At 19,447 people per square mile, Dhaka, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The metropolis of more than 18 million people is notoriously difficult to navigate; expensive real estate (land prices grew by an average of 100 to 125 percent in 2016) and standstill traffic (the average road speed was about 4.5 miles per hour in 2018) mean that millions have to rely on online services for basic grocery, personal care, and household items.
That’s why five years ago, Tejas Viswanath, Waseem Alim, and Zia Ashraf cofounded Chaldal, a San Francisco-based grocery delivery startup that was one of the first in the region to offer same-day delivery. Today the company announced a $5.5 million Series A funding round led by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of The World Bank Group, with participation from Bangladeshi firm IDLC Finance Limited and Y Combinator. To date, the company has raised $10 million.
“Chaldal is the culmination of the passion of a lot of people out to solve some fundamental problems,” Viswanath said. “This … marks a pivotal moment for our company, and it sets us up for the next step of our journey. We are grateful to the community for placing their trust in us. We look forward to bringing innovations and ideas to the online grocery market worldwide.”
Chaldal’s end-to-end platform, which fields about 1,500 orders every day, is unique in the sense that it incorporates not just route and delivery logistics planning, but also fulfillment. By tapping what it calls “micro-warehouses” that pack an entire supermarket’s worth of goods into apartments and artificially intelligent (AI) software that sets up supply chains on the fly, it’s able to deliver groceries — including fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy — to most customers within an hour. (Customers place orders through Chaldal’s mobile app or the web, via its online portal.)
The tech’s similar in some ways to the micro-fulfillment solutions employed by CommonSense Robotics and Takeoff Technologies, both of which leverage a combination of robotics and AI systems to fulfill orders much faster than most humans could. But Chaldal intends to take the concept a step further.
With the new capital, it’ll embark on building out nano-warehouses — fulfillment centers that take up no more than a single room. They’re small enough in size that the products within them can be shelved and distributed with several robotic arms, Viswanath said.
Chaldal plans to run about 50 nano-warehouses in several target cities around the globe, which it claims will enable it to fulfill orders in about 15 minutes.
Inventory management is just part of the delivery equation the startup has spent years learning to tackle. It transports goods via its ridesharing spinoff, Chalo, an Uber-like motorobike service, and Gogo Bangla, a logistics and delivery company. Today, across all of its subsidiaries, Chaldal employs 450 people in three countries — the U.S., Singapore, and Bangladesh.
Chaldal, like Instacart, DoorDash, Postmates, and others, is chasing an online grocery market that’s forecast to capture 20 percent and $100 billion of retail sales by 2025, according to a study conducted by Nielsen.
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