Dahmakan German food delivery startup chows down on Malaysian market

After Uber Eats' departure from southeast Asia, a German entrepreneur wants to cater to local tastes and corner the multibillion-dollar market for meal deliveries with Dahmakan.

Jonathan Weins has a fleet of moped drivers whizzing through the traffic of Kuala Lumpur to deliver 3,000 meals a day to hungry office workers. The co-founder of startup Dahmakan — which means “have you eaten yet?” in Malay — reports deliveries are up fourfold over a year ago. “We’ve just poached almost the whole team of the Shangri-La Hotel: eight new cooks,” Mr. Weins told Handelsblatt.

Mr. Weins, who was chopping ingredients himself until recently, has ambitious growth plans and appears to have picked the right moment to enter the southeast Asian delivery market. It’s been in flux since ride hailing service Uber announced its withdrawal from the region at the end of March.

Uber ran one of the best-known food delivery services, Uber Eats, in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia but pulled out and sold its business to multimodal ridesharing service Grab, which then rolled it into GrabFood. Another competitor is Foodpanda, part of Berlin-based Delivery Hero.

Mr. Weins, who hails from the western German city of Aachen, intimately knows how Foodpanda operates. He led the company’s entry to Hong Kong in 2014 but decided after six months that he could do it better. That's when he left to start Dahmakan with Jessica Li of Hong Kong, who was also part of Foodpanda, and Christian Edelmann of Germany.

Most food delivery services, which let customers choose from a large range of meals from a wide range of restaurants, are inefficient because almost every order requires a dedicated driver to ferry it from the restaurant to the customer. That makes the meals too expensive, Mr. Weins said.

Dahmakan’s approach is to control the entire supply chain. Customers use the app to order one of eight dishes prepared in the company kitchen that day, such as salted egg butter chicken or ratatouille shepherd’s pie. An algorithm calculates the quickest delivery routes for the couriers so they can transport dozens of orders per ride. Meals cost €3.75 to €6 ($4.65 to $7.50), with no delivery charge.

Mr. Weins is targeting people like himself: stressed-out city dwellers who want to eat healthy. In booming Asia, that’s a fast-growing market. Dahmakan wants to be the biggest online cafeteria in southeast Asia’s megacities. Funded with $4.1 million in venture capital from financiers including Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and former Nestlé executive Gerhard Berssenbrügge, they plan to set up shop in Bangkok in two months. And in March Dahmakan acquired Thai delivery firm Polpa to gain a foothold in Thailand, a market estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

Mr. Weins also plans to set up shop in Singapore and Jakarta this year before launching Dahmakan in Hong Kong early next year. But the most pressing venture is to find a bigger kitchen in Kuala Lumpur. The current one is struggling to keep up with demand.

Based in Bangkok, Mathias Peer covers Southeast Asia’s economies for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]