Newly out of DTAC’s accelerate program, B2B marketplace Freshket raised 6 digit funding from an anonymous agriculture company in Thailand, including VC fund 500 tuk tuks to continue connecting food suppliers with restaurants through its online platform in Bangkok.

The startup is currently in pilot testing and working with 20 restaurants in Thonglor, one of Bangkok’s most trendy districts, to figure out what suppliers and restaurant owners need.

Freshket Founder Ponglada Paniangwet tells eIQ that the platform will soon be open to 30 restaurants in different areas in the city and eventually expand to Singapore and Indonesia.

Freshket’s website homepage

Saving costly time for small businesses

Freshket is the first of its kind to solve a deep-rooted challenge in the restaurant industry in Thailand that Ponglada experienced herself having started her career as a fresh food supplier.

“I spent four to five hours after midnight every night to fill paperwork for different restaurants, to sort orders and review bills. Every restaurant had different requirements for ingredients, and everything had to be sorted manually,” notes Ponglada.

She saw the opportunity to build a solution that would simplify the workflow between a restaurant and its food suppliers and replace the time consuming pen and paper process.

“By spending less time on ordering stock, it leaves time for business development, organizing staff and other more important things,” says Ponglada.

Restaurants can simply log onto Freshket and order the ingredients they need one day to one week in advance and choose the time for supplier trucks to deliver the goods. The pilot period has helped determine that demand occurs before lunch and before dinner, between 8-10am or 2-3pm.

Freshket’s platform instantly creates an online purchase order (PO) under the user’s profile consolidating the type, quantity and total price all in one document.

Ponglada recalls that restaurants in Bangkok order their supplies through fax, email or LINE chat app and can easily create errors because suppliers consolidate each order by hand which  can often lead to incorrect deliveries. The automated PO fixes this as well.

Transactions on the site are currently made only through bank transfers but the startup is working to integrate credit cards or bank accounts for a one click payment. Freshket is also planning to allow companies to choose the logistics provider to deliver their goods, whereas currently all deliveries are handled by suppliers.

Challenges with traditional food supply

“We’re currently working with our partners to find out common trends in both delivery times and product selection,” says Ponglada. “For example, no restaurant wants deliveries at noon so we don’t prioritize this time slot. These details help standardize our offerings and maximize resources.”

It’s difficult for smaller restaurants to bargain with high quality food suppliers because they typically target larger chains or big scale businesses.

Suppliers are also known to hoard special produces despite demand in the market.

Both scenarios limit the produce selection available to the little guys.

Freshket tackles this challenge by connecting restaurants with food suppliers of all sizes and ‘smart farmers’ on one platform. It widens the assortment of produce SKUs so any restaurant can more likely find for example, a specific cut of meat or five different types of white shrimp.

Thailand’s army of smart farmers

Smart farmers are a new generation of business minded farmers that are producing crops based on demand forecasting to increase their sales. This can include selling only organic vegetables or a particular type of fruit that not many other farms are producing. There are approximately 100,000 smart farmers registered with Thailand’s national agriculture database, making up 10% of all registered farmers in the country.

Because smart farmers are located outside of Bangkok, business with them can be a challenge. Freshket must provide the right logistics and storage for farmers to scale operations.

Some smart farmers are also unable to process the packaging or customize produce according to each restaurant’s specifications.

Through this work, Freshket is collecting information regarding optimal temperatures, warehouse technology and freezer room specifications, to scale distribution for smart farmers on the platform.

What will Freshket ‘grow’ next?

“There’s a lot of potential for expansion in the region,” notes Ponglada.

The startup is eyeing expansion in 3-4 cities across Southeast Asia

“We would like to consolidate all the data we have access to and share with farmers what to grow this particular season because it will be in demand by restaurants,” says Ponglada. “Restaurants can also map their menu offering based on the seasonal crop during specific periods of time.”

Through data, Freshket will be able to evolve from a middleman platform into an agritech specialist that is able to project outcomes from industry demand.

“Everything we do is in steps. Freshket’s biggest goal is to tackle and modernize agriculture in Thailand, but we have a few areas in Bangkok to expand into first,” Ponglada comments. “One step at a time.”

The Freshket team at Google HQ in Mountain View

Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank held a fintech event last week on behalf of its digital arm, Digital Ventures. ‘Faster Future: SCB Fintech Forum‘ drew in speakers from across the globe, from Wei Hopeman, Managing Partner at Asia based Arbor Ventures to Jeffrey Paine, co-founder of Singapore based Golden Gate Ventures, an early-stage VC firm that focuses on Southeast Asia.

“Southeast Asia looks like China in 2006, like India in 2011,” said Paine. “In China and India, the competition is usually local, but in Southeast Asia, the competition comes from around the world.”

During his panel, Paine outlined eight key tech sectors that he believes we will see more of in Southeast Asia within the next 3-5 years.

1. The age of differentiated commerce, more B2B

  • It is the age of niche B2B ecommerce. Southeast Asia will see the growth of niche verticals in the B2B space, for example, the rise of the industrial sector in Singapore
  • The industry will see a surge in ecommerce enablers that help traditional companies go online
  • Ecommerce will shift slightly to differentiated commerce. This refers to a culmination of good content, strong networks and an efficiency in selling. Ecommerce has evolved to an all-round experience, not simply putting something up for sale online


2. The rise of a ‘one stop shop’ financial platform

  • The region can expect a rise in fintech transactions over the next 2-3 years
  • Integration of big data in credit scoring will be prominent, especially in Indonesia. Big data should be able to minimize the amount of work and extend sources needed to provide loans.
  • The ‘one stop shop’ financial platform will allow you to purchase loans, insurance and credit cards in one place. This will be a place where a few winners can come into dominate market share
  • The rise of pure mobile online banks. Vietnam is already starting to adapt following the launch of Timo Bank, the country’s first digital bank
  • Financial services for ecommerce. For example, consumer credit will matter when a shopper buys something on a marketplace. This will also be in tandem with the rise of vendor financing for marketplaces
  • On-demand insurance will also become a trend in the next 3 years i.e. Asia Insurance
  • Blockchain infrastructure will arrive in Southeast Asia


3. Automobile innovation to benefit B2B & B2C

  • Innovations will be in the areas of software that helps drivers find parking, rent cars, connect with automobile care


4. The rise of healthcare tech in Thailand and Singapore

  • The birth of centralized data hubs and analytics will be integrated with healthcare
  • Creation of software for hospitals, clinics and private practices to make their workflow more efficient. Ex. Patient records, paying bills etc.
  • The application of IoT software for hospitals and senior homes
  • The rise of telemedicine platforms online and doctor on-demand services. This would benefit rural provinces as it’s a challenge to find doctors on demand when you’re not in a big city


5. The strengthening of enterprise SaaS

  • AI/Machine learning based predictive analytics software for business users, especially in the area of automated customer service and sales management software
  • Will take time to develop and be applied, but it should be used by HR departments and accounting/finance divisions to automate certain processes such as number crunching and database filing


6. Long-haul logistics

  • Long haul trucking would be particularly useful for the popular trucking route between Malaysia-Thailand and vice versa
  • On-demand trucking platforms could add more convenience to consumers, allowing them to have parcels delivered at a more flexible schedule. This would be a challenge in Indonesia due to the different islands within the country
  • Route planning innovation will also become a trend in logistics. This would help to tackle various roadblocks such as unidentified locations, problems with delivery addresses and more.


7. Increasing popularity of agritech

  • Agritech has been slow to rise, but should become a key trend within the next few years as agriculture is prominent in Southeast Asia
  • The development of financial services for farmers will pick up. Thailand and Indonesia have begun to develop government centric databases and e-procurement platforms, but neither has fully taken off
  • The creation of market linkage models, ex. farm to table platforms


Looking ahead

Southeast Asia is waking up, especially as each country’s government is pushing tech initiatives and creating guidelines such as sandboxes for fintech and exploring taxing for ecommerce.

According to Jeffrey Paine,

As soon as the government starts to push, large corporations will begin to take notice.

This trend is apparent in Thailand, with many institutional banks such as SCB itself, or Kasikorn bank venturing into digital finance services.

Real estate companies such as Sansiri are teaming up with SCB to explore property tech, focusing on research, development and startups, aligning with the Thai government’s 4.0 initiative that aims to move the country towards a more digitized framework.

Jeffrey Paine notes that for domestic startups, going regional is not impossible. China will play a significant role in the region’s development, and Southeast Asia needs two main vices; capital and time, in order to accelerate the region’s technology growth.

For more on SCB x Digital Ventures Fintech Forum and to watch the panel, click here.

Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Thailand’s Box24 is moving beyond laundry service

Through Box24, customers simply had to deposit the laundry, make a payment, track the status of their laundry through the mobile app and pick-up when its ready.

Founder Bond Thaiyanurak saw potential in his startup, and soon looked to explore into other verticals under the Box24 brand.

For ecommerce delivery, Box24 partnered with leading retail chainsTesco and BigC to launch a service called ShopBox24. For parcel delivery, it partnered with delivery company Kerry Express to deploy MoveBox24.

Box24 will also be deploying personal storage services with Kerry this year.

Regionally, there are already a handful of ecommerce lockers available, but Box24 differentiates itself by building hardware in-house. “We have a very different business model from other players — we are selling the lockers,” said Thaiyanurak.

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Pypestream raises $15M series A for its customer messaging platform

 Pypestream has expanded to offer messaging capabilities in businesses’ own apps and elsewhere. This goes beyond just sending text and images — users can also make payments, schedule appointments and send files directly from the messaging window.

“Brands thought, or agencies think, that people actually want to have general conversations with businesses and brands that aren’t specific to utility or aren’t specific to a need,” founder Smullen said.
“Just as a consumer, I don’t need to have a general conversation with Nike — but if my sneakers are broken, then my conversation with Nike is very necessary.”
Read the rest of the story here.


3. SCB Fintech Forum reveals key industry trend in Asia

According to key panelists at SCB’s fintech forum held on 28 February, agriculture tech and healthcare will become more prominent this year. We should be seeing the integration of big data which will help drive more movement within agriculture, including new digital platforms that will fund agritech projects.

Doctor-on-demand will also be introduced on a larger scale in Asia.

Read the rest of the story here.


4. BCBG Max Azria files for bankruptcy

Fashion house BCBG Max Azria Group LLC has filed for bankruptcy protection , the latest casualty in the struggling U.S. retail sector, as shoppers abandon malls in favor of internet shopping.

The company is taking steps to close its freestanding stores in Canada and consolidate its operations in Europe and Japan, in addition to the 120 retail stores closed as part of the restructuring efforts.

The re-shuffling will allow the company to hone in on customer shopping patterns, selected retail locations and ecommerce, a spokesperson for BCBG said in a statement.

Read the rest of the story here.