Pedram Assadi is the chief operating officer (COO) of Foodpanda APAC. He was appointed on the role in January 2019 to oversee all ongoing Foodpanda’s business operations in the region. Previously, Pedram spent more than ten years in tech, including stints at Amazon and IBM.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): What drew you into joining Foodpanda?
Pedram Assadi (PA): My parents moved from Iran to Germany, where I was born and raised. I worked in tech companies like IBM and Amazon after studying in the Netherlands. The catalyst was when, after leaving Amazon, I moved back to Iran to start an online food delivery company.
I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship, and I knew I had to seize the moment. I also wanted to bring an incremental impact to society. Iran has a huge market of about 80 million people. Back then, it was a growing economy, but lagging in its transition to a tech economy. There were food delivery companies around the world, but there were none in Iran. We grew quickly, becoming one of the largest local food delivery platforms.
I later joined a food delivery company in the Middle East for three years before joining Foodpanda, APAC. Asia is exciting. We are currently in 12 countries and about 400 cities. That’s a variety of different countries at different stages. Some are developed, while others are only developing, but growing fast, with huge populations. Yet, they’re still early in their transition towards technology. The market is complex and exciting.
Kr: How was it to go back to Iran to start a business?
PA: When I’m in Germany, I don’t feel fully German because of my roots. When I’m in Iran, I don’t feel fully Iranian because of my German heritage. Wherever I am, I feel like an outsider. The feeling was amplified in Iran. However, the purpose of me being there was to drive an impact on the economy. It was coincidentally at the time when Obama had lifted sanctions on Iran. I thought that was my calling to see what I had to bring back to my home country.
Kr: How do you analyze Foodpanda’s growth in Southeast Asia, along with the growth of the market in general?
PA: Online food and grocery delivery is still in the early stages. If you look at every household’s spending on food and groceries online, the share is lower than if you compare it to general e-commerce. Growth in the upcoming years will be at different rates, depending on the country, but it will continue. Last year’s pandemic was a catalyst. People realized the additional benefits of online food and grocery delivery.
Kr: Tell me more about Foodpanda’s Home Chefs initiative in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.
PA: Technology is a powerful platform tool. It is not enough to use it to maximize profits. You also need to drive a positive impact on society.
Our Home Chefs initiative is an example. In Pakistan, the population is huge. We don’t have enough restaurants. Instead of waiting for kitchens to be built, we work with home chefs directly. There are a lot of women home chefs who look for some income on the side. The project started in Pakistan, but has now been scaled to Bangladesh and Malaysia. Currently, we have 8,000 to 9,000 home chefs, and the plan is to ramp it up to 100,000 home chefs. It’s an interesting business angle that’s also helping people, especially women that are at home, to have some earnings on the side.
When I was in Lahore, Pakistan, I visited some home chefs. There was a lady who loved to cook. Because of her household duties, she couldn’t find the time to leave her house, nor get any financial means to hire a helper. She became successful on our platform. Both her, and her food, have gained some brand awareness. It was fascinating to see how you can use technology to grow a business, and also have a positive impact on society.
Kr: Beyond metrics and KPIs, what are the wider social effects that you want to have in the locations where you’re running these programs?
PA: One of the pitfalls of a company is that they’re too inward-looking. Companies —specifically tech companies that were fortunate to grow quickly in the last few decades— have a responsibility. We need to look at key performance indicators (KPIs) from other angles. We need to put our perspective away and have home chefs’ perspectives in focus. We have to be conscious of not just scaling up the number of home chefs but the demand, too. They have to grow together. If you just flood the market, and the demand doesn’t grow in balance, then there won’t be enough revenue. Ultimately, home chefs cook as a hobby, but there has to be profit for them too.
There is also the evaluation of our product. Our product and tablet were first programmed for restaurants, which were then adjusted for grocery stores. Now it’s for someone’s house. It has to be modified with different needs. There were suggestions for the bell to ring louder and for the user interface and the user experience to be simpler. The perspective of the home chef has to be considered seriously.
Kr: How can Foodpanda recognize people’s needs to create these programs?
PA: We operate heavily in local markets. Decentralization is one of the differentiators of Foodpanda. We empower the local markets. By being close to local markets, we understand the needs of different stakeholders.
We had PandaToda in the Philippines. Tuk-tuk cycles were predominantly used for ride sharing, until COVID decreased business. We stepped in and worked with the government together to repurpose them into food delivery riders. They weren’t allowed to do so previously. This ensured continuous earnings for them. You cannot be agile in the market unless you’re extremely close to the market. That’s one of our attributes.
Kr: What is fuelling the passion behind such initiatives?
PA: I like to cook myself. When you have a hobby, you often think of making it into something more. It seems like a small step, but the investment that is often required to open a restaurant is huge.
With this initiative, we transformed hobbies into a profession. At the same time, we enabled home chefs at home to have earnings. We wanted to reduce the entry barrier to make a living out of your hobbies. It feels rewarding that we’re part of this movement for a new Pakistan.
Kr: What’s in the pipeline for Foodpanda and its initiatives in 2021?
PA: In 2020, the perception of us changed, from being a food delivery company to becoming a daily essentials provider. In many countries, there were full lockdowns. We had a responsibility to the stakeholders to continue operating. That’s how we’ve set the bar for this year.
You might have seen our new business venture, PandaMart. We deliver groceries and more in under 30 minutes. We want to develop new business ideas to deliver more than just food. With operations in 12 countries, we’re the player with the largest geographical reach in APAC. We’re also continuously expanding to new cities. It’s important to us to bring the benefits of our technology to cities that don’t have any online food delivery options.