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A for apple, B for butter, C for carrots, D for daal – but ‘E’ is for EMPATHY.

When it comes to India as a country, food is a topic that can seldom be missed. We discuss what to eat for dinner while serving lunch, we have that one friend who vociferously insists his / her mother makes the best paranthas, we pride ourselves on the copious amounts of spice we can stomach, we dissect the different versions of pani puri, golgappe, puchkas to ascertain which is the the tastiest and with each state offering a treasure trove of unique dishes —  it is an unmistakable truism that food is part of the social fabric that weaves our country together. 

Co-founded by Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah in 2008, Zomato launched its operations by scanning restaurant menus and making them available to customers online. Fast forward eleven years, and Zomato is today active in over 10,000 cities and 24 countries – creating a web of deliveries and connecting customers to their food cravings. 

As part of our Building Against All Odds series, we caught up with Deepinder Goyal (CEO of Zomato), who has been at the forefront of many battles of survival and relevance that Zomato has had to fight over the years.

The team at Zomato runs a complicated business – B2C channels, B2B channels, an ads business, a delivery business (both domestic and international), with multiple moving parts, and a multitude of priorities and goals. Sadly, the F&B industry around the world has been one of the worst hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will also be one of the last to resume “normal” day-to-day operations given the forecasts and predictions for a post-Covid world. In a candid conversation with the Blume ecosystem, Deepinder weighed in on how companies (and founders) worst affected by Covid can tide through the uncertain times that lie ahead.

Ecosystem safety is of utmost importance, and Zomato has rolled out community wide initiatives to ensure necessary precautions are being taken while their services resume operations. On the list of top priorities for Zomato are their customers, delivery partners, restaurant partners, and the daily wage workers who have been impacted the most in these turbulent times.

Through a crisis, or a change in circumstances, there has to be something that can be modified in your offerings to pivot into those hidden opportunities. A long term vision and timeline of Zomato’s was to introduce grocery deliveries in their marketplace and due to the pandemic, this move has been accelerated. With a delivery network that ranks second only to India Post, and by working with the government, grocery stores, FMCG companies & other supply chain partners, Zomato has been able to create a new channel in record time to support communities across 160 cities. 

Deepinder could not be more grateful to the people working behind the scenes – esp, the teams rolling out these new features and products in record time. His tone is calm and composed as he brings to light the lengths to which they’ve pulled their socks up and the sacrifices they’ve had to make to keep the Zomato ship afloat – they are both the anchor and sail, navigating the ship through these choppy waters. 

Deepinder didn’t just get lucky with his team, he takes a moment to highlight how they’ve carefully built this culture of ownership and belonging at Zomato over the years. With a 80/20 thumb rule forming the bedrock of performance and culture (20% effort leading to 80% result), roles are changed every year to keep a lean and flexible team which helps in adapting to change and building the muscle to shift gears ever so quickly. 

The team at Zomato is also the perfect balance of skill and mindset. Deepinder elaborates on what kind of “Mindset” is very important for teams to tide through difficult times. 

  • Founder Mindset: Rather than turning towards an external community to brainstorm, Zomato nurtures a ‘founder mindset’. The company launched a founders grooming program consisting of team members who not only take complete ownership for driving the initiative, but are also fully bought into the vision of the company regardless of whether they started the company or not, creating an internal soundboard for all decision making. 

  • Upside Mindset: Deepinder says, “Shoot for the upside or save yourself from the downside. Be cautious about business calls but focus on the upside rather than being paranoid.” Less than 10% of Zomato’s workforce combats Black Swan events. Rather than obsessing over what isn’t working and what isn’t in their control, they train their collective energies on the upsides and hidden opportunities.

Team culture and communication at all levels play a key role in achieving these mindsets. For instance, Deepinder says their investors have confidence in them to ride any wave coming their way. They are in constant touch which makes it seem like they’re part of the team, but leaves the team to their own devices, making operating much easier for the team in the given climate – the importance of which doesn’t go unmentioned in the conversation.

The future outlook

In trying to further understand what the landscape might look like in an uncertain future, a potential scenario chalked out by the team at Zomato is one where social distancing becomes the norm. With an attentive eye, they’re obsessively making note of what is working for the customer and what isn’t. All, with a long term vision to build better end-to-end food systems for more people (this also rolls back to Hyperpure – an org-wide development initiative they kickstarted in 2018.)

Also, in addition to new product releases (and their use-cases which are a saving grace for customers, delivery partners, and the company itself as it morphs into a new revenue channel) – Deepinder believes that empathy is a key component in what can aid a company through a crisis. He strongly believes that they are in the business of ‘empathy’ first and ‘food tech’ next. Whether it is personally thanking his 2600 employees, or asking customers to donate money to the driver welfare fund, he believes everyone, at any stage, can pitch in if they deeply love a product or a service. 

He concluded the session by theorising that what will evolve post-Covid is a movement much larger than him or his company. And highlighted the importance of getting everybody in the org to cultivate Founder and Upside Mindset to tide through these difficult times. 

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