Saucy & SaaSy: Meet the Pied Piper of eateries

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A little bit of pivots, a few co-investing competitors and an intense spiced up beverages and food players… UrbanPiper has performed well up to this point. But is the restaurant management platform grow?

It was “shock and awe’. It was the first rule of thumb of the food industry which Saurabh Gupta took in the last year. It was the summer of peak in 2021. After earning his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of South California and working in the US for nearly 10 years, Gupta co-founded UrbanPiper with Anirban Majumdar and Manav Gupta in the year 2015. UrbanPiper began as a popular social and reliable tool to help restaurateurs understand customer behavior, increase retention and grow sales. By 2021, it morphed into a full-stack restaurant management software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, counted Kumar Vembu founder and CEO of GoFrugal, Axilor Ventures, Sequoia India and Tiger Global among its backers, and was getting ready to add new players to its cap table.

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After months of preparation, Gupta was set to sign the deal as the world’s biggest deal in 2021. Just a few days prior to signing, however there was a’shock’. The German takeaway delivery company Delivery Hero was looking to be an important strategic partner. This meant taking a stake the company UrbanPiper with the goal of buy the business at an earlier stage. Gupta and investors who were already in the company weren’t prepared. “We were still left with a lot of juice to go around,” recalls Gupta. He refused to accept the money and UrbanPiper’s fundraising sprint came to a halt stop just before the finish line. This was the first lesson to remember: don’t keep track of your chickens prior to when they develop.Overflowing with beans Gupta swiftly cooked a new plan. This time , destiny did its part by giving a little luck. Zomato’s massive IPO in July of last year provided Gupta some ideas to consider. He had a connection with the shrewd food entrepreneur Deepinder Goyal and called to felicitate him. After exchanging greetings, Gupta got into the act. “We are planning to raise the next round. Would you want to make an investment?” he asked, willing to take a chance. Surprised, Goyal was game. He was enthused, Gupta now added another element in the discussion. “Would you be willing to let me bring Swiggy to join me?” he grinned.

Goyal again didn’t disappoint. He was aware of Gupta’s problem. UrbanPiper was an open platform and having both food aggregators at the table could harm the prospects of the company that has accelerated the process of integrating restaurant services to Zomato along with Swiggy. Goyal however, was skeptical about the plan’s ambitiousness. “Go forward but I’m not sure what you’d do to implement the plan,” Goyal said. The clear consent of Swiggy’s opponent sparked Gupta’s interest. “I was aware of Sriharsha Majety and I was confident that I could bring the both rivals,” he reasoned.

This is the second lesson If you didn’t understand the first lesson, take it over. “Dude is that what they talking regarding?” quipped Swiggy’s co-founder who took a few minutes to get used to the concept of investing with Zomato. After about a month, when the funding food was ready to be served, Gupta learnt his third point: the garnishing must been designed to please everyone’s eyes. In the business world the meaning was straightforward. Gupta had to balance the needs of the competing and varied types of financial partners in a fair way. One of the food aggregaters, Gupta refuses to divulge the nameof the company, but wants to have a larger share of the pie from UrbanPiper. This was not appealing to other people around the table. The stew boiled on and Zomato and Swiggy gained 5 percent each. The Series B financing of $24 million ended in April of this year.

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And, in 2003, Gupta learnt his first life lesson. “A education from a reputable college can be beneficial,” rues the entrepreneur who graduated with an electrical engineering degree at a tinny institution located in Maharashtra. “I could not get into IIT or any of the top engineering institutes,” he recounts. Following four years of university was a bitter realization. There weren’t any employers interested in the engineering student. “I even tried applying to BPOs but was rejected,” he rues. The recruiters ridiculed Gupta’s weak speaking abilities in English. Dismayed, the young engineer decided to pursue higher education, passed entrance exams in competitive competition and earned his master’s degree at the University of South California.

The strategy proved successful. Over the next several months, Gupta found himself in the fast lane. He had a easy life, a large home, two cars and a large pay check. The year 2012 was the time that Gupta got a smackdown from the wrong destiny. He returned to India to care for his father’s ill health and then took a sabbatical of about a year before he returned to re-start his life. It was much easier to say than do. He returned to India and founded InfraEyes the medical device startup that was based in Bengaluru. The business didn’t go well and the hard-working founder went on to try his luck in the food industry as well as co-founder of UrbanPiper. The basic idea was to develop a social platform to help businesses go viral.

There was a problem however. The B2C venture was not a success. The parties that were interested, Gupta recounts, wanted to have a white-label solution. For UrbanPiper this meant that the product and services provided were not branded by the company. “We moved to B2B and saw an immediate increase,” he says, noting that the venture ended the first fiscal year with an operating profit of around 30 lakh rupees. The following year, the figure increased towards Rs.50 lakh. Then came the speed-breaker. Gupta and his team members realized that there were several companies working who were trying to create an online, social and dependable service for restaurants, but were unable to scale their venture. UrbanPiper was also stuck.

Then, fast forward to 2022. UrbanPiper has achieved an impressive scale. It handles 15 million orders each month, which amounts roughly $800 million in worth of value per year. The platform is available at more than 30 restaurants in eight countries. Gupta states that his business is responsible for more than 20 percent of all food online orders made each monthly in India. The company’s revenue and funding has been steady. The Bengaluru-based restaurant management platform has collected $31.5 millions from a group of marquee backing companies like Axilor Ventures Sequoia India and Tiger Global Operating revenue has grown by more than three times, from 4.34 million in FY21, and jumped to Rs 15 crore by FY22. Losses have also decreased over the same time, according to Gupta who refuses to reveal the unaudited figures on what is left of the profits. “We are currently achieving the revenue run-rate of 40 million,” claims Gupta.

The investors are thrilled with the company’s growth. While the industry of restaurants has grown rapidly in response to changing demands of consumers over the past several years, disruptions caused by pandemics have led food retailers to be more than willing to equip themselves with the latest technology, implement digital channels, and improve their business. “UrbanPiper is in the leading edge of this revolution and is strategically placed to create a network that connects the digital world to retailers in the F&B industry,” says Shraeyansh Thakur the chief executive officer of Sequoia India.

Industry experts unravel the secret of UrbanPiper. Food delivery has seen a surge because of online food aggregators created the backend foodtech company an essential device to F&B players. “It is becoming very useful in the role of an integrated tool” says KS Narayanan an expert in food and beverages. The company has the points of sale (PoS) device, a customer relations management (CRM) tool, and inventory management systems that have eliminated the biggest headaches for any type of restaurant according to him. While the company has seen slow growth in the last two years it’s now in a good position to take advantage of the opportunity that food delivery business offers. “They cannot expand beyond the present,” he says.

Gupta For his part, Gupta plans to expand quickly. “We are creating an international SaaS foodtech company out of India,” he says and adds that UrbanPiper operates in eight countries, and plans to further expand the business. However, does the drive to expand rapidly will be at the expense of sustainability? Gupta insists that he has learned his lessons. “Quality of income is far more crucial than the quantity in revenue” Mr. Gupta states. What is also important according to him is the type of customer the company wants to serve rather than taking an unplanned approach. “Slow is betterand wise spending is the goal of the game.” He reveals his greatest experience.

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