Deepinder Goyal and 	 Pankaj Chaddah photo

Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah

Co-Founders, Zomato

Not so long ago, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah were analysts at Bain’s Business Capability Center in the firm’s Gurgaon office, near New Delhi, India. Young and busy, they ate a lot of restaurant food. So did many of their colleagues, to the point where people in the office would bicker over the shared stack of take-out menus. “There was only one copy of each menu,” remembers Pankaj. “We couldn’t take them to our desks and had to spend a lot of time waiting for the others to finish placing their orders or figure out how to consolidate orders.”

Soon Deepinder and Pankaj began scanning the menus so that everyone could view them on a computer. Then they started visiting restaurants they hadn’t yet tried out. “We spent weekends going around the suburbs of New Delhi gathering menus and putting them on the office intranet.” In 2008, the light bulb went on: this could be a business.

Today the pair are founders and leaders of the award-winning start-up, Zomato, an online restaurant discovery service that does business in 20 countries, employs over 1000 people, and caters to upward of 35 million users a month. The young company has already raised more than $113 million in venture capital and according to news reports is likely to attract considerably more. In October 2014 it won the “Start-Up of the Year” award given by India’s Economic Times.

Zomato’s sites—customized for each location—allow users to search for restaurants by name, cuisine, dish, and several other categories. Diners looking for a certain kind of experience can browse the company’s “collections,” such as “Rooftops” or “Pan-Asian Delicacies.” The sites also incorporate user reviews, neighborhood guides, and links to top food critics in the area. Most of the company’s revenue to date has come from ads, although it is planning to expand into table bookings (already offered in London, in partnership with OpenTable) and automatic cashless payment at the end of a meal.

The transition from Bain to a successful startup wasn’t as abrupt as one might expect. “At Bain, we were problem solvers,” says Deepinder. “At Zomato, we are no different. Running a business is about treading through problems each day and still hit the ground running.” Adds Pankaj, “Bain helped us get the business acumen we needed to run a company.” Bain colleagues helped out as well: India managing director Sri Rajan, former consultant Anshoo Sharma and others gave the young founders advice. “We often reached out to Bain partners and consultants who we were working with while at Bain for mentorship,” says Pankaj.

As they began their global expansion, the pair tapped another Bain asset—the alumni network. Zomato team members sought out alumni in new locations to learn about each market they were considering. Deepinder and Pankaj also make a point of hiring former Bain consultants; six alumni are now on the company’s payroll. This has helped the two founders address their toughest challenges: maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit or “Founder’s Mentality®” and finding the talent they need to grow. “Getting the right people on the team is the only way to maintain the growth culture we have built for ourselves,” says Pankaj. “But it is also the biggest challenge for us.”

Zomato’s international expansion has been rapid. After establishing its business in India—the market is now “highly profitable,” says the company—it entered South Africa, the UK, and Brazil, along with many smaller countries. In 2014 it acquired several country-based competitors, adding New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy and Poland to its roster. “We want to be the Google of food,” Pankaj told India’s Business Standard. “Our vision is to be the global platform when someone is looking for food locally.”

Zomato’s most recent market entry—Canada—is already well under way. The experience gained there will be helpful, the founders believe, when they move into the United States, where Yelp and others are well established. “We will need much more bandwidth and money to go into the US,” Pankaj told a reporter. “We have to do at least 50 cities very quickly to disrupt the player [that is] already huge there.”

Neither Deepinder, who is CEO of Zomato, nor Pankaj, who is COO, expected to be an entrepreneur. In fact, Deepinder didn’t even tell his academically minded parents until six months after he quit his job for fear that they would rebuke him. (Now, he adds, they’re “very proud.”) But the founders’ experience with Zomato has provided them with some words of wisdom to pass along to other would-be entrepreneurs. “Don’t start something just to be your own boss,” says Pankaj. “Start something when you believe the opportunity is big enough that you can sacrifice what you already have.” Deepinder adds, “It’s also essential to have your core set of values and ethics in place. Big ideas are great for a startup, but strong values and work ethic are essential for the organization to thrive.”

As for the most important piece of advice they ever received? The pair agree that it was the famous words often attributed to Gandhi. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Words to build a company by.