Authenticook Joins Booking Booster Programme to Pitch for €500k Grant
Ameya Deshpande, Co-Founder and Head of Strategy, Business Development & Finance, Authenticook, provides insights on his venture and how he feels to be selected as the only India-based startup shortlisted for the programme.
Booking.com, the global leader in connecting travellers with the widest choice of incredible places to stay, received an unprecedented number of applications from global start-ups for its accelerator programme, Booking Booster, in its first year. As an extension of the company’s existing ‘Booking Cares’ programme, an internal company initiative where employees partner with local NGOs on projects that help improve destinations worldwide, the goal of Booking Booster is to support start-ups dedicated to sustainable tourism.
700 start-ups from across 102 countries applied to the programme with entities from India registering the third highest number of applications. Authenticook has made it to the final selection of the top 10 ventures globally to pitch for grants of up to €500,000 from Booking.com.
Founded in September 2015 with a pilot in Mumbai, which lasted 9 months, Authenticook has expanded to Pune, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Goa, Kochi and recently entered New Delhi. The platform is a hub for home chefs to showcase their culinary skills and change the way people celebrate cuisines and learn about new cultures through the medium of food. Based on the fundamental belief that food is a religion that transcends boundaries, regions and prejudices, Authenticook positions itself as an avenue that brings people closer through the common love of food.
Ameya Deshpande, Co-Founder and Head of Strategy, Business Development & Finance, Authenticook, tells us more. Excerpts:
How did you manage to fund this idea?
We are currently self-funded. Given that it’s a fairly asset light model, the requirement of funds is limited. We have not spent excessively on marketing activities. Most of our fixed investment has gone into the website development. All other expenses are variable in nature.
What is this venture all about?
The concept is straightforward, whereby people go to the homes of people to have a unique culinary experience. In most cases, these would be cuisines which you wouldn’t get at any restaurant. The focus of the meals is on the food as well as the overall experience i.e. the conversations between the host and the diners and the diners within themselves. Each of the hosts on the website is empanelled by Authenticook; whereby Authenticook’s representatives have met the hosts personally at their home and tasted their food. Once empanelled, their listing is put up on the website and open for diners to enquire or book. From the diners’ perspective, they need to register on the website and either book their seat(s) for a scheduled meal or in case a meal is not scheduled for any particular date, the diner can request the meal on a date of their choice. In case the host is available on the requested date, the meal goes through.
The meals are pre-paid by the diners. Given that the meals are hosted at private residences of the hosts, the complete details of the same are only shared with the booking diners. Only the broad location is provided upfront.
Once the diner has completed the meal, he or she rates and reviews the meal on the website. We see this to be one of the most important factors which will drive business going forward; be it from the point of view of diner confidence or host engagement.
So how will you cope with the competition?
In terms of competitors, we do not have any competing aggregator platform in the social dining experience space in India. One of our inherent advantages is that we are India focused. The diversity of India enables us to bring about a uniqueness to our offerings. While it may not be commercially viable for every cuisine to have its cuisine-specific restaurants, these cuisines still get made at the homes of people from that region or community. Why not experience these meals over engaging and interesting conversations with the hosts as well as like-minded fellow diners, with whom you would have never crossed paths with in your normal course of life.
What do you observe as the emerging trend in users?
We have some very interesting insights in terms of the users (both diners and hosts).
Diners: 26% return customer ratio and 53% of the total seats have been booked by these return customers; thereby indicating that first hurdle for us is to make people go out of their comfort zone and have a meal at a stranger’s home and in some cases with other strangers. Once this barrier is crossed, these diners see the value in the meals that are being showcased. Many of our diners come alone for the meals and most of the booking diners are women. There has been an increasing trend of foreign travellers also participating in our experiences.
Hosts: Our host base is spread across genders and ages. Most of our hosts do not have a culinary degree or business but are very passionate about cooking; having hosted family and friends before. Now they want to spread their wings and build a small business of their own with limited risk and investment.
Do you have an app?
We currently do not have an app, but have a fully functional website which is also mobile responsive. Currently users can select the meals based on the cities, cuisines as well as the locations mentioned in the listings. The version 2 of our website will include location-based services which enable the users to browse through meals near them as well as to identify meals on a map (for easy discovery). We will also be coming up with an app in due course.
So how the business grown so far?
Our Pilot project has been for 63 meals with 433 seats. Post website launch it was 200 meals and 1,272 seats. Currently we have 3,500 users who have either registered on our website or added themselves to our subscriber list. We operate at an average margin of around 24% (this is the Authenticook service fee)
What are your marketing strategies to grow business?
Looking at the market opportunity, India’s middle class population as per income alone is 267 million (NCAER data for 2016). In addition, India had 9 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2016. This represents our target customer (locals and foreign tourists alike) base for social dining experiences considering only India. Our strategy is to engage with this audience by developing organic conversations through recipe videos and blogs as well as through partnerships with local businesses (cafes, home stays, local tour operators) and food/dining groups. We are also listing our experiences on online travel portals as well as setting up partnerships with global discovery platforms for newly introduced experience categories. We are also undertaking offline activities to generate visibility as well as to provide our hosts with a wider platform to showcase their skills. Eg. Setting up food stalls at leading super markets as well as participating in pop-up events.
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