It was probably sometime in 2013-2014, that I started using Zomato, a lot more than people around me would have liked. The criteria to go to a restaurant was now driven by a single data point: the rating of the given restaurant on Zomato.
In practice, this meant that I wouldn’t step in a restaurant that rated less than 4. So my love for Zomato was evident to anyone who knew me or spoke to me for 30 minutes.
Cut to 10th May, 2017 – I walk in to the Zomato office on the 22nd floor, in One Horizon Center in Gurgaon. I was joining the Delta Team at Zomato and it was the kind of a role where the name itself was the hook. Delta team. This team was supposed to be the delta – in groundbreaking ideas, new revenue streams, and anything and everything that could disrupt Zomato from within Zomato. In my head, this was it. I was going to work in a super exciting role for a brand that I resonated so well with. Except, on my first day, I was told that the team that I was hired for no longer existed!
This was probably my first taste of Zomato. My first lesson on life at Zomato. And probably, a great first litmus test for anyone who thinks about working for Zomato. This is not a place for people who like to know what exactly to expect every day of your life. Things change here – in some ways, it is still like an early stage startup – despite operating at the scale that it does.
Over time, I have only become more comfortable with change. Change pushes you out of your comfort zone. Change eliminates baggage. Change brings in fresh perspectives. Change is the necessary ingredient for reinvention.
Everyone who thrives at Zomato, is very comfortable with not only the notion of change, but also the pace of change. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. We are all wired differently.
Cut to now – It’s been two years for me at Zomato. And we are a different organisation than what we were back then – only for the better. And during this time, I have been able to work in at least four different teams, across several projects, dealing with fundraising, new product launches, evaluation of selected companies for acquisition and/or partnerships, product features, recruitment, cost planning and optimization, driver engagement and benefit programs, restaurant performance improvement and retention, customer loyalty and NPS, user research for new and existing products, org restructures etc… and I am sure I am missing a few things here.
And in this time period, having been given the opportunity to work on so many different aspects, I ended up winning an award, earning a few mentors and friends and more importantly, accumulating some lifelong learnings. I want to share some of these learnings with you today.
Caveat: Sharing my learnings wasn’t a spontaneous thought. Probably because I am not too much of a writer and I think I suck at writing. Deepi was the one who encouraged me to share my experience with everyone. I wasn’t very comfortable at first. And that was the reason he said I must. Some people love him for doing this, others hate him. Again, we are all wired differently.
And this again, is a very Zomato thing – you are expected to do things that make you uncomfortable. You are pushed into the deep end and asked to find your way out. You might hate it first – but if and when you do find your way, you feel that you are capable of much more. And that feeling is the best feeling in the world. It grows your self-confidence like nothing else can.
My other big learning is that mistakes are okay. As long as they are well-intended.
This is also one of the quotes on our office wall.
And it takes a minute to understand it. Maybe two. But it is extremely reflective of the culture at Zomato.
Some context – before working with Zomato, I had worked in a consulting firm. Zero defect was one of our core guidelines – that’s how we operated there. I was trained to think that way. There was negligible tolerance for mistakes – and understandably so. However, things don’t always work out the way you want them to. People fail, products fail, strategies fail, teams fail and even leaders fail. It is up to the organization to create a culture that either embraces or rejects mistakes and failures.
On the contrary, Zomato is a place where everyone is encouraged to take risks. And sometimes these risks don’t create the most desirable outcomes. And at these times, Zomato doesn’t hold out a stick to tell you that you were wrong. It allows you to heal your own way, till you recover and contribute with more rigour to the organisation, enriched with your learnings.
My other big learning – Your background (age, gender, qualification) does not decide how well you do here. You do.
Zomato has leaders who are in their early twenties. Deepi has a team that comprises of more females than males. Some of the product managers are not even engineers, let alone study from IIT. The most important product person in the team (according to me) is a 25-year-old-girl – who has no background in product/engineering.
There is no other organization that bleeds meritocracy and ownership the way Zomato does. If you want to do more, and you want to contribute to the organisation, there is no way it cannot happen. Unless you don’t want to.
There is absolutely no glass ceiling. I don’t think there is any kind of ceiling. In fact, there is a room in Zomato that defines the limit for everyone who works at Zomato. It is called sky 🙂
Another learning – pixels and pictures
The reality is that organisations like Zomato are not what they are because they just had a great idea. They are what they are because they did a bloody good job executing it. Everyday. Every hour of the day. And every minute of the hour. A marketing copy with a spelling error, might seem trivial to you and me, but it makes our user question the credibility of the brand, and hence matters to us. Every copy gone wrong, every order delayed, every bad customer support experience. Everything matters. These are the pixels that have the potential to spoil the picture.
Speed and quality are not two opposite ends of the spectrum
Have worked on products that were conceptualised and hit the ground in less than a few weeks. And they worked, despite the unimaginable speed at which they were launched.
Things do take time. But in an environment, where things are changing constantly, sometimes time is a luxury. If you have it, great. Other times, you just run faster.
Case in point – Public companies usually take a month or two to publish their annual reports. We published ours (unaudited) within five days of closing of the financial year – and I have read feedback online on how it was one of the most innovative and easily understood annual reports ever. A well-respected investor emailed us saying we are setting the bar very high – even for public companies. More importantly, we didn’t have to publish the annual report. As an organisation, we see enough examples of hitting the bull’s eye on both speed and quality simultaneously on a regular basis. You don’t have to compromise one to get the other.
Attaching yourself to effort is natural, but wasteful.
I have worked on projects that never saw the light of the day, because the context eventually changed or they were no longer relevant. If you put in a lot of effort and time into something, it is natural to feel disappointed when it does not materialise. But detaching oneself from effort and attaching yourself to result is one of my most critical takeaways from Zomato.
The sunk cost fallacy (making decisions on the basis of past investments) is one of the most real challenges to deal with. Just because someone put two months into something, doesn’t mean that it is the right thing for the business to continue doing. I still sometimes find it hard to practice this in reality and find others around me struggling as well. But the faster you learn this, the easier it becomes to take the right decisions, which are for the long-term good of the organization.
An observation – when you ask most folks who have been with Zomato for a year or longer about their experience, a common response is that it doesn’t feel like just one or two years. Somehow, it feels that we have been with Zomato much longer, almost forever.
Which brings me to another important learning: time spent in an organisation is the wrong data point to evaluate your ownership, learnings or value to an organisation. It’s a proxy. Half a decent proxy.
At organizations driven by culture, only a couple of years can give you learnings worth a lifetime.