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Night-cycling buffs in Mumbai have found a way to line their pockets while burning calories - late-night food and snack deliveries.
When most televisions are switched off for the night and morning alarms set, that is when Rohit Kelkar, a 25-yearold media professional cycles into the night. And mostly, he cycles with a big bag full of Maggi, biscuits, soft drinks, cigarettes and maybe even Eno. For the uninformed, it might seem like Kelkar is headed for a non-alcoholic bender but he is actually just doing his job.
Kelkar, along with about 20 other cycling enthusiasts, has signed up for late night (meaning 11 pm to 3 am) delivery service in Mumbai. He works for Fly by Knight (FBK), a start-up that launched a month back, whose only aim is to humour customers' middle-of-the-night snack pangs or nicotine cravings. FBK is one of the few start-ups that specialise in late night deliveries of food and essentials.
Neha Jain, 27, a former Google executive who co-founded FBK, says, "We had been researching e-commerce ideas and were thinking of scenarios where a person would desperately need a service. And Sanjiv Nair (one of the other co-founders ) mentioned that when he was in college in Bangalore, everything shut down early and there were no late night snack options. " Aslo, many don't want to step out of their homes at that hour even if there are places open. And recent curbs on Mumbai's nightlife have not helped matters.
Jain's company differentiates itself from other delivery services by not using a formal delivery chain. Her operations are not as large as say a restaurant so she had a hard time finding staff willing to deliver that late in the night. "Nobody wanted to work that late. Though I was ready to pay a lot of money to delivery boys, I still wasn't getting manpower. Then I thought why not people like me, who have day jobs but sleep late. I also found cycling groups who come out in the night, " says Jain. The company now has about 30 sign-ups from cyclists and also some who use their own two-wheelers and cars. Some even use autos. The difference is all these people are otherwise employed in white-collar jobs or are students. " FBK, for now, delivers only between Andheri and Bandra but they have plans of expansion.
As for cycling enthusiasts, they enjoy the workout and the extra money. For Kelkar, exercise is the prime driver (he doesn't like cycling in the daytime because of pollution and traffic) though the surprised look on customers' faces when they open the door to a well-dressed, English-speaking, joke-cracking, cycling helmet-wielding delivery man counts for a lot. "Sure, at the end of the day I am doing the job of a delivery boy but it's way more satisfying, " says Kelkar.
On one delivery, he even met an old friend he hadn't seen in a long while and ended up staying and chatting till the next order came in. Sometimes, a delivery can also result in a spontaneous invite to a party. "Once, very late night, we had gone to Dadar. They were having a party and asked me to stay back. I had to decline because I was on duty, " says Kelkar, who ends up cycling between 10 and 30 km a night.
While FBK has a basic, fixed menu of delivery items at present, there are others such as Mad Orders, who deliver hot food, and Night Call, who deliver alcohol as well.
Jigar Zatakia, 23, co-founder of Mad Orders, launched last December, says, "It is the ideal place to start really. There were vendors who operated at night but no one was doing it professionally. For instance, BPOs with a staff of 30-40 cannot afford their own kitchen. "
Unlike FBK, Mad Orders runs a kitchen and a delivery staff setup. Zatakia says that it was toughest to find chefs who were senior enough and okay with cooking through the night but eventually they tied up with a food partner. Mad Orders plans on setting up three kitchens soon. The busiest time of the night for all of them though is the same - between 1 am and 3 am.
Mad Orders primary customers though are small IT companies and BPOs, which run through the night. "For them it makes sense. We take twenty minutes to deliver with 5-7 minutes for prep. It becomes very simple for them. Finding a food vendor who will deliver every night at that hour is quite difficult, " says Zatakia.
But while these services make the wee hours of the night much more convenient for others, what about the nightlife for them? Jain says that after working odd hours for years, she now has a disrupted sleep cycle and is okay with it and Zatakia has managers who are up through the night.
Kelkar's only problem with it is that it encroaches on his weekends, since he has to work five nights a week with Monday and Tuesday free. So now, if he has a party in the evening, he takes along a big bag of possible deliveries with him. But the generous tips, sometimes even 100 per cent of the order charge, make up for the inconvenience. He says, "Sometimes it is substantial or maybe nothing at all. It is not much money but it is a kick. "
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