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What’s cooking at Zomato? A recipe to start a service in Malaysia and Vietnam by the first half of this year and expansion to Bandung in Indonesia in the next couple of months. The restaurant search service that entered the Southeast Asia market with Manila in Philippines in March last year and followed it with a Jakarta in Indonesia launch in November later, is focused on the mobile platform and is relying much on word-of-mouth for its marketing in the region.

Alok Jain, Chief Marketing Officer (Global), Zomato

Alok Jain, Chief Marketing Officer (Global), Zomato

The response in the region for Zomato has been “tremendous” and that makes the company increase its focus on the market. Alok Jain, Chief Marketing Officer (Global), Zomato, says, “For an online business like Zomato, there is an entirely new dynamic at work in the region. The Southeast Asian economies are some of the fastest growing mobile markets. Like much of the developing world, the wireless leap has come on much strongly than wired infrastructure. This means a lot more mobile phones, high user interaction and in our case, increasing dependence on the mobile applications versus the website.”

Jain is right, if we consider the facts for mobile penetration in Southeast Asia, which is an optimistic 109 per cent. With a population of 630 million, about 155 million are internet users. Not surprisingly, a majority of Zomato’s traffic is coming from the smartphones. “As a product that grew up as a website, the numbers from mobile are staggering. Over 60 per cent of our traffic in Manila comes from smartphones. In Indonesia, which is a relatively recent market and still gaining steam, this number is right now close to 70 per cent,” says Jain.

Zomato, in November, last year, announced a fresh round of funding of US$37 million from Sequoia Capital and existing investors Info Edge. This takes Zomato’s total funding to over US$53 million. Of the money raised, Zomato plans to invest more than US$2 million in its Indonesia operations alone. Meanwhile, it expects the Manila operations to “break even by the middle of this year.”

A start-up that was founded in 2008 to cater to foodies in New Delhi (India), today, serves 40 cities across 11 countries and has plans to map 22 new countries by the end of 2015. Collectively, it offers information on over 206,000 restaurants worldwide. One of the challenges that a global company like Zomato faces is people management, which are as diverse culturally and linguistically, as the food that it brings to the users. Currently, Zomato has a 26-person team in Jakarta and a 21-person team in Manila. But Zomato sees its global 650-member strong team as “one big family”, that is “driven by passion to take Zomato to new heights”.

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Karthik Shetty, VP (Indonesia Operations), Zomato

Karthik Shetty, VP (Indonesia Operations), Zomato

Zomato’s teams interact with each other across locations so as to seek feedback and learnings from diverse markets, which can help foresee challenges that can be averted locally. Karthik Shetty, VP (Indonesia Operations), Zomato, says, “In terms of how we hire, we start by looking beyond the CV. While technical capabilities and skill are important and great to have, we need to know that someone is going to fit into the team and company culturally.” To elaborate, that means a sentiment to work in a start-up environment, a drive to fish on their own in untested markets and the right attitude and ethos that they bring to the table. “We have tweaked our hiring strategy and we believe we’ve got it figured out. After all, we are where we are today because of the people working with us,” says Shetty.

Zomato, from time to time, keeps organising bloggers’ meets to expose them to different cuisines and engage the community. Last year, in June, a similar meet was organised in Kolkata, capital city of West Bengal, a north-eastern state of India. Strait, the restaurant that was discussed and reviewed at the meet, serves Malaysian and Singaporean food. “We are meeting a lot of food bloggers in Indonesia and spreading the word about our product and culture. We’re also going to be running contests through bloggers in Indonesia as they have a large fan following,” says Shetty.

Though Zomato’s medium is primarily online, its marketing is a mix of both online and offline. “Our online marketing encompasses search engine marketing, and our social media channels are a great way for us to connect with our users. As for offline, we tie up with restaurants for BTL advertising, especially in new markets. Zomato hopes to make best use of the vibrant dining culture and the internet- and mobile-savvy environment in the region. Our users are our best brand ambassadors, and word-of-mouth has been a great growth-driver for us,” adds Jain.

Also read: Singapore dining app Picky launches interactive local food guide

For the record, Zomato also ventured into Brazil (Sao Paulo) and Turkey (Istanbul and Ankara) last year, and extended its services in UK, taking the city-count there to five adding Glasgow and Edinburgh to its directory list.

With additional inputs from Dhaleta Surender Kumar