Zomato is without a doubt one of the most promising startups in India currently. An appetizing sector and an enviable team with the investor’s confidence in them, Zomato is out on a progress drive. Having almost mastered the art in India, Zomato recently sat foot in Dubai and going international, the same rules aren’t going to apply and they’re aware of the fact. Info Edge has put in multiple rounds of funding in Zomato for it’s expansion and have their bet on Zomato for solving the puzzle; to check on the progress, we caught up with the man in charge of the International Operations- Albinder Dhindsa to learn more. Albinder, did his Bachelors from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and received his MBA from Columbia Business School in New York. Prior to joining Zomato, he headed the simulation team at Cambridge Systematics in New York and San Francisco. In this role, he led several successful projects in United States and Canada . Read on to know about his role at Zomato and how he plans to take Zomato international:
YS: They say it’s all about scale. How do you define it?
Albinder: We are still a start-up trying to figure our way through the woods. I think we are a bit away from commenting about scale and its advantages. Our immediate focus is actually on scalability; how to make our operations & product easily replicable or customizable for different environments.
YS: If you had two options; being known to everyone in India or the same number of people but across the globe, what would you pick?
Albinder: Being the biggest player in any market always has its advantages. However, even hypothetically, once you take pole, it’s impossible not to seek further growth. In our business, it is not an either/or choice – you need to keep looking at new markets once you start showing dominance in one. We continue to expand aggressively in India – we have rolled out three new cities in the past month (Lucknow, Ludhiana and Indore) – but are also scaling up our operations overseas to access a bigger market.
YS: At what point did you at Zomato feel the need to go out of India?
Albinder: We always had it at the back of our minds that we wanted to take this product to markets outside of India, primarily because there is a need for this product. I can’t tell you how many times I had wished there was a Zomato in New York or San Francisco. Standing on a street corner in cities that I knew very well, I still wanted to know if there was a great place nearby that I could try – and other local searches just weren’t comprehensive enough.
We were very clear though, that we needed to break even on our Indian business before allocating resources to International Expansion. Once that started happening around March of this year, we actually got off the drawing board and started hitting new market places.
YS: How did you pick the market to hit? How long was the ‘market research’ phase?
Albinder: We actually do a very detailed on-the-ground study to evaluate a market. This means picking a list of cities that we think are feasible on a macro level (demographics, regulatory, etc.) and then sending people to go through our entire operations process – from collecting information to talking about possible partnerships with local merchants to engaging with users by showing them the product. It’s like doing a miniaturized city launch. This is the best way for us to figure out the customizations a local market will need, and in the process, it gives us a very good idea of the market as a priority.
We don’t have a typical time line for this because it’s more a bandwidth issue for us. If we can spare five people to step into a market, we could finish this within a week.
YS: Zomato has a very cool, hip image in India. How will you make sure to keep that uniform across countries?
Albinder: Thanks for the compliment. I think our image is a result of the way our users have evangelized the product. We don’t set out with an image in mind. We try to not be a stodgy, by-the-book company in anything that we do and I think that catches the attention of the users.
YS: A new terrain, how did you combat the challenges? How did you hire?
Albinder: As I mentioned above, we have to almost launch a mini-Zomato to figure out the exact pitfalls in accessing a market. It’s not a lesson that we learned easily either, but the effort upfront tells us the strengths and weaknesses of our model in a market before we invest there. We have hired locally in all the markets that we have access to. There is no particular method to hiring though – we have done top-down hiring in some markets and have hired only operational people in some other markets. It’s all about the opportunity and how we foresee it happening.
YS: How has Zomato been using the funding rounds? Is most of it being utilized to go international currently?
Albinder: We haven’t yet raised any funding exclusively for international expansion. We feel we can comfortably invest in expanding our reach in India and also invest in new markets; the success of our Indian operations is a big reason here. However, we still like to use our funds in a measured way, which gives us a chance to break even in any new market within 2-3 quarters.
YS: What is in the pipeline?
Albinder: We launched Dubai and Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi is on deck. We are already the biggest restaurant guide in UAE, and will now have coverage of all three major cities in the country. In addition, we have teams in other parts of Middle East and South East Asia that are setting up operations. We aim to have 2 more international cities online by the end of the year. We also started evaluating select markets in Eastern Europe and Africa and should have a better idea by the end of October.
YS: And finally, speaking personally, what is your drive?
Albinder: I think all of us at Zomato are driven by the common goal of making Zomato the “Google” of restaurant search. My task is to make sure that happens on a global level. Quite aspirational, eh?