How Dah Makan is Simplifying Lunch

Some things are so obviously true that saying them out loud seems counter productive. At the back of our minds we know that hungry people that want to be healthy, shouldn't be expected to make healthy dining or shopping decisions. It's because the rational part of their minds know that healthy options will take time to make while unhealthy options are comfort foods, going so far as being packaged in an easy-to-tear manner so they can be consumed quickly.

By default, human beings do not behave rationally even when faced with obvious decisions. But we're prone to change occasionally when an authority figure says so. This is why funds are directed at researchers to come to well known conclusions.

So in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture co-funded a research grant to the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. Dr. Aner Tal co-authored a study that concluded that when pre-ordering of lunch was an option, people are likely to pick healthier dishes - before hunger kicks in.

Then last year, the British Journal of Health Psychology published a fascinating paper titled "On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life", authored by Dr. Tamlin Conner and her colleagues at the University of Otago. The researchers sought to highlight the extent to which food affects our day-to-day experiences.

The paper concludes that by pre-ordering a healthy lunch, people can take control over their eating habits & supercharge productivity. This is also evident while shopping, in that doing so while hungry makes shoppers more prone to buying unhealthy items.

Dah Makan
Dah Makan. Photo: Company sourced

In all my years working in the Middle East and Asia Pacific, the question of "What's for lunch?" was always last minute. The options are either quick and unhealthy, or slow and expensive. A colleague recently introduced me to Dah Makan in Malaysia so I tried it out and loved it.

So I dropped everything I was doing to meet up with co-founder Jonathan Weins and learn more about the business.


Why did you & Jessica make this instead of building over Foodpanda?

Jessica and I actually launched Foodpanda in Hong Kong in early 2014. During that time, we learnt the ins and outs of food delivery as well as the existing gap in the market that made us launch a new kind of food delivery concept.

Marketplaces such as Foodpanda are good to aggregate existing choices but they are highly limited in terms of being able to control the quality of the food as well as curating the experience. On top of that, they are too expensive to be considered an everyday option. We wanted to create a completely new food delivery experience and quickly discovered that in order to provide a superior food and delivery experience, we needed to control the entire value chain from sourcing, preparing, cooking to delivering.

Why didn't you pilot the concept in Hong Kong instead of Malaysia?

We decided to start off in Malaysia due to several factors: Malaysians are tech savvy and used to ordering food online due to traffic and limited restaurant choices in many office areas. At the same time, people are getting more health conscious and are looking for food made with better ingredients as they feel the difference. Plus, it's a great country to start a company.

What is Dah Makan doing better than its competitors?

We want to create a new way to eat well everyday: Serving food that is as tasty as eating out and combine that with an ordering experience that is more convenient than cooking for yourselves - order in just 3 taps and have food delivered in under 30 minutes.

Replicating the concept isn't too hard. Is there anything proprietary that thwarts copy cats?
We are truly a food tech startup so the secret sauce is both in the food and on the tech side.

On the food side, we asked ourselves how we could make our food even better for delivery. To answer that, we are working with advisers who have experience in producing high quality food at scale for 1st class passengers of airlines, former executives from McDonald's & Domino's Pizza, food scientists and 5 star chefs.

On the technology side, we asked ourselves how we could create the most convenient and best customer experience. We took a lot inspiration from Uber and other companies who made the user experience hassle-free.

When did you start and how's the traction so far?

A year ago, we completely bootstrapped and tested the idea by cooking out of our own apartment for selected friends. From there, things quickly took off as our loyal customers referred more and more friends, family as well as their colleagues. Now, our kitchen is led by our Executive Chef who was previously leading the kitchen of 5 star hotels such as the Hilton and Sheraton.

Most of our repeat customers order between 3-4 times per week so our Executive Chef ensures that we maintain consistency and further improve food taste despite our order growth of over 30% per month.

The Team
The team. Photo: Company sourced

On the technology side, we are about to launch our iOS & Android app and start accepting on-demand orders with delivery in under 30 mins across Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Our goal is to make eating healthy & delicious food easier and faster than ordering fast food such as McDonald's or Domino's.

What's the economics of the business and when do you expect break even?While we have a clear path to profitability, our main focus is to keep on delivering additional value to our customers.

For our model, the more customers we serve, the better rates we can get from suppliers and the lower our delivery cost becomes. However, instead of having profitability as main priority, we'll continue to pass on those savings to the customers by further lowering prices. This allows us to open up the market so that a wider customer group can afford us as their daily lunch and dinner choice.

How long did it take to go from idea to launch phase?

Given that it is a completely new way of delivering food and the initial idea sounded somewhat crazy, we immediately set out to test the idea. From idea to launch, it took us less than 2 weeks.

How is the team split up between customer acquisition & retention?
We are only starting to roll out marketing so 90% of our team works either in kitchen, operations or customer service. We want to wow customers and there are still many ideas on how to make our service even more convenient and faster, so operations will always be our main focus in terms of growing the team.