Deepinder Goyal: The Kid Who Shouldn't Have Made It, But Did
In an exclusive interview with YourStory, Deepinder Goyal, CEO and founder of Zomato, opened up about the early days that moulded him to be the person he is. A person who cannot be ignored any longer and we must talk about Deepi today.
You’ll miss Deepinder Goyal in a crowded restaurant or a mall. He’s an everyman. But once you talk to him, you’ll learn a little more about him. The man who built doesn’t have the same origin story as most entrepreneurs. He doesn’t come from a large city or an illustrious background. He built his company through sweat, blood, and a lot of nights spent hunched in front of a screen, trying to battle everything that was before him.
The man’s journey began in 2008, with the founding of a startup that uploaded food menus and made restaurant discovery easier. That company is now the behemoth everyone knows and loves: Zomato.
His story is as big as the company he built that changed the food culture in India. With a sharp focus on improving Zomato every day, Deepinder is also trying to foster the startup culture in India. He has, so far, invested in 16 startups like and . Until March 2023, Deepinder was on the board of Urban Company. But when Blinkit, a company he acquired in August 2022 for $568 million, entered the home services segment of the market, Deepinder exited UC. To focus on his new company.
When the pandemic hit, he donated Rs 700 crore worth of stocks to Zomato Future Foundation to finance the education of the children of his delivery partners. And most recently, he announced the building of ‘Rest Points’, infrastructure for the gig economy workers, not just of Zomatos, but all companies. There isn’t any one thing that Deepinder does, the man dons many hats.
But before he was the visionary founder that he is now, Deepinder, or Deepi, as he insists people call him, was ignored for a large part of his life. Deepinder wasn’t the best student in his school. He wasn’t loved by his teachers; he wasn’t respected by his peers.
In an exclusive interview with YourStory, Deepinder Goyal, CEO and founder of Zomato, opened up about the early days that moulded him to be the person he is. A person who cannot be ignored any longer. And so we must talk about Deepi today.
Phase 1: A small-town life
Born in a small nondescript town in Punjab called Muktsar, Deepinder was a below-average student in school, where no one expected anything from him. Such was the state of his education that when Deepinder was in the 5th grade, his father had to request his school principal to let his son graduate to the next class.
Though promoted to the next level at his father’s request, Deepinder’s fate wouldn’t turn till he reached the 8th grade. During the first quarterly exam, Deepinder, per usual, was unprepared. His luck changed when the exam invigilator decided to help out the child who was probably going to fail. This incident was a turning point in his life. “When the exam results were declared, I was in the top three of my class,” says Deepinder. The slacker was a slacker no more. This changed how he was perceived, and his peers wanted to be friends with him now.
As fate would have it, though, the teacher transferred to a different school and wasn’t there to help Deepinder out in the next exam. After hunting for solutions like a leaked question paper, says Deepinder, “I had to prepare for the test. I was out of options”. And only a night of preparation later, Deepi ranked fifth in his class.
Phase 2: How did I get here?
Now among the toppers in his school, the natural trajectory was to choose between IIT and medicine. It was IIT for Deepinder, and to prepare for that, he was sent to an institute in Chandigarh. His first time away from his cocoon in Muktsar, he was in the big leagues now. Surrounded by students who had spent their lives preparing for this moment, he says, “I was with the smartest kids in the state, and that depressed me.” The feeling that he is not good enough returned.
Albert Einstein, it is often said, wasn’t a great student in school. He was considered lazy, but his dislike for rote learning was the real culprit. The Einstein example, of course, isn’t to establish a parallel, but to say that often, brilliance gets ignored when people aren’t looking. Something of the sort happened to Deepinder, too. In Chandigarh, he was certain he would not clear the JEE. Blinkit founder Albinder Dhindsa was his classmate who helped him study so Deepi could at least clear the board exams.
After the school exams, the JEE one was still two months away and Deepinder had time to kill. “I was prepared to take the exam next year, so I wasn’t worried. I just took up my physics textbook, a subject I enjoyed. And in no time, solved it entirely,” says Deepinder. When he told his friends about that, they couldn’t believe him. “It’s impossible, they said to me. But I had done it, so how could it have been impossible?” When he took the test, while other students were anxious, Deepinder was calm. It was only a trial run. But in this trial run, he aced the exam. So, what others did in two years, Deepinder did in two months.
Phase 3: The thing he built
When Deepinder started his life at IIT Delhi, it wasn’t easy for him. “I was once again depressed,” he says. He was no longer among just the best kids in the state but in the country. For his humble origins, that was a huge feat.
Deepinder says he built a startup because he didn’t want to compete. “I built a startup because I didn’t want to be a part of the rat race.” He just wanted to build. “For me, it is about being able to chart my own path, where I don’t get compared to anyone. I think comparison is a negative thing,” Deepinder explains.
Phase 4: Stuttering his way to Success
“Deepinder is arrogant. He doesn’t want to talk to people. People say this about me a lot,” he says with a chuckle.
With the life Deepi has lived, some would say it is tailor-made for a TED Talk. One that Deepinder has never given. In fact, he hasn’t made many public appearances. The reason, Deepinder admits quietly, is that he stutters. “It’s gotten better with time, but there are still a few syllables that I struggle with.” It takes him a lot of “calories'', as he puts it, to talk to people. So he avoids giving interviews and avoids going on stage. All he does is work, and he delivers, no pun intended.
An underperforming child who stuttered when he talked, there had to have been several blows to his confidence when he was little. What kept him going then was this almost miraculously positive attitude. “Everything is an upside for me,” he says when asked about all the struggles, the brickbats, and the losses faced by Zomato. “I was not supposed to make it, but I did. So whatever problems I face now, it’s all better than what it once was.”
He doesn’t believe in looking back; he doesn’t even keep expectations from himself. So, how does he do it then? Zomato, he says, has come together the way it has because he just doesn’t want to fail. In fact, failure is just not an option. He has proven everyone who ever thought less of him wrong and keeps doing it.
He does this because he says, “The only effort I make is to survive. It is the only thing I fight for. If you survive, you win”.
Deepinder is winning. Every day.