By Deena Douara
It took exactly one day of living in Toronto for Mudit Rawat to uncover a gap in the market. He’d traveled from sweltering New Delhi, India to embark on his MBA at the Schulich School of Business on December 25, of all days. Campus was deserted and most grocery stores were closed but the man needed to eat. After finally finding a store near enough, he trudged through his first snowstorm around unfamiliar streets just to get some necessities for the week.
“I remember it so clearly,” he says.
Back home, this mini adventure would have been avoided entirely by picking up the phone and ordering his groceries.
Thus was born — nine years later — Urbery, an app that allows users to be very specific in their grocery delivery requests and more importantly, says Rawat, to have a personal interaction with “grocery gurus” (shoppers) who can cater to specific tastes and last-minute food or alcohol orders –the magic sauce that sets his business apart from other delivery services.
“Customers haven’t yet found a solution where they can trust someone else to shop for them,” says Rawat. “We really think about the customer experience and build our technology around that. Customers love it when our shoppers make an extra effort.”
The app works through smartphone or online and allows users to select the store and items they want (including brand preference). Urbery’s item prices are listed and delivery is free for totals of over $65. Rawat says orders can be delivered in as little as two hours and users can track their shopper and connect with them directly.
While Rawat had assumptions about who the service best suited, he realized that many of his customers were young families who could preserve the precious little spare time they had, and also downtown offices that supply food for staff or meetings.
Rawat says the concept is intuitive and delivery businesses — like dabbawalas in India — are a successful business case. In over 20 years of living there, he says he never left home to buy groceries. “My mom would pick up the phone and the neighbourhood store would send someone with all our groceries. Or a fresh produce merchant would be dragging a cart all around the neighbourhood….So food always arrived to our doorstep.”
But that doesn’t mean he leaped right in. Out of school, he worked corporate jobs — including within the food industry — but found it wasn’t the right fit; it wasn’t what he enjoyed. “The work that you do, you don’t really see the impact of it,” he explains.
“What I really enjoyed was creating new things or…helping friends solve everyday problems. So I shifted my mindset toward entrepreneurship.” While it was one of the biggest risks he’s ever taken, he says he would have regretted it the rest of his life if he didn’t try.
It helped that Toronto was a ripe for such a business, which Rawat launched last year. “We’re growing 30-40 per cent month-over-month….We think we’re going to be, in the next six to seven months, a leading player in Toronto.”
The city has also been great for hiring. “The talent is amazing…. The marketing, technology, operations, my team is based out of Toronto and I’m just so amazed by the skill set they bring.” He says diversity has been key to his business, with team members borrowing ideas from the various cities they’ve lived and worked in.
Urbery has also received abundant support here, formally through Communitech (based in Waterloo), MaRS and the DMZ, but also informally through various mentors and entrepreneurs. “Toronto people are extremely helpful. They are more than happy to meet you, talk through the business model. You don’t find people that are not responsive.”
While Rawat hopes to make Urbery a leader in the GTA this year, he says 2017 “is all about expansion.”
Which is great news for immigrants arriving to empty campuses across Canada next winter.