I met Pankaj Chaddah a couple of months ago in Dubai with Albinder Dhindsa in a coffee shop. They had been visiting restaurants in Deira on foot, collecting menus and uploading their coordinates through a phone app they have designed themselves to their portal. If you saw them at work, you would not have guessed that they were setting the scene for launching South-Asia’s largest restaurant and nightlife guide, Zomato, in the UAE.
Delicious news for food bloggers in the city – and I was happy to connect the Zomato team to our resident food connoisseurs on Twitter.
It’s an inspiring startup story – how Zomato started. Two young engineering professionals in India once collected the menus they had around the office and put them up online to make ordering lunch easy for everybody. They filled a need, simply and effectively. Want to eat? Here is a bunch of scanned menus from the locality – look them up and decide where you want to go or what you want to eat. An idea was born. And the engineers decided to become entrepreneurs.
Zomato was founded by Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah, both IIT Delhi graduates and ex-Bain employees, in July 2008 for New Delhi. Since then, Zomato has expanded its services to 16 cities in India and UAE covering over 48,000 restaurants. Zomato ventured into the international markets with the launch of their Dubai section last month. That’s when I met Pankaj – Zomato’s cofounder – and Albinder – Head of International Expansion.
Zomato as a startup is now 4 years old and gets more than 6 million users every month who use Zomato to discover the best places to eat around them. Today, Zomato launched its services in Abu Dhabi (zomato.com/abudhabi) and Sharjah (zomato.com/sharjah). Now, with in-depth information on over 6,500 restaurants across the three cities, it became the UAE’s most extensive restaurant discovery platform for anyone looking to eat out or get food delivered.
Zomato’s biggest strength (and this is why they were collecting menus and loggin coordinates when I met them) is that it provides scanned menus, photos and accurate geolocation for most of the restaurants listed in the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. So you know what to expect when you enter a restaurant. You can also explore or search for restaurants in your city through the Zomato app, which is available for free across all major smartphone platforms – WindowsPhone, BlackBerry, iOS, Android and others (zomato.com/mobile).
Albinder Dhindsa who looks after Zomato’s international expansion says: “We have over 5,000 users visiting Zomato Dubai every day to decide where to eat out or order from.” Now that’s an exciting number and an indication that this startup is doing something right considering their Dubai listings only went live around a month back.
Zomato’s Abu Dhabi section has around 1200 restaurants with coordinates for 95% of the restaurants as well as scanned menus for 85% of the restaurants listed for Abu Dhabi. Good job, guys!
Pankaj Chaddah, who is also the COO of Zomato says: “With the launch of our Abu Dhabi section we are now officially the biggest online restaurant guide in UAE. We will now expand operations to the neighboring countries as we have found UAE as one of the better markets globally.”
My SEO instincts tell me reviews and social recommendations will continue to be a very strong measure of online and offline traffic for local businesses. UAE food lovers and food bloggers are already very active on Zomato on their reviewer leaderboard – people like Thanzeem, Delna Prakashan, Hasher Ummar, Arva, and Ishita. And you can imagine the kind of influence sites like Zomato will have and the kind of role they will be playing when it’s time for you and me to choose a restaurant to go to or order from.
I also like the recognition system they have for reviewers – badgification at its best. Here’s what the ranks of the top contributors look like:
For a startup that began in a city I have spent many years in, by young engineers passionate about food (and menus) – I think Zomato is doing pretty well. They tell me it wasn’t just the idea but the team and the execution that has got them some pretty impressive venture funding from one of India’s top media players. And this is a post to renew your faith in dotcoms and online startups – even those that are built from the ground up with scanned menus collected door to door from local restaurants.
It’s time for dinner here in Abu Dhabi – and I might just go for a juicy Zomato treat…