Pandemic accelerated development of food delivery app

Let's Eat: Innovation the key to COVID era business success

Shyam Ebanks monitors the location of Let's Eat fleet of delivery apps on a bank of large television screens at NCI Cayman's office in George Town. Photo: Taneos Ramsay.

Smartphone-based food-delivery business Let’s Eat may be the first successful new venture of the COVID era.

Though the idea was in development before the pandemic, it took off as Cayman locked down.

Leveraging smart technology and the needs of the moment, Let’s Eat has found a niche in the new economy.

It used a fleet of rental cars, left in the lot as tourism disappeared, and recruited drivers from the vast ranks of people across multiple professions left unemployed because of the coronavirus crisis.

Shyam Ebanks, managing director of both logistics company NCI Cayman Islands and Let’s Eat, said the new venture had been in the pipeline for some time.

But he accelerated the business plan after discussions with the Chamber of Commerce about how the private sector could help address logistics and employment concerns as Cayman shut down.

“This is something that was in the early stages. We had been talking about it for a couple of years,” he said.

He and his partners were finalising development of the app and hoping for a summer launch, when the virus hit.

Let’s Eat employs 47 drivers across the island. Photo: Taneos Ramsay

With bars and restaurants closed and food delivery the only option for them to make money, they decided to push the plan forward.

“We dived in and just went for it and, boom, today we have 47 drivers,” said Ebanks. “We helped a lot of restaurants stay in business in the process.”

The company also helped find work for people who lost jobs during the crisis, partnering with the Chamber, CML and Nova recruitment firms, and Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman.

“We got people from all different walks of life. We have professionals, some from the tourist industry, business owners, people coming back from college. It’s a real mix,” Ebanks said.

Even as restaurants reopen, the app is still proving popular.

The business deals with  anywhere between 400 and 1,000 orders every day.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Let’s Eat is that nothing similar existed pre-COVID.

Delivery apps have been a staple of retail and restaurant offerings in most cities for many years.

Ebanks acknowledges that his business would not have taken off so quickly and so dramatically without the incentives and the conditions created by COVID-19.

He sees other opportunities for businesses to innovate and use technology to meet the demands of the new era.

But he warns it is not as simple as just starting an app.

“Technology is one part of it, but logistics is another huge part,” he said. “That is why we were able to move quickly. We have some of the most sophisticated systems on island.”

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