In 2016, serial entrepreneur Bahubali Shete had to return the USD 10,000 he had raised from a crowdfunding project for his IoT devices—a gas hob with a built-in timer, weighing scale, and temperature probe—when he realized it would be difficult to scale hardware products.
Shete approached users to figure out their needs in the kitchen and what might make their cooking experience better. After speaking to several people, it was feedback from an 80-year-old woman that stuck with him. “I wish I had something like Google Maps in the kitchen. Ever since my husband learned how to use it, he can go anywhere without knowing the route and without taking his hands off of the steering wheel,” she told Shete.
People wanted a gadget—an assistant—that could help them keep their hands and eyes off recipe books or phones when they were cooking, but still provide direction, Shete told KrASIA.
Between 2017 to 2018, Shete devoted his time to creating a voice-enabled product that would tell users how to make a dish without them having to touch their phones. In the process of building the prototype, Shete realized it wasn’t enough for a voice assistant to read a recipe out loud. It needed to be more interactive. So Shete integrated artificial intelligence (AI) that could talk to customers and help them solve problems while cooking, such as replacing ingredients in a recipe.
While he had taken care of the technological aspect, the expertise of providing recipes, recommendations, and cooking tips was still missing. Shete wanted users to trust the recipe recommendations that his product offers. For that, he needed the know-how of someone who is recognized for their culinary mastery. In 2018, he brought on board Sanjeev Kapoor, a celebrity chef, as his co-founder to guide the company and help drive traffic to its offering.
With all the pieces in place, in 2019, Shete launched KloveChef, an AI-based voice assistant that helps users in the kitchen with step-by-step recipe of how to make a dish. It also tells users what to cook based on the ingredients they have in the house.
“During our user research, we learned that many a times people don’t plan their menus, and more than often they are left with random ingredients in the house. Once the user tells our AI the ingredients they have, it can come up with an easy recipe for a dish,” said Shete, who is now CEO of KloveChef.
The startup has partnered with Amazon and Google to give users access to its recipes through smart speakers, placing KloveChef’s service in the kitchens of 900,000 users in India. All of the firm’s recipes are sourced from Kapoor’s cookbooks, and KloveChef’s voice works at each home cook’s own pace every step along the way.
Shete claimed KloveChef has 100,000 monthly active users.
“Our AI can perform other tasks as well, such as set a timer, make a shopping list, and suggest quantity of ingredients to use based on the number of people you are cooking for. If you are having a party and have a few dishes in mind, you can ask our AI about the ingredients you should buy,” Shete said.
KloveChef has an eye on keeping home kitchens stocked too. The company has partnered with Amazon and is in talks with a handful of other online grocers to fulfil users’ shopping lists logged by smart speakers. Amazon India recently launched a meal kit service in India, where measured, prepackaged ingredients are couriered to users to simplify meal prep. “If you want to cook biryani, we ask the user if they want the ingredients to be delivered. If they say yes, we place an order on their behalf from Amazon,” Shete said.
These affiliate sales form a major source of revenue for KloveChef. It’s also looking into running advertisements. “If your recipe involves chopping onions, which requires two or three minutes, we can run an advertisement for that long. We will ensure these advertisements would be useful and relevant for users,” Shete said.
The company will start playing ads by the end of 2020. It projects a sixfold conversion rate for brands compared to television advertisements.
KloveChef was built for smart speakers, but the company plans to launch a mobile app in the coming months as well. Shete said the features will be the same, except users will have to touch their phones to enable the voice input whenever they give commands.
The company recently raised USD 1 million in its pre-Series A round from Venture Catalysts. While India is the only market where it has launched its product, it has plans to roll out services in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.