As I enter the lab, my olfactory receptors are immediately struck by a strong but comforting whiff of freshly baked bread — the unleavened kind you receive at a church communion or at an Indian restaurant.
But this is neither a bakery nor a bread mill — it is a lab. Within these walls, dozens of machines whirl and whine ceaselessly, churning out batches of rotis (Indian unleavened bread), all for the purpose of testing.
A small team of about 10 employees keep close watch over the machines, feeding them all manner of bread-making ingredients: flour, oil, water, and more.
Outside the lab, a sprawling office space housing engineering, PR, finance and sales teams work in tandem to ensure the company keeps making and selling these machines.
The machine is called Rotimatic, a product eight years in the making. It makes rotis, wraps, tortillas, and other kinds of flatbreads within two minutes. Since its official market launch about a year ago, over 20,000 Rotimatics have been sold, netting the company, Zimplistic, US$20 million in revenue (although it has yet to hit profitability).
The success of Rotimatic is not just due to the ingenuity and passion of its founders Rishi Israni, the co-founder and CEO of Zimplistic and Pranoti Nagarkar, the company’s CTO and other co-founder; its dedicated and growing team toiled for years, all working in synchronicity to fulfill the company’s single vision:
“We started Zimplistic with the hope to bring convenience and health into daily lives of people…we are a company, where we put our people ahead of us. Our users and their needs are our priority,” say the Zimplistic founders.
“We wanted to simplify the flatbread making process through advanced technology so that families could spend more time with each other rather than the kitchen. And people have loved us and welcomed us into their homes with open arms and the numbers keep growing.”
Now meet some of the key employees who help bring their vision to life.
Serena Lim is the lovely in-house chef who makes (healthy) breakfast and evening snacks for Rotimatic’s employees.
The culinary arts graduate has been with the company since 2014. She hopes to start her own restaurant someday.
Wong Chee Hung is an IT industry veteran with 20 years of experience, mainly working with consumer electronics. Previously, he worked at HP (Hewlett-Packard) and Kodak — primarily in the area of printers — working in various functions from manufacturing design, programme management and quality function.
As the Vice President of Engineering at Zimplistic, he oversees a team of 45 people.
“I joined Zimplistic more than 2.5 years ago. It has definitely been an exciting journey, just from the product aspect and from the opportunities you can find here. To find another company in Singapore like this is extremely rare.”
“When you think about it. How many true R&D hardware company exist in Singapore? — extremely rare. The whole landscape here has changed since the year 2000, you know? Singapore needs more companies like Zimplistic to grow a lively engineering scene.”
“Being a Singaporean, you do have the obligation to make a local Singaporean company successful. And being in a startup, working with people of all backgrounds is extremely useful.”
“We get to deal with complex problems. We really have to crack our heads to overcome these interesting challenges that we face.”
“At different phases of the product lifecycle, we face different challenges. For us [at Zimplistic], we have been in the mass production phase for close to two years, so the challenge is, of course, sustaining the factory operations.
“We need to continue to put in a lot of effort to sustain the business and sustaining the output and quality, as well as managing the product’s future iterations.”
Shrugal Nagarkar is one of the international faces at Zimplistic. As a certified mechanical engineer, Nagarkar worked in Indian’s largest automotive company, Tata motors, for three years.
As Director of Manufacturing at Zimplistic, Nagarkar is in charge of manufacturing and procurement. He oversees around 10 staff in Zimplistic and about 40 workers from his contractor’s company.
“This is the only company where I have experienced the whole product lifecycle. In a bigger company, you don’t get the chance or the opportunity to do that in a short time.”
“Right now, I’m on the monitoring phase. Previously, I was on the creation phase, so it involved going to the factory in the morning, assembling and briefing the team, working on flow charts and planning quotations.”
“Now it’s more of monitoring; data comes to me and then based on that data, I find out what needs to be triggered, what needs to be stopped, what needs to be modified. So, it’s about making sure that the operation is sustainable now.”
“I work on new products, too, but it is still in the prototype phase. Eventually, it will transition out from the idea stage into the manufacturing stage.”
The quality assurer
Woonie Tan is a quality manager at Zimplistic, with over 15 years of experience in her profession. Like Chee, she previously worked with printers at HP and Kodak. And now, she ensures all Rotimatics are up-to-scratch.
Tan cities her “passion for baking and cooking” as a motivation for joining Zimplistic.
“Rotimatic like a printer except that we are printing edible rotis. To me, it is relevant to my previous job scopes, and yet, it is a new challenge because I am making edible final products instead of just paper printing.”
“Here we are not bound by a fixed job scope; we are like a small happy family where everyone is quite cooperative — in the sense that whatever task is most urgent gets fixed first. Everyone is aligned and we work according to the new goals.”
Tan welcomes the different degrees of challenges that her job presents.
“For clear-cut hardware problems, the turnaround time for fixing them can be as fast as one week.”
“The toughest one would be the unknown. For example, customers who return the machine and do not provide clear explanations on why they don’t like the machine. We want to understand why a customer would want a better machine and how we can meet their expectations.”
Image Credit: Rotimatic