Mohit Gupta, CEO Food Delivery Zomato on Thinking Like a Leader

Mohit Gupta, CEO Food Delivery Zomato chats with Amit Somani, Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Mohit is a business leader with experience in scaling & running leading food delivery & travel e-commerce businesses. He currently leads the food delivery business for zomato. In past he has led the P&L & operations for India’s largest online travel platform, MakeMyTrip.

Across his various stints at Zomato and Makemytrip, he has built new businesses, taken them to profitability, scaled market-leading businesses, created new market segments, invested & mentored startups as well as participated in two of the largest M&A events in the Indian e-commerce industry. In his stint with Pepsico, he handled sales, field marketing, brand marketing & channel leadership assignments across levels & geographies.

Listen to the podcast to learn about

1:13 Mohit’s career journey

2:16 Views on how food and retail is impacted by COVID

4:51 How will user behaviour on eating out will change after COVID

08:13 Transition of Zomato to a full stack food provider

12:34 Thinking like a leader, even if you are behind

14:30 Success possibility of mega-app in India

16:12 Building operationally intensive business successfully.

24:21 Making transitions from a large company to starting or joining the startup

25:57 Hiring someone senior at your startup

Read the full transcript below

Amit Somani 0:51

Welcome to the Prime Venture Partners Podcast. Today, I’m delighted to have with me a dear friend and the CEO of Zomato Delivery and Co-Founder of Zomato, Mohit Gupta. Welcome to the show, Mohit.

Mohit Gupta 1:03

Thanks Amit. Glad to be here.

Amit Somani 1:05

Mohit, it would be great if you can tell people a little bit about your background. Of course, you and I met at MakeMyTrip, but maybe just your whole career journey that would be helpful.

Mohit Gupta 1:13

Sure Amit. So, I spent a year at Voltas but more importantly post my MBA I started my career with Pepsi, spent 10 years there, doing a bunch of different sales, marketing, and so on. Then I spent 10 years at MakeMyTrip, where we more than just met and I spent 10 years at MakeMyTrip, saw its journey through various phases, of course IPO and well beyond that, to the mega merger, etc, fun journey. I joined Zomato about two years ago. And I’m now running food delivery for Zomato.

Amit Somani 1:45

Wonderful. Mohit, I know you as one of the few people that has reinvented himself so many times during this kind of journey. And so maybe towards the end we’ll talk a little bit about your reinvention mantra and how you’ve been so successful and all the roles, Pepsi, MakeMyTrip and now Zomato. But without further ado, let’s talk about how COVID has impacted the food and the retail sector in general. Love to hear your thoughts in terms of consumer behaviour, in terms of the market, in terms of the business, what has changed, what hasn’t.

Mohit Gupta 2:16

So we are four months into the COVID situation, so much has been said on the subject. But here’s my little take. So I think adoption of a whole bunch of online services has increased significantly because of COVID. A lot of people who were fence sitters have been tipped over and in food services also, for example, a lot of restaurants who were not participating for delivery, have taken it a lot more seriously. A lot more gourmet restaurants, high end restaurants, started delivering and participating in delivery meaningfully.

It’s becoming a more important part of their business. In customer segments also, we’ve seen very similar things play out. Earlier for example, having already crossed hundred million installed mark, we were beginning to see lower end phones etc. coming in as a much larger part of our user base. But with COVID, we are seeing actually a lot of people who were well heeled, much better to do, much better off and still sitting on the fences actually come into the buying fold. So we are definitely seeing penetration of food delivery and usage of food apps, etc. going up significantly, across all segments. There are safety concerns. But, I think these changes are material. Workplaces have changed, of course, and with that food at workplaces, cafeterias have also changed significantly. Health and hygiene and its relevance to us, as individuals, as users has changed significantly. And I think some of it is here to stay.

We’re going to look at health, hygiene and safety practices quite differently. And that has an impact on both user preferences, brand proposition as well as the supply chains that we built. And I think finally, for me, what is most germane is that human relationships and what defines them has changed significantly in my view, vis-a-vis my family vis-a-vis myself, my company, how I interact with brands, my community, my country, all of those things, I think have changed significantly and some of that is also here to stay. And I think it’s going to have a meaningful impact on how brand building, culture, career, drivers etc play out for us in future.

Amit Somani 4:17

Great Mohit. So I was just reading some reports about food delivery in the US and in particular this concept of drive-thru restaurants like McDonald’s and so forth. Those kinds of concepts don’t exist now. And even if I go on the Zomato app or the Zomato site, you give me the health and safety ratings, even when I get the food delivered, it says okay, this was contactless etc. You think things like that will start to happen in India now and that fundamentally, people will go lesser to restaurants and get more delivery, either at home or perhaps like this US kind of notion of a drive-thru and pickup.

Mohit Gupta 4:51

So I think that kind of polarisation is definitely likely to happen. Although, I do have a view on the drive-thru and takeaway business in India. Let’s talk about the takeaway piece first, I think Indian cities are not configured well for takeaways. Takeaways require certain kind of kitchen configuration, drive-thru configuration, parking, the location of the restaurant has to be in a high street. And, there has to be a large enough driveway.

And that doesn’t happen even for larger, more organised players like McDonald’s, etc. So we’ve done a few pilots with players like McDonald’s and thought through this in terms of activation in pilots, but it’s not infrastructure that lends itself very well to takeaway. Delivery and dining out actually is definitely going to change significantly, in my view, I don’t think dining out is going away anytime soon. Of course, the COVID situation, until such time this concern persists, dining out is going to be deeply depressed and it will take time coming back.

But I think the need for people to hang out together, to be social, to celebrate together is a deep, long term human need and I think, therefore, dining out continues to have a bright future. I think what is doing for delivery, though, is that it’s definitely opening up users to the core benefits of delivery, and opening up many more use cases, between food players and users.

Amit Somani 6:14

Great Mohit. I’m sure the orders are down quite a bit. Have you seen a difference in what people are ordering? For example, are people inherently ordering more things that they feel might be touched less like a pizza. You feel mentally that hey, they’ll just put it in an oven, they’ll pull it out, as opposed to something that might require maybe mixing with the hand or something, irrespective of whatever you say on Zomato, or the other guys.

Mohit Gupta 6:38

So Amit, we have seen a couple of trends in that direction, some intuitive, some counter intuitive. So we are not necessarily seeing touchless things so to say, gain share. The uncooked stuff, raw salad, sushi stuff like that is definitely down. People are going for well cooked stuff. But outside of that, I think people are ordering everything that they like. We have seen a shift actually towards more indulgent food types. So people seem to be getting a lot of home food. So when they order from outside, they are definitely ordering more outside food.

Amit Somani 7:15

Not ghar ka khana.

Mohit Gupta 7:17

Not ghar ka khana, not healthy food. So I think healthy food, which was emerging to be a fairly large category, is definitely not having its best time right now.

Amit Somani 7:27

Wonderful. So switching gears Mohit, I remember meeting Deepinder, of then Foodiebay, ten years ago, when we were both at MakeMyTrip and started out being a review site and a very successful one at that, and now some of the reports I’ve read and interviews of Deepinder I have seen, you guys have become a full stack food provider and of course, you’ve single handedly driven and accelerated the food delivery business.

So very few companies globally if I think about it, not just in food but in other businesses have made this transition from more of reviews, informational and a content type of site, from our previous life tripadvisor is one that comes to mind, to a transaction site. So what has made that happen at Zomato? Love to have our listeners hear a little bit about that story.

Mohit Gupta 8:13

Sure Amit. I think you’ve called it out well, I think it is very difficult to straddle both these worlds to build both these capabilities under one brand, one roof. And to that extent, we are thankful, my own take on some of the things that have contributed strongly to this would be, I think, first one is the unique blend of business acumen and product design expertise, user understanding, I think that’s a very, very important thing. And that’s common to both.

I don’t think that you can build any successful business without that. And that continues to be strong core competence, so to say, for us. The second one, is a more behavioural thing, which is being very open and brutally honest with ourselves, on what muscle you have, what you don’t have, I don’t think unless you acknowledge that early enough in your journey, and you are sort of almost a little paranoid about that, you’re really going to build out the muscles very well. And I think this is something that Zomato and Deepinder do very, very well. The third one, is almost a pathological flexibility in terms of just trying out everything that you can or you have to, and not letting your own sort of well held perceptions come in the way of what you try out to seek outcome.

So brutally go after outcomes, and just be absolutely flexible in whatever it takes to really get there. And I think the fourth one, which has helped us actually come in from behind and become a market leader in the food delivery business is our ambition and big vision. I would say, I think it does two things for us. It drives us and it also allows us to think like a leader even when we are behind, and I think that thinking like a leader even when you’re coming from the end, is so important, because otherwise you are just catching up all the time. I think those will be some of the things that come to mind.

Amit Somani 10:02

You said a lot of interesting things in there Mohit. And I want to unpack those. So pathological flexibility, thinking like a leader when you’re behind, identifying the muscle that you don’t have, and acknowledging it, and perhaps going and building it. So maybe let’s elaborate on all three in no particular order.

How do you identify, let’s say, whenever Zomato delivery was launched three, four years ago, that hey, we don’t have this capability. We are a great tech product company, we are a great content company, etc. and you decide that delivery is important. How do you go about that? Both that assessment and how do you go about building it? So inherently, you’re identifying that you don’t have it, I’m just curious if you can elaborate.

Mohit Gupta 10:41

Sure. So I’ll give you my perspective, and of course, since I’ve spent only two years here, some of it is also interpretations of the various things I’ve seen and heard. I think the first one is about strong intuition and being open to your own faults, having a very, very strong self critical point of view always. You have to be super competent, of course, if you’re going to build something big, and you’re going to create something new to solve difficult problems. But at the same time, I think being self critical and deep introspection allows you to really look around the bend and find the muscles that you don’t have.

I think when it comes to building these muscles, you've got to try a lot of things and Zomato has tried a lot of things. Some of it goes to some of our outside deception as the kind of employers, we’ve been along the way at some point in time, and so on and so forth, people coming and leaving, and so on and so forth.

So I don’t think that there was one magical formula to really build it out. But I think we were good at identifying capabilities that were out there, having a lot of respect for these competencies that people had built. One of the biggest contributors to our success in food delivery has been our acquisition of Runner and the Runner team that came with that acquisition and just integrating them very deeply, which also comes from having respect for their competency and their capabilities,

Amit Somani 12:00

Wonderful Mohit. The two other things you said, I’ve never heard this term before, pathological flexibility. What does that mean? Can you kind of elaborate?

Mohit Gupta 12:08

I think it’s almost like saying that on the things that affect you even mostly deeply, the things that are most sacred for you, you are going to be flexible, even about those things. So it’s almost like data, logic and your outcomes are pretty much the only thing that matters for you, and that everything else is up for change.

Amit Somani 12:30

Wonderful. And last but not the least, thinking like a leader, even when you’re behind.

Mohit Gupta 12:34

So I think that really comes down to also some my life experiences and fundamental configuration of how Deepinder thinks as well. And what we found was that there were portions where it’s very easy for you to say, look, somebody else has really solved this problem. What we need to do is to replicate that and it does get you the next 10% market share in the next 20% or 50% month on month growth when you’re really early stages or mid stages, and it’s very easy to get carried with that and just keep doing those things and keep replicating what an early mover or a leader is doing.

But I think it’s important to understand that that’s not going to be the thing that gets you ahead. Because you just copy, you’ve got to have your own unique take, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to be as you think like a leader, when you are the player driving that industry, solving the problems of that industry from the front. And when you do that, you open new pathways that create unique advantages for you, that goes beyond just money and execution.

Amit Somani 13:33

Very, very interesting Mohit, lots of lessons there, I think for our entrepreneurs here. So switching gears and just pushing this analogy of going from reviews to delivery, this whole notion of a super app. So if you look at Meituan-Dianping in China, or even in India, a lot of people have tried different things, our buddies at Paytm tried selling flights and MakeMyTrip is getting into delivery and Swiggy wants to do it, Dunzo wants to do it and so forth.

So what do you think is the appetite of the Indian consumer, really to live in a mega super app which does everything, with the flights, delivery, food, flowers, etc. Because China seems to have been successful at sort of doing these super app type things. Whereas in India, usually, at least my bias has been that maybe you will succeed on a couple of use cases but to really be this, I’ll book my cabs also here, flight also here, food also here. Seems like a little bit of a tall order for me personally, but love to hear your take on the emergence of super apps in India.

Mohit Gupta 14:30

Yeah, so Amit on that one, I’m with you, actually. And it’s not that I don’t have an open mind about apps doing multiple use cases. I do think that apps can do multiple things for users effectively, but it’s very, very hard. So if you have to be the number one, number two service in each of the categories that you’re participating in, I think that’s what it takes for an app to be the go to app for a user for multiple categories. And a single category itself is hard, building multiple categories is hard at so many levels. From UX to your domain expertise, to supply chains and everything else around it. So that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s difficult.

The other one, I think it’s also a factor of how the ecosystem evolves. If the most competent answer to a problem emerges as a separate app, then, it’s likely that it’s going to emerge as a single or a few use case kind of apps. A few use cases that hang together for users, and that the company offering it or the app offering it is really, really competent in. But if such individual competent answers don’t emerge, and they tend to emerge from the same house of or a single mother app, then it’s likely that will emerge as a super app, which I don’t think seems to be how India is playing out.

Amit Somani 15:42

Very interesting Mohit. You’ve done a lot of digital businesses and some quote unquote, phydigital ones, if I can say that, but Zomato delivery or Zomato orders is as intensely operational as they come. So can you talk to us a little bit about both your learnings as well as some of the lessons for building an intensely operational business successfully, whether it’s business, technology, whatever, even your own personal adaptation to this challenge that you’ve taken on?

Mohit Gupta 16:12

Sure. So I think I went through a full cycle on this through my own experiences. Of course, you start off by saying that your domain expertise is most important. You have people out there who’ve already done something like this exactly like this, or similar to this. Let’s just acquire that domain expertise in that experience, and build it out with that. But I think that’s oversimplification.

And I’m not seeing that to be very successful. I think, fundamentally, what these young businesses are doing is really adapting a better version of the physical reality that exists right now. And therefore, to my mind, strong first principle thinking and process orientation tends to be the most important thing. So it’s not necessarily domain expertise. It’s good to seed some amount of domain expertise into the team so that you’re not reinventing the wheel and wasting energy and resources on that. But by and large, most of the critical portions of the team, its leadership specially, needs a strong first principle thinking process orientation. And you should be good with people, with teams with large people. So that’s what I’ve seen to be working.

Amit Somani 17:16

About the role of technology Mohit. So one is a process, which is just, six sigma process, operation research, those types of things which we probably studied or did not study in our earlier days. But how important the role does technology play in this?

Mohit Gupta 17:30

Yeah, so I’m glad you pointed that out because I think it’s very, very critical that the team has a strong desire to use technology better. It’s not necessarily an anti people view. It’s just the desire to create a more efficient system. What I’ve seen is that if you’re on either extremes, if you’re either on one hand, saying, look, this is the only way that this can be solved by throwing thousands of people at this problem. This is how the offline world does it. And that’s how we’re going to solve it. It doesn’t move you forward and doesn’t create a better answer.

Similarly, if you just take a pure product and tech view and say everything that machines are going to do, and they will do that in v1 or v2 itself, that’s also likely to fail because it takes time to really build efficient tech systems that are able to aid in the process creating a better answer. So I think it’s a part where you have a strong desire to create a better answer, and you’re keen to use technology to get there, that sort of is the best balance.

Amit Somani 18:27

So I’m going to throw a little googly at you because I know you also do a little bit of angel investments and so forth. And certainly when I think about Prime Ventures, we tend to shy away from operationally intensive businesses because we don’t understand them. We don’t understand how to evaluate them perhaps. And sometimes we don’t know what competency to look for in the entrepreneur.

So let’s say I’m an entrepreneur pitching you an operationally intensive business. What are the two three things that you would look for before you decide to let’s even say just angel invest for now.

Mohit Gupta 18:55

So I think first off, I would say that the core principles of judging an entrepreneur, whether for a digital or physical business for me will remain the same. It has to be that deep desire to create a better answer, a belief that it exists out there. I would look for whether the entrepreneur has actually invested a lot of time and energy in understanding the space really well and has the early green shoots of a better answer to that area or not.

Fundamentally in a physical business, I would look for a better appreciation of large teams and how to work with large teams of people. Because even if an entrepreneur is not going to be personally leading a team of hundreds or thousands or even 1500 people, it takes a certain amount of empathy and understanding how that works to be able to build that company in that ecosystem. And that those are some of the things that I would look for

Amit Somani 19:49

Fascinating and any kind of other attributes like you said, domain expertise is also important when you are kind of two guys/girls starting out with a dog in a garage kind of thing. And you have no domain expertise. In fact, when I think about perhaps Mohit of the acquisition that you guys did for Runner, perhaps he had no delivery experience, I remember meeting him very early on in his journey, like, how do you figure out that they figure it out? Is that just what you said earlier, first principles thinking, passion for the problem, being open minded? We have this notion of founder market fit thing that this person is inherently like one attribute to founder which is people. Is there anything else?

Mohit Gupta 20:27

That’s a very interesting concept founder market fit. I would say the second point that I mentioned, which is that I expect a founder to have invested enough time to at least eke out some meaningful insights or solutions about that domain that even domain experts are not seeing on the surface right now. That’s super important. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a complete solution. It can have holes in it but there have to be these early powerful insights, that they’ve invested themselves into mining out which tell you that this person has the ability to do it.

Amit Somani 21:03

Awesome. One last question before we get to kind of wrap up here and talk a little bit about your past experiences as well. Functionally, you’ve done various things, you’ve run a business, you are now the CEO, you’ve been the head of marketing. I don’t fully remember what all you did at Pepsi, but I’m sure it’s a mix of all of those things. So how have you kind of made these transitions and where does marketing sit for Mohit today because I know you’re very passionate about that. Does that play a role? Or do you have somebody that does it and you sort of more being a mentor and perhaps a coach?

Mohit Gupta 21:31

I’m definitely a mentor and coach. I’m definitely not a mainstream marketer now. I think you asked two questions let me answer both of them. So I think for me, the reason why I think I’ve done moderately well at making these transitions is because I’m fundamentally a very curious person. And what has fascinated me from the beginning is end goals and outcomes and I realised early enough in my career that usually end goals and outcomes are a result of a combination of many things, almost never a single thing. So you can actually be a great marketer and solve one part of the problem. But if you are going to deliver great outcomes, change the destiny for business, solve meaningful problems for users, it usually takes more than just one functional area to do it or one stream to do it.

And that combined with the curiosity to learn more and to understand better, I think it’s been a significant part of what allowed me to transition from one to the other and stand up multiple areas better. The second question was, in terms of marketing, where do I stand, I think I realised at some point in my career, that I wasn’t going to be a better marketer than a certain level, and I think MakeMyTrip deserved a better marketer. And I remember having this conversation with Deep and Rajesh, while they wanted me to recruit a marketer under me, I insisted that we recruit a CMO separately and one who could sort of take the company forward much ahead of where I could take the company and to my mind and with Saujanya coming into the company, that decision turned out to be a wonderful one for the company and for me.

And it was a great learning for me as well, it’s good to be able to see your own glass ceilings on these things, and then step back and try to play a more holistic anchoring role rather than a domain role in an area.

Amit Somani 23:23

I would be very remiss and not talking about your curiosity, I’ll just mention a very small incident. I remember you constantly asking me how to become a coder and to write code, back like 7,8,9 years ago, and I was like, dude, like, really, that’s what you want to do? You were like, no, on the weekend, I’m going to sit and code. So can you tell me where do I get started?

So anyway, so as we wrap up here Mohit, like I said, at the beginning of the podcast, you had multiple kind of reincarnations in your career. And there a lot of folks like even I had come from Google into MakeMyTrip and so forth, who basically weren’t entrepreneurs in the classic sense. Perhaps who are intrapreneurs, Perhaps aspirationally joining younger companies, etc. Can you take our readers and listeners through this journey?

So if you’re somebody sitting in a large company doing well, and you have this dream of either starting up or joining a startup, how should they think about it? How did you think about it? How have you made these transitions? That would be very useful.

Mohit Gupta 24:19

So, my drivers initially were the usual ones. But I think what I’d like to share with everyone is possibly wisdom in hindsight. So I think what matters the most is your own motivations, deep introspection into your own motives is very, very important. And you need to be brutally honest with yourself. You need to ask yourself, why do you want to start up on your own or join a startup? Really ask yourself that and test it with how bad do you really want it? What are you really willing to give up for it? Compensation, risks that come with it, perks, status, all of those things that you’re putting at risk.

I have seen far too many people actually want to join startups just because it’s a cool thing to do, it’s the next thing to do. You hear stories about a few exits, and so on and so forth. And at the very least, it can be a nice plug into your CV. And I don’t think those kind of motivations really set you up well for success. So I think people get to the right point, I think joining an early stage, mid stage startup and then getting through the journey, because these journeys tend to be long, five, seven, ten years is almost like starting up.

So if you do it, you got to make many pivots personally, as an individual, as a professional, if you’re going to succeed, mid to long term in this area. So motivations are really, really important.

Amit Somani 25:38

And one last question Mohit. Let me flip the role. Let’s say you were hiring somebody from a larger company, or you were a young early stage entrepreneur hiring somebody senior, like you or me into their company, what would you look for? Is it just the inverse of what you said? Or are there some traits that you would look for to make sure that this person who’s coming will survive and in fact thrive?

Mohit Gupta 25:57

I think three things and very different weightages now, compared to what they were in sort of five years ago for even me. I think domain expertise, maybe 10-15% because that matters especially when you’re hiring senior people, that means you’re in growth stage and that matters to the business.

Competence about 40% I would say. And when I say competence, I mean it differently from domain expertise and experience. It’s just core fundamental competence that an individual has. And I think the largest component, which is about 50% is culture fit and chemistry because at senior levels, almost always hiring a person into a family or hiring a co-founder into the business. So I think there’s nothing that is more important than culture fit into company and chemistry with other top leaders in the company who they are gonna work with

Amit Somani 26:44

Wonderful Mohit. Lots and lots of interesting insights for our listeners to take away. So thanks again Mohit for taking the time to be on the Prime Venture Partners podcast. It was great to have you.

Mohit Gupta 26:54

Thank you for having me, Amit. Thank you so much.

Enjoyed the podcast? Please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and subscribe wherever you are listening to this.

Follow Prime Venture Partners:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Primevp_in

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/primevp/

Let us know what you
think about this episode

If you believe you are building the next big thing, let’s make it happen.