This startup connects people with hawker’s comfort food to help their business thrive

Prisca Akhaya
This startup connects people with hawker comfort food

WhyQ was derived from the idea of getting your favorite street food without the need of queuing, and more

February this year marks the two years anniversary of WhyQ, a hawker food delivery service based in Singapore. e27 got the opportunity to speak with Rishabh Singhvi, Co-founder of WhyQ, when news about Singapore and Hong Kong-based food delivery service Plum decided to pull out of the competitive market and that it will direct its existing customers to WhyQ, so e27 talked to WhyQ to understand how WhyQ keeps its cool in the brutal market of food delivery as a relatively new player.

Leveraging niche

For Singhvi, WhyQ’s edge is all about the niche he and co-founder Varun Saraf managed to focus on.

“Hawker food is something familiar and affordable here in Singapore, which is a big market in itself even with other food delivery service that you can think of basically operates here and offer to deliver your hawker food order,” Singhvi explained the thought process behind focussing on hawker food delivery service only.

In fact, hawker food remains the most popular choice of meal, not only for tourists but most importantly for locals. In a 2016 report by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee, they found that three in four Singaporeans visited a hawker centre at least once a week.

Seeing that hawker food is integral in Singaporean everyday life, pinpointing the number one problem that customers have when coming to a hawker food centre to get their meal is rather easy: it’s the long queue.

“It’s kind of what inspires the name,” said Singhvi.

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But what actually sets WhyQ apart from other food delivery services that also can queue up the line for customers?

“It’s the way we treat the orders and group them up to be more efficient,” Singhvi answered.

What WhyQ does is put together the received order in batch to send them in one go. Customers are given an order cutoff time, which is usually about 45 to 60 minutes before WhyQ’s delivery time.

This can only work by combining technology and manpower. So WhyQ’s approach is to have what the company called “Hawker Captains”, who wait for, manage the orders inside the hawker centers, and work with different hawker partners (sellers) to go and pick up the food from all the different shops there.

It’s helpful that WhyQ already has a relationship with the government arm that takes care the hawker centres in the country, National Environmental Agency (NEA). With NEA, WhyQ fix a designated spot inside each hawker centre where their bikers would come in and meet the captains to retrieve the already-packed orders to go on delivery routes.

Efficient bulking

On average, Singhvi said, WhyQ would have about twelve deliveries per bikers per jobs, delivering to the Central Business District (CBD). “It is a lot higher than what we’d see Grab Food or other food delivery does,” said Singhvi.

This method is how WhyQ is able to remove minimum order, even though hawker food is low cost and popular.

As for Plum’s semi-acquisition that was done by the company, Singhvi shared that ever since WhyQ operated, they have been studying Plum as it’s the company’s indirect competitors.

“Plum also did restaurants orders in the early days. I’d say they did 20 per cent hawker and 80 per cent resto food delivery, but towards the end of their operation the numbers are switched because hawker food did sell a lot more and it remains an untapped huge market compared to restaurant food,” said Singhvi.

Another thing that makes WhyQ outlasts Plum was the delivery handling that was inefficient.

“Dispatching delivery is so important in this business. What Plum did was delivering to, let’s say eight locations from the same restaurants, and they have basically eight Plum delivery guys to do each delivery order. They were sending one delivery courier to each resto for each location that they were delivering to,” Singhvi explained.

“This model sure could work in a high commission model, which is done around 30 to 35 per cent commission from the restaurant, but certainly not with small, family run business like hawker food. They have no capacity to give big commission,” he added.

Singhvi recalled that he had a meeting with Plum’s operation in Singapore to explain to them how WhyQ does their operation when Plum first came to the country.

“Now we’re tapping into Plum’s entire customer base. There are few thousands of them that will be onboarded to WhyQ and WhyQ will reach out to them as Plum closed its operation with discount code. We’re also onboarding its hawker partners onto WhyQ,” said Singhvi.

Friendly but tricky

So in WhyQ, what they do is giving the hawker options, either commission them for not more than ten to 15 per cent only or let WhyQ do markups on their food price for 10 to 15 per cent as well.

“Ultimately it really comes down to partnering with these hawkers and get their food out there. For the markup one, we decide the menu and the menu prices together with the hawker partners,” said Singhvi.

However, being an ally of the hawkers also presents its challenges. “If a hawker stall agrees to do the commission model, we can put out the same price with what the walk-in customers get compared to the second option, which is the markup prices,” said Singhvi.

WhyQ operates by breaking down the hawker centers and doing several smaller segments, depending on the popularity of the hawker centers and on the past data that they have gathered.

They will then send a team down (hawker captains) that can be up to ten people, to help with collection, packaging, sorting, and distribution to bikers who meet them at the hawker centers.

Dominating the hawker “slice of pie”

Singhvi believes that in terms of hawker partners, WhyQ has become the number one company in terms of the average total delivery per day the company has, which is 1400 deliveries per day.

In the past, the company raised US$890,000 (S$1.2 million) from angel investors and other investors like backers of GuavaPass and Caarly, the used car app company which has been acquired by Carousell.

Singhvi mentioned about the importance of having an all-in angel investors for WhyQ. “For us, angels need to take an active part in WhyQ. One of our angels introduced us to DBS, the big bank here that at that time has been focussing on helping local food scene in Singapore. The relationship turned out great as DBS helped sponsor, promote, market, campaign, and connect us to important party like NEA,” Singhvi gave an example.

With WhyQ’s laser focus on hawker scene, the company has its own fleet of delivery couriers who are independent contractors. “These delivery people will set aside time to do our deliveries in peak periods like during lunch and dinner,” Singhvi added.

Making hawkers’ life easy

“Getting hawkers to accept the hawkers’ app, as these people aren’t used to do all this tech things,” Singhvi recalled when being asked what was the hardest part starting the business.

WhyQ’s system is customised in a way that won’t distract hawkers while they go about their day.

“What WhyQ does is it simply buzzes every time an order comes through, much like the system you see in a restaurant order taking. We will just send one order at the order cutoff time that contains all the orders coming in for the hawker. The hawker needs not to know which customers ordering what, just the order. Our hawker team will collect the items once they’re done and label them for delivery. Packaging also needs to be adjusted by their hawker team,” said Singhvi.

Singhvi highlighted the solid relationship WhyQ has with the hawker partners as the key competitive edge it maintains.

“These are the people who come to work at 4 am in the morning everyday. They aren’t concerned with what delivery brand are coming to order from them. What they care about is whether or not you understand when is their peak time so you can adjust the timing of orders and deliveries so it won’t disrupt their work in the kitchen,” Singhvi said.

“We put orders a bit before and a bit after the peak times. Essentially, instead of giving them more headache during their peak time, we try to expand their high revenue generating hours. For example if the bulk of orders are sent to them at 11 am, they can prepare them at 11.30 am, and then they can focus on the physical queue that starts coming on at 11.30 am onwards,” he added.

WhyQ’s platform is designed to fit all parties involved. The hawker partners can manage operations and update when their stall is closed or out of item, at the same time not overburden the hawker captains.

“Since the beginning, we’ve kept things very simple. We just asked for one thing to the hawkers: just don’t let our captains queue, which is where the name comes from.
We understand that queuing is not pleasant and remains a big thing in the country, but we find a way around it,” said Singhvi.

Using WhyQ’s service and app, the hawker captains will place orders over the counters to our hawker partners. They will just place the order on the side and move on to other shops without queuing.

Five different hawker captains are divided in five segments in one hawker centres, that WhyQ recognises as the most popular stalls using past data and algorithms, so that the orders will be evenly distributed among the five captains.

“They go in, place the orders to all different shops, come back, collect the food, take care of the packaging, and bikers will take over the delivery,” Singhvi added.

As for payments, WhyQ is integrated with DBS Paylah to allow orders being paid using e-wallet. The company managed to convince hawkers to set up barcode stickers on their stalls.

With hawkers and e-wallet, the challenge is in making sure that there isn’t too long of a gap between WhyQ giving orders and them getting their money back because the hawkers need it to be put back into their ingredients purchase.

“We have selected partners privilege that get to cash out their e-wallet payment daily,” said Singhvi.

WhyQ also got an alternative for hawkers that aren’t comfortable using the e-wallet, which comes in the form of small handheld printers connected to WhyQ app so they can see the receipt.

What’s next

A lot of exciting scale-up plans are on the pipelines for the company, Singhvi mentioned.

According to the newlywed CEO, WhyQ has started working on the pilot phase of the supplier end, which would be a different part of the company. WhyQ will work with the suppliers, and make the products available on WhyQ app as an easy way for hawker partners to order their food ingredients.

“Right now, we have brought over prawns supplier supplying up to 200 kilos on daily basis and we’re moving on to other products as well,” said Singhvi.

On customer end, Singhvi said it plans to increase their customer base and orders by launching subscription model.

“The customers can pick and choose what they want to eat over the course of two to four weeks, and they can just forget about it. The idea is to plan your meal, and we will just notify you on what you order for the day to give you option to defer in case you change your mind,” Singhvi explained.

Another thing that is on the plan is ordering food for elderly at home, which the customers can set up in advance and the delivery will take care of it.

Singh added that the subscription model will also be available for corporate catering, in which companies can have almost 200 plus bulk orders for hawker food to facilitate company events. “We think the corporate catering has a huge potential because the procedure is now still limited to email communication,” said Singhvi.

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WhyQ also will introduce a take away model wherein a customer can order ahead of picking up so when the customer arrives at the centre, the order is ready to be picked up.

Singhvi shares that WhyQ has planned to eventually expand to Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Thailand, where the hawker culture is also a strong part of the community.

The post This startup connects people with hawker’s comfort food to help their business thrive appeared first on e27.