This startup connects people with hawker comfort food

February this year marks the two years anniversary of WhyQ, a hawker 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 direct its existing customers to WhyQ.

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,” Singhvi explained.

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: the long queue.

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

But what actually sets WhyQ apart from other food delivery services that also can kill the queue 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 is 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 fixed 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 from Grab Food or other food delivery,” 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, Singhvi shared that ever since WhyQ operated, they have been studying Plum as it was the company's indirect competitor.

“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 reason why WhyQ outlasted Plum was the latter's 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 operations in Singapore to explain to them how WhyQ worked.

“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 codes. We're also onboarding its hawker partners onto WhyQ,” said Singhvi.

Friendly but tricky

WhyQ tires to give hawkers pricing options, either commission them for not more than ten to 15 per cent, or let WhyQ markup on their food price for 10 to 15 per cent.

“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 , 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, 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 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

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

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 an item, at the same time not overburdening 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.

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

With hawkers and e-wallets, 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 has 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 in the pipeline 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 suppliers 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 ordered 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 the 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 still limited to email communication,” said Singhvi.

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