The ‘lockdown’ as it is popularly referred to now, will undoubtedly go down in history as a tipping point in the rate of adoption of technology-driven food delivery platforms. Almost overnight, hundreds and thousands of users signed up to whatever platforms available and restaurants embraced delivery with open arms. Restaurants and eateries didn’t have much choice anyway. It was either that, or go bust.
Sri Lanka’s food delivery scene is dominated by two major players: Uber Eats and PickMe Food. They may not be the first, but thanks to their scale, brand visibility, and (relatively) deeper pockets have been able to emerge as the top dogs in the space. Now however, there is a new player in town—EAT.LK
In its current form, EAT.LK may be one of the newest entrants in the space, but the idea was formed a long time ago. “Once I returned to Sri Lanka from the UK in 2015, I wanted to launch a food delivery service here, very much similar to those found in the UK such as Just Eat” says Shibly Ibrahim, co-founder of EAT.LK. But things didn’t go as planned. At the time, Shibly did not have an understanding of business and did not know how to go about making his dream for a food delivery platform come true. “Back then, Quickee was the only major delivery service in town,” Shibly notes. After a lot of thought, they decided to pivot and in 2017, EAT.LK was reborn as a food blog.
Sadly though, the blog had to be shuttered due to financial issues. “But we still did not want to let go of the idea to launch a food delivery platform” says Shibly. In 2017, they pitched the idea to a local taxi hailing service, but were turned down. No one really knew how app-enabled food delivery would work in Sri Lanka.
“The local ride hailing company told us that we hadn’t done enough research” says Shibly.
But Shibly and his team knew better.
The Uber Effect
Having seen first-hand how services like Uber Eats and Deliveroo tend to launch and gain market share, Shibly knew that with ride hailing fast becoming popular, it was only a matter of time before Uber expands into food delivery through the launch of Uber Eats in Sri Lanka. And sure enough, they did. “Thanks to their scale and international experience, Uber Eats really knows how to launch in a new market and capture market share quickly. Once they enter a market, they bring about a complete paradigm shift in how things work,” says Shibly, thoughtfully. Soon after Uber Eats launched in Sri Lanka, home-grown ride hailing service PickMe too, announced their entry into the food delivery space.
Undeterred, Shibly and his co-founder Zaheer Ahamed decided to pick up where they left off, and set out to plan their next pivot. This time, they had the benefit of experience. They were also able to study what the two largest players were doing right, and where they were going wrong.
COVID19 And The Rise Of Delivery
The nearly three month long curfew imposed in late March to prevent the spread of COVID19 gave a chance for food delivery platforms to shine. Operating within restrictions, various food delivery platforms tried to cater to surging demand the best they could. Restaurants—now shuttered, signed up with as many delivery platforms as they could to try and keep the cash register ringing.
Realizing that it was now or never, Shibly, Zaheer and their team decided to launch EAT.LK’s food delivery platform in early May.
The Promise Of A More Equitable System
Thanks to their familiarity with the restaurant industry, the EAT.LK team had a very good understanding of how restaurants work. “Restaurants typically work with a slim profit margin, which is why it is hard for them to invest in their own delivery infrastructure. Unless your order volumes are really high, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s much easier to partner with a delivery platform” says Zaheer. In exchange for providing plug-and-play access to delivery infrastructure, some of the larger platforms tend to charge significant commissions, which the EAT.LK team believes is not fair by the restaurants and customers. “The commission can increase prices for the end consumer significantly and eats into the already slim profits of the restaurants. Worse yet, the delivery riders get a pittance” says Shibly.
EAT.LK charges lower commissions from restaurants, while also paying delivery riders better. “It is important to make sure that the delivery riders are looked after very well. After all, they make everything possible” says Zaheer. Customer service is another key element of EAT.LK’s value proposition. “We promise restaurants that any issue they face on the EAT.LK platform will be resolved within one hour” Shibly adds.
By the time the platform went live in early May, the EAT.LK team had managed to sign up several prominent local restaurants including BubbleMe Bubble Tea, Café Kumbuk, Cremalato, A&M Cupcakes, Dessert Sea and Isso. Since then, more and more restaurants have been signing up for the platform on a weekly basis, including quite a few home bakers as well.
For the moment, EAT.LK only operates within Colombo city limits. Though expansion plans are in the works, the team prefers to iron out as many issues as they can before covering more localities in the greater Colombo region. “It’s easier to fix things one at a time while expanding simultaneously, instead of covering a large area early on and then working backwards to try and solve problems” says Shibly. “We know of one major player who has run into issues because of their flawed approach” he concludes.
The EAT.LK app is available for both iOS and Android devices and can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. Restaurants interested in signing up with EAT.LK can contact the team on +94 77 007 0708 or send an email to email@example.com