An Afternoon with the Founders of EatOye.Pk

By Immad Khan on
September 15, 2014
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EatOye.pk is a food delivery service operating in 13 Pakistani cities with headquarters in Karachi. Eatoye.pk’s roots can be traced back to 2011, when the same people brought an eating out guide, Food Connection Pakistan, with over 700 restaurants under its umbrella. Today, they have evolved into a food ordering portal, a sophisticated service, serving 100’s of hungry customers everyday. They are the major key shareholders in the 15bn food industry of Pakistan. We were anxious to share their success story to know how they went from being a start-up to becoming the market leaders in a span of just 1.5 years.

TechJuice recently got a chance to sit down with the founders of EatOye.pk for a long and informative conversation. Here’s what went on in the chilly room.

Nauman Sikandar, the CEO of EatOye.pk is a former restaurant owner and uses that experience to his advantage of handling EatOye.pk. He completed his MBA in Marketing and Leadership from UK after acquiring his Bachelors in Computer Science from SZABIST Pakistan.

Rai Umair, the CTO of EatOye.pk, has experience of working for some of the Fortune 200 companies, including Microsoft. He completed his Software Engineering from Australia and has now spent a good 14 years working for the tech industry.

TJ: From Food Connection Pakistan to EatOye.pk, how did the journey come about? What made you change your mind about the viability of Food Connection Pakistan?

Food Connection Pakistan was a successful venture, and in no way a cheap business to run. We took all the strengths from Food Connection Pakistan and incorporated them into EatOye.pk. We had a database of around 3000 restaurants, which we brought to EatOye along with some major contacts as well. What happened was that, we started receiving feedback from our customers that we only use Food Connection Pakistan as a guide and can’t make a transaction through it. And on our end, we realized that people were using our guide to get to the restaurants, but we weren’t getting much return of investment for that service, we were just a silent facilitator.

So, we decided to go with our initial idea of working out a food ordering portal and by using resources gathered through Food Connection Pakistan, we were able to establish EatOye.pk without much hassle. Yes, it was difficult to set it up, with all the technicalities and operations involved, but we had all the resources available to us owing to our previous food venture. So, it was not scrapped, we just evolved into a better venture.

TJ: It is very important for founders of a company to be able to work together with each other in perfect harmony. How did you two come together to form a winning team?

It started back in 2001, when we both sat together in the same class on the 3rd or the 4th day of our university. And since then we have been together for the past 14 years. What helps us bond together, is the common passion we share of doing something big for Pakistan. We both believe we have a lot to give back to our nation and there is a lot of potential here as well. Even before starting FCP, we had initial discussions on churning out something which would not only be a local success, but would garner praise globally as well. Something made with love in Pakistan.

One more thing, which helps us to stick together with each other, is the fact that we both are from different fields and have a different skill set, so it helps to complement each other and look after each other’s back and be there for one another when we are about to fall. We have fights, we have heated arguments — all constructive, but at the end of the day, we know we are only working towards improving our own selves and moving on to something better. The passion of doing something for Pakistan in Pakistan is what keeps us motivated.

TJ: There’s a perception in the market that EatOye.pk doesn’t get along too well with another international service provider, foodpanda. What’s that all about?

It’s a simple thing. If you are going to keep on copying all our innovations and campaigns, we just can’t sit and see others do that. As an example, we started off with the hyper discounts on our website, next week, we see our idea has been copied. Same was the case with the UAN number. We are a Pakistani born and bred company. We want people to realize that we are here to give them an organization they can look up to and tell everyone that this is an International standard level Pakistani company. And our standard, if not at par, then it’s certainly not below par than the international standard. We just need to start believing in Pakistan and its products and services. And that’s the only reason for being vocal about them.

TJ: Lahore is known for its food, but almost all the food portals are coming out of Karachi. What do you think is the motivation behind that?

Nauman Sikandar: When we look at Lahore, there’s a culture of dining out. People like to go out in numbers and eat at the restaurant rather than ordering food at home. We can say this after doing thorough research and analysis about the city, door to door research. We gathered a lot of info on different cultures prevailing in the cities. Then, there’s an undeniable fact that Karachi is a sort of a financial hub of Pakistan. For these models to succeed, you need people with disposable income and willingness to spend. And then, we both are Karachiite’s and while growing up we saw a tremendous amount of change from people ordering food to a noticing a lot of delivery riders on the road. We did some logical calculations and decided to go with Karachi. With that said; we are operating in other cities and have expansion plans in the pipeline as well.

Rai Umair: I would just like to add to what Nauman said that Karachi’s population is much more connected to the internet. Plus there’s this culture of experimenting with different things and its present in Karachiite’s. So all this made us choose Karachi as our start up point.

TJ: How do you deal with the negative reviews and how do you make sure that they are addressed appropriately? What are the policies and technologies in place for handling them?

Rai Umair: I use EatOye.pk for ordering food and I believe that the experience I am getting should be similar to what the other customers are getting. What happens is that the negatives get highlighted quite easily. But, from a technical perspective, I can tell you that we have one of the best systems in place and we are continuously improving on that. Not only in-house, but in the restaurants as well, we have placed a dedicated device, in few of the top revenue generators, which processes an order in a span of 10 seconds. We’ll soon be updating all our restaurants with that device, so as to further improve the processes. So, we have removed the human intervention and the error of subjectivity which may arise through it.
We have a service called verified customers, who are the ones who have used our service before and have completed an order or reservation. We keep a track record of all the orders we receive and whether they are completed or not, even on the reservations side as well. We have around 1000+ live menus which are updated on short interval basis. Again, I’ll press on the fact that its technology and it can falter anytime, if it didn’t falter, I wouldn’t be doing a job at the moment.

Nauman Sikandar: From an operational perspective: at the core of EatOye, lies just one thing: Our customer should have an excellent experience. And for that purpose only, we make sure we attend to every case individually and try to identify the root cause of the problem. Let me tell you, till date we have called 10,000 customers and had a casual discussion with them. What we gauged from those discussions was that people want quick service, that’s a priority. With that in mind, we also have to look at the industry we are in. The restaurant industry in Pakistan is still not mature and will take some time to come to a position where they are able to provide the expected service to the customers. And we are dependent upon them to deliver. Even, before EatOye started, problems were there. We have developed a policy called amazing EatOye experience – “We know the restaurant will screw up, but we’ll make it up to you”. Each order and complaint is looked after by a dedicated Brand Manager. If we find negligence from the restaurant side, we arrange for complimentary food. If there’s negligence on our side, we arrange for some complimentary gifts or things like that. You may gauge our dedication from the fact that we took down 250 contracted restaurants from our system because our customers were not happy from their service. The hospitality industry operates at a 5% margin of error; we operate at 1% and are looking to bring that down as well.

TJ: 70% of Pakistani users are on Android. However, EatOye.pk is yet to release an Android Application. Why did you start with iOS?

We had to look at the market and study who our consumers will be. Web was the first platform we chose and through that we were able to find out that the maximum number of people coming to our site were users of iPhone. Secondly, taking nothing away from android users, we would say that iPhone caters to a particular group of people who looked more willing to use our service, and we have web stats to prove that. So we decided to go with iPhone app after launching our website. By the way, we have a new version coming out for iOS by October ALONG with an Android and a Windows Phone App as well around the same time. So yes, we will now be available on all platforms and to a larger audience.

TJ: How easy is it to convince restaurant owners to get listed at your website? Are people generally willing or reluctant?

Nauman Sikandar: “Not easy to convince them but fairly easy for us.” As I told you before, I was running a restaurant in UK and over there I used to feel deprived of marketing. So I used that experience to our advantage here. Plus, thanks to Food Connection Pakistan, we had direct contacts with some 200-300 top notch restaurants. And now, even the restaurants are beginning to realize that there’s a huge crowd of digital savvy people out there, who needs to be looked after. So, if they don’t hop on, they’ll lose out on some good business.

Rai Umar: FCP helped us a lot. Because of the huge trust factor we built through it. We had a history with restaurants and people now trust us more. Restaurants big guns see a potential in the market, they realize that the switching costs is quite low now. A customer won’t think much before using some other alternative. So, we are helping them get some more customers and its a win-win situation for everyone.

TJ: What are your future plans for EatOye? Where do you see yourself going from here?

Nauman Sikandar: It goes back to our roots. We wanted a Pakistani based company to do very well globally. One point, I would like to add is that FCP was primarily owned by me and Umair. But EatOye.pk had Jamal A. Khan (Arpatech) and Shahzad Faisal Naqi (Peak Group of Companies), come into play. These people are experienced venture capitalist and have knowledge of the global market. Most importantly, they share a similar passion like me and Umair. So, that helps us a lot in realizing what we have to do going ahead. In terms of our future, we started at least 1.5 years after everyone else, and are currently the market leaders. This statement is based on certain comparative research. So with all scenarios in mind, when we feel we’ll be able to effectively utilize our resources and generate more return, we’ll go global. And that’s our basic goal. We have identified a few countries that possess the market dynamics required for this product to be successful. And IN SHA ALLAH in next 3 to 4 month we’ll be starting our promotion in another country.

Rai Umair: “World domination!” We want Made in Pakistan to go international, compete and beat the international product. That’s our core focus. I look around different resources to see how we are doing and what we should be doing. In terms of numbers, the amount of traffic we get on our website is more than the traffic for all the other service providers combined. So, we believe we’ll be able to quickly take up a lead position when we go international due to the kind of service we provide.

TJ: Why EatOye.pk? Why the “Oye”?

We wanted our company to be an action oriented company. We wanted the name to entice feelings in the people and something that was remember able and had only two syllables. We also needed a name which had a global outlook and we were able to buy domains in all the countries we wanted to go or plan to go. With EatOye, we have domains in almost 100 countries. Why Oye? Because “Oye” is a direct term used to get someone’s attention. Our aim was to become part of conversation, and we believe we have been successful with that.

TJ: You manage a 24/7 online company…how does that affect your work-life balance? Was your family supportive of the idea?

Nauman Sikandar: When the company started, everyone was very involved in the company and we were investing around 16 hours of our daily lives in it. Both our families realized that we are eccentric and they had to support us. In the starting few months, it was difficult to balance work life, but once we were able to quickly develop processes, procedures and policies at the backend of the service, we were able to attain a satisfactory work life balance. So, if anything goes wrong we have set procedures of how to deal with them. Now, we have large group of people dealing with issues that come up. We have developed a sophisticated call centre with 3 layers of back-up, looked after an operation manager and shift supervisors for each shift. Over here, I would like to credit 30 other people who have been there with us from day one and have contributed more than we have to this company. We have some of the best people in Operations, Brand Management, and Business Heads along with all the other support staff.

Rai Umair: Whenever a start up is starting, it requires two basic resources: Capital and time. We had days when me and Noman had to sit in the call centers and take on all the calls, not because of shortage of employees, but because of the increasing load that came in. It’s just been a few weeks when we have started giving Saturdays to ourselves, before that we used to work 6 days a week for unlimited number of hours. But, once we were able to put set processes in place, things have settled down. Food business is very interesting. Eid, New Years, any other festival or holiday, you need to be open. The customer expects you to be open. So, we have to be at our toes. But, now with a dedicated team and support staff, we are able to strike a good work-life balance.

TJ: If you could go back and retake a decision regarding your startup, what would that be?

A synonymous answer. We could have started the transaction based model at the time of Food Connection Pakistan. If that would have been the case, we would have been the pioneers in the business.

TJ: As successful businessmen, what lesson would you like to share with beginners and Startup Founders?

Nauman Sikandar: “Success comes to you regardless of what the external environment is. Things are difficult and challenging, but if you as an individual have the capacity to make a difference, so regardless of what your roots are and your external environment is, you can do it.”

Rai Umair: Business potential in Pakistan is enormous, people need to believe in themselves and doubt the doubters. Say No to Naysayers. People here have taken up a pessimistic view towards life. Shed that off. If you have ideas don’t hide them, talk to different people, listen to all the feedback and then analyze if it’s worthy or not. Secondly, you don’t need much money to begin a start up. Technology is now at your fingertips, take advantage of that and develop a prototype, throw it in the market and gauge the feedback coming in to you. You’ll realize whether you are on the right direction or not.

TJ- Final question, why did the chicken cross the road?

Rai Umair was up to the challenge: It was trying to get to EatOye.
Nauman Sikandar was tad bit late in answering, but had the same answer.

 
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