Zomato.com is a name all food lovers swear by. It is the yellow pages of restaurants and saviour in the last minute hunt for good restaurants or takeaways, and it took far less time to reach where it is today than many other digital brands.
Having a first-mover advantage and a focused path, Zomato has gone from presence in just Delhi to having 21 offices across 11 countries and 40 cities in a matter of less than six years. The portal was started by IIT-Delhi alumni and ex-Bain employees Deepinder Goyal (CEO) and Pankaj Chaddah in July 2008 as Foodiebay.com.
In an exclusive interaction with exchange4media, Goyal shares the journey so far, and talks about what drives the brand. He also touches upon the challenges faced and how they have managed to create such strong brand recall.
How has the journey been for Zomato thus far?
There’s never a dull moment at Zomato. We started out of a living room in 2008 as Foodiebay.com and today, we’re over 650 people strong, have 21 offices across 11 countries across 40 cities. From the start, we’ve been focused on revolutionising the way people connect with great places to eat around them. Zomato is where it is today because of the team’s inherent drive to get things done, a focus on the collective goal and on loading our food cart as we went along. The response that we’ve received in all the countries where we are present has been fantastic and we intend to only continue in that vein.
It has evolved into a brand that has become synonymous with restaurants. If a restaurant is not on Zomato, it is not considered worth checking out. How have you managed to achieve that?
Zomato is a restaurant search service that aims to provide information for every restaurant in each of the cities that we’re present in. We’re not an editorial website and if we miss a restaurant we appreciate people letting us know, so that our information is as relevant and exhaustive as possible. User reviews and ratings, along with menus, photos, and geo coordinates provide the necessary information to users and that builds a sense of credibility.
Our active engagement with users on social media channels and with local influencers like bloggers help us get valuable feedback and understand how best to improve our product offering. We’ve focused on creating a product that people would love to use and that makes our users our biggest brand ambassadors. With over 15 million monthly users globally, Zomato is a highly targeted platform for restaurant owners to market their product to customers. It helps restaurants get the right visibility and through user reviews and ratings helps create an interactive environment with their customers.
You have not indulged in any ATL activities and even BTL branding came into picture quite late. How does one create such strong brand recall without any major advertising?
We rely heavily on word-of-mouth and on the online medium, which is our domain, to market ourselves and remain at the top of the user’s mind. Till 2012, we did use ATL activities for focused campaigns and will continue to do so as and when the need arises. 2013 onwards our focus has been on long lasting, low cost visibility mediums, that is, BTL activities in restaurants through barters and partnerships. Engaging with Zomato users is extremely valuable to us and I think we do that very well. A strong social media presence, foodie meet-ups, blogger interactions and active engagement with users and restaurateurs over the years have all helped us achieve customer loyalty and brand recall.
How do you think is the digital ecosystem of India evolving?
As a nation, the time we’re spending on the internet has increased dramatically. Today, over 200 million Indians log onto the internet indicating a massive shift towards the online medium. More and more people are viewing information on -the-go; in the metro, while shopping, at a restaurant etc. They’re turning to the internet to find solutions to their basic queries and Zomato fits in best here as a discovery platform for food. With so much time being spent in the digital world it’s a huge opportunity for consumer service providers to up their game by providing quality service and creating products that are genuinely useful in people’s everyday lives. India is catching up slowly as compared to the West in terms of time spent online and on smartphones. The West has a highly developed digital ecosystem in terms of the implementation and the evolution of technology. Mobile is expected to become increasingly popular as the new space for engagement. Currently, 55 per cent of our traffic comes from mobile phones and with the increase in data usage and penetration of smart phones our mobile traffic is only bound to increase.
How important are good investors to make a brand successful?
It is extremely important to find an investor who believes in your overall vision and guides in the process to achieve your objectives. Good investors should have in mind what’s best for the company and not throw their mandate on the company in which they’re investing.
What have been the greatest challenges that you have faced?
Hiring the right people on board has been a challenge from day one. We’ve always sought to bring people on board who fit with our organisational culture. An attractive CV alone does not cut it for us. The people we have on board are a bunch of driven people who go the extra mile to get things done and are ready to take full ownership of their work. Cultural compatibility and the right technical skill set isn’t always easy to find but we keep innovating our hiring techniques in order to counter the problems we face.
Another major challenge for us is to make sure that the restaurant information we have is relevant and comprehensive. After all, that is precisely why users keep coming back to use our product. We make sure that we cover all restaurants in every city where we’re present and that the content is updated on a regular basis.
What does the future roadmap look like?
By the end of 2013, we were in 40 cities across 11 countries, and we have 22 more country launches lined up before the end of 2015. We have scaled up our operations massively, and our team has only grown with it. We’re over 650 people strong globally today, and we’re looking at doubling that figure in the very near future. Our energies are focused on scaling our business globally. We’re aiming to be the go-to guide for restaurant search globally.