Startups take a slice of the online world

Entrepreneurship is a buzzword every where and a good number of successful startups are mushrooming all around us.

A decade ago, the mere mention of entrepreneurship would have elicited an indifferent shrug at best and a disdainful frown at worst. Not considered to be a viable career option, a numbered few took the plunge and became entrepreneurs. But nowadays, entrepreneurship is a buzzword everywhere—college campuses, big and small companies and everywhere else. Entrepreneurship is in vogue. Innovators are innovating. Makers are making. And a good number of successful startups are mushrooming all around us.

With an increasingly greater number of startups making it big in the online world, the entrepreneurial businesses have managed to garner more acceptability than before. “People’s perceptions have changed for the better, with the disapproving looks transforming into acquiescing nods. And that is but a big step forward in a relatively short period of time”.

The Just Eat idea emerged from a pretty usual office evening when I was neck-deep in work and felt hunger pangs trying to get the better of me. With the office cafeteria closed for the day and no results found for restaurants online as well, the idea eventually took pride of place in my mind. We started as pioneers in the Indian online food ordering industry, with 12 restaurants on board in July 2006. And now, we’ve emerged to be the premiers in the field, with more than 2,500 restaurants spread across a dozen cities, and counting.

It would be wrong to say there weren’t any challenges along the way. There was no business model to emulate back then, since e-commerce was still in its nascent stages. For instance, we tried out a number of technology solutions to transmit orders to restaurants at real time but most of them failed due to challenges we did not foresee, gradually we learned from our mistakes and the tech solution inched forward. “It has been a great learning process all the way. And still is, for that matter. We learn something new almost every single day in our business.”

Once it was all set up and we had got over the initial few hiccups, there came the greater challenge of sustaining the business. Getting the right restaurants on board, constantly engaging with the customers, staying updated with technology (like the Just Eat online food ordering apps, which was a major leap forward) and managing dozens of other things all at once does take its toll. In the online food ordering industry, there is a fine line between hunger and anger. If the delivery of food is just 15-20 minutes late, the two merge and the customer becomes a “hangry” person and there lies the biggest challenge of our business. But ultimately, the satisfaction of seeing your business grow is worth every bit of the effort put in.

We are one of the very few startups in e-commerce in India who did not have to pivot from the initial business plan. We were clear that food delivery would be the sole prerogative and expertise of the restaurants. We started as a true marketplace for food and we have maintained it that way, never trying to set up Just Eat brand of restaurants or for that matter our own delivery network.

With the entrepreneurial surge only likely to grow in the near future, it would be helpful if a couple of relevant courses were introduced at the university levels so that aspiring entrepreneurs could have a better idea on how to start giving wings to their ideas. Also, since one of the major problems plaguing startups is the hiring part (as most startups initially do not have established sources of funding and hence cannot offer highly attractive pay cheques), young professionals should be encouraged to spend the initial few years working at startups. Active mentoring by industry experts already in the field can also be a big push forward.

“A big plus is that the ecosystem can now be seen opening up and improving in terms of the funding part towards entrepreneurs and their upcoming businesses in India. And the trend, hopefully, is here to stay.”

To sum it up, I would like to second what Eric Ries once said: Entrepreneurship is not really building a product, it’s not having an idea, and it’s not being in the right place at the right time. It’s fundamentally company building.