In Conversation With Saurabh Sengupta[Interview]

In Conversation With Saurabh Sengupta[Interview]

When I requested Saurabh Sengupta for a meet up to discuss what’s brewing in Zomato, understanding how was 2011 and how it would be in 2012, he invited me to their new office. A 3bhk flat transformed into a fully fledged work space with no cubicles but a bed when you want to stretch a bit. I was really impressed by the workspace - it was really open.  The office was busy due to year end and lots of plans were bubbling in the new office.

We took our seats in the balcony and started our conversation.


Saurabh, I won’t start my conversation by asking your introduction. We all know that you are one of the brains behind Zomato. How about sharing with us what’s keeping you busy these days and with that if you can also share bit about the great team you guys have in Zomato.

There are a few things that are keeping me busy these days. We are opening up new revenue streams for Zomato. We traditionally relied upon advertising and on the face we have been a food guide but in the background we have been a small consulting organization in the B2B market. We want to move ahead and we are launching this new concept where we have launched eticketing for events. Like the way you book movie tickets via Bookmyshow so the same way you can book tickets for any major events in your town. Well you may ask that why is Zomato entering this field when there are so many players already. We at Zomato believe that we have our own captive crowd. Now look at the logical rational behind it too. People are already searching for events on Zomato and we are going that extra step and telling our community that if you are already searching why don’t you swipe your card and book it. So other places have glorified payment gateways, we have our own captive audience which we can get them to swipe their card and book events. Apart from this we are thinking of providing social media management, PR services to our whole restaurant community. We plan to be an entire consulting organization in-house for the FMB vertical in the B2B end. So we have clearly differentiated ourselves in terms of a) technology and b) on B2B side in the restaurant end which is fairly strong. End of the day we are solution providers and not space sellers.

Talking about the team it’s seven in Pune and hundred in pan India. Going further we plan to expand it to three hundred pan India by the month of March. Most of our recruitment would be in sales as we want to monetize Zomato. Presently our team comprises of people who are stars in their own league and the DNA of our team is very nice. We have hired the best from the market and they come to us because they believe in the model of Zomato and that’s why they have come to us.

Zomato moving ahead as an in-house store for all needs of it’s FMB vertical is an exciting move and I think that would be great news for FMB. Having a great team is quite essential and especially for a startup it is a must. Now let me move ahead and ask your initiatives in the B2B end.

In 2011 you have been in the news and you guys have done some great work. So mind sharing some of the interesting campaigns that you did in the B2B end.

One of our biggest case studies in 2011 was Faasos. Now here is a brand that has traditionally sold wraps and rolls. We helped them in their journey as they expanded in Pune and Mumbai. This is one case study that I’m really proud to share. So in the B2B end, we have succeeded in generating lot of trust in the service that we provide. We have built a great network within the restaurant community and we are proud to say that our retention rate in Pune is hundred percent. So it is all about the transparency with which we approach our work and it has been appreciated.

Faasos is a brand that we too have been influenced by and it’s great to see that Zomato too has great values placed in business. Apart from this I must say that Zomato has built a great social media presence. I am not going to talk about Facebook but I will focus on two of your great social networks, Twitter and Blog.

Saurabh, can you share your thoughts on how you guys have built your Twitter and blog engagement. With that can you also emphasize on the way you have educated your employees too.

Initially we were unable to understand the medium and as I mentioned in the SMC Pune meet that Twitter is not a promotional medium. It is a medium of conversations. So the integrity of Zomato brand is also reflected in our Twitter presence. So some of the things which we have done are a) we have maintained one centralized account for Zomato b) we train employees about our presence and how we manage our Twitter account. So the consistent message that we send across to our employees is being humble on Twitter, we also share what we talk on Twitter. As a brand on Twitter we talk about sales, technology, etc. and employees also take a cue from what we do. What we don’t do is that we never send promo tweets, we never push our services and we never tell them what to do and what not to do. End of day we don’t commercialize our Twitter and our social media is a medium of self expression.

Our blog is not about food, it is a blog about what we feel about this industry, what we feel about customer service, what we feel about entrepreneurship, etc. So both our networks Twitter and Blog are a medium of self expression.

I think brands should take a cue from you guys. I think we need to find out our objective to be on social media and as you said there are no half measures in it. If you are on social media, make sure you go till the end.

Saurabh, but I want to know if you have generated business from social media or has it been only for awareness and as a self expression medium.

Our objective to be on social media is not for business but it happens naturally. When you are sharing content it is being spread by your fans, retweeted by your followers and it naturally spreads out and restaurant owners are also people. They are also on Twitter and they do find out about our work and have reached to us. However at no point we have relied on social media for business. For us social media is good to have but not a must have.

In 2011 I have also seen that bigger brands had an interesting challenge. They had numbers but engaging fans for a longer duration was a challenge and will be going further too. Web Apps and Mobile Apps have come into picture more for one of the reasons too.

Zomato does have interesting apps available across all platforms and it also made the API available for free for developers. So what was the thought process to jump into this market?

A year and half ago we clearly saw the potential of apps and the reason being simple that we got some signals from the market. The first was that during this time we saw a dip in telecom rental and we knew penetration will increase. Second we all saw that cool handheld devices coming into the affordable rates. Third thing we also saw that people are becoming more tech pro. So people realised that the time span of a newspaper is very low compared to my handled device which is always there to help me whenever I needed it. So from a business point of view, when we saw the penetration happening and we thought of entering this market. Apart from this we had a hidden agenda. As we know India is a tech loving country and being in the tech space we knew that it would be a very good marketing tool for us. Today we don’t monetize from our apps but the advantage is that so many people are talking about us all the time. People are reporting bugs, they are talking about UI/UX things, people are telling about reviews of apps and people are recommending our apps to others. So we knew that we were getting two distinct advantages one is in terms of penetration and marketing. We saw this very early in the market and we capitalized on it.

I think the trend will continue in 2012 and mobile internet, marketing would be in demand and we will see some great work happening.  Good to see that Zomato which has always relied on tech, has made early moves.

Saurabh we are closing towards 2011 so what are the plans of 2012 for Zomato and challenges you foresee for 2012?

Not really we haven’t allocated any plans nor marketing budget neither any social media budget as in a startup it is very difficult to foresee what’s going to happen the very next day. However we have been very clear in figuring out who is our target audience, where are they sitting and how do they spend their day. So planning wise trust me, we have no idea as we still have 15 more days to goJ

Saying that we know where we want to head into 2012.In 2012 Zomato doesn’t want to remain a startup anymore. We want to be an organized company that would lend some amount of patterns in the FMB space. Zomato is redefining the FMB space, is marketing themselves from traditional mediums to modern methods. So in 2012 we want to be looked upon as a brand of complete solution providers for the FMB space. Apart from this we want to scale up our team, make them our best brand ambassadors and we would be also launching new revenue models. In 2012 we want to be the top three products in the internet space. We would love to be in the top but then we respect our competitors 😉

Interesting growth plans and I won’t be surprised if you make it to the top keeping your competitors at bay.

Saurabh, finally share some of your predictions for 2012 that you foresee in Indian social media business.

First of all social media in India is a much underutilized medium in terms of communication with your target audience. In 2011 there were loads of brands that did not know how the medium works and so they couldn’t tap it well. 2012 will be marked by closure of business for those social media agencies who had been providing lip service to their clients. Handling your Twitter and Facebook accounts doesn’t equate to managing social media. Managing social media means understanding the brand, understanding the user base, what clicks with them and then giving them the right fodder on which they can thrive. So agencies who have sold social media for the heck of it will be pulling their shutters down. One of the reasons I find that in 2012 people will be more aware of social media. Business owners are individuals and they will see their sons and daughters manage their Facebook or Twitter accounts. So the business owners will understand that this medium works in X way and it doesn’t work the way my agency has been telling me. So some of the agencies may thrive for ignorance but most of them will see closure of business.

Apart from this business will become more educated about social media and their own sons and daughters will be doing that to them. The portion of online population is increasing and you will see drastic swift from offline to online. For example, we saw recent office closures of Mid Day. Reason being that there is this gradual shift from offline to online. People get their news now a day before on Google or Twitter. So I think the habit of having a newspaper will evaporate and masala stuff won’t help the print media for long. So that is why you would see a gradual shift from offline to online.

Finally we would see specially the medium and small business becoming savvier to the online world. SME’s would primarily have less dependence on offline medium and move more to online and social media medium.

So I think these are some of the trends that we are going to witness in 2012.

I share the same thoughts that business owners will be more open in adopting the online way. With this 2012 will also see more SME’s embracing social media with open hands and engaging effectively with their prospective customers.

It was more than an hour when I ended my conversation with Saurabh. A great human being and doesn’t think twice before calling a spade a spade. My takeaways from the interview are:

1. The way Zomato is constantly trying to create new revenue streams is a lesson to be learnt by all other startups.

2. Defining social media according to one’s business needs like Zomato has done. SME’s should keep this in mind if they really want to connect to their community.

3. And watching the market closely to capitalize at the right time is a move that we all need to learn.

I am sure you will have your own takeaways from this interview.It would be great if you can share them in the ‘comments’ section and if you’re reading this in your email, simply hit ‘reply’ and let me know.