Before Ghost Kitchen Bangladesh
The urge to get into the food business was nothing that happened overnight. Almost 15 years ago, I was helping my father to start a fast-food restaurant chain in Bangladesh which, unfortunately, got halted due to unfortunate reasons. After all these years, when COVID-19 struck, I finally decided to enter the industry by launching a virtual cloud kitchen company after seeing the continuous growth in food takeaway/delivery business. Even during my time in the UK, I rarely visited fast-food restaurants like Domino’s Pizza, even though I used to eat their pizzas every fortnight. Because of the convenience and ease of ordering through their website, I would always eat pizzas while being in the comfort of my home. Although there was a huge opportunity in the cloud kitchen space in Bangladesh, I did not have the right resources then to start this project. After moving to Bangladesh, I was personally going through extensive pressure due to my commitment towards Best Electronics where I have worked for four years as the Co-founder and Marketing Director. During my tenure at Best, we have seen phenomenal growth in a very short time. In a matter of just 4 to 5 years, we took our retail network to the next level, covering almost 80% of all districts in the country.
And then 2019 happened, and I left Best Electronics to start my very own venture, TRI Digital, with a wonderful group of talented people, but we wanted to way more than just building brands for others.
One fine night in early 2020, I just felt that we, TRI Digital, as a team, can explore highly promising food-tech space that was about to boom in Bangladesh. And at that very moment, I felt we should start working on the cloud kitchen business which I was hoping to start one day. The next day, quite interestingly, I shared a business plan with our angel investors and very smoothly we managed to secure additional investment to get things started. In order to build an amazing team, I approached Nafiur (CSO) who previously ran his own award-winning restaurant in Singapore, and Ashraful (COO), an avid foodie who previously worked at various MNCs in operations. A brilliant team was ready to rock.
Note: Later in 2021, Dhrubajit (CTO), another food-lover who worked for 5 years in Singapore’s tech scene, joined the team. In Dec, 2022, Tahsin (CCO) joined the team as the co-founder and Chief Culinary Officer (CCO), and currently leads the research and development, creation of menu items and establishes a short-term, mid-term and long-term product plan and strategy for the overall growth of the company.
Back to early 2020. While carrying out our comprehensive market research at the initial stage, we realized that the traditional cloud kitchen model might not actually work at that point if we just focus on one single brand. We thought of doing this in a much bigger way.
To get an idea about this whole concept, we don’t need to go very far. If we look into companies like Rebel Food (Faasos) in India, we can see how they are actually doing a wonderful job with this cloud kitchen business model. Definitely, there are multiple models within the cloud kitchen space. We felt at this point, in Bangladesh, we need to launch at least 3 distinct and unique brands to ensure optimum efficiency at our kitchens. And hence, we started our journey with 3 brands at first: Friggy’s, Party Pizza and Wrappo.
The Start of Ghost Kitchen Bangladesh
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, our team continuously moved around the city to find suitable commercial spaces where we could build our kitchens. With the help of our Angel Investor, we managed to secure our first kitchen at Tejgaon where we had built a state-of-the-art facility which ran as our R&D Centre and Master Kitchen. Interestingly, all the kitchen and QC staff we have hired so far, started their journey at this kitchen for their initial training and orientation.
Our pursuit in search of more commercial kitchens continued, and by Dec, 2020 we started our second kitchen in Moghbazar and launched our third kitchen in Banani right after. Furthermore, we also had a realistic plan of setting up more kitchens in Dhanmondi or Zigatola, Mohammadpur or Adabor, Mirpur, Badda, Bashundhara, by the end of 2021. Little we knew, where we were heading.
From the first day of 2021, we were booming like anything. With new unique brands and interesting food items being added to the portfolio, life was just beautiful. As we kept on growing our sales, obviously we had to work towards raising more funds towards our Pre-Seed round as the initial investment was not meant to help us survive for a long period of time. As we started meeting more and more VCs around the world, including seasoned angel investors, we found a huge crack in our business model. Now we are in April 2021 when we realized that, in Bangladesh, the cloud kitchen model is not scalable because of the high CapEx and OpEx. Rahat Bhai of Anchorless Bangladesh, played a indispensable role in saving the company by showing us how we are going towards a dead-end. Fundamentally, startups, unlike SMEs, are meant to scale rapidly which was again not possible with that cloud kitchen model – unless you are Kitopi and can raise millions of dollars.
And then we went through a complete ‘pivot’. We went back to the drawing board and started to go deep into this industry and find real-life problems where we can provide a tech-enabled solution and drive impact. On top of that, the model had to be scalable. We felt we have cracked it this time. Rather than building our own cloud kitchens, we decided to shift away, and actually empower those 60,000+ small and med-sized restaurants in Bangladesh with technology, food concepts, and digital branding. We attempted to become an impact-driven internet restaurant (or cloud kitchen) platform that utilizes technology, virtual menu concepts and digital branding to help existing restaurants unleash their ‘cloud’ potential and drive additional revenues while improving bottom-line.
Rebranding to Onnow
By the time we completed 11 months of our operations, we were already recognized by major global organizations. From winning Food Frontiers 2021, to making it to Top 10 of Impact Collective (Cohort 2), we have received feedback and suggestion from experts around the world. It was quite evident that having the word ‘Bangladesh’ and ‘Kitchen’ would hamper our global vision going forward. Hence, we had to come up with a brand name that resembles the concept of a global food-tech platform. It had to be catchy and meaningful and preferably one word only. We did not have to look far, we were already calling our kitchen and order generating technology solution ‘Onnow’, and we had two most important things: 1) Domain and 2) Trademark. Voila, rather than coming up with another name, we just decided to stop calling ourselves Ghost Kitchen Bangladesh, but Onnow. Officially, our new holdco called Onnow PTE LTD started its journey on the 7th of October, 2021.
Hello, Silicon Valley
January, 2022 – Alhamdulillah, we have raised our first VC cheque from TheVentures based out of South Korea, thanks to our new strategic direction, new brand, and new vision. Fast forward to Ramadan in 2022, in the middle of booming sales of Haleem from our Haleem Guys brand, I was trying to find a working internet connection at my hometown, Chuadanga, during my deep-dive with Techne Infiniti Ventures, a hospitality-focused venture capital firm from the valley. In few weeks time, we got the green signal for another investment towards our Pre-Seed round, and this time from the dream destination – Silicon Valley. Onnow became the first hospitality-focused startup in Bangladesh to raise from the Silicon Valley. Little we knew, in few months, we will be closing another investment from a leading Silicon Valley VC called GoAhead Ventures. Let me pause here, and thank the wonderful team at Bangladesh Angels for connecting us with the Techne team, which helped us to associate ourselves with the ‘brand’ – Silicon Valley.
Next: Seed Round
February, 2023 – we are now adding 15 kitchen partners a month and already we have served over 165,000 households in Dhaka. We plan to end 2023 year with 185+ kitchen partners and cater 35,000+ orders per month.