which we truly believe in and this dream keeps us awake.
Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?
Food aggregators and local tiffin centers have been primarily our indirect competition. We do share our customer base. However, both businesses bring food to the table of the customer, their inner-workings and customer requirements are quite different. We are taking care of customer’s need for everyday food where they consume about 90 meals a month, i.e. three meals everyday whereas a customer ordering from a restaurant probably does it twice or thrice every month to celebrate an occasion or eat something different.
When the matter is of serving Daily meals it needs to be homely, it has to have variety, affordable and the services should be convenient for the customer.
a. Dine-ins or tiffin centers serve a fixed, standard menu whereas Sprink’s menu offering has a wide variety of cuisines and daily changing menu that covers taste needs of every type of customer. Besides a large variety of no repeat menu, Sprink there is personalisation of the menu avialble
based on the customer’s food preferences, eating habits. By simply answering a few questions, a customer can create his/her food profile, based on which the menu is curated and recommended to them. This way our customers
eat something new everyday based on their choice.
b. Typical menu from restaurants is not designed for everyday eating and contains many unhealthy ingredients whereas Sprink’s menu is created with keeping healthy and homely food in mind. Just like a Mother will cook food with love and she will obviously use the best ingredients for the food, Sprink’s meals are too made with fresh ingredients, less oil and spices, with utmost care to be hygienic and perfect for daily consumption.
c. Many local tiffin centers and messes try to serve daily meals at very low prices but they are unable to guarantee the quality and taste due to lack of manpower, hygienic cooking site or control on their chain of food production, neither does their business models allow quality food production at scale.
There are many factors that contribute to Sprink’s ability in bringing meals at affordable prices without compromising quality, taste. Sprink funcitions smartly throughout the entire chain of food production. As opposed to on demand services or dine-ins, our orders are pre-defined. We source raw materials on a large scale and produce food in large quantities using automation in the kitchen, along with, optimization of logistics and delivery by utilizing AIML (Artificial intelligence machine learning). This reduces cost in crucial stages of production and delivery and reduces the overall cost at every stage. As a result, we are able to provide our customers quality, variety, in food at comparatively better cost than what food aggregators and dine-ins offer and that too without charging any delivery fee.
d. The platform is built around what’s convenient for a user. It is created in a way that requires minimal manual effort from the customers. Once subscribed, the system conveniently schedules deliveries for everyday at predefined timings for every meal session. One can easily change their location for different addresses, skip days of subscription by pausing and more.
7. How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it? For me work-life balance isn’t about spending equal time for work and family. If time was a parameter for this balance, I am guessing we all will fail miserably on that parameter. I spend some quality and dedicated time every day with my kids, wife and family and the satisfaction that I derive from the same is enough for me to pour rest of my day for my startup. Startup and family are extensions of each other which I live and breathe every day.
8. Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If not then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
We have raised close to $3 Million in funding till now through friends/family and angels. We will be raising our institutional round of $10-15 Million soon with an aim to expand geographies and add more tech capabilities.
9. What’s the biggest misconception people have about Sprink? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
Rather than misconception, it is a perception about Sprink being another aggregator like Zomato/Swiggy. Customers have been very used to using such apps that cater to on-demand orders. They have never heard of or used an app where they can subscribe for daily food for all the meals in a day. However the subscription economy has really grown in past years in India, Food Subscription platforms that are technically sound and easy to use are not that common. The options for meals are limited to mess/ tiffin providers who have little to no control over the quality/ quantity, hygiene and taste of the food they serve. Sprink is an end to end solution for daily, homely food providing variety in cuisines, and serves a different dish with every meal as opposed to nearby restaurants or third party apps, that serves a fixed menu that caters to occasional or weekend eating. Due to a system that’s vertically integrated, Sprink has better control over every aspect of food production, logistics, tech, menu and customer service. In reality, it’s truly a self-sufficient ecosystem.
10. What gets you excited about this company?
The kind of impact it can create keeps me going. If we eliminate the need of daily cooking, imagine the kind of change we can bring. It’s like freeing millions of people from their 2 hours of daily chores and letting them do what they love to do – explore new careers, pursue their hobbies, spend more time with kids and what not. We are building this company at the right time and with the best team possible to pull it off and this keeps me excited.
11. Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
My day typically starts with going through the stats dashboard, feedback and seeing all the metrics we track daily on my phone. This is the first thing I do after I get up. Post that I do my daily routine and then spend 30 minutes doing yoga and meditation. It follows a light breakfast and then I look at my calendar to plan my day. Then starting at 9:30 I spend a dedicated block of 3 hours for work. This follows lunch break and playing some games with my kids as their classes are generally over by this time. I resume the work again after the break and work for 4 more hours followed by evening tea break when I also spend some time with family. This follows my regular evening calls with the team and some more work which generally ends at 8pm. I take my dinner around 8, play a few games with kids, read them stories and put them to bed by 9:30pm. And then I spend some more time on work followed by general chit chat or watching movies/series on netflix/prime with my other half.
12. Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
Me and Ritesh are batchmates from IIT Kharagpur 1999-2003 batch. So we have known each other since 1999, almost 23 years now. We have also worked in the same IT company earlier before both of us started our first venture. While Ritesh was building JustEat India, Abhishek, who is our third co-founder, was introduced to him through a common friend. Abhishek started heading operations at JustEat and my previous company used to consult JustEat for their analytics and marketing needs. So the three of us have known each for decades now.