Supplybunny bridges restaurateurs, suppliers
Najihah S 
Tham only took a month to execute the Supplybunny business model after it was conceptualised
WHEN making an order at a restaurant or café there are times when customers get a response such as, “Sorry, we’re out of this [food] item, because we don’t have the ingredients.”

Keep in mind that customers aren’t the only ones annoyed by this. Restaurant owners get just as upset.

Small restaurant owners, especially those who are just starting out, often face difficulties in getting top quality ingredients or other items delivered to their premises due to the high cost.

Recognising such constraints, Supplybunny hopes to offer a solution via its portal that allows restaurant owners to link directly to suppliers, customise their orders and receive timely notifications.

Seremban born Supplybunny founder Tham Keng Yew asks, “Can you solve a problem? The idea can be good, but it’s more important how you execute it.”

A Michigan University graduate who cut his teeth in start-up developments while completing his post graduate studies, Tham understands what it takes to have a strong business plan.

Consumers are able to compare prices on Supplybunny, which is a platform for business-to-business (B2B) wholesale suppliers.

Marketplace setting

The start-up, which was launched in June last year, enables restaurant and cafe owners to source and order supplies in a transparent marketplace setting.

Items available through Supplybunny include fresh produce, meat, seafood, sauces and beverages, while suppliers on the platform can attract new customers and better manage billing and payments.

Market segmentation is an important factor in determining the direction of a business. And Supplybunny is strong in this area.

Not only does the company differentiate itself in terms of availability (online instead of brick and mortar), it also chose an untapped segment which specifically reaches mid-range outlets.

“I spent a couple of years handling supply chain. What I learnt is that in the ‘HoReCa’ (hotels, restaurants and café) business, suppliers do not participate enough in the restaurant and cafes categories.

“This is because they focus too much on the hotel and large chain segments,” Tham says.

He says if you’re running a restaurant catering business, Supplybunny is the one place you can go to order your food supplies, make payment online and receive confirmation on when the delivery will be made.

It is the seamless back-end technology, he says, that provides a bigger pool of options for suppliers and restaurant owners. This makes its website unique.

He says suppliers typically don’t entertain orders of small quantities, while SMEs are often ill equipped [in terms of preparing invoices and quotations] when it comes to answering their queries.

“What changed is the way restaurant owners deal with suppliers. With Supplybunny, there is price transparency.

“We managed to bridge the gap between the two parties since suppliers wanted a role in the supply chain of small restaurants, while the latter need suppliers to remain in business,” says Tham.

On the types of clients Supplybunny serves, he says: “We concentrate on the mid-range restaurant segment as we discovered there are about 40,000 of them in the country.”

Supplybunny was launched one month after the idea was conceptualised.

Asked if it was enough time to kick-start something viable he says: “I believe in the idea of continuous improvement, so we started right off the bat instead of waiting for the model to be perfect.”

Eye-opening survey

The 36-year old entrepreneur says that a survey done prior to starting Supplybunny indicated that restaurant owners were not leveraging on the cost of buying ingredients.

“It was very eye opening when we conducted the survey prior to starting Supplybunny.

It [survey] was done within a week. We sent out 1,000 surveys to 1,000 restaurants and got the response.”

“We asked them how much they spent on purchasing monthly supplies. The answer was around RM10,000 per outlet.

“We also found that 30% of that purchasing cost was spent through direct retail channels, meaning buying it straight from the market.

“Sometimes the supplier missed out on the delivery date and sometimes they ran out of supply.

“When we discovered this, we saw it as an opportunity. This was going to be our key business model. The only thing we needed were suppliers,” he says.

Restaurant owners can order food ingredient and receive notifications on Supplybunny's platform

Tham’s confidence stemmed from the fact that he was exposed to the start-up development world in China, South America and Eastern Europe while working for a Silicon Valley based organisation for five years. Hence, he knows what investors want.

On getting the right talent to work for Supplybunny, he says retaining them is the most challenging part.

However, he says there has been lots of awareness about start-ups over the past two years, and now and more people are interested to work for such companies.

Supplybunny, which has four different departments – management, operations, supplies and marketing – has nine employees.

Regional expansion

SupplyBUNNY’S ability to secure seed funding serves as testament that it has a viable business framework. Better yet, the business is also highly scalable.

Company founder and CEO Tham Keng Yew presented Supplybunny’s business model and managed to receive seed funding worth RM1.2 mil from venture capital firm, Gobi Partners.

“The key elements for a start-up to be successful are talent and funding, regardless of the industry.

“A typical start-up goes on multiple rounds of funding before it exits – either through a stock exchange listing or acquisition by a larger company.

“All those rounds of funding have specific purposes. The seed round helps validate the concept, and Supplybunny survived a year with the seed fund,” Tham says.

The online food and beverage supplies marketplace managed to secure the seed funding from Shanghai-based Gobi Partners after a couple of months of starting operations.

Supplybunny also tied up with Offpeak, a Gobi Partners’ portfolio company. Under the partnership terms, Offpeak will introduce its over 1,600 partner restaurants in the country to Supplybunny’s platform.

Supplybunny started with 30 suppliers on its marketplace and caters to 3,000 restaurants to date.

Tham is keen on replicating the business model in neighbouring countries and expressed confidence that the company can start operations in the region in Q1 or Q2 next year.

“We can apply the same framework in Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. We have market surveys to validate the expansion and are working to secure funding,” he says.

There is no negating the fact that Supplybunny is very focused on food ingredients, although the company has received numerous requests to supply other non-food products as well.

However, Tham is cautious about this. “We have to plan carefully, and if we diversify, it will have to be through vertical growth,” he says. 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 248.