- Business Insider/ Joey Lee
Running a business can bear some similarities to the way a swan swims.
Gliding across water, a swan seems poised and elegant but underneath, desperate webbed feet waddle furiously, keeping its body afloat.
With digital ordering systems and cashless technologies in place, the front of a business always appears up-to-date, smooth-sailing and orderly, even to the untrained eyes.
But what goes on behind the scenes, is often a completely different matter, with orders made through multiple channels such as chat apps (WhatsApp/WeChat), fax machines, emails, and phone calls.
This messy ordering process is exacerbated if different goods are ordered from multiple suppliers, as they often are, in order to leverage on price competitiveness.
Now multiply the problem by the number of restaurants in a chain and it’s no wonder that many aspiring entrepreneurs are hesitant to even step foot into the F&B industry.
This painful ordering process is what prompted Mr Keith Tan and Mr Neeraj Sundarajoo, the duo who developed Starbucks Singapore’s mobile app, to work on a solution that makes life easier for the thousands of chefs, hawkers and restaurant owners to whom the daily ordering process poses a huge headache.
The both of them, together with mentors Mr Jerry Lim and Mr Steven Seet, are the founders of business-to-business (B2B) sourcing platform Zeemart, which aims to streamline the ordering process for both business owners and suppliers.
But first, what on earth is a B2B sourcing platform right?
The founders liken Zeemart to an Alibaba site for business owners, so different parties in the supply chain can buy and sell raw materials and supplies.
If you’re familiar with online shopping on Lazada, the concept is similar.
Put yourself in the shoes of a F&B owner and imagine sourcing all your materials, from perishable raw ingredients, to utensils, furniture or even uniforms.
According to Zeemart’s founders, the sourcing process is “pain-free” through their platform which promises to keep track of delivery times, when to re-order items or even if a supplier has enough stocks available.
If you’re playing the role of a supplier, an added boon is that the interaction happens purely on an independent platform.
This makes suppliers happy to come aboard as “they don’t have to build it, they don’t have to manage it and it’s easy to port their buyers over (to the platform),” said Mr Sundarajoo.
But is the service worth it? According to Mr Tan, users can expect a potential 10 to 15% drop in financial, time and manpower costs.
Additional savings include that from not spending unnecessary money overbuying products and the ability to reduce wastage because you’re minimising the amount of perishable food being thrown away.
“30 to 33% of your revenue is spent on your food supplies,” said Mr Tan.
And common mistakes businesses make include over-ordering and overpaying, often because there’s little time to find a better supplier.
The beta version was rolled out in March and the official app was launched in July.
The response so far has been “positive” with “a couple of hundred businesses” on board the platform, said Mr Sundarajoo.
Some of their existing clients include The Daily Cut, New Ubin Seafood, Paulaner Brauhaus, The Pines and The Flying Squirrel.
A business owner Business Insider spoke to was not fully convinced by the idea, as she questioned the ability of the app to incorporate her hundreds of suppliers and balked at the thought of converting all of them at the initial stage.
And that is a problem that occurs when “merging the old world with the new”, as Mr Lim puts it.
But if Singapore is going full-steam ahead in the pursuit of becoming a “Smart Nation”, it might bode well for businesses to change traditional mindsets and embrace digitisation.