Ritesh, the CEO and founder of JUST EAT, was one of those studious students from whom his friends in college would never have expected to choose the path of entrepreneurship. From a studious student to a successful entrepreneur, Ritesh’s journey has been an interesting one.
Founded in 2006, JUSTEAT.in is India’s first online food ordering portal. How JUST EAT was founded, survived, and became one of the leading business among its kind, below are the excerpts of our discussion with Ritesh:
1. During your college days (IIT Kharagpur, 1999-2003), what kind of student you were? Were you studious, or were more active in extracurricular activities? Was there any ‘entrepreneurial’ stint you did back in college?
Back in those days, I was a complete bookworm – very studious, always reading this, that or the other, with an almost negligible interest in anything else, be it sports or any extracurricular activities. Becoming an entrepreneur or starting a company of my own never crossed my mind; it just somehow happened while I was working in the later years.
2. How was the internship scenario during your college days? How difficult or easy was it to land an internship? Did you do an internship? If yes, where, and how was your experience? Any specific lesson that you learnt during your internship and it still proves valuable?
Being an IIT student invariably meant that there would never be any dearth of good internships on offer for students of the institute. We could pick and choose from the many options available. I belonged to the department of mechanical engineering and hence took up an internship with Tata Motors, at one of their truck plants. It was fascinating to watch how a random piece of iron was gradually worked upon and transformed into a vehicle in all its entirety. But frankly speaking, though it did belong to my core area of interest back then, I can’t say that it really proves helpful to me in what I am doing now. Manufacturing trucks and ordering food online are miles apart; nowhere do they meet!
3. Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur, or some fortuitous turn convinced you to start-up HungryZone?
JUST EAT (the erstwhile HungryZone) began, as you say, by a fortuitous turn of events. One fine evening, I felt hungry in office and turned to my computer to see if there were any restaurants online, and as luck would have it, I couldn’t find any. It was then that the idea of setting up an online food ordering portal cropped up and eventually took pride of place in my mind. And the foodie journey successfully continues to this day.
4. Before starting up, you worked at Ketera for ~ 3 years. How did the work experience help you in your entrepreneurial journey? And in your opinion, how important is it to get some work experience before starting up?
It isn’t absolutely imperative to have some work experience before you take the entrepreneurial plunge. But I do believe that working at Ketera has been of immense help, not only because I worked on Web technology but also because I learnt many valuable lessons in management from my peers and seniors. When I started JUST EAT (then known as HungryZone), the easiest challenge was to build the platform; so yes, the work experience did help in starting up the business. However, I had no experience in sales, marketing, and finance; and I learned things while trying to run the business.
5. Start-ups are mostly bootstrapped at nascent stage and most of them can’t afford to hire full time employees. Did you face the same situation; if yes, how did you manage it?
Yes, we were severely bootstrapped for years till we raised our first round of investment in 2008. The foundation of the company was laid on whatever money we could gather from our personal savings. The usual adage that raising funds are essential right from the very beginning of setting up a business is totally false. From my own personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that if you’re setting up a start-up, the best way to begin is by bootstrapping and getting your hands on money and resources from your own family and friends as far as possible. I worked full-time/part time to fund the initial few years of starting up. And once your idea starts showing some desired results and you plan to get bigger, go ahead and catch those investors. This way you’ll also have some concrete results to show that– yes, your business is really worth investing in.
6. Does JUST EAT run an internship programme? If yes, what is the philosophy behind it? Andif no,whynot? What skills/attributes do you look for in an intern? Have there been any projects where interns played a major role?
Yes, we run a very active internship programme. For example, the head of our technical team, Mr Ramjee Ganti, himself hand-picks interns for some exciting and innovative tech challenges. Our interns, in all departments, work on live projects, unlike many other firms who get bright students to work on projects which never see the light of the day.
To give you an example, interns from IIIT-B have played major roles in developing our mobile apps (can be found at www.justeat.in/mobile) for various platforms. The interns were actively involved in all phases of the project, right from consumer research to development to testing and re-testing.
7. From your seven year long journey, from HungryZone to JUST EAT, one message that you’d like to give to budding entrepreneurs?
My take on all budding entrepreneurs out there can be summed up perfectly by what Twitter co-founder Christopher Biz Stone once said: “Timing, perseverance and 10 years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”
However, the number of years may vary – it can be 2, it can be 20 – but if you’ve got the determination to make your idea work, trust me, it will.
8. What message you’d like to give to the student community in India?
College life rocks! Much as the world beyond may beckon you, much as the work sphere may seem exciting from a distance, it’s the days you’ve spent chilling and studying at college that you’ll remember all your lives (and not the many sleepless nights you spent trying to meet seemingly unreachable deadlines at work!). So for now, enjoy every second of your life as a student. This time is going to fly like you never thought it would.
At the same time, if you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never ever have it. Know what you wish to achieve and have the courage to go after it, all guns blazing. And if you still don’t have a dream to follow, be patient and you’ll know soon enough what you’re meant for. And then what? All guns blazing of course!
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