Muhammed Asif and Sayem Faruk--upon graduating from BBA, Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka-- chose catering business. They are currently trusted by 70 leading corporate houses and have a client base of celebrities, ministers, and corporates of the country.
To get valuable insights about their journey of running Alpha Catering, Rashik Riasat interviewed Muhammed Asif and Sayem Faruk, the two co-founders of the company.
Alpha Catering offers customised 360° catering and event management solution for corporate and private events, weddings, regular office lunch, and cafeteria management.
Question (Q): What was it like deviating from the conventional path of doing a job after graduation and choosing to do something different?
Sayem: Mostly, it is very rewarding, to be honest. You visualise something in your mind that exists as an abstract idea, and then when you see it in real life, when you can hold it in your hands that is a fantastic feeling. My family members were supportive of what I was doing. However, some relatives were more concerned than my parents were, so I had to face disapprovals like why I had chosen this path after studying Business Administration and graduating from one of the best business schools of Bangladesh. They had severe doubts about my decision, but I was okay with it. In addition, some days are very hard when the performances were not up to the mark and there were absence of desired results. Overall, it was mostly an enriching experience.
Q: Once you had made a choice, what was it that got you into this particular sector of the catering business?
Sayem: So, Asif and I, just like anybody else, had this fascination toward food and wanted to set up a restaurant. However, later we realised that the market is very saturated. Hence, we started looking for something else, and the idea of a catering business came to our mind. This was a very backward industry and we realised there was definite scope of improvement in this industry in terms of quality of food, service, presentation of the products, etc.
The catering industry in Bangladesh is normally perceived as very unglamorous. However, in case of foreign countries, the picture is quite the opposite - sophisticated preparing process and service and quality maintenance are beyond what we can imagine. This desire to bring those excellent practices to our country is what led us into this particular catering industry.
Q: How did you find investors and convinced them about your startup idea?
Asif: Our investors were our seniors from IBA, DU. We had close seniors from the IBA BBA- the first batch, the fifth batch, and other batches. We had to convince them and pitch our ideas and finally share our business plan. We tried to show them the current market scenario, the areas of improvement in food quality, taste and presentation and how untapped opportunities could be tapped if the customers' needs were aptly identified and satisfied.
Q: Can you talk about any challenge that you are facing while changing the norms of the industry?
Asif: In the very beginning, where to hire chefs from was a big concern. Setting up the accounting standards and system, the HR policy, our marketing strategy - we had to face challenges in all these fields as we were focused on perfecting our product. However, one of the most significant problems that we encountered was gaining the trust of people in an industry where people tended to put a lot of weight to those who were experienced.
People did not trust a young team like ours, they thought we might mess everything up. It seemed our youthhood and our energy turned against us. Currently, we are having difficulties in attracting top talents. There is a stigma associated with this sector-- it is a backward industry. We do have some industry experts, but committed fresh graduates are still scarce.
Q: How do you do things differently than others in the industry?
Asif: Well, as a company, we are not doing something exceptional. However, what we intend to do is to cover the basics consistently. In our company, we call them STAT- service, taste, accuracy, and timeliness. We make sure the service is up to the mark from a holistic point of view - customer interaction, after-sales service etc. We make sure the taste of our food is great, the orders are accurate and timely.
The competition in this industry is quite high, to be honest. It is not always that you find customers who look into the quality of the service and not just the price. Hence, we try to make sure that the marketing and customer relationship management is up to the mark. We are very interactive on social media and we generate many leads from there. Digital marketing is something a traditional catering company would never care about.
In addition, we are a very customer-centric company. If there is ever a complain, we would give you immediate refunds, we will replace the item, we will not ever try to justify our incompetence. If it is an error, it is an error. The customer is always right to us.
Sayem: Our transparency is another aspect that is different from other traditional companies. Most of the companies do not even publish their prices anywhere. They even go as far as adjusting their food quality based on the client's economic status level. We never do these sort of things. Our prices are published everywhere as well.
Q: How are you bringing innovation in your service?
Sayem: Speaking of innovation, we have introduced live cooking in our events. We have brought in the use of technology in this sector. Marketing, operations-- everything is done using technology. Our dashboard provides all sorts of information related to your orders and delivery.
In addition, we are working on another project called alpha360 which will be the first-ever events marketplace in Bangladesh. You can go there and type in your event, find all sorts of vendors for your events, get quotations from us, and we will not just provide the information, but also ensure the service. You will not have to go looking for different companies for different purposes, we will arrange all for you. Therefore, this will be a one-stop solution for your entire problem.
Asif: Alpha Catering is constantly innovating in its service, gradually trying to improve the public perception regarding catering sector in the country. The biggest moat we bring in this industry is our own intellectual capital. Everything else is replicable and has low barriers to entry.
The interviewer Rashik Riasat is a second year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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