A hunger pang one evening in 2005 that gave birth to HungryZone, the Just Eat of India today

Jubin Mehta
31st Aug 2013
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Ritesh Kumar Dwivedy
Ritesh Kumar Dwivedy

Imagine a cold evening in the office of Ketera Technologies in Bangalore back in 2005. Young Ritesh Dwivedy had recently joined the company and while working, a pang of hunger struck him. He strolled down to the office cafeteria which to his dismay was closed. He came back to his desk to look for some places to eat on the internet. No success. This was how the first seed for Just Eat, an online food ordering portal was sown. Ritesh is an IIT Kharagpur graduate who had first joined Tavant Technologies which he saw grow from 100 to 1500 people in an year post which he went on to Ketera, another startup. Having the startup DNA in him, Ritesh decided to act upon his impulse and started HungryBangalore.com.

The company rebranded as HungryZone in 2008 and then merged with UK-Based Just Eat in 2011 Just Eat took 60% stake). Ritesh is now the CEO of Just Eat India. Headquartered in Bangalore and with branches in Delhi and Mumbai, Just Eat at present has over 2,500 restaurants, 52 cuisines and 3 lakh dishes to choose from in India. Just Eat has 3.5 lakh registered users and operates in 12 countries in total. Here, we get in a conversation with Ritesh Dwivedy to learn more about his journey.

The initial days and the growth from thereon

The initial days were not at all easy-going. I remember standing outside the gates of many big companies, with questionnaires in my hand, trying to find out from the people if there was actually a need in the market for our idea. Around 80% of the people who took our survey thought online food ordering would be a very good idea, which we felt was an amazing majority. And hence, the seeds for Just Eat were sown with the hope that our idea might actually just work out.

It took us less than six months to complete making our website; we were done by April 2006. Now came the trickier part, talking to the restaurants in question. Coding was simpler, since I had known it all along, but this restaurant part was something we had never attempted earlier. I distinctly remember the first restaurant we had approached in Koramangala, which, after much persuasion, signed up with us for a meagre commission amount of 3 percent!

Food guides helped us to make a list of restaurants where we set up evening appointments - I used to work at office in the daytime, while 7 pm to 11 pm I tried to meet as many restaurant owners as possible. From giving them free sign-ups to trial sign-ups for six months, we tried everything. And to our delight, even though the restaurant sector is quite unorganised, our plan actually worked! And then came July 2006 when we formally launched our portal, with 15 restaurants on board. All this happened when we had no office and used to work from my home.

Sending mails to friends, relatives and others in our network to introduce our service helped us to get a considerable amount of honest feedback. One of the direct results of this was the introduction of the table reservation feature in addition to home delivery. Also, we introduced our call centre (which was initially just a one-man-show!) as we realised that people wanted to speak to somebody in case their order was delayed.

Once we started receiving close to 50 orders a day, we concluded that our business wasn’t as easy as it had seemed earlier. Food ordering is not a premeditated activity like air travel but a spontaneous action triggered by hunger pangs. Since everyone feels hungry at around the same time, we would be having thousands of calls in those two hours and after that, there would be nothing. And henceforth, we spent a lot of time trying out and fine-tuning what just might work for us.

Come January 2011 and Just-Eat, UK’s leading online portal for ordering food takeaways, tied up with us. The UK company bought a 60 percent stake in our HungryZone, which was rechristened as Just Eat India. Thereafter, we expanded aggressively and established branches in Mumbai and Delhi in the same year.

JustEat Core Team
Just Eat Core Team

The Just Eat team and how it was built

We are a team of 80 people in our offices in Bangalore, Delhi & Mumbai. When we began, it was pretty much a one-man show in each team as we had practically no teams as such – I handled the sales and tech and ops part; we managed to rope in a lady who used to constitute our call centre while managing calls from her home itself; we had no marketing team to speak of till we tied up with Just Eat UK. Now we have separate Marketing, Tech, Sales, Operations and Finance teams operating across the three major cities where we have set up offices, our headquarters being in Bangalore.

Building up the team was a slow process as it was hard to get the right people on board. But as time has passed, I can say it with conviction that we have managed to put together a wonderful team. What began from a tiny one-room make-shift office at home has evolved into an entire office now, with one floor completely devoted to our call centre Operations team! I take pride in saying that we have the best people working with us.

The financial muscle behind the company

Frankly speaking, when we decided to set up Just Eat, we had neither any source of funding nor any remote idea of where we would turn to when money was required. The Just Eat foundation was laid on whatever personal funds we could manage from our own bank balances. And from there on, it was bootstrapping that worked for us – we used whatever resources we had, both financial and otherwise – and managed to successfully come up with Just Eat. This was in July 2006.

In August 2008, Just Eat (which was then called HungryZone) became a registered company under Achindra Online Marketing Pvt. Ltd. At the time, we had managed to partner with over 400 restaurants altogether. It was then that the first round of funding was raised by the company from the Indian Angel Network. This new investment capital helped us to gradually expand into other cities by further developing our business on a larger scale.

Just Eat is the world’s biggest online food ordering portal, with its headquarters in UK. They were looking for partners and India was an interesting place for them. They didn’t want to miss this opportunity. They either wanted to enter on their own or find a suitable partner here. We were doing fairly well at that time, though still local players. It wasn’t because we couldn’t expand; it was mostly because we didn’t want to expand - we first wanted to have all our pillars ready. So, we were spending a lot of time and energy focusing on the core platform and operations. Just Eat also knew that the Indian market is very different from that of the UK. They realized that neither their system nor earnings could be replicated immediately here. So, a local know-how was important. They were looking for partners and that’s how we started conversing with them.

The discussion between Just Eat and us went on for nearly 8-9 months, and finally the deal happened in December 2010.

Just Eat had a very good experience in starting up its business in new countries and building up or ramping up the business. They also knew how to market their product. That was something which we had never done. We were focusing completely on building the process, building the team, building up sales – we had never focused on marketing. The only marketing we had ever done was some PPC and some small radio campaigns; nothing more. We also realised that apart from bringing the money in, it was also a know-how which was coming and that would probably come very cheap otherwise we would probably need ages to gain such knowledge if we sought the path on our own. That was a plus point with Just Eat UK.

In 2011, the 60 percent stake of UK’s Just-Eat in the then HungryZone was a major investment undertaken by the company. By now, we knew how the online food ordering industry worked.

Key learnings from running the company for more than 6 years

Umpteen things; it’s been a learning process all the way. And believe it or not, but we’re still learning new things every single day. That’s how we believe it should be as that’s how we aim to get better.

Your team – therein lies the key. In the initial stages of setting up a start-up like Just Eat, when your brand is not an established name in the market, the most difficult part is to attract qualified and willing people to run your business.

Another important thing which should not be missed out is to abide by the rules and regulations; I mean to say the ethics according to the laws of the land. Being a small company does not give one the liberty to compromise on work ethics or set rules; those need to be maintained come what may, over and above everything else. It happens very often that you’re engrossed in your work to such an extent that you tend to overlook such aspects as minor issues; you couldn’t be making a bigger mistake than this and it could harm you in the long run.

Another thing I learnt is that ideas alone don’t work - anyone can have ideas. It’s their timely execution which ultimately leads to ideas taking shape. And for that you need planning, re-planning and re-re-planning, interspersed with several trial and error sequences, testing and re-testing processes, till you hit the right formula. But let me tell you, there is no single unique formula that will work for you in each and every situation. What works at one place will probably fail in another area; what worked 3 years back may be a disaster if replicated in the present time. All this needs to be taken into account and I believe you get to learn a lot by experience and being hands-on yourself to get things done.

Coming to the financing/funding part, the popular misconception is that as soon as you begin a business, you need to start accumulating funds on a war footing. And here is where a great number of entrepreneurs go wrong. You should get to the funds part only when you deem it absolutely necessary, not right at the very beginning. The best way is to bootstrap – at least initially – till you begin getting concrete evidence that yes, your idea is working out as you had thought it would. Splurging initially in unnecessary areas needs to be avoided at all costs.

And last but not the least, here’s something exclusively for all you entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs out there. As an entrepreneur yourself, it is imperative to step back from work once in a while to take a helicopter view of the company you’re running. Are things working out well? The activities that your team is carrying out, are they contributing positively to the goals you had set for your company initially? Is there any negative aspect that doesn’t seem too threatening at present but may loom into something big later on? What is that little thing you can put in that can give your company that little boost, that little edge to get ahead of others, which can help reap rich dividends in the future?

By personal experience, I can tell you that at any given time, there is lots of work to be done in a start-up. There’ll be this, that and the other, which will seem to you all important all at the same time. We refer to them as ‘fire-fighting activities’ that come up daily in start-ups! The challenge always is on balancing such urgent activities with the long term important strategic activities and for this, learning to say no and proper task prioritizations are a must.

Just Eat is also expanding rapidly to other cities like Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and more along with their launch of the food ordering apps.

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