Written by Stuart Foxman

Ivy Chen loves authentic Asian cuisine. The self-described foodie wants to bring it to as many people as possible. Chen isn’t a restaurateur, but a Richmond Hill tech entrepreneur. Her innovation, CMEOW (cmeow.com), is Canada’s largest Asian food delivery platform.

Don’t think of CMEOW as just another version of Uber Eats. For one, Chen started her company in 2013, a year before Uber Eats even got off the ground. Chen also takes pride in focussing on a niche market and encouraging the discovery of great Asian foods (beyond chains and fast food). She sees CMEOW as connecting local Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai restaurants with the community.

CMEOW started life as Chan Mao. Chan means craving, and mao means cat. The two words together form a Chinese figure of speech that refers to someone who’s hungry for tasty foods.

Chen co-founded the company with Anthony Ni. He focuses on the technology side and strategic direction, and she on strategic partnerships.

At first, Chen says the company was more of a hobby. Her parents didn’t even know about it. They wanted her to become a doctor or lawyer, and even now get nervous about the company’s prospects. “But they’ve downloaded the app and use it from time to time,” she says.

Today the business, renamed CMEOW, has 150,000 users, serves 1,600-plus restaurants and operates in eight Canadian cities.

Originally, the CMEOW app was in Chinese. That was a huge advantage, says Chen, as many of the restaurant owners she was dealing with could speak English but had more trouble reading it. For owners, CMEOW also cost much less to use than competing services.

To plan deliveries, CMEOW uses artificial intelligence and machine learning. “We developed our own smart route algorithm,” says Chen.

That makes it easier for any one driver to handle multiple orders in an efficient way.

Beyond supporting deliveries, CMEOW includes a game where users can earn points. Those can be redeemed at the restaurants. The app also offers loyalty rewards, redeemable for gift cards from different retailers.

Most recently, CMEOW has entered into a partnership with T&T Supermarket, a chain that specializes in Asian foods. In a pilot (starting with two stores in Waterloo and the GTA), CMEOW will handle home delivery for T&T’s prepared foods.

CMEOW has been “100% bootstrapped” to this stage, says Chen, with no outside investments. Only now is the company looking for funding.

Chen says that beyond the challenges experienced by any startup, female, minority and immigrant entrepreneurs can face obstacles. So getting the right help is critical. CMEOW works with the fintech community at MaRS, the Toronto body that helps high-growth companies to succeed.

“It’s important to find a team that supports you along the way,” says Chen.

Photo credit: Plexman Studio