Clicktable is a venture of the 33-year-old, Varun Gupta, a computer engineer from Purdue University, USA and an MBA from Columbia University, New York. For the last 10 years, he has also been involved in his family business – Kent RO Systems Ltd, the largest water purifier brand in India. The idea clicked him when he was repeatedly denied a reservation because of unavailability at an award-winning restaurant in South Delhi. Realising that table availability should be more transparent with prospective diners and finding that nothing like such existed in the Indian market, he decided to do it himself. Read this exclusive interview with Team SoS.
SoS: Share with us your business idea.
Varun: Clicktable is a mobile app cum website that allows diners to make hassle free real-time table reservations at their favourite restaurants. It also brings to diners the best offers, amazing deals and exciting events at the best restaurants in town.
Apart from the consumer-facing mobile apps and website, there is a restaurant facing side also called the Empower App. The Empower application is targeted towards casual and fine dining restaurants and it streamlines management of various front desk tasks like reservations, waitlists, guest data and table management, and promotion of events & offers.
Both products work on both desktop and mobile across different operating systems.
Started in 2015, in our business model consumers don’t pay anything to make reservations through our platform but we charge restaurants to use our software and other services. Our consumer website has been up and running since last three months. As of now, we get roughly 100,000 visitors on our website every month.
SoS: What kind of products do you offer to your clients and list out the key milestones of your business?
Varun: Although I studied computer engineering, I had lost touch of hands-on programming as I was involved in a non-IT related role in my family business for last 10 years. Therefore, I created a small technology team to carry out POCs before we hired the full team for product development.
Simultaneously, I also reached out to many restaurants in order to understand their acceptance for a table and reservation management software. The outcomes from the survey helped us to fine-tune our offerings in the software.
Thereafter, we spent almost six months to develop the restaurant facing software that allows restaurants to manage tables, reservations, customer data and events & offers. We named it “Empower” because by using the software, a restaurant is empowered to offer better customer experience to its diners.
We spent roughly a year in selling the Empower app to restaurants in Delhi NCR and simultaneously developed our consumer facing website and mobile apps. Once a threshold number of restaurants were using the Empower app in Delhi NCR, we launched our consumer facing website and apps. We also started operations in Bengaluru and Mumbai subsequently.
SoS: What makes your business unique and how do you define your marketing strategies?
Varun: We provide a seamless experience for table reservations to diners. Because our consumer website and apps are integrated with the piece of another software that runs at the restaurant, we always have the real-time table availability and hence, the reservations are confirmed in real-time. We have completely bypassed the call-center model in our operations.
Also, another thing that makes us very different from all the competition is that we allow only actual diners to review restaurants on our platform. This prevents bloggers and spammers from creating artificial ratings of restaurants like on similar platforms.
– Real-time confirmation of reservations for diners
– We only allow actual diners to post reviews on our platform
– CRM solution for restaurants to manage reservations, waitlists and guest data
– Out of the box functionality for promotion of events & offers by restaurants to diners
Our consumer website has been up and running since last three months. As of now, we get roughly 100,000 visitors on our website every month. We recently (last week) launched our mobile apps and are hopeful that we will see more traffic across platforms.
We are currently marketing our website and app only through the digital medium. Investment in radio and OOH media is also in the pipeline.
SoS: What financial plans have you thought of to grow or expand your business?
Varun: We started out of Delhi NCR. Today we have roughly 800 restaurants on our platform. We have been successful in tapping standalone restaurants and now our focus has shifted on chains and 4/5 star hotels. We also started operations in Bangalore and Mumbai couple of months back. It still early days in those markets but we have almost 150 restaurants in above two cities on our platform. We are also planning to start operations in Pune and Hyderabad soon.
In our target set of restaurants, here are roughly 7000 restaurants across 10 big cities of India. Almost 3 million people dine at these restaurants every month. Our target is to capture 5% of this market in near term.
SoS: What have been your challenges and the obstacles continuously in your entrepreneurial journey?
Varun: The biggest challenge was the difference between expectations and reality. I think many start-ups go through this and we were no different. We build this product after gathering information from 250+ restaurants and we internally believed that it’s a well-thought product.
But when we launched the restaurant facing app, Empower, in the market, we were taken aback by the resistance shown by the restaurants to implement such a product. They were just not ready to make a paradigm shift from manually managing their reservations, waitlist, guest data, and move to a cloud-based product. We quickly realised that dedicated training to their staff mitigated most of their apprehensions and thus we started providing unlimited free on-field training as part of our sign-up process. In fact, unlimited free training is a major USP for us now.
Also, early we assumed that real-time confirmation of reservations would be enough to generate enough traction for reservations but after launching our consumer website, we soon realised that Indian diners are mostly value driven and offers/deals are their highest priority while making reservations. We quickly had to rework our product to ensure that deals and offers are more prominent on our website and app.
SoS: What is your biggest source of inspiration that keeps you walking through the entrepreneurial journey?
Varun: My inspiration is my father who himself left his well-paid government job to start his own venture.
SoS: What would you want to convey to the budding entrepreneurs?
Varun: Dream Big, Work Hard and believe in yourself. Never be afraid of failures.
— Team SoS