Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Inspiration leads friends to set up restaurant portal

LAHORE: Attracted by the technological gap in the market and the desire to utilise their full potential, two childhood friends bid farewell to their marketing profession and set up a software venture to create one of the leading food and restaurant websites – tossdown.com – in Pakistan.

The Express Tribune caught up with Omair Bangash, co-founder of Hooked Technologies which launched tossdown as its flagship project back in 2008.

“We felt under-utilised at our jobs,” said Bangash, while explaining the urge to start their own business in 2007. The then 24-year-old Bangash, along with friend Shahzeb Rizvi, thought of working on restaurants because they felt a technological gap in the market, which could reach to the people.

“Since our family owned a restaurant for the past 30 years, the food industry was the only natural choice for us to start the project,” he said.

Bangash and Rizvi launched tossdown.com in January 2008, though the next challenge for them was to hire a programmer for the website, for which they lacked finances. Taking lessons from YouTube, Bangash learnt how to make a website with Rizvi looking after the marketing aspect.

“Ironically, nobody invests in virtual products,” said Bangash, who heads the product vision and design area of his company. With lack of educated investors, he said, funding was a major issue for which they had to struggle for the first three years into their business.

Majority of the investors in Pakistan, he said, looked for investing in tangible products, which was a problem faced by many young entrepreneurs. Funds were then generated through projects which Hooked Technologies worked on. Once the funds started coming in, Bangash and Rizvi started approaching restaurants.

However, the going was not easy this time too. “The response (from restaurants) was horrible as they suspected us to be officers of the excise department,” Bangash said, adding at times they were not even allowed to enter restaurants.

The breakthrough came when restaurant Gun Smoke showed interest in their idea and slowly other restaurants in Lahore also started expressing interest, making it to the blogs in 2010.

Last year, the team at tossdown introduced discount cards and coupons to take advantage of the market attention they had gained introducing ‘Khaba’ – a privileged member card, which offers discounts at 30 food and dessert outlets in Lahore.

“In 2012, we managed to get tossdown where we had initially envisioned it to be,” Bangash said, adding several ‘food bloggers’ were now contributing to their website. He said the idea of the restaurant portal, which he claimed to be the first in Pakistan, was to bring all restaurants onto a single platform including ‘foodies’ – food lovers.

From 30 hits in a day in 2011 to now thousands of hits daily, he said food was big on the web in Pakistan. With more than 600 restaurants in Lahore listed on the website, besides more than 400 in Karachi and almost 200 in Islamabad, Bangash said the website also catered to food lovers in Faisalabad, Multan and Peshawar.

Now the founders of tossdown aim to export their idea, expanding it to tourist destinations such as Indonesia and the Middle East.

-Express Tribune

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