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Start-ups like Batman Delivers & Mad Bites catering to midnight food cravings in Delhi, Bangalore

NEW DELHI: A sweet craving in the middleof the night while writing this story was rather disquieting knowing that all stores in Delhi that sell chocolate cupcakes were shut at that unearthly hour. But thanks to a start-up run by an ex-Ernst & Young employee, the cupcake was delivered at 3 am and the story was mailed before day-break.

Start-ups like Batman Delivers, Fly By Knight, 
Midnight Munchies, Take It That One and MadBites, among others, are picking up business through the night as Indians increasingly stay up long hours-partying, meeting work deadlines or tweeting or chatting away on social media sites. These firms, which are propping up across Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, not only deliver food at your doorstep, but also cigarettes and chocolates, and even sachets of Eno and condoms-all after the Cinderella deadline.

Fly by Knight was started by 27-year old Neha Jain in June 2012, after leaving a high-paying job of an analytics consultant at Google India. "At odd hours, customers don't know where to go to when they want even an essential like a bottle of water, or a cigarette lighter. That is where a home delivery service like ours comes in handy. You ask for ENO or noodles and we will be there," she says. Jain has a stock of food, that range from party packs to sinful cravings, Snickers and Twix, and even cigarettes, Happydent mouth fresheners and flavoured condoms.

The idea struck her when as a single woman living in Mumbai, she would often get back home late, and find to her discomfort there was nothing to eat. "I was anyway wanting to do something of my own and so I took the plunge," she says, adding that she is already earning as much as her former employer used to pay her.

In Delhi, Arjun 
Sethi left a job to start Midnight Munchies, another online food home delivery service for the south Delhi area. "When people are working harder, they want to party harder, and they are looking for more convenient alternatives so that they can make better use of their time," he explains.

Today it is a perfectly normal routine for youngster in the age group of 18 to 30 to regularly browse the web, text or watch TV in the hour before bed. "And all that time one spends in front of the monitor or TV, it makes it harder for one to go to sleep and it leads to sleep loss that affects your mental and physical well being," says Dr JC Suri, professor and head of the department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital.

Suri, who is also the chairman of the 
Indian Sleep Disorder Association, adds, "Insomnia is rapidly becoming a problem. The reason being, change in lifestyle, the 24-hour TV channels, weekend party culture, and accessibility to the Internet are adding to the problem. The IPLmatches end at midnight, the youngsters are either texting or chatting online at the dead of the night and to add to that the pressure and competition in studies all this and more has aggravated the culture of staying up late."

"We have found that it is not just the students who are burning the midnight oil and feel the urge to binge at times, but also professionals working on their presentations that need to be taken to a meeting next morning also give us a call," says Sethi.

Moreover, in Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore, where curfew hours begin as early as 11 pm, it is not so safe for anyone to move around at night. "The idea occurred to me in December when the Delhi rape incident brought out the vulnerability of our city's resident in the night. I saw this as an opportunity. If people are willing to pay a premium, it can be good business," says Raghav Negi, marketing head at Batman Delivers, a midnight delivery service in Gurgaon, which takes orders between 9 pm and 5 am.

Avik Chatterjee founder of Mumbai-based Mad Bites says that such a delivery service comes handy not just for people who are busy spending their night on social media, but for late night movie goers who might not find food once the show is over or for someone who has just landed in the city on a late night flight. "The concept is a challenging one and surely a profitable one for there is a huge untapped market out there."

The market is unexploited and those who took the first strides say that the business is growing every single night. Take the example of Take it That One (TITO) Bangalore, which shut down operations for a few months and are currently in the process of building up its inventory and logistics after a huge response. "Our supplies were invariably getting over before midnight every single day and before this could impact our image we decided to shut shops, extend our wingspan over more areas in Bangalore and a franchise in Hyderabad, restock and come back with a bang," says Nikhil Malohtra, one of its owners.

"Cigarettes and chocolates are the most popular items sold in the night-time. Other than that, food items like biryani, french fries, wafers among food are ordered more often. In beverages, soft drinks and energy drinks sell the most. While a lot of people also call in for medical essentials," he adds. Realizing the growing market of how the day begins post midnight, service companies like these also caters to providing last minute orders for birthday cakes to be delivered at midnight, birthday banners, balloons, and other accessories.

Negi's Batman Delivers has started to see similar rise is demand within two months of operations. "We have not yet started serving in Delhi, but we still get calls asking us to get food delivered and are offered twice the money for it. Sadly, we have to decline, and we realize how desperate is the need for such services in the cities."

Pointing out the dearth of such services and the rapidly growing demand for home delivery for getting delivered even a bottle of mineral water. Most of these home delivery services have a no doorbell policy and to ensure they do not end up disturbing neighbours or families. "We never ring the doorbell so sometimes the delivery boys have to return in case the customer is not with his/her phone or ends up passing out after a heavy drunken night," saysSethi of Midnight Munchies.

However, running such a business post midnight is not an easy task. Jain of Fly By Knight says that figuring out the logistics is a nightmare. "To find people who could work for you at such odd hours is a difficult and an expensive job," she says. "They have to be paid twice the amount for working at 4 am, needs to change their body clock completely. So we have few boys on rotation after every three days for delivering the goods." Negi of Batman Delivers says safety of the delivery boys is a concern. "A couple of times we had incidents where somebody tried to loot our delivery boy in Gurgaon, so we have had to blacklist certain areas ," he says.

While midnight delivery is a booming business, experts are worried about an unhealthy lifestyle many youngsters are adopting in the cities where it is a perfectly normal routine for many in the age group of 18 to 30 to regularly browse the web, text or watch TV through the night. "Insomnia is rapidly becoming a problem," says Dr JC Suri, professor and head of the department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital. "The IPL matches end at midnight, the youngsters are either texting or chatting online at the dead of the night and add to that the pressure and competition in studies...all this have aggravated the culture of staying up late," says Suri, who is also the chairman of the Indian Sleep Disorder Association.