Schoolboys set up online food platform to help retrenched aunt during pandemic

Schoolboys set up online food platform to help retrenched aunt during pandemic

The Star
Friday, 06 Nov 2020
12:00 PM MYT

Primary school buddies and family friends Jishnu Maruthamutu, 12, and Rakhael Tanabalan, 12, are always glued to their laptops, even on a school night. Their parents aren’t perturbed as they are aware the boys are making good use of their free time to do something profitable and productive.

In September, they set up an online food portal that sells homemade Indian snacks, sweets and cakes.
The boys mooted the idea after Jishnu’s aunt was retrenched during the movement control order (MCO) in March, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Jishnu was moved when his aunt started to sell muruku and cookies to earn extra money.

“My aunt asked me for help to post photos of her snacks on social media as she wasn’t too familiar on how to do online marketing. I felt sorry for her and I realised there were many people like my aunt who were financially struggling due to the pandemic.

My dad and Rakhael’s parents encouraged us to do something worthwhile with our time instead of playing computer games. We took on the challenge to help my aunt and other home cooks who needed a platform to sell their homemade products,” said Jishnu in an email interview recently.

ishnu (right) and Rakhael offer homemade Indian snacks on their online food portal. — MURAIN SHANMUGANATHAN

As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, Malaysia has seen a rise in the number of online food platforms and delivery services. The accessibility to products online allows consumers to stay safe at home while enjoying the convenience of e-commerce.

Online culinary businesses have seen rapid growth, too. More home cooks are making profits from their pastime, selling food items on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.

Learning the ropes

Jishnu and Rakhael saw this as an opportunity to start a new venture that could allow home cooks to earn extra income.

The boys turned to e-commerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce to learn the tricks of the trade.

“When we first started researching, we came across several websites that showed us examples of kids around the world who sold things online. Some of them were as young as eight years old.

“We were inspired by these stories. And if we can do it, everyone can do it,” said Rakhael, a Year Five student at a private school in Cheras.

Jishnu added: “To improve our skills, we turned to marketing tutorials on Facebook and YouTube videos on setting up an online platform. It was so interesting. We learned how to boost Facebook posts and used tools to see how many liked our posts. We got hooked trying to understand how this whole digital world works.”

Maruthamutu (left) is always within arm’s reach to lend a helping hand to Jishnu (centre) and Rakhael. — MURAIN SHANMUGANATHAN

But the boys can’t take all the credit for setting up the website. They are grateful that Maruthamutu, a programme manager at a technology company that develops digital platform solutions, is always within arm’s reach to lend a helping hand.

“At times, Rakhael and I couldn’t understand the Shopify functionalities like connecting videos from YouTube and the payment gateway. Appa has taken time to inspire us with his insights, and teach us how the e-commerce world works,” said Jishnu.

A matter of priorities

Maruthamutu, 47, explained: “Jishnu and Rakhel have been busy brainstorming ideas for their newly launched website. They are always inspired to further modernise the site, including managing products, working on new promotions and video content, more independently. They have reduced their gaming time to keep improving the site.”

On the platform, the boys offer homemade items like traditional Indian sweets, cakes and savoury snacks. Their aunts and family friends prepare the food items for sale on their website.
“Before we list food items on our site, we have a food tasting first. We must love it,” said Rakhael.

“Since Deepavali is around the corner, we want to focus on Deepavali homemade cookies first.”

Jishnu added: “A lot of our friends and family have been supporting us but we also have some very nice people who have been engaging us via Facebook and Instagram. We even got a sale from Kedah. Above all, we hope these talented cooks and bakers can make money online by selling items that they take pride in.”

From left: Tanabalan, Rakhael, Jishnu and Maruthamutu make it a point to have a food tasting session before they list food items on their website. — MURAIN SHANMUGANATHAN

A family affair

Maruthamutu and Rakhael’s father Tanabalan S. Thermalsamy, 40, helped with the company registration, opening bank accounts, setting up the products and setting up a payment gateway.

“Our mothers helped us set up the operations processes, from how to manage enquiries to completing a delivery. They also help us with product photo shoots,” said Rakhael, who helps to manage promotions on Facebook and Instagram.

Regarding how they juggle between school and managing the website, Rakhael said: “Both of us go to the same school but are in different classes. With the current MCO, we start the day with online lessons, homework, and a bit of sports activities in the evening. From 9pm, we focus on the website.

“Once a week, we have a meeting with our fathers on how to improve our e-commerce site.”

It’s serious business for the boys but they still have time for play, just like other children their age.

“We ‘kill’ each other all the time in Fortnite (an online game) but we prefer playing together to ‘kill’ others. So far, we haven not had any conflict running our online business. I am sure there’s nothing a homemade burger can’t settle,” said Jishnu, adding that business profits are being saved for future marketing strategies.

Maruthamutu is proud that Jishnu and Rakhael have a nose for business. Most importantly, he is pleased that the boys started the website with the intention to help someone in need.
“That really means a lot to us. These 12-year-olds are going the extra mile to contribute their time to running the business. This further motivates us to help them when required.”

Jishnu says: “It feels cool that we have achieved something. Our fathers say this is a positive start and we should keep improving. We also feel like we’ve made a difference when we receive confirmation orders.

“To hear their (the home bakers’) joy makes us happy, so we always end up celebrating over food.”