Despite facing an increasingly crowded field of local competitors and the ever-looming threat of regional startups, Maxime Rosburger seems relatively undaunted. The founder of Meal Temple Group has a good reason to feel confident about the prospects for his Cambodian startup, he recently bolstered the company’s coffers with a six-figure sum from Australian and French investors.
Meal Temple, which operates a food-delivery platform and an online supermarket, said that it plans to use the investment to grow the company’s local operations and broaden its logistics services to more lines of business. Meal Temple’s team of 30 is currently fulfilling nearly 10,000 deliveries each month.
With the new capital: Rosburger hopes to improve his startup’s efficiency by having those drivers delivering groceries and ferrying passengers between peak meal times when they have far fewer orders to complete. The founder is also planning to hire developers to improve the company’s app, which operates in much the same fashion as other regional meal delivery apps, like GrabFood or Food Panda. Meal Temple’s services may not be the most innovative to ever hit the region, but its app is one of the few pushing Cambodian users to prepare for mobile payments.
Bringing Convenience From China To Cambodia
Cambodia’s startup scene was still wide open when Meal Temple was founded in 2013. Rosburger, a French national, originally came to Cambodia in 2011 to help a Chinese company open a garment factory outside the coastal city of Sihanoukville. After the facility opened a year and a half later, Rosburger decided that he would rather pursue a less stressful occupation.
Like many of Cambodia’s startups, Rosburger got the idea for his business from another meal delivery service called Sherpa that he had often used while living in Shanghai. Although a rival, Your Phnom Penh, was already up and running at the time, Rosburger felt the market could support another service that prioritized online and in-app orders.
Starting out with just two drivers, three if you include Rosburger acting as an alternate, the majority of Meal Temple’s customers preferred placing their orders over the phone because they weren’t confident that their meals would be delivered on time if the orders went through the company’s website. At the beginning, 70% of orders were placed over the phone, but now MealTemple orders are made predominantly online.
“Once they got into the system, [customers] switched to online quite fast,” he said.
The restaurants themselves had trust issues, too. Rosburger had to convince many proprietors that MealTemple would deliver the food on time and intact, and that the restaurants stood to gain more business as a result.
“It took us a lot of time to explain that we were not here to take clients from the dining room, we’re just bringing them more orders,” Rosburger said.
In the past few years, restaurants stopped fearing that deliveries would cut into their sales. Now, clones of MealTemple and Your Phnom Penh have emerged, and the added competition has certainly helped to spur the market’s development.
“With Chinese restaurants, for years, we had issues on boarding them. I had to ask my Chinese friends to help me talk to them,” he said. “But this year, we had E-Gets, a new competitor from China, and they have 120 Chinese restaurants now, so they’re now all open to do delivery.”
There’s still one piece of the delivery system that Rosburger and other startup founders have been unable to sell: cashless payments. The company accepts established payment apps – WeChat Pay, AliPay and Cambodia’s mobile wallet Pi Pay – via scanning upon delivery. Rosburger said he tried to onboard local banks for seamless payments, but they wanted commissions of around 4% on each transaction, making it hard to justify when combined with the commissions they pay to restaurants.
Regional Startups Entering Cambodia: Not If, But When
When Southeast Asia’s startups expand regionally, they tend to overlook the less developed markets like Cambodia. Though some startups overlook the country for its undeveloped workforce, small consumer market or the notable corruption, the latter at least is on the rise. And a few regional favorites, such as Grab, have already staked territory in the country.
Rosburger said this offers an opportunity for him: since April, Meal Temple studied the food delivery market in Laos. They have the domain but are still beta testing: the Laos page clocked just 29 customers served as of publication. If the Laotian market works, Myanmar and Nepal could be the next destination.
He suspects Grab will eventually bring food delivery to Cambodia, or a competitor like Singapore’s Happy Fresh or Thailand’s Food Panda will break into Cambodia to provide on-demand groceries or meals. At least in the ride-hailing market, Grab has yet to damage or destroy the use of the Cambodian-borne Passapp, though neither company releases their data so that’s difficult to verify.
As Rosburger sees it, the big threat from Grab or an equivalent is their ability to offer discounts: The winner will be the app that can lure customers in with discounts, and provide the best user experience so that customers don’t stray, he says.
“At the end, if you have discounts, you’ll get people, but the stickiness of your app must be really high,” he said. “So, we will have to build a better app than Grab [and other competitors], which is also a challenge.”