[Interview] Ankit Mehrotra, CEO of Restaurant Reservation Startup Dineout and The Pitch 3.0 Finalist

[Interview] Ankit Mehrotra, CEO of Restaurant Reservation Startup Dineout and The Pitch 3.0 Finalist

[UPDATE] : Dineout has been acquired by TimesCity, as per the company’s latest blog post. See the full coverage here.

Dineout is an online table reservation website which enables the customer to book a table, online and through the phone, at restaurants. It also provides them exclusive discounts for usage of the service, which their users can avail at the restaurant.

Dineout went live in February last year, and currently caters to Delhi/NCR and Mumbai regions. The startup claims to have “partnered with over 450+ of the top restaurants from the 2 cities and is seating approximately 18,000 diners a month at their partner restaurants, adding up to a total of 1.75 lakhs diners seated since launch”. They have plans to launch in Bangalore as well.

This startup has been growing consistently since it’s funding of 60 Lakhs earlier last year from the founders of Travel Boutique online – Ankush Nijhawan and Gaurav Bhatnagar, a B2B online travel agency, as reported by TechCircle.

Four friends, Ankit Mehrotra CFA, Sahil Jain, Nikhil Bakshi & Vivek Kapoor from the prestigious Modern School in New Delhi, who have known each other for more than 20 years, founded the company. After pursuing individual careers in the fields of Investment Banking, Analytics, Fund Management & Merchant Navy, they got together to bring forth their passion for business & food and started Dineout Services Pvt Ltd, which runs the Dineout.

dineout logo

We got in touch with Ankit Mehrotra for a quick chat about Dineout and his experience at Bloomberg TV’s reality show, The Pitch, where he was one of the top 2 finalists.

Inc42: You had worked for 7 years in the field of Investment Banking & Wealth Management with BNP Paribas in London. What urged you to quit your job and take up Entrepreneurship?

Being an Investment Banker is not easy. Specially during the credit crunch, which was the hardest financial crisis the world had seen in a long time. And to work in that environment, in one of the financial capitals of the world, London, was even more difficult. Basically, I was putting in more than 12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, for more than 2 years.

And then one fine evening, after a gruelling day, I just realised that I did not want to do this anymore. I figured if I had to put in so many hours at work, I might as well do something for myself.

Ironically, the day I decided to move back to India, was the day I got my Permanent Residency and co-incidentally, got the news that I had cleared my CFA level 3 results.

So when the stage looked set to advance professionally in my career, I decided I had enough and against the advice of well wishers and my family, packed my bags and moved back.

And this I believe was one of the best decisions I made in my life. My advise to anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur, “The time to do it is now.”

Inc42: How has the journey at Dineout been so far? You must have had your fair share of downs and ups. Tell us about what you’ve learned from these experiences. 

The 2 years I have been running Dineout, in terms of experience, has been more valuable than my previous 7 years or work experience.

No words or feeling can describe the journey I have had so far. Starting up from scratch has provided us such immense learning which would have been impossible to gain doing anything else.

Like any startup, we have had our share of ups & downs. The initial high of launching the concept, the feeling of disappointment when restaurants initially refused to sign with us, the sheer excitement of signing up our 100th restaurant or seating our 100,000th diner or launching a new city, the low of being refused funding by a lot of people during our initial months to the high of getting our 1st investors, all have been memorable experiences and have taught us a lot.

Related: In Conversation with the Winner Of Bloomberg India’s ‘The Pitch 3.0′, A Reality Show for Entrepreneurs

However, the 3 most important things that I have learnt from our journey so far with dineout have been;

  1. Believe in your idea and what you are doing. What I mean by that is once you have done your research and believe that what you are trying to do actually serves a need, you need to put your head down and work towards your goal.
  2. Perseverance: This is the most important lesson I have learnt. When the chips are down and you are faced with numerous obstacles, you have to be mentally strong just keep doing what you are doing. A lot of people will say a lot of things along the way, but it is very important to follow your own path.
  3. The key to a successful venture is to have the right team. It is not only great to have a good idea, what is required is also to have a great team with you. In our case, I was joined by 3 more friends from school. We have known each other for more than 20 years. And this provided us comfort in working with each other.

Inc42: Do you think an MBA or some corporate world exposure is a necessary tool for entrepreneurs before starting out on their own?

I myself have not done my MBA, even though my Co-founder, Sahil Jain is an MBA from IIM-K. I personally believe that an MBA is not required. However, what is necessary is to have a few years of corporate experience, because it teaches you a lot, and specifically, it teaches you how to deal with people. How to manage expectations of your employees is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from my work experience.

Inc42: How does it feel to have been a finalist of ‘The Pitch 3.0’? How do you plan to use the mentorship & the publicity to your advantage?

The Pitch has been an absolutely fabulous experience. Competing along with some of the brightest minds from India and getting mentorship and guidance from some of the best VC’s and mentors has been great. And to have made it to the final 25, then to the final 10 and finally to the top 2 has been a very enriching experience. Along the way, I learnt some valuable lessons, got some good advice on how just by doing something a bit differently makes a huge difference. And along the way, over the 13 weeks, the publicity has been huge. Specially for a B2C brand like dineout, we could not have hoped for a better campaign. From here on, our journey will be to capitalise on the exposure that we have got, take the comments of the judges on board and build from there.

Infact, taking on board the comments and learining from episode 11 – The Social Media campaign, we successfully piloted the launch of The Each One Feed One campaign, where we tied up with the best restaurants in Hauz Khas Village and got their customers to contribute Rs 20 per bill to charity. The campaign was a huge success and we will be launching the second phase very shortly.

Inc42: How was your experience at the show, The Pitch, overall? Any negatives or improvements you’d like to see in the show?

The overall experience was absolutely brilliant. It was high time India produced such a high quality show. The show has improved tremendously from the last 2 seasons. With this being a more hands on king of an experience testing us on different skills, it really made the whole journey a very enriching experience. This was the equivalent of The Apprentice for entrepreneurs. And for entrepreneurs, this is the best format to spend some quality time with the some of the best VC’s & Mentors in India and to get a lot of valuable feedback from them, not just about your venture, but also about their journeys and their learning. Plus, it also puts you out there in front of the other Investors, which is a huge advantage.

In terms of improvements, since this was the first year the new format was being tested, there were a lot of grey areas in terms of the task itself and the judgement criteria’s. However, having said that, I definitely believe that the Season 4 will be much better.

Inc42: A few words on how each of the mentors guided/helped you in and after the show? Your views on each of them? Any particular learning lessons from them? (Mahesh Murthy, Vishal Gondal, Neeraj Roy, Alok Kejriwal)

All the judges were great. They were tough, but also fair in what they expect from an entrepreneur who they are looking to fund. And all them provided very valuable feedback. My take away, as an entrepreneur, from each one them probably would be ;

Mahesh: Don’t spread yourself thin geographically. Become the king of one rather than the jack of all.

Vishal: Focus is the key. Carpet bombing does not work. Do one thing only, but do it properly.

Neeraj: Think like a customer. Give the customers what they want rather than what you think they want. Also, the pricing has to be the key.

Alok: Only once you are able to convince yourself completely, will you be able to convince anyone else.

Inc42: What is your favorite book and/or movie?

I love reading and watching movies. I on average read 1 book every 2 weeks ranging from fiction to biographies. One of the most interesting books I have read recently is The Holy Blood, the Holy Grail. Another book which I draw a lot of inspiration from is  Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. It is a soul changing book.

I also enjoy watching movies. I love Gladiator and The Illusionist & The Prestige.

Inc42: Which inspiring personality past/present would you like to have a dinner conversation with? Why?

There are a quite a few people I admire. However, at the top of the list has to be Richard Branson. He is a legend. Starting at a young age of 16, he has built his empire all by himself from scratch. I would love to pick his brains as to what his road to success has been like.

Inc42: What are your future plans for DineOut? Long term vision?

The journey for dineout has just begun. We have a long way to go. Our immediate goal is to expand to other cities, introduce new product lines and completely redefine the whole dining out experience. We are also in the process of raising investment and will look to close something shortly. We want to build dineout into a global brand and see no reason why we should not be able to do that.

Inc42: Any message or advice that you’d like to send out to budding and peer entrepreneurs?

The best advise that I can give will probably be;

  • Passion & belief in self and the team.
  • Always have to lead by example and have a never say never attitude.
  • Willingness to learn & humility. However successful you become, there is still a long way to go.
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[Interview] Ankit Mehrotra, CEO of Restaurant Reservation Startup Dineout and The Pitch 3.0 Finalist-Inc42 Media
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