Armed with an excel sheet and young-spirited optimism, Nicky Alfred and Claudin knock on the doors of CEOs from the food industry. “You can scale your brand five x faster with more profits,” Claudin would say, “While investing zero money,” Nicky would add. At that instant, Nicky would input details about the restaurant’s cash flow into the excel. On the screen, one could see the wide gap in the estimated profit for opening an outlet or franchise and partnering with Smoose. The offer is enticing with almost 25 percent more royalty.
“Think of it like D-Mart,” Nicky says, referring to the Indian retail giant, “Except, we partner with restaurants and sell their products.” Every restaurant has a specific ingredient and way of assembling its food. These processes add up to the ‘secret sauce’ that makes a brand what it is. The ingredients and processes (also called SOPs) are bought by the startup at a nominal cost and executed at Smoose assembly stations across the city.
“It takes time for people to understand,” the duo chuckles as they continue to explain how they want to support small brands to fall under Swiggy’s and Zomato’s radar in every neighbourhood.
The idea for the startup came from the fresh graduates’ wide-eyed dream of becoming entrepreneurs and their passionate displeasure through classes at engineering college. “Claudin and I have been friends since LKG,” Nicky narrates, describing their lives growing up in Trichy.
In 12th grade, the friends made a pact to become entrepreneurs and incorporate a startup together. Although they enrolled in different universities and parted ways, they reunited for a brief weekend during their first year at a startup event conducted by TechCrunch at Anna University in Chennai.
The event was followed by a myriad of ideas through brainstorming sessions between the two—leading to a string of small projects along the lines of an online greeting card designer (that bagged second place) and a plant exchange.
The thrill of solving problems was everything they dreamed it would be. “We barely knew the technicalities involved in starting a business—but we kept learning with every idea,” Nicky confesses.
The Covid pandemic during their second year saved the duo from their mundane college lives. “We got to complete the rest of college from home while spending more time shaping our start-up ideas,” they grin.
Until then, none of their projects intended to make any real impact. “We sat down one day and thought—We spend most of our time going out to eat. Why don’t we focus on the food industry?” Nicky continues to narrate as Claudin nods.
“Dine-in was a popular app during the lockdown as restaurants began replacing menus with QR codes,” Claudin explains. Inspired by the app, the duo partnered with three restaurants in Trichy to build a comprehensive contactless ordering experience for customers. “We had just learned to code three months before,” they laugh in unison, “So we were often called back to the restaurant every time the app crashed.”
The extended hours at the restaurants and the numerous conversations with the employees and customers made them realize that placing orders was not the biggest problem. A large portion of the restaurant’s income went into rent, operations, management and maintenance. The story was the same at every restaurant.
Two years of research, observation, travel and study lead the duo to build the business model that defines Smoose today. “We attended the Dubai Expo 2022 to watch the Kitopi live kitchen,” they share one of their studies as they explain that even though the problem is worldwide, the solution needs to be region specific.
The fresh graduates are now incubated at AIC RAISE in Coimbatore and have an MVP built in a 1 BHK space in Chennai—partnered with brands like Kaati Roll, Brownie Heaven, Abby’s and Galouti Bomb.