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Zomato’s battle to be the champion of independent UK restaurants

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Hurd assured listing is completely free, noting that the ambition is to be completely comprehensive and adding that advertising is the company’s largest revenue generator, with banners sold on the website and in-app. Meanwhile, a suite of subscription deals are on offer which allow clients to upload promotions that can be pushed to customers, an area that will continue to be expanded, according to Hurd.

She said: “We update data quarterly, so the team will go back to the same areas each quarter. The real challenge is that owning a restaurant is a risky business and there are 23,000 restaurants in London alone. We found out that people try a new restaurant two to three times a year because they just go to places they know, which is a real shame because there’s such a colourful tapestry of restaurants here in London.”

Zomato also has a wider presence across the UK, having launched in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, working out along the way that each location has a distinctly different vibe and adoption rate, thus the company is observing what works and what doesn’t before branching out further.

As such, the UK will act as the European hub for Zomato operations, as Hurd, said: “It’s a brilliant market to prove yourself because there’s just so many apps. Every day I hear about a new food tech startup, a new app to download, both from lifestyle to food perspectives, but we want to be one source for restaurant discovery and that’s how we plan to be different in this market. Equally, London is a very international city –  as an American I’ve lived here for ten years and you can access a broad range of people in here. It’s central and easy to get to.”

The company started the year off by acquiring American rival Urbanspoon, and there’s every chance that UK operations stand to be purchased too. “We’re actively looking for acquisitions and partners, but there’s nothing cemented at present. We do have a lot of opportunities in the pipeline that we’re exploring in the west, so not just the US, but all over Europe,” Hurd revealed.

“Urbanspoon is based in the States but they have a significant number of users in the UK, and we will be integrating communities together in the next three or four months to brand them as Zomato’s. We’ll only ever acquire a company if they’re going to provide additional technological capability, expand our suite or if it’s going to give us entry into a new country or significant traction.”

With a strategy for the UK to become integral to continental development, Hurd plans to scale the 40 employee-strong office, which is up from six team members when she joined a year ago, to 100 people by the end of 2015. Roles will be in the content division, a main focus for the company, and also the sales team.

“From a sales perspective we need more relationship managers and people to get out, especially as we continue to expand our merchant suite. Both of those teams will expand quite rapidly,” Hurd detailed. “We provide a personalised service, so relationship managers work directly with clients to understand their needs to then pair solutions to them. Not every restaurant has the same need.”

She drew upon experience with a Mexican restaurant client, which was seeing busy mornings and evenings on weekdays, but quiet evenings and weekends. After tracking feedback from customers through a campaign, it came to light that customers wanted a brunch option, so one solution was to run a tequila-fuelled dining option to fill the morning and lunch void on a Sunday which turned out to be a success.

“Everything we do on the site is transparent from click-throughs to performance, clients can choose the options and take operational feedback,” said Hurd.

Support can span adverts on the site or app and tracking the results, while pop-ups and street food providers often want instant access to services to upload new menus daily. Alternatively, restaurants that are expecting a slow day or night can send alerts to promote free bottles to users in order to encourage trade.

In terms of the candidates that can help achieve growth across the UK, they’re likely to be young, as the average age of the team members is just 24. Backgrounds vary though, with some fresh out of education while others fancy a career change and have abandoned large corporate companies and banks.

Describing what she’s looking for in her team, Hurd explained: “The first thing is people who literally want to build something and prove the market wrong – they should really want to do something that’s never been done before and you can see that fire very quickly in people. With the right optimism and ambition, anything is possible, so we really try to cultivate a team of people who are really inspired to deliver that.

“There’s a lot of beautiful, romantic stories about startups, but this is a battle. We’re in a fight against the really big guys and don’t have their budgets. The average Series D round in the States is $150m – yes we’ve raised $100m, but over 22 geographies that doesn’t go very far. And if an average round is $150m and we’ve done that over a couple of rounds, it doesn’t give much room to spend money on sponsorships and marketing like a lot of the big guys like Opentable and Bookatable do.

“But we also can’t compete at the real startup level, because we are an established company even though we feel very much like a startup. It means we need hard-working diligent people who are ready to go into battle with us.”

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