Marcus: “We aim to simplify your life by doing the heavy lifting for you when it comes to cooking.”
One of the harsh realities of urban life is that you don’t get to eat home-cooked food much. With the hustle and bustle of city life, it’s hard to find time to cook your own meals. So, many city slickers end up eating out. It’s fast and convenient but hardly the healthiest way to dine.
Urban Stove, a hot new online F&B start-up, aims to change that by making home cooking fast, easy and fun.
“We understand the pressures of modern living and how it can whittle away our precious time,” says Urban Stove founder Marcus Koh.
“That’s why we aim to simplify your life by doing the heavy lifting for you when it comes to cooking – from creating recipes, running out to groceries, preparing and pre-portioning the ingredients to delivering all these things to your doorsteps.”
According to Koh, the company’s chefs create and plan menus that are changed weekly to give customers a chance to taste a wide range of culinary delights. Customers just have to choose a combination of three meals which will be delivered in a special insulated box that comes with recipe cards that show what the final meal will look like after it’s cooked as well as step-by-step instructions on how to achieve that.
The food e-commerce industry is not a new one here in Malaysia. There are already several local online endeavours that offer to deliver meals to customers. But Urban Stove’s concept is unique. It’s not about sending meals over to customers but allowing customers to easily cook their own meals. That is a unique twist that allows Urban Stove to distinguish itself from other online F&B businesses.
Unlike a bricks-and-mortar F&B business, an online one like Urban Stove can more easily operate across the country. Of course it would mean setting up central kitchens (where the ingredients are prepared) in different urban markets but each central kitchen can serve a much larger geographic area than a physical F&B outlet could do.
Founding a food business is not something that one would have expected from Koh, who has a long background in recruitment, having worked for nearly a decade in the head-hunting industry. Although this has nothing to do with food, the experiences he gained in that industry proved to be very useful. “Without a doubt, the network I’ve built over the years did come in handy from the standpoint of business advice and referrals,” he says.
“The single biggest challenge we faced was setting up and piecing the different components together and ensuring that they operate cohesively – this includes the kitchen, production, logistics, platform development, branding and customer acquisition,” says Koh.
A consummate professional, Koh did not believe in cutting corners, so he sought out and engaged consultants in the F&B industry to help him in the setting up of the infrastructure and systems needed to operate such a business. You can’t afford to skimp on such things, he says.
Being an entrepreneur is not easy. The website is just at beta-launch mode and Koh is already quite tired. “Honestly, working to resolve challenge after challenge is tiring,” he says. “But what keeps my team and me going is the vision we have for the business. It also boils down to our conviction that this thing has legs.”
This new venture is partly self-funded by Koh and partly funded by an angel investor who is not involved in the running of the business. Although business has just started he is already looking at getting more investors so he can grow and expand the business.
There are many ways to do that including diversifying wildly into various niche segments under the Urban Stove brand name. But Koh believes focus is important. If the company is to grow it should be along the lines of what has been established already instead of trying to break new ground in a host of different areas.
“It is always our ambition to expand across Southeast Asia,” he says. “It is now just a question of what is our focus and keeping this on track. Learning how to say no is a good thing.”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.