If you are a good cook and would like to share your creations with the rest of the fellow Dhakaites, you can register with Cookups—a platform on Facebook for sharing homemade food. A kitchen inspection will be conducted by one of their representatives, and after paying an initial registration fee, you can start posting photos of your homemade food items in the group, choose your mode of delivery and start spreading the love.
Namira Hossain, co-founder and CEO of Cookups sits down with Avenue T to discuss what prompted such a brilliant idea, how it has helped the home-cooks and where the founders are planning to take the project next.
Why is it called Cookups-Pilot?
The name of our Facebook group is Cookups Pilot as it is a pilot project to test whether our business had a viable market. Many startups make the mistake of starting to build a product without testing whether there is a market for it, we did not want to fall into that trap and hence the Facebook pilot group was created.
What prompted the idea?
A love of good food and sharing of course! Credit for the idea goes to our co-founder Misha Ali. As he loves to cook and feed others, he found that he would often have dinner parties with the same friends over and over. Many others were clamouring to try the food, and of course - financially, it also becomes tough. We figured that there were many others who were in the same boat - women who always send over food to their friends and family because they genuinely love to share their food, but are not necessarily benefiting from it. We had been talking about it for a while, but after the attacks last year when people were staying away from restaurants is when we launched.
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How easy or difficult was it to get people on board with this idea?
It wasn’t too difficult, our growth at first was largely organic and happened through word of mouth.
Any glitches so far?
There are glitches and problems everyday, but nothing that some creative thinking and brainstorming cannot resolve.
How does it work for or help home cooks?
It has helped home cooks because they are being able to earn an income while staying at home. Most of our cooks are women, who used to work previously but for various reasons decided to quit their jobs and stay home and take care of the family. Cookups has given them a new lease on life—not only a purpose but a means to earn an income and contribute to their households as well as having their own financial freedom.
What do the home cooks have to say about the initiative?
They love it and are very grateful to this platform - this is what keeps us going. Knowing that we have been able to make an impact on their lives.
How has the feedback (from the clients) been so far?
Overall, feedback has been generally good. The diners now have access to such a huge variety of food at their fingertips. Specially because our delivery partner Oi Khali has been there to help us out with the logistics—this has made things extremely convenient for everyone.
How has the scope of the project changed since its inception?
We have had to reevaluate our goals somewhat because our growth was faster than expected.
How do these ventures help empower women?
They help empower women because as I mentioned, a large majority of our cooks are housewives. Cookups has given them an opportunity to do what they love and gain financial freedom out of it by earning an income.
How did the Cookups Night Bazaar pan out?
The Night Bazaar worked out great. Our partnership with Jete Chao also worked out seamlessly as we were able to delegate our responsibilities and organise accordingly. We hope to do more events in the future, so watch this space!
How has Cookups impacted the way people dine?
Eating and talking about food is a favourite past-time for most Bangladeshis. However, nowadays family dynamics are changing. Before, everyone used to live at home and have access to their ‘ma-er haater ranna’. Now, many young professionals are choosing to live by themselves and often it is hard to find good help or cooks to work for you. After starting Cookups, even we ended up letting go of our cook. People are no longer forced to spend money for restaurants on food that is often unhealthy—they have more choices than they used to.
How do you choose your kitchen inspectors?
We have interviews just like we do with all other employees. We also have a self-checklist for potential cooks to see for themselves whether their kitchen meets our hygiene requirements. Our inspection executives then use our checklist while inspecting the kitchens.
Do newcomers have a hard time competing with the top-rated home cooks already in the group?A lot of new cooks (not all) already have their networks of friends and family who know and love their food. If they are able to utilise their support system, then it is not that hard to get orders. Of course, we do have our popular cooks who tend to get a lot of orders but more than competing with others, it is about persistence. If you do not get orders on your first offer, post an offer again.
Any plans on collaborating with other delivery companies besides Oi Khali?
We share the same founder as Oi Khali, which would be Misha Ali. And hence, we get dedicated service from them. Logistics is a difficult business, and timeliness and clever route planning mean everything. If we were to find other delivery companies who would give us the same level of service, we would definitely be open to it.
Where are you going next with Cookups?
Our app should be released relatively soon and we are looking forward to that. This will enable us to expand further and not be restricted as we are on Facebook. We would like to expand first to the rest of Bangladesh, as we believe that good food should not have any boundaries. And then, who knows? We think this is an idea that would also work in the rest of Asia, not just our country. Meanwhile, we have also started a similar project called Growups which is an online platform for buying and selling produce as we want to encourage local farmers and growers.
Photo courtesy: Cookups Facebook page