Night Riders: Startups that never sleep so that you don’t remain hungry


Are you a nocturnal bird? Hunger pangs striking at odd hours? There are superheroes like Batman Delivers, Fly By Knight that will come to your rescue

Image Courtesy: CNRN / Shutterstock

Late to bed and late to rise has become a popular trend among many due to night shifts, the pressure of meeting deadlines, nuclear families, late-night parties and hang-outs on the internet. In Indian cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bangalore, many corporates, students and party-goers find it extremely difficult to battle moments of craving for a quick bite. Identifying the need to cater to the hungry at night, the past few years have seen the birth of many internet-led startups that not only deliver food at the doorstep, but also medicines, contraceptives, cigarettes and chocolates.

Startups such as Batman Delivers, Fly By Knight, Mad Bites, NiteFoodie and MAD Bites in India and MetroPlate in Philippines have realised the immense untapped potential in this niche sector and have started offering essential products at pocket-friendly prices during curfew hours. The orders can be made online.

Hunger striking idea caters to Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, and well-known for major BPOs (Business Processing Offices) that usually work at night. The website was started by US-based fashion designer, Leena Malik, who in the aftermath of an untoward tragic incident with a girl in December 2012 in New Delhi, realised the potential security hazards of venturing out late at night. But there weren’t any services that delivered things at night.

Raghav Negi, Marketing Head, Batman Delivers, says, “Our objective is to be known as an online super mart during night hours. We were the initial ones to recognise the potential of this category and started delivering food, beverages, essentials, desserts, OTC drugs and contraceptives to fulfil the needs of people at night.”

The service is available between 7 PM and 5 AM. The food is moderately priced and all other products are sold at maximum retail price. However, there is a delivery charge of INR 50 (US$0.80) to cover the cost of packaging. caters to Mumbai, the financial capital of India, and delivers from 9 PM to 5 AM. The website was started by Neha Jain in 2012, after leaving a high-paying job at Google India. The idea came to her when she was living as a single woman in Mumbai and often got back late from work. She faced the problem of not getting anything to eat at night.

“I got this idea from a friend who used to collect a few munchies from the market and sell it to people at night in the hostel when everything else was shut down,” says Jain.

It started as a social experiment where she understood the needs from people about the kind of food, pricing, delivery time, etc. and then launched the venture.

“I want to organise the perfect Plan B for people at night,” she adds. Popular selling items are pizzas and cigarettes. There is no charge for orders above INR 500 (US$8); however, ones below that have to pay INR 50 (US$0.83). Fly By Knight has recently received an undisclosed sum of funding from angel investors.

About 160 kilometres away from Mumbai is Pune, which is the eighth largest metropolis of India. It is fast emerging as the IT, technology and institutional hub and is often referred to as being the Detroit of India for the huge presence of the automotive industry. With a huge population — consisting of young entrepreneurs and students — that works at night, has been quick to latch on to the need of a night service. Payment can be done both online or by cash, on delivery. It also has a 24*7 online live chat support system to answer any general queries about the service and take feedback. The service — though available between 8 PM and 4 AM — has Happy Hours between 8 PM to 11 PM, offering 25 per cent discount, to encourage early ordering.

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Though orders can be made over the phone, Fly By Knight offers a discount of Rs 50 on the delivery charge for an online order. It gets 80 per cent of the orders online during weekdays and 40 per cent during weekends. It is planning to launch an online payment gateway in about three weeks and has plans to launch a mobile app in the next two months. It has also tied-up with a popular gym in Mumbai to offer discounts to its customers in the gym.

Before going on to the desktop, Fly By Knight has dabbled with social media too. “We started with the BBM and WhatsApp to grab the customers’ attention, but very soon we found out that the model was not sustainable,” Jain says. MAD Bites), previously known as MAD Orders, also used the BBM route to take orders in 2011.

While Batman Delivers does have an online payment gateway, but only 10-15 per cent of the total transactions come through that route. The rest are cash on delivery. Negi says, “We have our payment gateway now but it was difficult to get one because we sell cigarettes online and according to the WHO norms, no bank is allowed to offer payment gateways for websites selling cigarettes. We have removed cigarettes from the online payment cart and we accept cash on delivery for the same.” It doesn’t offer any discounts on online orders and is planning to launch an app across all platforms by next quarter.

Healthy options for nocturnal birds
The change in lifestyle, late night TV shows, continuous browsing on the internet and unhealthy food habits during the night is leading to immense health problems. Hence, it is important to avoid junk food at night.

Up-and-coming Philippine startup, MetroPlate is hoping to discourage junk food and introduce healthy food options for people at night. The startup, that was placed fifth in the Startup Weekend Manila, is in talks with restaurants and BPOs to understand the latter’s needs and work out an efficient delivery system.

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Another Delhi-based startup Midnight Sutra stocks healthy items such as oat meal, freshly cut fruits, green salad, and fresh juices, apart from the regular meals for health-conscious individuals.

Negi of Batman Delivers says that his service does have a few healthy options such as salads and brown bread sandwiches. It also offered protein shakes but due to a negligible demand was struck off the menu. “We generally get orders from people partying at night and they prefer a good Indian meal,” he adds. Comparing it with MetroPlate, he says, “There is a huge cultural gap and the preferences for food in India and Southeast Asia are different. Hence, a healthy food option might work in the region but Indians generally crave for a full meal even at night.”

Jain of Fly by Knight points out that earlier Fly By Knight used to source food through tie-ups with hotels but it has now set up its own kitchen and will start the delivery of healthy items such as juices, thin wraps, smoothies, etc soon. It has never used frozen foods and prefers a home-made preparation for health concerns.

The differentiating factor
The sector is becoming increasingly competitive with a rising number of startups trying to grab the opportunity. There are many new players such as Midnight Express, Foodiction, Italian Oven apart from Batman Delivers, Fly By Knight, Mad Bites that offer midnight delivery in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. However, the key to differentiation will be the innovative offerings provided by the startups to woo the food enthusiasts at night. Some of them, also take last minute orders for birthday cakes, balloons, and other accessories.

“We also offer a unique service of ‘You name it and we will arrange it’, which includes plumber, electrician, driver and guard at night. These services have not been offered by any competitor as yet,” Negi of Batman Delivers says.

Every night, it also offers free food sampling in corporate houses, mainly BPOs.

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Meanwhile, Fly By Knight has tied up with a startup that specialises in manufacturing UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). “We hope to use these UAVs as a medium to create awareness and buzz offline among our TG,” Jain said. However, word-of-mouth still remains the biggest growth driver for these startups.

Challenges in midnight delivery
Running a business at night is a challenging task. It is difficult to find people who are willing to work at odd hours. According to Jain, arranging for the logistics is a tedious task. Some people are also not willing to work for startups. They are paid twice the amount to work in night shifts. Safety is also a major concern in Gurgaon at night.

“We follow the no-door-bell policy to ensure that the families do not get disturbed at night. Sometimes due to this policy, the delivery boys have to return, in case the customer’s phone is switched off or he/she doesn’t pick up. The order gets wasted in this case,” Negi states.

Plans for expansion
Fly By Knight plans to expand into categories such as flowers, cakes and alcohol too. Flower and alcohol delivery will start in a few weeks and the cake delivery will commence from the end of May. Jain is contended operating in Mumbai for now. “We want to add more categories to our basket before expanding to other cities. It is important to have sound logistics in one city and then expand to others,” Jain says.

With an increasing demand, Batman Delivers wants to expand to Delhi and its another suburb, Noida. “We are looking for funding and franchisee partners to expand to other cities like Jaipur,” adds Negi.

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