Startup Mantra: Aiding hotel industry tide over the pandemic

A 27-year-old from Pimpri-Chinchwad, Rahil Shaikh, is helping the restaurant and hotel industry unlock with technological support through a restaurant management platform, TMBill
A native of Shrirampur in Ahmednagar district, Rahil Shaikh completed his Computer Science engineering course from the DY Patil College in 2014. After his degree, Shaikh had offers from multinationals, however, he chose entrepreneurship. (HT PHOTO)
A native of Shrirampur in Ahmednagar district, Rahil Shaikh completed his Computer Science engineering course from the DY Patil College in 2014. After his degree, Shaikh had offers from multinationals, however, he chose entrepreneurship. (HT PHOTO)
Published on Dec 11, 2021 04:22 PM IST
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BySalil Urunkar

The most affected industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly the restaurant and hotel industry.

As different cities and geographies across the world reopened gradually over the last two years, there are many restaurants and hotels grappling to survive, reduce operational expenses and attract customers.

A 27-year-old from Pimpri-Chinchwad, Rahil Shaikh, is helping this industry unlock with technological support through a restaurant management platform, TMBill.

This platform is a cloud-based, end-to-end technology solution for restaurants, bars, cafes, Quick Service Restaurants (QSR), ice-cream shops, bakeries and cake shops.

In the beginning…

A native of Shrirampur in Ahmednagar district, Shaikh completed his Computer Science engineering course from the DY Patil College in 2014. After his degree, Shaikh had offers from multinationals, however, he chose entrepreneurship.

Says Shaikh, “I am a farmer’s son and my parents wanted me and my brothers to complete our higher education. My elder brother is a Class 1 officer while another is also a software professional and runs his own institute. My elder brother supported me during my engineering studies. I was passionate about entrepreneurship and fascinated with the start-up world. Hence, I did not take up any job offer and instead chose to start my own website and mobile application development company ‘TechMainstay Software’.”

“Without any prior experience, I miserably failed at my attempt and as they say, ‘burned’ through the startup journey of the initial six months. I struggled a lot, but could not get a single client. After going through some good and bad experiences, I managed to get my first client at the end of 2014 and got a cheque of 8,000. It was an amazing feeling,” recalls Shaikh.

Introspecting another failure

In 2015, Shaikh was introduced to the concept of cloud kitchen. Inspired by this model, Shaikh and his team then started their own cloud kitchen operations. “We got a good response and soon expanded to three locations. After this expansion, we realised that we needed software to manage operations efficiently. We were told that a software was available for restaurants and hotels, but it was priced at around Rs90,000. We could not manage the cash flow, inventory, stock, billing and other expenses. Despite being an IT guy, we chose the manual way of operations and as a result we again failed miserably in the cloud kitchen business,” Shaikh said.

After running the cloud kitchen for about six months, Shaikh and his team introspected. They found out that they failed due to lack of cost-effective software. “Since we had our software company team in place, we decided to solve this problem. We learnt our lessons the hard way and by that time we had sound knowledge about how the restaurant industry operates and the problems faced by them at every stage. So, we created the architecture and built a foundation for TMBill,” said Shaikh.

TMBill – the must have on a restaurant menu?

Says Shaikh, “We started working on the idea of a complete ‘Restaurant Operating System’ which would be the ‘mainstay’ for the industry. I had a team of 12 developers in March 2015 and this team further helped me build the TMBill product. TMBill helps all types of food businesses, from a standalone food outlet to a large food chain, manage functions like billing, QR code ordering platform, CRM, customer loyalty, aggregator integration, analytics, inventory, recipe and wastage management, centralised menu management, vendor management and more. It’s a complete solution for a restaurant’s technology, operations and marketing needs, all within an integrated framework.”

First customer

Sharing his experiences about customer acquisition, Shaikh said, “We got our first customer, The Moctail Den near Bharati Vidyapeeth in 2015. We, made our framework and structure solid, did our test cases and use cases and based on that a prototype was created. Then we entered the market full-fledged. They were experienced in the hotel management domain and we had experience in software. They were our first paying customer and we offered them lifetime use of our software.”

“From one customer in June 2015, TMBill went on to onboard 20 paying customers that year. The next year, 2016, TMBill was being used by 120 customers from Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad area. Since TMBill gained traction, we continued to focus more on this business segment. Growth was 30 per cent from user perspective. We used to offer our software for as low as Rs2,000 to Rs3,000 then,” recalled Shaikh.

Turning a corner

Shaikh and his team’s persistence for the next two years – 2017 and 2018 – paid off. In 2019, the start-up got a good user base. “I used to visit each and every restaurant from Nigdi Pradhikaran to Shivajinagar area on my bike. Besides, we posted videos about the software on YouTube and did a lot of social media marketing. We started getting enquiries from customers within and outside India. It was a breakthrough point for us. Since we were bootstrapped, we managed to get only 1,800 customers till 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.”

“We turned the corner after the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. With lockdowns in India and other countries, several restaurants, hotels and businesses started looking for technological solutions to sustain during the pandemic. This gave us the much-required boost and we acquired a total of 5,000 customers globally. Of these, 1,300 are from India,” Shaikh explained.

Saudi Arabia’s ‘GST’ moment

Says Shaikh: “Saudi Arabia had earlier announced that every business will be required to publish a Value Added Tax (VAT) number on every invoice or bill issued by them. Those rules are being implemented from December 4 this year. Publishing VAT number on every bill essentially meant that no business would run without a billing software. This was like the GST-moment there. Sensing this opportunity, our chartered accountant Ganesh Joshi’s brother who stays in Saudi Arabia, offered us a plan. He became our distributor there.”

“We have successfully registered a global presence in over 300 cities and 14 countries. We are the first company to provide a complete online cloud POS solution for restaurants on desktop and mobile devices. We now have 1,100 customers in the Gulf countries - Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE; and about 100 customers in European countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany. All these customers are premium restaurants in these geographies using our cloud-based software for the last two years,” states Shaikh.

“We have an inhouse team of four sales executives. We are planning to expand this team and have 100 sales executives on ground for quicker expansion. This would also improve our profit margins,” stated Shaikh.

Future Plans

Shaikh claims there was an attempt to acquire his start-up by a Noida-based software company and an early-stage VC firm approached him with funding. “We want to reach a customer base of 10,000 so that our revenues and valuation also increases. We are hopeful that we achieve this target by 2022. We are also launching a feature soon in which a message will be delivered to the customer about how many calories, proteins (ingredients) they have consumed,” he stated.

Shaikh is very optimistic about the future. He says, “There are millions of small and big restaurants in India. Only 10 to 20 per cent are ‘organised’ while rest are ‘unorganised’ in terms of government registration. Most of the organised outlets are in metro cities where we have already reached. There are two avenues for future growth. First is the unorganised segment where we can onboard 100,000 to one million restaurants easily and the second segment is the tier 2 and tier 3 cities which are yet to be covered. If we consider this, we have not even captured 1 per cent of the market and this means there is huge potential in the near future.”

Proof of the pudding

“We have been using TMBill for the last two years, and we are happy with the support and product they offered us. We are better at handling the cash flow, sales and inventory (P&L), reduced workforce by 30 per cent and now we have our own ordering platform instead of relying on some third-party provider,” says Bhushan Mane, owner, Kasturi Mastani House (Kothrud).

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