IIT Delhi graduates Deepinder Goyal (26) and Pankaj Chaddah (24) just quit their consulting jobs at Bain & Co. They will now focus on growing a website they started in 2008 that now has operations in three cities and 80,000 unique visitors a month.
Goyal and Chaddah started *FoodieBay.com* in July 2008. The site serves up detailed information, menus, ratings and reviews for more than 4500 restaurants in Mumbai, Kolkata and the National Capital Region (Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida). In January next year, the site will also add Bangalore to its coverage area.
The site had a precursor. Foodlet.com, which Goyal started while still at IIT-D, allowed users to place their orders on the site for a number of participating restaurants. Soon he realized the idea wouldn’t work, Goyal says. “When we had to order food for ourselves, we would just look up the number on the site and place the order on the phone. Even we weren’t using our product,” Goyal says.
His takeaway from the experience was that people don’t want a middleman between them and the restaurant. “People sometimes want to give specific instructions about their food. But before ordering, we figured they like to have all the information about the food,” Goyal says.
Foodiebay was launched in early 2008 with just that focus–as much information as possible about the food that you are about to order. So the site has complete menus, contact information, ratings and reviews by the editorial team and other standard food guide information such as card acceptance, home delivery and average price per person etc.
The site took off immediately. “It caught on very quickly, thanks also to a lot of media coverage we received early on,” Goyal says.
While food guides typically have the contact information and recommendations, they don’t have the menus, they don’t come for free and one is impossible to find when you are about to order, especially at work. A large part of Foodiebay visitors are from offices, Goyal says, adding that the site’s unique hits are somewhat depressed because of multiple people visiting from the same office IP.
He is now opening up reviews and ratings to users. “We are in the process of introducing many social features to the site,” Goyal said.
Currently, the site carries advertising from several restaurants, but he says that puts pressure on editorial independence. “Every now and then, there is a suggestion that you gives us a good review and better ratings, and we give you advertising. We politely refuse,” Goyal says.
He has a “very different idea” to monetize the site, he says, without compromising the editorial voice. But that requires deployment of some technology and that requires investment. The two partners have just about completed an investor presentation seeking about $1 million in funding. “We will soon start knocking on the doors of investors.”
The site was almost a community effort, Goyal says. Many friends from IIT helped out, many continue to work for them part time, without pay. “I have no clue why they work for us,” Goyal says, laughing, and evidently proud of what he is building. His wife and sister also helps out. When the site started in Delhi, they would go to every nook and cranny in Delhi to collect information on food outlets big and small. “It would be a big picnic with friends and family. We would collect the info and the menus and also eat at these places.” In other cities, a combination of volunteers and paid employees now do the scouring.
But how unique is their content, and how difficult is it for someone to duplicate the effort and become effective competition overnight, I ask. Or if a big media company that already has a food guide, decides to build a food portal, couldn’t they do it very easily, given that they already have most of the content?
“It’s not easy, trust me,” Goyal says. “Yes, if a big media company wanted to use their existing content on the net, they can. But they don’t have the menus. It would take anyone at least a year and a half to build something like this even if they have a lot of resources. Far easier to buy out an existing player, isn’t it?” he asks, helpfully offering me a peek into his alternative business plan.
May be somebody will take the hint.