By Billy Teo
One gets the feeling that the Zeemart founders have a thing for superheroes.
Neeraj Sundarajoo and Keith Tan swear that their friendship is as tight as The Avengers.
Neeraj has always been Captain America, “determined to make a difference in the world by changing the status quo.”
Keith is Iron Man, spending countless days and nights creating innovative new products.
Neighbourhood friends since childhood, the Siglap boys went from playing soccer to starting, their first company, Comwerks, together in 2002.
Their first business venture was eventually acquired in 2010, and the pair would continue working in WPP for the next seven years.
Along the way, they realised many of their favourite restaurants were shutting down prematurely. This led them to eventually sitting down for long conversations with restaurant and café owners.
One insight gained was how the back-of-house operations in these establishments had missed the wave of digital transformation that other industries have undergone, leading to higher operating costs and high wastage.
Thus, their new adventure was born: Saving their favourite restaurants with Zeemart!
Here’s what they shared with IMPact.
Q: How would you describe Zeemart’s business model to a non-techie?
We help anyone who operates a commercial kitchen save money and we help suppliers increase their revenue by getting more customers!
Q: Zeemart has been described as a Food Tech company. What do you have to say about that?
While the industry sees us as a Food Tech company, we believe we are a company that aggregates innovative technology and delivers it to stakeholders seamlessly.
We see ourselves as Business-Builders, focused on delivering impact to all our stakeholders in the food supply value chain.
This could be in the form of combining both online & offline solutions. An example would be integrating digital payments with a ‘Hub & Spoke’ distribution model for a family-owned food supplier looking to achieve operation excellence.
Everything we do is based on the solid foundation of data and insights we collect from our users. This allows us to understand behaviours and identify areas of opportunity where technology can make this more efficient and seamless.
Q: Zeemart has been quoted as emphasising the importance of transactional data.Why so?
Data is at the core of Zeemart’s strategy, and it has been the fuel to our growth.
Through detailed analysis of the transactional data flowing through our platform, we can better understand demand data and leverage business intelligence to improve our offerings.
By analysing data such as, points of origin, drop-offs as well as timings, we can plan routes more efficiently and optimise the supply chain. Operating in a market with razor-thin margins means any improvements will have a direct impact on the bottom line.
We aspire to do this at a sectoral level, which will allow us to deliver greater value and solve other challenges that the F&B industry is facing, including reducing food wastage.
We strongly believe that all the answers that we are looking for lie in the data that we are sitting on.
Q: What does it really mean in terms of actual operations, when you say Zeemart helps businesses to manage inventory and procurement/sourcing on one platform?
Restaurant operations are traditionally very manual, and paper based. With Zeemart, they can perform all key activities on a single digital platform. Every action can now be managed, and access to information is faster and more accurate. This allows operators to make better business decisions, remove the guesswork and stress of managing food costs and wastage.
In traditional restaurant operations, purchase and delivery receipts are all in paper format, to be paid for at the end of every month.
In our research and data analysis, we realised that restaurants incur losses through this out-dated payment system, with limited accountability and information back-up to assess past input and output costs.
In addition, these restaurants end up becoming a major participant in paper wastage, due to the endless paper invoices generated every week!
Riverwalk Tandoor has been using Zeemart for over a year, and in a recent interview, Operations Director Sukhvinder Singh mentioned that Zeemart is as easy to use as WhatsApp! The restaurant uses Zeemart every day to digitally manage its procurement for three outlets to help track and review orders.
It has saved about 50% of the time previously spent placing orders, whilst also eliminating wrong orders and saving on travel time shuttling between outlets to review paper invoices. Part of Zeemart's service offering is also invoice digitisation, which has helped save time spent by the accounting department on data entry.
Q: What led to the development of Zeemart Zoom? How is this service doing so far?
A recurring request from our customers was for a better way to source supplies and suppliers online. Finding suppliers remains a very manual and lengthy process, with information mainly gathered from friends or colleagues, instead of a ‘self-service’ model.
This led us to create Zoom, which aims to simplify and shorten the sourcing process.
The current iteration of Zoom is still in the experimentation stage. We receive a healthy number of requests for quotations daily and will be doing a full launch very soon!
Q: What would you say is Zeemart’s X-factor for success?
We have thrived on our ability to deliver great customer experiences in our product offerings. We have made it easy for anyone to use our platform with minimal training and model it after popular consumer apps like WhatsApp and WeChat.
Another key factor is the ability of our team to understand the needs of the end users and continuously improve our product offering, through valuable feedback from our active user community.
We affectionately call them ‘Friends of Zeemart’!
We like to say that Zeemart is in ‘perpetual beta’. This means the product is constantly being improved on a regular basis, constantly finding new ways to help ‘connect the dots for our users.
Lastly, we have been blessed with recognition from our peers in the industry. Earlier this year we made it into Singapore Business Review’s list of 20 Hottest Start-ups for 2019. In late November we were Grand Prize winners at the ASEAN - Republic of Korea Start Up Summit that was held in Busan, Korea.
We strongly believe these awards and accolades are validation on the success that we are achieving in the marketplace and the value that we are delivering to our industry.
Q: What lies ahead for the F&B industry, from Zeemart’s perspective?
We strongly believe that we have entered the Age of Disruption in the industry. Every stakeholder in the Food Value Chain is experiencing this!
Food delivery applications have changed the ways we feed our families. We have also seen the proliferation of new concepts like Cloud or Ghost Kitchens. We will see upstarts embrace these market trends and develop innovative food concepts.
Consumer habits are also rapidly changing, and this has helped companies that offer alternative protein and meal plans to boom. With growing challenges in the global food supply chain, there will be a greater demand for the origins and traceability in the F&B sector.
We are encouraged by the recent formation of the Singapore Food Agency and it does show the importance that the government is placing towards our sector.
Some of the initiatives by SFA highlight how we are working towards building a better Singapore through food security and reduction of food wastage. We strongly believe we can contribute to these national programs.
Q: How has the experience been for Zeemart, to be a digital sector pilot project initiated by IMDA and ESG?
As a start-up operating in a sector that has been slow in the adoption of technology, our greatest challenge has been developing strategies to educate the market on the value that digital could bring to their business, and identifying the right early adopters to embrace change and drive adoption at a sectoral level.
Becoming the pilot e-procurement platform for SMEs in the food services industry has been a great endorsement for Zeemart.
This has allowed us to encourage the industry to partner with our technology. Through various industry promotions and media coverage led by IMDA, we have been able to attract businesses to consider us as collaborators in their digitalisation journeys. We are grateful for this close working relationship with IMDA that has helped us to get clients like FoodXervices, Mr Teh Tarik and Huggs Coffee.
Q: How can agencies like DISG and IMDA better support startups like Zeemart?
We are deeply appreciative for all the support provided by IMDA in our journey so far.
And we strongly believe that the greatest success in a Public-Private Partnership can be achieved through alignment of interests and leveraging each other’s strengths.
We hope to see IMDA and DISG identify precinct-level initiatives, where we can work in a collaborative and co-operative manner with other like-minded start-ups, corporates, social enterprises and non-governmental organisations. IMDA and other government agencies and statuary boards can bring partners to the collective and provide support and resources in achieving the common good for the industry.
Photos in this article have been published with permission from Zeemart