We have outgrown the Indian market

Written by Ivinder Gill | Updated: Nov 19 2013, 09:21am hrs
We wanted to meet Deepinder Goyal for lunch, at a restaurant of his choice, because who better to tell us about a good one than the founder of online restaurant guide Zomato.com. But Goyal would rather eat up the competition, in this case Yelp, the US-based big daddy of search websites. A huge banner in Zomatos Delhi office, proclaiming that the company wants to have Yelp for lunch, is testimony to its hunger for success. Whether this is huge ambition or sheer arrogance, only time will tell. But going by Zomatos growth chart, things look promising right now.

Flush with funds, a cool $37 million by investors Info Edge and Sequoia Capital, Zomato has much on its plate, and the proverbial miles to go. Even the day we meet Goyal for coffee, he has a flight to catch. But it is not to some prospective business location abroad, despite Zomato going global full throttle; only good old Mumbai. For now.

With a presence in 14 cities in India, some of which Goyal says are not very profitable, Zomato feels saturated in the Indian market. The way forward is to expand abroad, which is Zomatos undivided focus. With 22 cities worldwide already in the kitty, the company has plans to expand to 22 countries in the next two years. Interestingly, Zomato opted for an inflow of funds over a big buyout, as Goyal claims on his blog. But he is not revealing names. Even when we ask him if the buyer was Yelp, he refuses to talk. However, he admits Zomato is not averse to acquiring other businesses, both foreign and domestic, in case something right comes up.

As he talks with an air of quiet, but firm confidence, its hard to believe that five years ago, Goyal and his partner Pankaj Chaddah, both IIT graduates, were just scanning menus of restaurants in Delhi-NCR and uploading them on to the web. Today, Zomato is present in 35 cities in 11 countries, with a staff strength of over 600, and a valuation of around R1,000 crore.

Goyal reveals one of his secrets of success: the company still operates like a start-up, with everyone on board expected to show the same commitment, enthusiasm and ambition as they did when they began. So if he claims that most of the people he started out with are still with the company, he has also lost count of the number of people he has fired. Does that make him a tough taskmaster, we ask. This is not a charity house. Everyone has to put in 100% effort. If people do not have the right attitude, it does not work for us. We want to function like a start-up for as long as possible, even if we are technically not one. If anyone comes in the way of that, we let them go, he says.

But then, he is equally tough on himself, working for over 16 hours everyday and having taken only about five days leave in as many years.

Interestingly, this people-centric approach drives the companys business plans as well. Ask him about future destinations for expansion, and all he says is where we find suitable people. The same mantra has been behind the locations they have chosen so far. For instance, they have a presence in New Zealand, but not the more food-eclectic Australia. Yet. Ask him about it, and he says, because we got the right kind of people in New Zealand first.

But he is not ready to share the names of the 22 prospective global locations for Zomato. So we settle for a list of five, which includes Malaysia, Argentina, Chile, Columbia and Mexico, besides, of course, Australia.

However, it is the UK which is Zomatos best global market right now, where it is number two after Yelp. We get all kinds of feedback, and a lot of it, from the UK. This has helped us immensely in bettering our product. In other countries, we are pretty much the only player, so feedback is not very vigorous, says Goyal.

But what about the US, the biggest market of them all Goyal says they have to get their product fully ready for the US market before they think of entering it, which will take time. Incidentally, this is Yelps home turf, but Goyal says they are not scared.

Talking about India, Goyal says of the 14 cities they are present in right now, not all make good business sense. Having covered about 90% of the potential market, they have no plans to expand in the country as of now. Given a choice between Kochi, which has 400-odd restaurants, and Sydney, with its plethora of options, I know which one to choose, he says. But he also adds that he will not scrap operations in any existing platform, as hefty revenues from metros compensate for the slow money trickling in from smaller cities in India.

Looking back, its not as if Zomato did everything right. Goyal has burnt his fingers with e-ticketing and restaurant marketing, and he openly admits they went horribly wrong. But the experience has left them with a more focused product, with Goyal asserting that Zomato will never venture into anything but food. Small elements like a catering segment apart, the future is all about restaurants for them.

Not even the lucrative online retail segment has any lure for Goyal, who dismisses Flipkarts big inflows of money with a: they are also losing a lot of money.

At the end of the conversation, we cant pinpoint what exactly makes Goyal a winner, because if he has a devil-may-care attitude, he is also sharply focused. He hasnt thought about where his company will be two years from now, but he knows what he has to do in these two years, and how. Taking each day as it comes, he sees himself slogging it out for another 10 years or so. After that, he says he doesnt know. We never had a business plan when we launched Zomato. We just scanned menus and uploaded them. Slowly, the business has become what it is now. We never thought about success, but just came to work everyday. Things just happened, says Goyal. Lucky happenstance!