The creation of late-night food delivery startup Porterfetch began in a situation most of us would be familiar with - hanging out with friends late at night and feeling very, very hungry.
For founders Kenneth Ho and Daniel Chan, this was over a Chinese New Year gathering with friends.
"Appetites were rumbling and supper was in order. But nobody really wanted to entertain the notion of the abandoning the couch and mahjong table, travelling across the island and vying for a table that could seat everyone."
That's the thing about supper and places that serve them - there are only a few options open for the red-eyed Singaporean, and this usually means snatching tables and enduring long queues.
If one were to turn to food delivery, the options are even more limited, and most ending up munching on the burgers and nuggets of the Golden Arches.
In the spirit of entrepreneurship however, the flipside of every complaint is an opportunity.
"We had specific cravings, but the delivery options didn't represent the Singapore supper scene we knew and love. So when Kenneth mooted the idea of an on-demand delivery service that fetches the best of the city, it got everyone excited," quipped Daniel.
And with the support of like-minded friends, the duo put their idea into motion, officially launching Porterfetch at the start of last month.
FETCHING GREAT FOOD, EVEN LATE NIGHT
Longtime friends Kenneth and Daniel both come from different backgrounds.
Kenneth (32) holds a degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Southern California and worked for a few years in Los Angeles as a management consultant before returning to Singapore to build a business of his own.
Daniel, on the other hand, has worked in the communications, editorial, and design fields - for a while even working as an occupational diver.
But just like every other Singaporean who loves their hawker food at any time of the day, working towards the building of the business was something that both found their common ground in.
Shared Daniel, "There's nothing like the head rush of a great idea. But it's the labour of love that follows that turns talk into something real."
"The months that followed were filled with many sleepless nights mixing up ideas and putting together plans and prototypes. We threw out early versions of the website, going back to the drawing board many times before finally hitting a home run with the final look."
But the website is just a small part of a food delivery startup - they also pored over the backend aspects - for example, the custom order management system and the design of heat-insulated backpackers for riders.
"Where it really mattered, we chose not to go with convenient plug and-play solutions in favour of purpose-built ones that were uniquely suited to our needs."
"One of the most rewarding part of putting together a platform from scratch is seeing it take off. The first order successfully delivered was a euphoric experience to say the least."
But why "Porterfetch"? It's not as immediately apparent as a food delivery service as compared to the names of competitors.
Explained Daniel, "To fetch is to 'go for and then bring back something for someone'. While fundamentally the word 'fetch' is functionally synonymous with 'deliver', the distinction is that it implies a human factor. That's a subtle but powerful quality."
ENGAGING IN 'PORTERS' AND HAWKERS
Porterfetch is about fetching great food, so much so that one could be forgiven for forgetting that at the heart of it is a person-to-person exchange.
"That's why we decided to buck the trend of zoological branding and put our couriers front and centre with a dignified title. A porter is more than just a courier. A porter is symbolic of hospitality - service with a smile."
As compared to engaging in logistics with a readily available stable of couriers, Porterfetch engages in all their porters directly.
"It's worth the time and effort, especially if we value and want to nurture our relationship with the key people behind the business. That's the only way to inspire a sense of pride in what it means to be a porter. After all, they're the ones bearing the name of the company."
Initially apprehensive about how much participation they'd get from the riding community, they were confident that the lack of alternatives during such late hours was something that the riders would be attracted to.
"We were pleasantly surprised that it proved to be true. Soon enough, their friends would be asking for the next available on-boarding session and it spread like wildfire!"
"We found that many of our porters have regular jobs and are happy to boost their income after hours. Some deliver for other services during the day and are more than willing to round off the night with Porterfetch."
"That's the beauty of the gig economy. It's fluid, flexible and casual, even while encouraging great standards of service. One thing they really love about taking to the streets at night is that the roads are clear and the weather is nice and cool."
Next, was getting the stars of the shows on board - the food places.
Not just content with selecting all which opened late into the night, they "trawled through food blogs, video features, forums, and recommendation sites to find out what fellow Singaporeans unanimously concurred were the best of the city".
"Many of our stores are traditional brick-and-mortar establishments that have been passed on from generation to generation, truly representing our local cultural food heritage. But most have not been able to offer delivery on any of the existing services."
"We see ourselves as helping to give them a competitive edge and relevance in an online world where everything is increasingly available at the push of button."
"We get a deep sense of satisfaction when they tell us how much they appreciate what we do for them."
CHALLENGES IN OPERATING A '3-SIDED MARKETPLACE'
While Daniel admits that funding is a challenge that they face like any other startup, they prefer to build theirs on "sustainable unit cost economics and sound fundamental principles".
"That means making every available resource really count. Prudence is not easy, but it is crucial. We keep our setup as lean as possible and choose our partners very carefully."
"Operating a three-sided marketplace - one that involves customers, merchants and couriers - is no easy feat. Each side has their own unique needs and considerations. It's a balancing act."
OVER 1,000 ORDERS IN THE FIRST MONTH ITSELF
Just in their second month, Daniel reveals that demand "has been growing at a steady pace organically", having seen weekly breakthroughs and even starting to uncover patterns and trends in user behaviour. (If you're curious like I was, dim sum, prata, chicken rice, bak kut teh, and frog porridge count as some of the more popular choices.)
"We've had many repeat customers who order on a regular basis, an indication that we've got a sticky experience people love using."
"We've delivered to uni students burning the midnight oil and hospital staff on graveyard shift. We've delivered to weekend mahjong rounds and social gatherings. We've delivered to gamers going late into the night and even workers on Jurong Island. More than once, we've had sizeable orders sent to SAF camps."
"There's nothing like meeting a happy customer in person."
They also realised that cross-island orders aren't uncommon among customers.
Given that the service runs on a delivery fee model, someone living in the East side could order from a store in the West - all he/she needs is to pay for the fee incurred from the distance.
"This informally encourages customers to order from around the neighbourhood without limiting them to it."
"What we've noticed is that when someone really wants to eat something in particular, distance - and hence the fee - is no issue."
A 'REMOTE CONTROL' FOR THE CITY
Not wanting to simply remain as a supper service, Daniel shares that they eventually intend to become a 24-hour operation.
"We've had plenty of requests to cater to the dinner crowd, so next month we're planning to roll back our hours to 8pm and see where that takes us."
A mobile app for iOS is also in the works, and the Android version will follow shortly after the former's release.
"In the larger scheme of things, we plan to go beyond food, fetching anything from convenient stores to hardware, electronics and other essentials anyone might need in a moment's notice."
Ultimately, we envision Porterfetch to be a remote control for the city, bringing the best of Singapore within reach, without the need to get up.
This article was first published in Vulcan Post.