There’s no doubt that digital is the future. With the pandemic accelerating adoption of digital tools even among small businesses, there’s a feeling that the world over tech companies have turned a page and outpaced growth expectations, thanks to the lockdown last year and the crippling hit on the economy from the pandemic. Even hurdles like lack of digital or tech proficiency are being erased because small retailers and restaurant owners know the reality, believes DotPe’s cofounder Gyanesh Sharma.
Sharma, who leads the technology team at DOT (Dotpe), feels this is the moment to capitalise. But that doesn’t mean the market is available on a platter. For DotPe, the pandemic changed everything because just as the company formally launched Dotpe in many restaurants, the lockdown was announced.
Faced with an uncertain future, the company had to revisit its roadmap and look beyond the restaurant industry since no one knew when restaurants would reopen. “We decided to use this time to strengthen our technology and the product roadmap. We started to build for more use-cases. At that time we just built for the QSR (quick-service restaurant) segment. During the lockdown, we also decided to build Digital Showroom as our second offering.” recalls Sharma.
The startup began making decisions on the fly to take that direction. It created two different tech teams to work on the products — DotPe, the flagship restaurant tech platform, which had multiple interfaces for the various parts of a restaurant and components, and Digital Showroom, which had the same barebones architecture as DotPe, but a single merchant-facing interface.
Founded by Shailaz Nag, Anurag Gupta, and Gyanesh Sharma, friends from their days at PayU, the basic idea behind DotPe is to bring convenience and quick ordering for consumers and enterprise-grade tech through a DIY platform for merchants — so any merchant should be able to create their own catalogue, post it on social media to attract more customers, interact with them and also accept payments online.
The reality for brick-and-mortar businesses has changed so drastically in the past year that ‘dukaan tech’ has become something of a mainstream term. But the clutch of retail tech startups targeting small businesses have had to fight off competition from all corners. The emergence of retail tech startups such as Growthpond’s Dukaan, Aarzoo, Kirana King, Shop Kirana, Peel-Works, Khatabook’s MyStore, DotPe, OkCredit, Bikayi, MSwipe, Magicpin, and many others has made it a crowded market.
While DotPe launched new products, the existing players added new features throughout the year to retain kirana merchants and small retailers after the lockdown was lifted in most parts of the country. Solutions range from cataloguing tools to digital presence creation to social media selling and storefront creation.
Inspired by a frustrating ordering experience at a cafe in Delhi, the three cofounders began working on the DotPe product roadmap in July 2019 and by Feb 2020, the startup had launched DotPe in three Haldiram’s restaurants. While this launch resulted in orders from other restaurants, the timing was bad. With the lockdown from March 2020, the startup had to revisit its plans.
Digital Showroom was created between May and August 2020 with the Gurugram market as a testbed, where DotPe partnered with over 1K grocery and vegetable sellers. Using the data collected, the product was strengthened, operational hurdles were solved and eventually, Digital Showroom was launched on September 15, 2020.
Sharma reiterated that the focus was on enterprise-grade technology and automating parts of the flow of transactions. Leveraging AI/ML, DotPe was able to allow merchants to automate tasks and trade functions without relying on third-party tools and applications. For both DotPe and DIgital Showroom, the tech team relied on high-frequency updates in the initial days to solve bugs with 15-20 releases in a week till date. This all boils down to the focus on a secure platform that can be scaled for a retail operation of any size.
“Since we are focussing on enterprise-grade technology, we have to be confident about what we are shipping. So while our rate of release has slowed down, we have improved the quality of our platform multifold because we are thinking twice about everything and how it impacts the data security and sanctity.”
Digital Scaling Powered By AWS
For startups, data security is a critical part. Leakage of merchant financial data can severely impact small businesses that may lose a lifetime of earnings to cyber attacks. In such a scenario, Sharma says he had to look for a partner that DotPe could rely on and one with experience of working with startups because even though the need was enterprise-grade technology, the vision is still disruptive and therefore needs flexibility.
“Right from day one, it has been AWS. That was even before launching our product. We got dedicated support from them from the early days and this helped us a lot when we scaled up because they knew our needs. More than anything they know that startups will need customised solutions and we don’t have to explain all that to their team.”
In less than two years, DotPe has grown into a major player in the restaurant tech ecosystem, with a presence in Impresario restaurants, McDonald’s, Haldiram’s, Starbucks, cafe chains such as Big Chill among other outlets.
The past year has also seen the DotPe team grow by leaps and bounds. For example, in late 2019, the tech team had just eight to nine employees, while now this has grown 5x, with a pod structure employed to manage development.
Digital Showroom gets a dedicated pod, whereas Dotpe platform is backed by three pods, with a fifth pod working on the microservices common to both platforms. In February 2020, when the company reached more than a million page views a day, it finally brought a DevOps person on board, and that’s only because it anticipated the scale it would have to reach. Sharma stated that the need depends on the scale of the company and is indicative of how much DotPe has grown in a short span of time.
While the focus, for now, is squarely on the Indian market, given the size and breadth of the market, Sharma says there has been interest from overseas markets. That is not surprising given the clientele, but DotPe’s emphasis is on strengthening the product, solving the problems for India’s small and tech-shy merchants through enterprise-grade tech.
This inward focus on being technologically sound also permeates into the culture of the company. Sharma uses the example of DotPe’s hiring policy, where the idea is to pick the right candidate by setting a very high bar. This ensures that the team is capable of executing the vision without being cajoled or handheld. And it also ensures that the competitive edge stays sharp.
“We believe in creating a product for our merchants, and if the merchants find that the product adds value to their business then they will not leave you. Then things like competition do not matter.”