September 30, 2021
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.
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 our Seed Round too as the initial Pre-Seed was not meant to help us survive for a long period of time. As we started meeting more and more VCs around, 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 sustainable because of the high CAPEX and OPEX. On top of it, fundamentally, startups, unlike SMEs, are meant to scale rapidly which was again not possible with a 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 mind real-life problems where we can provide a tech-enabled solution and drive impact. On top of that, the model had to scalable. We cracked it this time. Rather than building our own cloud kitchens, we decided to shift away and actually empower 60,000+ small and med-sized restaurants with technology, food concepts, and digital branding. We became 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 technology solution ‘Onnow.io’ 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.
As Onnow, we are now scaling at a rapid speed while ensuring growth for our Restaurant Partners. As we launch a new brand every 2 months, we are also adding 3-6 Restaurants Partners every month with a target of opening 78 internet restaurant outlets by December 2022. By the end of December 2024, this number will rise to 150.
Syed Tahmid Zaman Rashik, a Bangladeshi-born Canadian Permanent Resident, graduated from Newcastle University, UK with a First-Class Distinction in Marketing. After graduation, he completed his Masters in Strategic Marketing from the prestigious Imperial College London in 2015. At Onnow, Tahmid is the Co-Founder and CEO, who manages the overall business with a strong day-to-day focus on software development, branding, finance and partner management.