Dana Baki and Mohammad Al Zaben are two food enthusiasts who, like many of us out here, often wasted several hours trying to decide on what to eat for lunch and which restaurant to order from, only to end up either ordering some thing they’ve had before or not ordering at all.
But unlike the rest of us, the pair joined forces in early 2016 to establish LUNCH:ON, a startup that delivers affordable meals to office buildings in a convenient manner, in turn reducing the hassle - distress and wasted time - of ordering food to work daily. Soon after, the pair were joined by Awn Ali as their first employee and third co-founder; Ali leads LUNCH:ON's technical efforts, helping build all of the company's technology in-house.
This year, LUNCH:ON raised $5.5M in a Series A funding round led by Dubai-based Wamda Capital and Global Ventures along with 10 other investors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon joining in.
We had a chance to chat with Dana Baki and listen in on her success story, entrepreneurial tips, and first-hand industry insights from her first experience as an entrepreneur.
What triggered the idea behind LUNCH:ON? What gap did you want to fill?
Sorting out lunch at work is a frustration for many (it definitely was for us when we were in our corporate jobs). Everyone gets sick of eating the same old thing and people get caught up in meetings only to find themselves starving at the end of the work day. Also, ordering delivered food is usually too expensive to do on a daily basis.
Finding consistently delicious, convenient, and affordable options for lunch is a struggle many people face on a daily basis. With our passion for food, my co-founder and I came up with LUNCH:ON, a convenient and hassle-free solution that helps employees order food from a large number of restaurants curated specifically for office workers at significantly discounted prices.
How do you define success, and why do you think Lunch:On has become such a success?
Success for me is knowing that I am improving people’s lives in one way or another. I believe LUNCH:ON has become such a success because we have made ordering lunch affordable to most, in the most convenient way possible. By democratizing lunch delivery and making it incredibly affordable (meals cost 25 AED, that’s less than $7, without any delivery fees), people who didn’t have the best food options or would spend time prepping their lunch at home can now rely on us to help save time and lessen a financial burden they faced daily.
We also take our customer experience extremely seriously, which is another reason for our success - we want to make sure every customer has a perfect ordering experience with every order, and our team works hard to ensure this.
What challenges did you face in your journey?
The challenges have evolved over the years as we entered into different stages of growth. At the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey, the challenges revolved around building the actual platform and hiring the right people to help build and operate our startup. Then, cracking our sales strategy to reach as many companies as possible and build density in Dubai was the next challenge. Today, our challenges mainly revolve around expanding our team internationally and scaling to reach new markets both in the GCC and internationally.
What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your busy day-to-day schedule?
Everything I need to do is in my email. My tasks for the day and other reminders are organized there and in Asana. Only when I have 0 emails left in my inbox, I know that my work is done for the day. Being a working mom, everything becomes about tasks and organizing your life so nothing falls through the cracks. I also use several tech tools to help me stay organized and get things done on time.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
While founding a startup was never really a dream of mine before moving to the UAE, building a business from scratch and helping it grow has been an incredibly rewarding experience, more so than anything else I have done.
Seeing how dedicated our team of 60 people are in pushing forward our mission and driving our company’s growth into new markets is something I hold dear to my heart. We, at LUNCH:ON, are a family that is passionate about our mission and work, which is what keeps us motivated to carry on with what we do.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Find the right co-founder: Finding a real partner from the start, that is with you every step of the way, is fundamental and makes the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship much easier and more fun.
- Have a mentor: Founding a startup is not easy and does not become easier with time. Having the right mentors in place - people that can guide you, help you think through your challenges, and be brutally honest with you - is essential.
How did you market LUNCH:ON, and which tactics have been most successful?
We’ve adopted a “sandwich” approach when it comes to marketing our business - using both B2B sales and B2C digital campaigns. We began by using traditional sales efforts to sell our solution to a large number of companies and build density in the different areas we serve. Now that we have built that density of users and companies, we have also gone digital which has helped us build awareness and usership without having to go through a company’s HR.
What are the future plans for LUNCH:ON in terms of scaling/expansion?
We have just launched in Riyadh and look forward to expanding into other cities in Saudi Arabia and the GCC. We do not only view this as a MENA scope though, as we are solving for a global need, and will at some point look to expand past the region as well.