How to make a better Wolt using the Telegram Bot Platform

There’s still plenty of room for a micrologistics app/service, and there is a way to get one up to speed quickly without having to go through the app stores.

Preface

But first, a disclaimer

I do not consider myself proficient in coming up with business strategy. Nor am I a successful entrepreneur, having a strong preference to put my time and efforts into technologically interesting directions, often disregarding their financial viability. In short, I am better at building stuff, rather than planning on how whatever it is I’ve created is used to generate revenue and turned into a successful enterprise.

With that said, being familiar with the reality of deliveries from the ground up, and having explored the possibilities of the Telegram Bot Platform, I dare say that there is still a problem in this domain that can be solved systematically and fundamentally. Read on to find out how.

I’ve taken interest in micrologistics for over a decade.

My passion for cycling, combined with an urban lifestyle, kept bringing my attention to this field. Back in 2009 I have built greenie.co.il, a naive (& now-defunct) attempt at getting clients, businesses & couriers to independently collaborate over logistics, by enabling discovery (based on geography & time availability) and communication. It did gain some attention, but was too unspecialized to compete with then-established players like 10Bis in the israeli scene. Plus, the world wasn’t ready - smartphones became common only a couple years later. The (now ancient) source code’s still there..

More recently, during the 2020 lockdowns, I kept myself in shape by working as a Wolt partner courier. A year or two prior, Wolt took the Israeli food delivery scene by storm. Working with them, as well as following the news, helped me reach some insights regarding how they pulled it off.

Wolt in Israel, who’s benefiting

Ever since Wolt took the Israeli stage by storm, I, a Tel-Aviv based customer, have enjoyed a strong decrease in delivery times and a manyfold increase in selection. They’ve really levelled the playing field.

As an occasional courier my experience was also positive. On busy evenings I’d have my orders lined up and their order of execution made logistic sense. The payment was above market average for food deliveries, though that’s just what I hear, no first-hand experience elsewhere to make comparisons.

So who’s gotten the short end of the blanket?

The businesses. Wolt, having positioned itself as the main go-to channel for eaters to order online, are in a position to pressure businesses into fees that hover around 30% for every order. And the restaurants aren’t happy. Let’s call them providers from hereon.

Wolt’s secret sauce - what they’re doing right

Customer satisfaction, I am told, is the thing that’s hardest to achieve and sustain in the food business. So, behind Wolt’s promise of 30-40 minute delivery times there is a well-oiled support team that quickly responds to maintain quality of service for customers, resolves edge cases, and takes care of customer compensation, if all else fails.

In essence, Wolt took the biggest market segment (restaurant deliveries), which happens to also be the one with the lowest margins, and having taken over the market, increased those margins to its benefit, at the provider’s expense.

So what doesn’t Wolt do?

Here’s a bunch of aspects I’ve identified that Wolt doesn’t cover.

Accept cash

Being the order taker for your client is obviously the most straightforward way of enjoying a slice of the pie, but by no means the only.

So long as a standing interest to cooperate exists (the provider, courier want to secure an incoming stream of orders), the facilitator (platform), and any party that willingly participates in achieving this goal will be rewarded.

Cluster customers & providers by geography

It’s true that Wolt courier fees depend on the distance for the courier to travel. However, their current policy includes a minimum fee per order, regardless of how short the run is.

Several high-profile neighborhoods in Tel-Aviv have clusters of establishments (providers) whose interest is to build a customer base with an emphasis on the community. Ordering from close-by results in shorter delivery times, increases the volume of orders and can reduce shipping costs. This opportunity is completely missed, as of now.

Appeal to verticals which aren’t food orders

There is competition springing up for delicatessen and even groceries. But what I think is the biggest issue here is that the identification of such verticals comes not from the interested parties (consumers, providers) but from outside entrepreneurs. It could very well be that much more can be accomplished with a micrologistics infrastructure than it is realized, if only initiative came from those who are closer to the sources of supply & demand.

Next-day and other optimizations

Wolt currently optimizes by clustering orders whose providers and clients are geographically close and grouping them with a given courier remains within the time constraints of the courier.

However, many more “long tail” scenarios exist, such as next-day deliveries.

Delegate responsibility

That’s the biggest one, and what I believe is the key to creating something fundamentally better. Wolt’s structure considers three roles, while Wolt itself fulfills a fourth. The three roles are customers, couriers and providers (=restaurants, in Wolt’s case). Wolt fulfills a fourth role (let’s call it the operator role), of being the responsibility, payment and logistics guarantor for mutually beneficial cooperation between the first three kinds of parties.

Because Wolt specializes on a particular vertical (food) on a fixed scale (city-wide) it is not geared to expand and act on different kinds of opportunities (such as the several examples provided above).

How to tackle competing with Wolt operationally

Allow partner operators to make use of the platform/service and establish themselves independently

That’s the most important bit. A partner on the ground will have an intimate knowledge of how to reach his customers, what to offer them, what problems they need to be solving, how to manage pricing competitively.

Currently, would-be competitors to Wolt are unable to enter the market because of barriers

It’s too hard to develop your own app. Solving micrologistics is hard. Going through app-store reviews is hard.

So, instead of building their own platform, they need to be given an opportunity to use an existing platform as a service.

In order to differentiate their brand, they can still set up their own website/domain, and run a separate communications channel.

The communication channel is possible by building the solution on top of a messaging app such as Telegram, where each partner can register their own Bot.

Thus, they’ll be using an established communications platform with a large existing user base, instead of bootstrapping yet another native app.

The technology to get there fast - Telegram

  • Telegram has a large existing user base.
  • Telegram bots are a well-developed ecosystem that support
  • Elaborate menus
  • Push notifications
  • Real time location sharing (courier location)
  • Telegram bots are scalable to allow partner operators to each run their own bot using a platform supporting their operation.
  • Telegram bots include support for processing payments.
  • No need to get into the app store. Users following a link will either end up instantaneously chatting to a bot, or be prompted to install telegram.
  • No need to develop a separate app for each mobile platform.

Q&A

What are the costs of getting to market with an MVP?

As a technology person, I can make rough estimates regarding the costs of infrastructure development.

Here’s a very brief breakdown of UIs involved:
  • Telegram bots:
  • Customer facing - ordering, payment, order tracking, communication with support
  • There can be many instances of this bot, one for each partner
  • Courier facing - incoming orders, delivery management, communication with support
  • Provider (restaurant) facing - incoming orders, order collection, communication with support, menu configuration, delivery area configuration, other settings
  • Web UIs:
  • Partner UI
  • Management of Providers (adding, removing restaurants)
  • Management of couriers
  • Settings
  • areas of operation
  • Payments processing, billing
  • Delivery modes (immediate, next day, batches etc)
  • Support UI to communicate with couriers, customers, restaurants, resolve issues, provide compensation, escalate to admin support if needed.
  • Admin
  • dashboard
  • Management of partners,
  • Partners support
  • Telegram bot setup
  • Login-as to access the system as any other role.
  • Provider (restaurant) websites with rich menu optional -
  • Act as a landing page (maybe duplicate functionality) for the telegram bot to enable desktop customers who prefer ordering/order-tracking via web-interface to order.

As for infrastructure & tech stack, I’ve successfully implemented bi-directionally communicating bots with rich programmable menus, push notifications and so on.

I believe all of the above functionality can be reachedon a development budget of USD 100-150K.

The highest anticipated risks being at the following points:

  • Smoothness of customer ordering experience via Telegram. It all works - but the users are not used to it (chatbots being a rather new thing).
  • Complexity and intricacies of courier routing & prioritization algorithms
How is it possible to prove the business case feasibility at no cost/ or minimum cost?

Despite Wolt's market dominance, alternative food couriers remain, both local and on the metropolitan scale, is a strong indicator there's room to act.

The question lies with the cost of creating a new infrastructure and bootstrapping it with providers & couriers and getting the ball rolling on marketing.

I believe that the marketing part can be delegated to businesses themselves, who have an existing client base they can market to, and whose strong economic interest is to undermine their dependence on Wolt.


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