Founder’s Story: Ambareen Reza, Managing Director & Co-founder at foodpanda Bangladesh
In 2014, Ambareen Reza started the foodpanda Bangladesh business with just a handful of team members and an ambitious idea.
We spoke to Ambareen about the crucial ‘ingredients’ for building a business, supporting communities during a pandemic, and her vision for the future.
Why did you decide to found your own business? And why food delivery?
All my life, I have never settled for the norm. I was the first girl in my family to get a scholarship to pursue my studies abroad, to be on the Dean’s List at a foreign university, and to become a Chartered Accountant. My parents gave me a lot of freedom but I always had to earn it. So, when I decided to return to Bangladesh after 9 years abroad, I knew it had to be to build something impactful. Returning to my roots was my chance to create something that I loved, believed in, and could scale quickly. Nothing can be scaled as fast as online businesses and I love food. So, the choice to found a food delivery business was inevitable.
Back in those days, Dhaka had exceptionally crazy traffic and most restaurants didn’t deliver. So, ordering was more complicated than it ever needed to be. Once I had my heart set on food delivery, I started approaching restaurants and investors with my pitch. Around the same time, I was introduced to Amit and Ralf who were keen to launch foodpanda in Bangladesh. It took a couple of months for everything to get off the ground, but eventually we launched foodpanda Bangladesh, and I guess the rest is history.
How did you get started?
We started with a small team of four at a small table in the Rocket office. Initially we had no money and I had to borrow money from my family to pay expenses. Our small collective worked hard to build the foundation that foodpanda Bangladesh stands on today. The drive and the passion still keeps us going with the same dedication as seven years ago.
Returning to my roots was my chance to create something that I loved, believed in, and could scale quickly.
In those first few weeks and months we explained the concept of our service to restaurant partners, marketed the idea to consumers, and managed operations and logistics, all while striving to deliver a better experience for customers. Within a short period of time we were able to build a strong and resilient network. It is exciting to see how the business has grown since then. Now, in 2021, we are the only hyper-local delivery platform with a strong footprint across the country’s 64 districts.
What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
There are many challenges of starting a business in Bangladesh but I think the main one for us was logistics. We initially worked with a third party company, but eventually realized that the only way forward was to build our own robust logistics apparatus. I’m proud to say that the logistics tech at Delivery Hero has evolved a lot in the last few years to be one of the best.
In just the past few months, we saw how far our logistics operation had come based on how quickly we were able to expand operations across the country in the midst of a pandemic. Every day at foodpanda Bangladesh brings new and exciting challenges, and my team and I look forward to taking them on and learning from them.
What ‘ingredients’ would you say are needed to successfully start a business?
Passion, persistence, and the ability to innovate and adapt at a moment’s notice are crucial when it comes to starting and maintaining a business. To break that down, I think that you have to be passionate about solving a problem. The goal of foodpanda Bangladesh is to make life easier for people across the country via efficient delivery. So you have to find out what slows delivery down, and take on those ever-evolving challenges day in and day out. Secondly, there’s no alternative to persistence. You have to do your research and improve continuously. And last but not least, you have to be agile. There are no shortcuts and there is no stopping.
foodpanda joined Delivery Hero in 2016. How did becoming part of a global network impact your business?
Becoming a part of Delivery Hero provided us at foodpanda Bangladesh with a wealth of experience from around the world. Access to an international knowledge base has given us immense insight into new concepts and innovations. I also think that being part of a global network has allowed us to be bolder and more innovative. Having the support of Delivery Hero means further improving our service is essential to meeting the global standards and attaining greater access to tools and experience.
What’s special about Bangladeshi food culture and people’s order behaviour?
Bangladeshis love to eat, and they love to share their love of food with everyone around them. There’s an unspoken rule in Bangladesh that you can never visit someone’s house and leave without eating something. I think that these traditions influence the way that people order here. People use foodpanda because the platform lets them share a meal with their friends and family at any time regardless of how busy they are. During the pandemic, families have been able to enjoy their favorite meals safely at home and I think that has been a huge comfort for many.
What role does foodpanda play for the industry and community in Bangladesh?
The online delivery business is still fairly new in many parts of Bangladesh and foodpanda has played a large role in enabling many first time income earners through our platform. The other day I received a message of gratitude from a rider that delivered some food to the office. He thanked us for creating a space that welcomed flexibility and promoted empowerment. These experiences make every investment feel so worthwhile.
Beyond creating a positive space for riders, we have also helped make small businesses take their operations online and tap into the digital economy. foodpanda Bangladesh is also an active member of the E-commerce Association of Bangladesh (eCAB) and together with them we are always working towards advancing the industry.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not at the office?
I’m a mom to a toddler, so it’s been exciting to be a new parent and see how much and how quickly life changes. If not in the office, I just really love spending time with him. I love reading, so I’m always looking for a new book to read. And I also loved to travel, but that hasn’t been possible due to the pandemic. I’m hoping that once the pandemic is over, I’ll be able to take a trip with my family.
What’s your favourite dish to order?
If I’m being honest, my favorite dish to order depends on the occasion. If I’m ordering for the whole family, I tend to order kacchi biryani, which is a famous Bangladeshi dish. It’s always a crowd pleaser and there are never any leftovers. If it’s for myself, I usually just order desserts or drinks since I’m a dessert instead of mains kind of person. Guilty as charged I guess!
What do you love most about your job?
I think what I love about my work is that it’s not a job but an opportunity to create, build and empower. I love the sense of accomplishment after we see our vision taking the shape in reality. The pace at which needs and wants evolve forces us to continuously innovate and move forward in ways that better serve all the users on our platform. Everything is so fast-paced that there is always room to grow and learn.
What are some industry trends that you’re keeping an eye on?
Q-commerce is probably my biggest focus at the moment. I think the introduction of q-commerce in Bangladesh has helped to show people that online delivery is integral if you want things done quickly and conveniently. As our q-commerce operations continue to grow and expand, I’m keeping tabs on what changes and improvements might need to be made. I’ve also been monitoring consumer behavior and preferences in the midst of the pandemic, and I’m excited to see what changes and what stays the same as we move out of the COVID-19 era and into the future.
How have your teams responded to the challenges of Covid-19?
We have tried our best to keep everyone safe across the board. Remote working has been in place for months now. On top of that, we have introduced contactless delivery, shops, and pandamart (foodpanda cloud stores) in the midst of this pandemic in an effort to make life easier for our customers.
The introduction of q-commerce in Bangladesh has helped to show people that online delivery is integral if you want things done quickly and conveniently.
Our riders are our most valiant heroes and to honor their work, we have implemented health insurance and other measures to keep them and the larger community healthy and well. As the pandemic has progressed, and continues to progress, we are trying our best to institute safety measures and necessary initiatives as needed.
What’s your mission for foodpanda Bangladesh’s future?
My mission is to make foodpanda accessible all across Bangladesh. By that I mean, I would love to see foodpanda expand further and introduce new verticals across the nation so that good food, convenient service, and quick delivery is attainable for every single consumer. I want to see more vendors move their businesses online so that they can reach even larger audiences.
I’m excited to see more cloud kitchens and cloud stores so that products and meals become widely available. And most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing the ways in which q-commerce moves the industry forward and helps to make the digital economy more pervasive and present.