It’s been a year since Zomato made humble strides into the UAE, and has managed to become a force to reckon with during this period. Robust RAK caught up with Pankaj Chadda, co-founder and COO, Zomato.com, to discuss their successful journey and the growth plans going forward.
Q: What is the secret of Zomato.com’s success? What makes such a simple idea attract so much attention?
A: While working at Bain and Company, Deepinder (CEO, Zomato.com) and I used to notice everybody queuing up at the cafeteria during lunch hours to get a peek at the menu cards, as these were banned from taking back to desks at work. And that’s when the idea engendered that it’d be much easier if we put the menu online for everyone to access. We then went on to build a database, and soon thereafter we went live with menus of 1,200 restaurants in Delhi NCR in July 2008. By the end of that year, we expanded to 2,000 restaurants. The fact that we launched our product after we identified a gap is what has made our business sustainable.
Zomato is a popular online and mobile restaurant search service present in 40 cities and 11 countries: India, UK, UAE, Philippines, South Africa, Qatar, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Indonesia, Turkey and Brasil. We provide detailed information (scanned menus, pictures, user ratings & reviews) for over 2,04,400 restaurants worldwide. The website and mobile apps are driven by our data, which is refreshed every 90 days. It was created to help people find, connect with great places to eat around them and that has been the singular focus until date.
We try to keep the interface clean and simple across all platforms. This, along with the rich information we publish, differentiates our product and enables users to get what they want. Users can also access Zomato wherever they are – be it online, on their smartphones, or using the print guide. We are focused as a reliable source of information in our domain for users. Even our social features have been implemented taking into account our everyday interactions with friends about places or dishes to eat. All these factors combined have contributed to the success earned so far.
Q: Please describe Zomato’s journey since setting up in 2008?
A: The last five years have been nothing short of exhilarating for us, both personally and professionally. From zero to 15 million monthly users globally, 9 million visitors on web and 6 million visitors on apps, over 650 young and enthusiastic Zomans spread across 21 offices in 11 countries, 204,400 – plus restaurant listings and over 4,000 restaurant brands advertise with us, it has been an exciting journey. And, we are sure, the best is yet to come. Fuelled with the recent round of funding that we received from Sequoia Capital and Info Edge (India) Limited, we expanded to Indonesia, Turkey and Brasil on November 11, 2013 and launched sections in Brasil (Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Porto Alegre) and New Zealand (Hamilton) on December 18, 2013.
Q: Zomato has forayed into international markets. What fruit has this venture borne?
A: We have been focusing on increasing our reach beyond India over last one year. Dubai was our first choice as it is one of the most popular business and tourist destinations globally, and has a vibrant restaurant industry. The emirate’s high internet and mobile penetration makes it a great market for us. Dubai was the first market out of the gate, and the overwhelming response received in the emirate has vindicated our decision to expand beyond India. Post Dubai, we went on to launch operations in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, London, Doha and Colombo. The response in all these cities is way better than expected. During our first month in London, we has over 1,00,000 users on the London section of our website, more than 500 mobile app downloads a day in the Philippines in less than one month of launch and the charts
in South Africa are already buzzing where we are hardly a few days old.
Q: How has your portal been received in the markets in the UAE?
A: Over the course of 2013, we expanded our services to include 23 new cities across seven countries. So far, the response
from almost every market that we’ve expanded has been encouraging, and we intend to continue in that vein.
Our UAE business broke-even in March 2013, having launched in September 2012. We are already the largest restaurant search and review website in the UAE; with an estimated market share around 60-65% or more. Our Dubai section alone gets over 1.2 million users a month across the web and mobile platforms. Across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, we provide information for about 8500 restaurants.
Q: Share with us your strategy behind entering each of the six countries Zomato is present in. Why have you chosen London, or what makes Sri Lanka a viable destination to do business?
A: We actually do a very detailed on-the,-ground study to evaluate a market. This means picking a list of cities that are considered feasible on a macro level (demographics, regulatory, etc.) and then sending people to go through our entire operations process –collecting information, talking about possible
partnerships with local merchants and engaging with users by showing them the product. It’s like doing a miniaturised city launch. It is the best way for us to figure out what customisations a local market may need, and gives us a good idea of the market in the process too.
We analyse our competition, understand the advantages and the limitations in a market and, above all, if there are enough merchants willing to play ball. London was a slightly different case, where we were up against fierce competition from players who have been around for a long, long time. Thus, the comprehensiveness of our product gave the much-needed confidence to jump headlong into the market. We now have comprehensive information for over 16,000 restaurants in London, and this is almost twice as much as the next biggest player.
Q: How is Zomato funded? Please take us through your funding sources from the beginning till date.
A: So far, we have received four rounds of funding from Info Edge (Naurki.com) amounting to INR 86 crores (USD16.5 million) in total. (Figures as of Q2 2013)
Q: You are in an expansion mode, what’s next?
A: We have 22 countries in the pipeline for expansion over the next two years, including North America, Europe and further growth in the Southeast Asia. The funding of $37m that we received from Sequoia Capital and Info Edge has given us the muscle needed to meet our expansion goals. Our team is about 650 strong globally, and the numbers are likely to multiply thrice in the near future.
Q: Anything planned specifically for the UAE market?
A: The latest round of funding will drive further global expansion, while continuing to expand and strengthen our presence in countries that already possess operations, including UAE. The new year promises to be a great one for us, and we can’t wait to get going.
Q: On a personal note, are you happy with the way business has turned out for you?
A: Yes, very much! It’s natural to have detractors when you give up a comfortable job to start something of your own. But it’s been a fantastic run, the response has been overwhelming at times, and the work we do speaks for itself. We started out of a living room and it took us almost two years to actually move into something that resembled an office. Now, we’re in 21 cities in seven countries, serving over 11 million users a month, and are over 200 people strong as a company. As a company, we like getting things done, rather than working on processes to get things done. That means we’re always on the move, and looking forward to the next challenge, something I personally really enjoy!