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Cloud reduces turnaround time essential for dynamic business like ours: Zomato CTO

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As the quick-commerce growth story takes shape in India, Zomato, which just acquired Blinkit for about $568 million, feels that quick commerce is a natural extension of its food delivery business. India’s quick commerce market is all set to witness 15 times growth by 2025, reaching a market size of nearly $5.5 billion, according to reports. The total addressable market for quick commerce in India stands at $45 billion, and urban areas are driving this market on the back of mid-high-income households.

Gunjan Patidar, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Zomato, told IANS that when it comes to online ordering, faster turnaround time leads to a better customer experience and improves customer retention and here, a flexible and scalable Cloud reduces the overall turnaround time, which is essential for a dynamic business like theirs.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

There has been a mixed reaction to Zomato’s newly announced 10-minute delivery model. What is the strategic thinking behind this? Also, tell us more about the underlying technology that will make this possible

We have witnessed that a faster turnaround time leads to a better customer experience and improves customer retention. It’s simple, you order food when you’re hungry, so it makes much more sense to get it as quickly as possible.  The underlying technology that enables us to deliver within 10-minutes is more or less what we already do in online ordering. The real game-changer is the process at the back.

Time optimisation happens at our finishing stations through both technology and operational speed. Please note that no time optimisation occurs on the road, and the delivery partners aren’t informed of whether it is a 10-minute or 30-minute delivery. Further, no incentive is provided for timely deliveries, and neither are the delivery partners penalised for late deliveries.

The recent ‘pure tech’ IPOs have failed to impress public market investors. Even globally, high growth US tech stocks are stumbling (e.g. DoorDash). What are the secular tailwinds, key upcoming business initiatives etc. which should keep us upbeat about Zomato’s growth prospects?

As an organisation, we focus more on long-term initiatives than worrying about what’s the current sentiment. Even during the most critical of times, more than half of our engineers are working on projects that will change the course of Zomato in upcoming years.

Coming to the current situation, we feel it’s more like a global phenomenon rather than something particular to Zomato or other tech companies. It’s a market sentiment and part of a regular business cycle. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last. Every time this happens, the market takes some time to correct itself, and things eventually fall back in place. Our long-term initiatives are customer-centric, wherein we are currently focusing on Hyperpure growth, and deeper penetration in the cities we already operate in, to name some.

How are you managing to attract and retain top talent?
While hiring and retaining the best engineers is still challenging, Zomato has always found the right pool. One of the reasons why we’re able to do this is because we focus more on vision than skills. While skills are essential, what distinguishes great engineers from the good is how aligned they are with the organisation’s vision. And it’s something that we gauge when we are hiring for our engineering and product teams.

Our idea is to get onboard the candidates who feel connected with Zomato’s mission and vision. These people are excited to change the food industry for the better, want to play a pivotal role in where we are heading, and are keen to build something that will make people’s lives easier and better.

We also highly emphasise on-the–job learning wherein they can always learn new skills that not only help in doing the current job better but also prepare them for the future. While these things help get the right kinds of people, the culture makes people stay. Getting to work on various projects at once (be it dining or food delivery or Hyperpure) or working in an open environment empowers people in many ways. For Zomans, it’s more about qualitative growth than quantitative one.

How are you using AI/ML, data analytics etc. to serve the customer better?
Food delivery is a high-frequency business wherein we are constantly working with multi-layered problems, for example, predicting food preparation time or estimated time of arrival. Another is balancing the demand and supply of delivery partners, especially during monsoons or festivals. Since the supply of delivery partners can be unpredictable, it becomes one of the crucial problems for our data science team.

Besides these, we use machine learning to personalise our customer experiences to improve their overall experience. For example, predicting what customers may like based on their order history or which restaurants we should recommend on the homepage or how items can be prioritised on the search page is done via data science teams.

Tell us about your journey on the cloud? What has cloud technology allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before?
We have been using cloud technology for a long time. We started this in 2014 when we first hosted our data on Amazon Web Services (AWS). It reduces the overall turnaround time, which is essential for a dynamic business like ours.

For instance, traffic may be very different at one hour of the day from the other or during special occasions like New Year’s Eve or monsoon. All these patterns are significantly different from each other, and having a cloud enables us to be flexible and optimize basis the need. It also helps in saving a tremendous cost as we don’t have to use the peak capacity every time. We can reduce it during nighttime when there are fewer orders and scale up when the demand is high.

What are the qualities that make you stay ahead of the curve as a CTO?
One of the founding principles is to stay connected to the technical landscape — say what the different kinds of tools and technologies teams use across departments.

Then, one is being aware of the pain points and arranging or offering solutions to the team faster. One should also stay ahead of the current ecosystem. One should be mindful of conversations in the market, how work cultures are evolving, what tools are being used that enhance efficiency, and what new tech innovations are happening across the globe.

You also must be on top of the organisation’s pulse at any time – what different teams are working upon, the kind of developments they have made in the last few months and the upcoming projects. We keep doing regular catch-ups or organising group events like team lunches, showcases, and off-sites to build better team morale, management and coordination.

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