Mumbai Dabbawalas
Often it is the simplicity of an idea and the sheer passion behind it that makes builds great organizations and companies.
It is this very simplicity and the zeal to work hard that has made the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin-box Supplier Trust (Mumbai Dabbawalas), one of the most efficient services across the world.
It does not just stop there. Top-notch universities like Harvard and leading companies like Microsoft, Accenture and SAP have invited the members of this association and done detailed case studies on their functionality and business models.
Entrepreneur Lessons has etched out some of the most important teachings that the Dabbawalas can provide to lead a startup to success.

1. Effective hierarchy

The association has more than four thousand semi-literate members and has survived the industry for more than a hundred years. With efficient collaboration between the different levels of operation like the governing council consisting of the president, vice-president, general secretary, treasurer and nine directors; the mukadams and the Dabbawalas the association provides a customer loyal door to door delivery service.

2. The Cypher

ciphering technique
Dabbawalas collect and deliver Tiffin boxes from every corner of the city serving over a million families. The boxes are coded with a particular set of colors which define the region of reception and delivery. The codes are governed by an experience set of mukadams who have good knowledge about the ciphering technique. It is said that even a minute mistake in the coding or the decoding can put the complete system in a mess.

3. Co-ordination and Teamwork

The service comprises of many small groups which are financially independent but work together with great synchronization. Though there is tough competition among the groups to fetch customers and provide better service, they work towards the same goal. It’s a great teamwork!

4. Time Management

time management
For the delivery service, the most important parameter is the time. Any discrepancy in the timeliness of the service results in service failure. Hence the mission to deliver the Dabbas starts every morning at 9 and by the lunch time that is about 12 in the noon, all the boxes are coded dispatched and delivered. Post lunch, the whole process is reversed and the dabbas are returned back to the respective houses.

5. Referrals

To acquire more customers, the Dabbawalas encourage their clients to make referrals to there relatives friends and acquaintances. Nothing can boost the business more than promotion and references of the services backed by customer satisfaction.
Various studies have focused on dabbawalas:

  • In 2001, Pawan G. Agrawal carried out his Ph.D. research in “A Study & Logistics & Supply Chain Management of Dabbawala in Mumbai”. He presented his results on the efficiency of Dabbawallas in various fora.
  • In 2005, the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) featured a case study on the Mumbai Dabbawallas from a management perspective of logistics.
  • In 2010, Harvard Business School added the case study The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time to their compendium for its high level of service with a low-cost and simple operating system.[32]
  • In 2014, Uma S. Krishnan completed her Ph.D. research in “A Cross-Cultural Study of the Literacy Practices of The Dabbawalas: Towards a New Understanding of Non-mainstream Literacy and its Impact on Successful Business Practices.”

On 21 March 2011, Prakash Baly Bachche carried three dabbawalla tiffin crates on his head at one time, which was entered as a Guinness world record.
Source:,  Wikipedia

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