A husband and wife team sharing a halal food business together may be sweet but it is a fairly pleasant surprise when one of them happens to be a muallaf, or Muslim convert.
Shane Ehsan Hew and Junisa Jamel Hew are both co-founders of Halal with Hew, an online food ordering platform comprising of solely home-based businesses (HBB). They have been married to each other for two years, and to the business, for just over two months.
Opportunity in crisis
The HBB-focused service was launched in May this year, just when the Circuit Breaker was implemented and Ramadan bazaars got cancelled to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
It was a harrowing time for many businesses, particularly those that rely on sales during the Hari Raya festivities for a seasonal windfall.
However, with the economy grinding to a halt due to the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, a surge in popularity of home-based businesses (both merchants and customers) presents an opportunity to the enterprising businessman.
“Now that this happened, there doesn’t seem to be a better time to get this going,” says Shane in an interview with TODAY.
The 31-year old car salesman, who had experience running online businesses since he was 16, decided a site dedicated to halal food businesses would be his next venture. This one, in particular, is very close to his
No shortage of halal food, if you know where to find it
Shane embraced Islam in 2016. As a Muslim convert, he had to make some changes to his diet, one of which is eating halal food.
From never actively searching for halal food before to being more prudent with what he eats now, Shane has discovered more halal food options along the way.
Yet, he noticed several issues with getting the halal food that he really wants.
Firstly, there is the ever-problematic issue of high delivery fees. From a consumer stand point, paying more for delivery than the food itself does not make sense.
“Let’s say my favourite chicken rice stall is in Tampines. $4 for the chicken rice is reasonable. But paying $10 extra to get it delivered to me in Jurong is too much,” says Shane.
On the other hand, restaurants are saying third party delivery apps are taking too big a bite out of their profits by charging fees that hover between 28 and 30 percent.
Yet, nothing could be worse than not being able to find his favourite food in the first place.
Another issue that Shane noticed with food services is quite strangely, food availability or rather, discoverability. Whilst some restaurants that never offered delivery started during the circuit breaker just to stay alive, others did not even go digital at all.
And lastly, for those businesses that did go digital – even as simple as opening an Instagram page – they lack the marketing skills to gain customer awareness.
The HBB might be good at cooking, but not so much at marketing themselves. Because of this, they close down due to poor sales or bad feedback.Shane Ehsan Hew, co-founder of Halal with Hew
“The HBB might be good at cooking, but not so much at marketing themselves. Because of this, they close down due to poor sales or bad feedback,” shares Shane. “It’s a waste. But without assistance, I can see how it is a struggle.”
We are a people business, not a business business
The husband and wife duo set out to minimise the impact of these issues with Halal with Hew. While Shane covers merchant acquisition and marketing, Junisa focuses on finance, communications, merchant onboarding and relations.
Whilst Shane does not deny that Halal with Hew is a for-profit business, he admits that he is more concerned with helping his merchants get a leg up in the competitive F&B world.
To that end, Shane abandoned his initial idea of charging merchants a monthly fee, and implemented a commission-based model instead. Shane takes a small cut from every sale made through the website.
Halal with Hew does not charge any sign up or listing fee either. Shane believes this model is not too taxing on the HBB, most of which are just starting out.
“Initially, the business model was supposed to be a monthly $30-$50 subscription. But most of the merchants are just starting out and have no capital, no sales,” explains Shane.
“If we were to collect these fees when they just started out…when they haven’t even earned their first pot of gold, we’re just making them poor,” he adds.
If we were to collect these fees when they just started out…when they haven’t even earned their first pot of gold, we’re just making them poor.Shane Ehsan Hew, co-founder of Halal with Hew
Merchants are not the only ones that Shane seems to be invested in. He also has his customers’ interests at heart – none of which is more of a bane than high delivery fees.
Whilst they started out with a delivery fee of $10 per merchant per drop, that amount has reduced to $6 now. The price is fixed regardless of your address.
The business works with a third-party delivery company which they chose not to disclose. However, Shane hopes to have an in-house fleet of delivery riders one day.
Says Shane: “We started out with $10 because we didn’t have cashflow and that was the market rate. As we expand, we got extra cash, and I was able to pump in a little bit more to lower down the delivery cost.”
Now someone in Jurong can order something from Pasir Ris and pay $6 delivery which is ridiculously cheap.Shane Ehsan Hew, co-founder of Halal with Hew
Needless to say, coming to this decision was not easy for Shane but his vision to empower HBB ultimately sealed the deal.
“I had a conflict. I think about it for a very long time. If I were to charge $10 or $12 per trip, then I’m back to square one. I’ll lose the focus of my main goal which is to offer affordable food at affordable delivery,” he explains.
It’s all smooth sailing until it’s not
It is perhaps Halal with Hew’s low barrier to entry that made it popular with HBB. On top of having to pay nothing unless you make a sale, merchants are also not subjected to a penalty fee should they choose to exit.
Another positive side effect of the circuit breaker was the surge of food deliveries as people were unable to dine out.
Halal with Hew certainly benefitted from this phenomenon and cites its highest revenue during the circuit breaker period.
“There were days where my wife will go crazy, partly because I told her to do multiple things at once,” Shane recalls. “But in a nice way lah,” he jokes.
Being able to order from multiple merchants on the website is also a big draw for customers as it eliminates the hassle of dealing with merchants separately.
However, as a fully bootstrapped business, funds were tight and a lot of things like collating orders and liasing with merchants still require manual work.
Business was going well, and Halal with Hew quickly became a must-have bookmark in many web browsers.
Then Phase 2 happened.
In the first week of Phase 2, as businesses began to open their doors, customers traded eating at home for restaurant reservations instead.
Shane noticed a dip in sales, attributing it to people dining out more. Whilst sales started to pick up again soon after, it has become quite erratic ever since.
So far, Halal with Hew has made over $29,000 in revenue since it launched a couple of months ago.
Next: a super app for the Muslim lifestyle
Despite the challenges that the young business is facing, Shane remains ambitious. The HBB food ordering platform is just a testing of waters: Shane’s goal is to create a super app that caters to a Muslim’s lifestyle not just in dining, but perhaps also groceries, shopping and more.
Some short term plans may include opening up the platform to hawkers and restaurants. But Shane is not in a rush.
“We may move on to include hawkers and restaurants and then one day, even become a one-stop shop for Muslims and non-Muslims alike…the whole package,” says Shane candidly. “But one thing at a time lah.”
To order good food and support home-based businesses as the same time, visit www.halalwithhew.com.