Just across the fancy Gold Souk in the suburban glitter of Gurgaon, in an expansive floor of a five-storey office building, dozens of youngsters sit around huge tables that remind you of a college hostel dining room. Many of them wear trademark red T-shirts.
There are no cubicles or workstations. Only laptops. In the corner are a couple of sofas for visitors, with a hint of inspired interior design in bamboo sticks and pebbles.
It is a Saturday, but there is a laid-back buzz. We are inside the headquarters of Zomato, and this is arguably India’s youngest multinational – and still a startup!
Born only in 2008, the online restaurant guide now has 43 offices worldwide, spread across 22 countries with staff from 65 nationalities. Though it climbed to fame as a place where foodies share opinion on what they love and hate about eateries, it is charting a new course beyond listings that fetch ad revenues.
Zomato, which has so far raised $163 million from venture capitalists , is set to turn into a supplier of point-of-sale payment machines and software-driven transaction services that would automate workflows for eateries worldwide.
Imagine a waiter tapping a menu card on a tablet that beeps an order into the front office machine that processes the order, deducts a payment against a credit card or prints out a bill.
“It is a custom hardware. It will take another six months to start,” says Deepinder Goyal, Zomato’s 32-year-old co-founder and CEO, who is computer science graduate from IIT-Delhi.
The machine would be designed by Indian engineers but made in China. Last April, Zomato acquired MapleGraph, a Delhi-based cloud (Internet) point-of-sale product for restaurants and renamed it Zomato Base. The plan is to help eateries run everything from customer intelligence to inventory management from an Android app and a matching machine.
“There are no boundaries anymore,” says smiling, chubby-faced Goyal, who has come a long way from being the younger child of schoolteachers in the small Punjab town of Muktsar, whose rare claim to fame was a war between Sikhs and Mughals in 1705.
The no-boundary philosophy is now a well-honed extension of Goyal’s style. After burning its fingers in 2011 in an events business that involved online ticketing, Zomato decided not to waste its talent and sent some senior executives to Dubai to test the waters for its core business of restaurant listing.
The Ramadan of 2012 proved to be auspicious as co-founder Pankaj Chaddah landed in the booming desert town to seek new fortunes.
“We broke even in six months in Dubai. That gave us the confidence. Then we went crazy and we are now in 22 countries, “says Goyal. “We have eight more countries lined up in the next six months.”
About 800 Zomato staffers now regularly fan across the globe and update restaurant information every quarter. The respected technology industry site TechCrunch reports the company’s valuation at $ 1 billion (R 6,000 crore).
International expansion zoomed like a dream last year when Goyal wanted to expand in New Zealand, where a boutique company, MenuMania ran restaurant listings.
“I called the founder and said I want to buy you. He agreed and asked for the price. I had no logic. I said one million dollars. He said yes. That gave me an idea that there must be a lot of boutiques across the world,” recalls Goyal.
In that summer of 2014, Zomato clinched a series of deals valued between $1 and 3 million in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Italy and Turkey, but the biggest catch was Urban Spoon, with operations in the US, Canada and Australia, on which the Gurgaon company spent a significant $ 55 million (Rs 350 crore). It also acquired Nextable, a US-based table reservation platform, last April, making it its ninth buyout in as many months.
Things have come a long way for Goyal, who started a venture called Foodlet.com in 2005 straight out of IIT. But he was early to the game given the low Internet penetration in India.
After working for in consulting firm Bain and Co, he jumped back into the food business as he launched Foodiebay. The company changed its name fearing a trademark clash with eBay and took on its tomato-rhyming tag just because the online domain was easier to get.
For a late starter, all that is ambitious but Zomato’s advantage that it is eyeing an Asian boom while building on its strength as an India-based technology player. In as many as 15 countries, it has started on its own.
Entrenched competitors include Yelp in listings and Deliveryhero and JustEat in food delivery.
“All these companies are the same size as now. We have to see who breaks out from here,” says Goyal. “Hopefully we will grow faster than these guys.