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Working in a startup makes you feel like “Superman” – Ankit Mehrotra, Co-Founder, Dineout

Ankit Mehrotra took a great risk when he quit his high paying job as an investment banker in London to start a venture in India along with his other friends. Fortunately, it paid off and today Dineout is a leader in table reservation space seating more than 100, 000 diners a month across 2500 restaurants across 8 cities.

Ankit Mehrotra in an interview with Suman Prasad spoke in length about his venture – Dineout, how did it started, the initial challenges, how has Dineout evolved, how are they changing the F&B industry and many other interesting things. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How did you come across the idea of starting Dineout?
It all started from a phone call, I made to my co-founder, Sahil Jain. Having just returned back from a holiday in Delhi, I was sitting at my desk, at a top Investment Bank in London, staring at the Bloomberg screens and looking at countless charts and graphs. Looking back at my trip, I realized that every time I went out with my friends in Delhi, it was to the same places I had already been to previously and did not actually go to any new place.  Sharing this with Sahil, I figured this was due to a number of reasons, mainly; The lack of information about any new place which might have recently opened, reluctance of my friends to try a different place for the fear of being let down and probably the most important, lack of a truly unique, independent website which a person could use to find out about where to dine out in the city.

Sahil agreed with me as he had also faced similar problems during his trip to Delhi and I just blurted out, “why don’t we try to change this?” And thus began the long and arduous journey!!!

An Investment Banker by profession, I had been living in London for the last 10 years and advancing very well professionally, having just received my CFA charter. Sahil, an IIM graduate, was well settled in Seattle, working on a project with Microsoft. And then one fine day, we both left our jobs and returned back to India and thus Dineout was born.

Q. You decided to quit a high paying job of an Investment Banker in London to start Dineout. What was going through your mind when you decided to take the risk and move forward?

I actually did not get too much time to think about it. And I give my co-founder, Sahil, a lot of credit for it. I remember very clearly that our first conversation took place in early Nov 2010. Sahil mentioned that the idea indeed was great and he would do some research on it. After about a month, in early December, Sahil called me and mentioned that he has already made up his mind and has in fact resigned from his job and will be moving back to India in Jan 2011.

I think that was the pivotal moment when Dineout went from being just another idea amongst friends to actually becoming a reality. The suddenness and the boldness of Sahil’s decision also gave me a lot of confidence to follow through and I also quit my job.

For me the decision to quit my job and return to India was a big decision and a huge risk at that time (eventually paid off) as I had just got my CFA charter and was 9 months away from getting my British citizenship.

Q. What were the initial challenges you have faced when you started Dineout? 
Comfortable with professional working environments, we were in for a rude awakening. In the land of opportunities, we quickly realized that not everything was what it seemed. We could never trust someone to do the work until and unless it was actually done. And we learned never to believe what was actually said. If someone said it would be done in 15 minutes, it usually meant end of the day, end of the day meant tomorrow and tomorrow meant never. We had to literally push people and be behind them every hour of the day to get the work done.

Though launching a startup is no small task, working in a startup makes you feel like “Superman”. It is a constant uphill battle but ultimately you do get used to it and the rush which you get is like no other. No task is too big to handle, no mountain too high to climb. Time flies and we feel that there aren’t enough hours in a day to do our work!

However, the key to any successful venture, we realised very quickly, is not the venture but the people involved and over the last 24 months we have built a strong team of 30 which makes it very exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time.

Q. How has Bangalore diners responded to the table reservation service? To what extent do you see this market growing in next 2-3 years?

Dineout, as a platform, has grown considerably over the last few years. Today, we are currently seating more than 100, 000 diners a month across 2500 restaurants across 8 cities and have seated close to 3 million till date.

Bangalore is one of our newer markets. However, the service has just exploded in the city. Around 10% of our traffic comes from Bangalore today. That is because we have some of the best restaurants in the city such as Mamagoto, Chilis, Punjab Grill, Shiro, Yuatcha, TGIF etc. on our platform where users can make a reservation as well as get a discount or an offer along with a reserved table. More than 90% of the bookings from Bangalore are being made through the Dineout app, which literally puts the best restaurants in the city on one reservation platform.

Q. How has Dineout evolved in these four years? How has it changed or rather changing the F&B industry?

Being the pioneers in the table reservation space, we have seen the industry evolve and have probably contributed to this evolution as well. After our 1st year of operation, nearly 90% of our booking was being done through our concierge desk. However, currently nearly 90% of our bookings are being done through our mobile apps and only 10% through the concierge desk.

We have gone from being present in 1 city and seating 10k diners a month after our first year of operation to more than 100k diners a month across 8 cities and 2500 restaurants. This clearly shows that there is a huge need and demand for our service.

The biggest challenge that we faced while scaling up was from the unorganised restaurant industry. There was a lack of information flow in the restaurant hierarchy. On top of that, we were fighting a resistance, as we were trying to bring about a behavioural change of accepting technology. inResto, our restaurant platform solution is revolutionising the booking structure in restaurants.
With inResto, we are providing restaurants with a one-stop-solution to the challenges of getting to know their customers better, easing the process of table management, attending to feedback, marketing special offers and a cloud-based CRM platform that is very easy to manage.

inResto provides one dashboard to manage everything from table reservations, home delivery, takeaways, customer feedback, mobile payments, and loyalty programs.
Through inResto, we process more than 1 Million diners a month at our partner restaurants and collect nearly 50,000 diner feedback at our partner restaurants.

Q. Dineout recently launched its new service ‘Dineout Plus’. Please tell us more about it. What was the need to launch this service?

Dineout Plus is the most exclusive dining programme in India which allows its members to to dine at more than 175 restaurants in 4- and 5-star hotels across Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata and provides them with a 25% discount on their Total Bill.
The membership is valid for 1 year and unlimited usage, which means one can visit their favorite restaurants again and again and save money every time they dine out.

We wanted to come up with an exclusive and premium program for our top diners. While we started talking about this and developed this program for customers, we thought that everyone who loves good food and fine dining could benefit from this. Thus, we Started Dineout Plus.

Q. How can one avail ‘Dineout Plus’ service?

One can avail Dineout Plus service in four simple steps:

I. Buy your Dineout Plus membership for Rs. 5000
II. Make a booking at a Dineout plus restaurants through the app.
III. On arrival show your Dineout Plus card and share the OTP with the manager.
IV. And you will get a 25% discount on your bill.

Q. Would you like to share any message to the budding entrepreneurs?
Our Journey has seen both lows and highs. We have probably seen it all. However, the most important things I have learnt along the way have been:

  • To always have Passion & belief in self and the team.
  • To Always lead by example and have a never say never attitude.
  • To have the Willingness to learn & humility. However successful you become, there is still a long way to go.

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