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Zomato makes dramatic turnaround, attracts big investment

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In 2016, India-based online restaurant guide and food delivery business Zomato was scaling back business, including in the UK and US, and recorded a pre-tax loss of $73m for the year end to March.

Fast forward two years and the picture is very different, with the company raising $200m from Ant Financial, the payment affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, while Morgan Stanley is valuing the company at $2.5b and predicting it could be worth $6.7b in 10 years.

Founded in 2008, Zomato spans B2C operations – restaurant reviews, table reservations, and an advertising product – and B2B – including a cloud-based point of sale platform for restaurants and a back-end for online food delivery services.

Its restaurant search and discovery app provides information for a million restaurants across 24 countries, and its particularly strong presence in South-east Asia and the Middle East is believed to be key to securing the Chinese funding. Info Edge continues to be the major shareholder, with a 31% stake.

Certainly, Zomato is looking punchy. While the 2018 financials are not yet out the company made claims last September that it is becoming profitable and CEO Deepinder Goyal recently Tweeted:

Zomato’s hit $100m annual revenue run rate this month. 40% growth in just the last two months. Loving the momentum. cc @mukund1981 @gauravg1181 @deeppurpled @gunjan2307 @elegantlywasted @akshant_g @tukster16 (?x 100 x 1e6)

— Deepinder Goyal (@deepigoyal) March 22, 2018

The company has since announced about $74 million in revenue, a growth of about 45% on 2017.

The upward trend was evident in the 2016-17 financial results, when revenues leapt 80% to $49m. This turn-around was attributed to better efficiency and cutting operating costs. For instance, during the year to end-March 2016 burn rate averaged $4.2 million a month, but by the end of March 2017 this had been slashed to $250,000.

Significant growth has come from the online food ordering segment and its subscription scheme Zomato Gold, which was rolled out in the UAE and Portugal last year and in India three months ago. Reports in the Economic Times quote a spokesperson as saying: “Zomato Gold and online food-ordering business are growing at a hyper pace for us. Online food ordering is currently about 40% of our revenues and Zomato Gold is about 12% of our revenues.”

Last month, Goyal claimed some 40% of Zomato Gold’s total sales were referral driven and that the loyalty scheme had notched up a subscriber base of 150,000 and gained 2,300 restaurant partners in the three months since its launch in India.

The thinking behind creating the membership-based service was “keeping it simple”. In his blog, Goyal said: “The key-phrase while designing and launching Zomato Gold in India was ‘T&C free’. In other words, we insisted that the product will be completely “terms and conditions free” for the end user. And we were able to achieve 99.99% of that vision.

Food delivery is seen as crucial for growth. It’s a strategic part of the payments business as it is high-frequency so it is no surprise that Zomato is focusing on developing this side of the business, starting with the Middle East and India. Tellingly, its new investor Alibaba [and Ant Financial] have invested $2m in Chinese ordering platform since 2016 and have global ambitions.

Online ordering formed less than 20% of Zomato’s overall sales in FY17, but it has already increased the share of self-fulfilled deliveries by more than 10% through its acquisition last September of India-based hyperlocal delivery start-up Runnr. There is now speculation that Zomato could merge with rival India-based food ordering and delivery company Swiggy, which in February raised $100m funding from South Africa’s Naspers and Chinese e-commerce company Meituan-Dianping.

Last September, Zomato laid down the gauntlet with Swiggy by offering restaurants zero commission on its food ordering network in India. Under the initiative, dubbed MissionGiveBack, businesses had to qualify based on a set of predefined criteria, such as the number of orders they process with Zomato on a weekly basis, and whether their customers are happy with food and service. This compared with Swiggy, which was reported as charging restaurateurs 25-30% commission per order. Zomato has since expanded zero commission to cover restaurant bookings worldwide.

It may sound unsustainable, but observers note that Zomato’s advertising revenue – at a reported $38m in 2016-17 – can take the strain. The company’s restaurant reservations partnerships means it can also more easily tap into a variety of cuisines.

This is backed up by a blog from Goyal in September: “The company’s core advertising business in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, its three key regions, is generating enough cash to cover for the millions of dollars of investments the firm is making into the rest of the regions and new businesses.”

Nevertheless, the food delivery sector in India is hotting up and Zomato has faced stiff completion from Swiggy, tailed by newly merged Ola-Foodpanda and UberEats and Google Areo.

It’s also perhaps significant that since the investment fillip, Zomato has seen some strategic management shifts. Last month, co-founder Pankaj Chaddah quit the company and a new role was created, chief business officer, with Mukund Kulashekaran given the remit to spur revenue growth through both online ordering and advertising sales.

Meanwhile, Runnr co-founder Gaurav Gupta was appointed chief operating officer to oversee critical operations such as content, and new initiatives such as their cloud kitchen module Zomato Infrastructure Services, as well as sourcing and reviews.

So, Zomato is limbering up to take pole position in the reinvigorated food tech sector. Its recent investment fillip will no doubt spur the company on to further expand and introduce more product innovations and loyalty programmes to keep customers engaged worldwide.

Original author: Rosalind Mullen
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