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Upstart Digital Start-Up Zomato Blitzes London's Ultra Competitive Restaurant Listings Sector

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Back in November, a little less than five months ago, in an office in New Delhi, Deepinder Goyal, Pankaj Chaddah and Gunjan Patidar had a light bulb moment.

The three Indian Institute of Technology grads, who had set up online restaurant review business Zomato four years earlier and seen it rapidly expand across India and into adjoining markets, were talking about sightseeing in London when they all just 'knew' that's where they had to be.

With perhaps the largest concentration of restaurants outside of Tokyo and Paris, the city was a familiar place to each of them in their travels.

But what might have been regarded as a daunting challenge to some instead took on an irreducible allure.

With an entrepreneurial zeal forged in the rapidly blossoming Indian technology sector, the men, all aged in their 20s, set out to bring their business to the UK's capital by Christmas - then 35 days away.

How they set about it is indicative both of the driving ambition of today's top performing Digital companies and also the sense that rapid success or rapid capitulation is seen as preferable to stodgy growth and drawn-out decline.

For weeks a team of just six churned through 85 commercial flights and 1,500 night outs while scanning menus for about 500 restaurants a day.

While Zomato missed its ambitious deadline, launching in London later in January, it had still managed in seven weeks to document about 15,000 restaurants and another 9,000 takeaways - all done on foot.

By comparison TripAdvisor lists 11,000 restaurants in London. But like the plethora of other well-established sites (Urban Spoon, Top Table, London Eating, Yelp, Hardens, Time Out) it has the advantage of a massive archive of hundreds of thousands of user reviews backing it up.

"We have a habit of pressure testing Zomato and our people by putting big challenges six inches in front them", Goyal says.

"We needed to make sure that we were ready to compete in a market such as London, where we are going against some of the biggest, most respected players in the world.

"Not everyone has the time to read 1,000 reviews for a restaurant - but everyone wants to know what is served and how much it will cost".

Zomato's breadth of coverage now exceeds all their existing London competitors with their main selling point the scanned copies of menus for every one of their listings. They've signed up several thousand members and their website is attracting hundreds of thousands of hits a month - all without having spent a penny on advertising the London arm!

The site operates like a social networking platform, encouraging members to follow each other, rate and review restaurants, make recommendations via Facebook and other sites, and achieve a ranking based on their activity. Top 'foodies' are offered complimentary restaurant vouchers for good reviews.

Like other lean start-ups it has embraced the formula of small teams of dedicated staff (Zomato sourcers), quick expansion, a flexible approach to work and strategy and an ever changing product. It makes for accelerated understanding of the business while keeping costs low.

Chaddah himself has been out pounding English pavements like his team of menu copiers, spreading the word.

"Nothing beats hands on, even in Digital", he says. "The sector we're in, businesses prefer to deal with people in person, and you have to build that relationship with them.

"In an online world that's no given. So we go to every restaurant in person, talk to the owner, get their details, and then we go back a few months later to update our listing.

"There are no dormant restaurant listings on Zomato because we are actively out there dealing with the businesses and keeping our reviews relevant. We are not spending money on advertising, we're relying very much on word of mouth and going that little bit extra for the restaurants.

"Once we're properly established we'll be in a position to attract advertising and already we have a relationship with the restaurants.

"To us this is very much a bricks and mortar business and bringing the trust that comes with personal contact to a market that currently relies primarily on user input".

It's a formula that has worked for them so far in India, where they now dominate the market, but Chaddah will give no estimate on how long the tough London experiment will be given before it's adjudged a success or a failure. Given their approach it's natural they should at least programme in all possible outcomes.

Albinder Dhindsa, Zomato's Head of International Expansion, adds: "If you think doing business in India is tough, you are not ready.

"We can go to a market with the highest rates of internet penetration - but unless the merchants are playing ball, we will be making sandcastles by ourselves very soon.

"While we want to be involved in a huge market place, the ease of doing business with local merchants dominates the eventual decision. In order to source revenue from a local market, you have to understand the business-to-business environment".

And like the traditional 'bricks and mortar' philosophy underpinning the firm, the founders share another old school quality - gritty determination to succeed.

"Risk + Execution = Rewards", says Goyal confidently. "We are willing to play this game and bet on ourselves".

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