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Surface Gamechanger

Teen coders cook up a community e-commerce food platform

Jishnu Maruthamutu and Rakhael Tanabalan love gaming and hanging out together. But unlike other 13-year-olds, they’re also business partners.

The boys launched an online food platform last September from their homes in Cheras, a quiet suburb of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city. And business has been booming ever since.

Their Cookeasy website sells snacks, cakes and fresh meals made by cooks who live in their community.

The idea for came about in March 2020 soon after the pandemic reached Malaysia. With their hometown in lockdown, the boys initially filled their days gaming. But soon Jishnu’s parents encouraged him to look for something more productive to do.

“At that time, my aunt had just lost her job due to COVID-19,” he recalls. “She’s a really good baker. So, I came up with the idea for Cookeasy to sell her cookies and help support her financially.”

Needing a partner to get it off the ground, Jishnu immediately turned to Rakhael. It was a natural choice. They had already worked well as a team in a series of gaming competitions.

“Rakhael is great at marketing our products. He’s very outgoing and knows how to talk to people,” says Jishnu. “He’s also creative and comes up with ideas to make our site better.”

During this year’s Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Rakhael and his dad distributed Cookeasy’s snacks to neighbors as a way of spreading the word. To make the website more eye-catching, he also designed logos for the different food sections as the menu expanded.

Jishnu describes himself as the more technical one in the partnership who often executes Rakhael’s creative ideas.

“My dad works as a program manager and does coding for big companies, so he taught me basic skills from a young age,” says Jishnu.

Rakhael is also a coder. “I found the subject really fun and interesting when my teacher first introduced it,” he says.

Their tech know-how proved useful when it came to starting their website.

 

“Always follow your dreams. If someone says you can’t achieve something, ignore them and you will always find a way.”

“I used the same coding language my dad taught me, which helped when it came to changing fonts and other technical requirements,” Jishnu says.

Even with their digital skills, the boys did face challenges when getting Cookeasy off the ground.

“Creating a business requires money, which we didn’t have a lot of at that time,” says Rakhael. “So, we had to ask for our parents’ credit cards to get started.”

The boys also needed a payment gateway for customers to purchase goods online. Fortunately, Jishnu’s father was well-versed in e-commerce and guided them along. Rakhael’s uncle also taught them how to use Shopify functionalities to create their website domain.

Both their mothers were a big source of support as well. Jishnu’s mother helped get their Facebook marketing going. And Rakhael’s mother advised them on food packaging and presentation.

“It’s amazing to see the motivation and involvement the boys have shown in this project,” reflects Maruthamutu, Jishnu’s father. “They’ve come so far. We are very happy parents.”

 

“It’s amazing to see the motivation and involvement the boys have shown in this project. They’ve come so far. We are very happy parents.”

A man and two boys look at laptop
(L-R) Maruthamutu, Jishnu’s father, with Jishnu and Rakhael.

In terms of hardware, the boys’ new Microsoft Surface laptops make maintaining their site a breeze − especially on-the-go.

“The battery on my old computer would die out in less than 30 minutes, but the Surface laptop lasts me like two days,” explains Jishnu. “It’s really smooth too and doesn’t lag when I run several programs at once.”

They hope to expand their business to other places in Malaysia and are even thinking of exporting to Singapore and Thailand.

They’ve got a big heart for the community too, having collaborated with other Malaysia-based social enterprises to distribute snacks to communities affected by the pandemic. This Christmas, they’re also looking to use their earnings to buy presents for kids whose parents have lost their jobs.

After that they just want to explore how they can keep harnessing the power of technology to do good things.

“We aspire to be the youngest people in the industry to have the most advanced website ever,” says Jishnu.

So, what’s their advice to other teens? “Always follow your dreams,” says Rakhael. “If someone says you can’t achieve something, ignore them and you will always find a way.”

TOP IMAGE: Jishnu Maruthamutu (left) and Rakhael Tanabalan (right) sample their snacks.