An interview with Miguel Ribeiro, Head of Growth at Zomato, one of the world's biggest restaurant aggregators and food delivery startups. As if Zomato’s 80 million users weren’t enough, Ribeiro has been a tireless advocate for business innovation and introducing new products in the market.
- Maria Almeida, Head of Editorial, Unbabel
- Rafaela Cortez, Editorial Manager, Unbabel
Miguel Ribeiro: I always say that, uh, why hire very good people if you have to micromanage them. So, I believe that you have to give them responsibility. You have to give them tasks and you have to overview. Let them fail. Even if the, if you see that they're going to fail, I think they learn faster failing. Uh, of course you have to control that failure. But, uh, let them fail, let them fail fast and let's correct as soon as possible. I think that's the best growth for a company like ours.
Maria Almeida: Miguel Ribeiro is the Head of Growth at Zomato, one of the world's biggest restaurant aggregators and food delivery startups. Even though his job is all about managing people and selling Zomato’s products across the globe, he considers himself to be somewhat of an introvert. He’d rather stay home with his family than going out and talking to people.
But everything changes when Miguel is at work. That’s where his alter ego is unleashed. He’s ambitious, passionate, and talkative. And, for the past six years, Miguel Ribeiro has put his heart and soul into Zomato, focusing on growth, building the team, and developing new products.
But joining an early-stage startup isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. And Zomato’s success wasn't due to luck. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where they are.
Miguel Ribeiro: Uh, we, we came into the market and we were, uh, going into restaurants and taking pictures of, uh, of, of the restaurants and the menus. And, uh, some of the restaurant owners were kicking us out and saying, who are you? Are you going to fine me for something? Or something like that. So I think that was the first, uh, big difficulty that we had.
Maria Almeida: Today, Zomato doesn’t seem to be slowing down on its mission to shape the future of food. It has grown into a million-dollar company with over 80 million active users. And Miguel has played a crucial role in the company’s success.
I'm Maria Almeida and welcome to the Customer Centric Podcast, an original podcast from Unbabel where we're bringing humanity back to the customer experience, one conversation at a time.
On this episode: how to keep your business growing when what you’re selling is not enough.
Maria Almeida: Well, I couldn't help but notice when we were doing the research for this interview, in your LinkedIn profile, you have this quote from Martin Luther King: “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Why does this mean so much to you?
Miguel Ribeiro: Because I think, anyone can deal with stuff when everything is going in the right way. I think the, the right kind of people are the ones that can manage in chaos, uh, at least in a company like ours.
And, uh, I think, um, we can measure the people that work with us if they know how to, um, step back, look at the problem and breathe, and then come back with a solution. Uh, those people that are used to working with processes in big companies that already have all the systems figured out, that's easy. That's just managing systems.
It's not managing problems. So I think that for me is something that, uh, working in the startup or working in a hypergrowth kind of company, uh, that means a lot. You have to, uh, manage your, uh, expectations. You have to manage your, the chaos around you, and you have to continue pushing forward. So I think that.
Uh, it's something that, there's a phrase that means a lot to me.
Maria Almeida: At the time, uh, like almost six years ago. Why did you decide to join Zomato?
Miguel Ribeiro: So I was looking for a project of my own, uh, and I was looking for other partners. I sent a LinkedIn message to the, the founder of Zomato saying that, basically passing on my idea that I lived in Portugal, that I wanted to create a company of my own, uh, of marketing for restaurants directly to restaurants. Um, and I was looking into partners. What did you think about Portugal and did he think, uh, he could be a good partner for, for, for me in Lisbon.
So in 10 minutes, he replied back and he said, okay, let's get into a Skype. Can you get into a Skype? And I said, yes, 20 minutes after where we were on a Skype. And, uh, he told me that, uh, they were looking into the first big round of funding, and if I wanted to drop my ideas and join them in India for six months to a year as, uh, in, in a split second, I said, yes, of course.
Then I remembered I'm married, I have kids and I have a business to look into and I have a life. Uh, but uh, everything worked out. And six years after, I think we have a great plan. Um, we, we did, uh, we have a fantastic track record. We launched most countries in Europe or all countries in Europe, we helped launch Brazil.
We helped launch Chile. So I think Portugal was very important for Zomato and very important for me, I think.
Rafaela Cortez: Um, what were the main challenges right away from the start when you joined.
Miguel Ribeiro: So no, no one knew what Zomato was in Portugal. So I think that that was the first, uh, the first big step.
Uh, we, we came into the market and we were, uh, going into restaurants and taking pictures of, uh, of, of the restaurants and the menus. And, uh, some of the restaurant owners were kicking us out and saying, who are you? Are you going to fine me for something? Or something like that. So I think that was the first, uh, big difficulty that we had.
Uh, after that, we gained some traction. People got to know what Zomato was. A, we created a really good community around what we're doing because we launched a social, uh, feature on Zomato. Uh, till then we were basically a, a website where we had menus and promoted restaurants. But, with Portugal, from, uh, from the launch of Portugal all across the world, we launched also the social feature, and I think that helped us a lot, at least in Portugal. It helped us a lot, gain some traction because I think, um, I believe that a lot of foodies and bloggers did not have a stage for them to write or to review restaurants. And we gave them that power. We gave them a tool that they could go to a restaurant, take pictures, review, and I'll also, uh, rate the restaurants that they were in.
And, um, I think the community, the foodie community, the gastronomic, uh, community, um, saw this in a very, very good way. So I think that worked out very well for us.
Maria Almeida: I mean, I think it's very interesting what you did in terms of customer engagements, like you were saying, like, I have a lot of friends who are foodies, and I remember a good friend of mine a couple of years ago told me that. Oh, I'm in Zomato. And like I'm in the top 10 foodies in Portugal, so I get all these, uh, experiences. so it's very interesting where you did, because you also gamified a little bit, the app.
Miguel Ribeiro: So not only gamified that the app, but we created benefits to, for you to use. If you use a lot, uh, Zomato, we take you out and introduce you to the owner of the restaurant or the chef of the restaurant. And, and you can experience, experience what we call the foodie meet-up. Uh, we called our foodies and we, we, uh, we set up a stage four for the, the, the chef to present his favorite dishes and talk about them. Uh, so I think no one at the time had done something like that to, to a community as big as we did. So I think that was one of the right things that we did. Um, it worked out very well for us.
Uh, we also did other things that worked out very well. On the second year, we created this a summit a Zomato Summit. We invited a lot of people and that created a lot of buzz. A lot of people started looking into Zomato as, as the company that, um, talked about restaurants in the best way that we could.
So I think that also positioned us in the right way. We took right steps in the beginning. And I S I, I still think that we are. Uh, w w still doing the right thing slower because we're bigger. Uh, but yes, we still are doing the right thing to, to build up the community.
Rafaela Cortez: So you were saying that that was one of the right things. What were the wrong things?
Miguel Ribeiro: Hmm. So many, maybe launching the wrong products at the wrong time. Uh, we did that a few times. Uh, Portugal worked as, um, it still works as a pilot for testing products and strategies and stuff like that.
Uh, sometimes that worked out very well. Sometimes it didn't work out that well, but I think that was part of our growth. Even our mistakes. I think they were the right ones for us to be where we are today. If we hadn't made those mistakes in those stages of, uh, of our growth stage, maybe we would not be here at this time.
Maria Almeida: you said, you know, you tested a lot of products in Portugal, a lot of pilots in Portugal. Um, how did you take Zomato to other countries based on the experience you had in Portugal?
Miguel Ribeiro: so it was not only based on the experience that we had in Portugal was based on the experience we had globally. Okay. And we tried to implement, uh, first of all, when we went to other markets markets in Europe, basically we bought other companies and we tried to, um, adapt our culture to their culture.
It didn't work out. There was a clash of cultures and, and, uh, uh, the people that stayed were pushing for their company and the people that came in Zomato were. We were pushing for our company, for us. So, so that internal fight and external fight in the market was not good for us. So that was one of the mistakes. Why did Portugal workout? Because we, uh, launched from scratch. We didn't do an acquisition in Portugal. If we did that in other countries, maybe it would've worked out in a different way. So I think, um, uh, that was one of the mistakes that we did in the past that the focus and, and, and, and, and, and trying out, uh, different strategies in, in other markets. The gastronomy in each country is a very different thing. So what we value in Portugal is not the same thing that we value in Czech Republic, uh, or, or Poland. So here we go out a lot more, there people go out for drinks. They don't go out for food that much.
So we have to adapt our or our products to each one of the markets. That was, that's what we learned.
Rafaela Cortez: Um, you clearly care a lot about your customers. Uh, do you consider as a model to be a customer centric business?
Miguel Ribeiro: We have to be. We have to be a customer centric and a user centric. Uh, um. Company because we have to please both. Uh, first the user, then the merchant. But, uh, first, both of them were the same passion and the same, uh, drive because, uh, the restaurants are our products and, uh, the users are our clients. So that's, that's what we need to, to, uh, to nourish.
I think. So both of them are very important for us.
Maria Almeida: You have different customers, right? But you have a lot of external players, so you have the restaurants. Um, and right now with, you know, recently launched products, um, you have more than that. You have producers and so on. So how do you, how do you make it all work? How do you make sure that's, you know, the restaurant also gives a good experience to the users.
Miguel Ribeiro: So first of all, we hear the user, we try to understand what the user is looking for, and then we pass this information to the restaurants.
Also, our platform works as a feedback platform for the restaurants. So anything that is going wrong, if the restaurant understands the feedback that was written, the review that was written, maybe he can adjust the product or, or his service to align with the expectations of the users.
Uh, so we have to manage this, in a way. We have to help the restaurant, understand how to use that information and adapt to improve. It should not be seen as a destructive kind of review. It should be a constructive kind of review. So I think our mission is to try to, to educate the restaurant owner to look at the reviews and say, okay, let me see what my problems are.
Let me see if the reviews are consistent, uh, always on the same, uh, on the same issues, and let me try to focus on them and fix them. So we have a team of consultants uh. Of people that go to restaurants, and provide services. And that's one of the services that we try to align, uh, with, uh, with the merchants, with the restaurant owner. We try to, to help them, read the, the reviews and see what the problem is and try to solve it in some way.
Rafaela Cortez: I mean, that's very interesting because in a sense, you're kind of forcing restaurants to be more customer centric themselves. and think about the user in that sense. but some reviews are brutal. Um, have you ever faced with anyone working at a restaurant that was just like. I don't, I don't care what this person is saying. Do you have to manage a lot of resistance from the people working in the restaurants?
Miguel Ribeiro: Yes. Yes. That happens a lot. We try to make the restaurant understand that. That's a review. That's an opinion. Um, each user has its weight because a lot of users just use Zomato once to write a bad review, and then, they never come back. So that doesn't have a real impact on the positioning or visibility that the restaurant has.
But now a blogger that has 500 followers has written 300 reviews and uses actively Zomato. If he writes something that affects the restaurant, that will affect his positioning. But I think, yes, I think the restaurant owner has to understand that he needs to provide a better service.
He needs to look into his service, his food, everything. Because we're in the era of information. So if the users will not talk on Zomato, they will write somewhere else on Facebook, on Instagram, on . Anywhere. At least we control. And we tried to, to, uh, tell the restaurant where the problem is and let's fix it.
And even we can try to tell the user, okay, go back to the restaurant. They fixed it. Uh, go have another experience and see if, if anything changed, if your feedback, if your review did anything for the restaurant to change.
Two, three years back, the restaurant owners were a little bit, mad about things that the user wrote. Right now, a lot of restaurants already see this as, as a positive tool for them to fix what's wrong. So we see this learning curve, and I believe that in the next few years, uh, restaurant owners will value much more, the reviews that they do today.
Maria Almeida: Yeah, and in a sense you created like the perfect feedback platform for restaurants.
Miguel Ribeiro: I think it's like, I usually say it's a win, win, win kind of platform because we're trying to create a platform that makes sense, not only for the user, but also for the merchant and the restaurant owner. So, um, it has to make sense for all of us. We, we, we don't. Take ideas out of a hat and say, okay, let's create this product because we think it's a good idea.
No, we create a product because the user will tell us that this makes sense for them. Or the merchant says, okay, this, this is something that I need. Uh, but the user's always first because we were making this for the user. Okay.
Rafaela Cortez: well I use somewhere Zomato on a weekly basis. but I mainly use it to, well, sometimes I do. But I mainly use it to browse restaurants. I don't really, I don't think I've ever written a review there ever. Um, so you obviously have all these different types of users. The frequent users that ride all the reviews people that maybe just go there to browse some restaurants. Do you have different strategies to engage them?
Miguel Ribeiro: Yes. So we active users just in Lisbon, and we're talking just in Lisbon, we have more than a hundred thousand. That's, that's a lot. And this is active users, users that use the platform frequently. this doesn't mean that people write reviews or upload photos or rate the restaurant. It doesn't mean that it means that people open the app.
And look for restaurants around them and that's, that's good enough. That's what we want. We want to, give you the best experience that you can open your, your app wherever you are, and find the best options for you at that time. That's our mission. Okay. And that, I think we're doing very well. The engagement part is, of course, we can try to engage with you to try to, um, uh, motivate you to write reviews and game a fight.
The thing to, to, to, to make it. A little more pleasing for the restaurants or even for us, but maybe that's not what you want. So we're okay with people that just use Zomato to browse, but we create other products for people that want to engage more. So we created a product called Zomato Gold. A lot of people that did not write, write reviews that subscribed to Zomato Gold, and now they started at least rating the restaurants or uploading a photo.
Once again, this is a, learning curve or, uh, um, I think it's a trend that we need to create, but even if we don't, it's still okay because people need to come to Zomato to discover not to write, or writing is a plus. It's a good to have, uh, discovering is a must have.
Rafaela Cortez: It's interesting that you mentioned Zomato Gold. We're both kind of addicted to subscription products. Um, and at Zomato, you have your, your own, which is Zomato Gold, which is a premium subscription that allows users to get special offers and discounts and get access to exclusive, experiences. Um, how did you move towards a subscription based model? Why did you decide to do it?
Miguel Ribeiro: Subscriptions would make sense. I think it makes sense that a lot of things in the future will be subscribed.
A lot of restaurant owners used to ask us: you bring us a lot of of business, but we don't know who they are. So we were thinking of a product that would make sense for, the user, the heavy users to present themselves in the restaurant.
Uh, we inspire their PR. Our product was inspired by, Hilton honors. Uh, Hilton honors is an app that, uh, Elton, the hotel Hilton has, that we present the, the, the Hilton honors and we have a special concierge receptionist that will knows that I stay always in room one Oh seven. And that I like, like, uh, a King size bed and, and I don't like double beds in my room.
So we mixed the two ideas and we came up with something that was called Zomato red. Cause it was supposed to be red carpet. But, uh, we tweak this in a way because we don't, we don't want to be just a discounts platform. We want to be a benefits, platform. So Zomato gold made sense for us. And as you said, a lot of people are addicted to, subscriptions.
And I like to go to a restaurant and be recognized. So nothing better than to pay for something that I get a benefit. And I'm also recognized by the restaurant owner that I'm a foodie and I'm, I'm in love with a, with food, and I'm most probably going to write a review. So, uh, treat me well. So I think that is something, all those, those components made sense for us to create a product like, Zomato Gold.
Rafaela Cortez: Oh yeah. That's my favorite thing when you just walk into a restaurant and they know that's my favorite.
Miguel Ribeiro: So that's the kind of effect that we want to create with Zomato Gold. We know you, we know what you're like. We know that you like food. And you have a benefits. And not only that, it's a free, um, it's free for the restaurant owner.
They're investing in the client that is sitting right in front of them. They're not paying Zomato to have this product. They're investing in their clients.
Maria Almeida: That's quite impressive because, when you started, a lot of restaurants were a bit weary of this kind of business model, and I didn't really like people who came with these vouchers and so on. Like for example, in the beginning I had Zomato Gold and I had a, and I was there with my boyfriend and we went to a restaurant. It was right in the beginning, like it was the first week Zomato Gold. And we went to a restaurant and we got there, and the guy said: Oh no, we're not on the list. We're not on Zomato Gold. And I said, well, in the app you are. And he said, no, no, no, we're not. And then they refused to give us the discounts, and both me and my boyfriend, we were talking to each other and saying, Oh, you know, people just haven't gotten used to the product yet.
And they, they immediately think of those discount vouchers where they had a lot of people coming in and they don't know yet how does this product works. Obviously that, you know, Zomato handled the situation brilliantly later because you gave us a voucher for another restaurant and we had a great dinner for free, in a really good restaurant, but like how was it in the beginning, like implementing this product and bringing it to life?
Miguel Ribeiro: Very hard as creating any trends and that's why we created not a discount platform, but a benefit platform. A lot of restaurants invest a lot of money in, uh, pamphlets, and they put it on the windshields of cars, and probably no one will see that.
And a lot of people will throw that away. So that's money thrown away. So what we do is we put a restaurant that is, has a really good service in the program and in our list, and we take people there that maybe don't know the restaurants and we give the opportunity to, to, to the restaurant, to anchor, to treat those people that value food a lot because they paid for a subscription. They paid to be well-treated. So we take those people to the restaurant and the restaurant has to take that money that he was going to invest in pamphlets and give a free dish to that person that is sitting right in front of him, not to Zomato. So he's investing directly in his clients.
So I think this is the big change. This is a big change in mindset. So I really do believe in this product, and I really do believe that this is one of the best products for our future in Zomato.
Maria Almeida: recently, uh, you've also developed, like we were talking about Zomato gold, but you, you have a lot of different things. Like you have a delivery service, not yet in Portugal. Um, but in other countries, uh, you now have Hyper Pure, which we're going to talk a little bit about later, but how do you make this decision on going for different products, even though there there are different from your initial plan, which is, you know, the app?
Miguel Ribeiro: First of all, we look into our markets where we are, the maturity of our team and the product that we're selling. Can we sell more? Can we go deeper in this area? This is the first question that we have. Have we explored all the possibilities with the products that we have?
If not, we won't launch another product only if it's really needed. Okay. If it's our choice, um, if we have a choice not to do that, if that's a test, a product or not to implement a product that, uh, that, um, should be positioned in the market, um. We first look into where we are right now. Can we do more business with what we have? Should we expand to other, other cities? So that's the first thing that we look into. Then we look into other areas. Will this product work in this market? Okay. Like delivery. I'll give you the example of the delivery. Of course, each time that I see someone from another company with another brand on the backpack, of course I get goosebumps and say, man, this should be Zomato.
But then I look into the market. The market is not ready. So we would spend a lot of money to implement this trend and we still have a lot to do in other areas of business, like a table, reservations we started with 10 or 15, restaurants, I think in the first month, and in three months, we jumped to 1000 restaurants. So this means that we still have a lot to do here.
So I think this is a bigger focus for us at this point, other than. launching delivery that we would have to fight with other players spend a lot of money and then maybe it would, work out. So it depends on the maturity of the market, the maturity of the product, maturity of the team.
And then we'll, we'll look at the market to see if it makes sense or not.
Maria Almeida: Recently you launched Hyper Pure B2B food ingredients, ordering platform. Can you explain a little bit how this new, service that you're providing works?
Miguel Ribeiro: So we're giving more power to the local farmer. Uh, we're going to the local farmer that doesn't have the possibility to, uh, take his products to the city. And we're creating the means that he needs to take that to the people that will value, um, this makes sense in a country like India.
As the cities are very far from, the farming areas, that makes a lot of sense. So that's another good example. How do we choose the right product for the right market? If we launch hyper pure in Portugal, would be. W would have to be completely different. but it's working out fantastically well in India because, um, we're taking the farmer out of the farm and bringing his products to the restaurants and, and people are eating healthier food and without chemicals and stuff like that. So I think for us, that's a big thing.
Rafaela Cortez: just moments ago I was reading the consumer expenditure survey. And it shows the people living in the U S have been spending almost as much money on restaurants as they do on groceries. Um, how do you see the future of food?
Miguel Ribeiro: Uh, we see that a lot of people are going to start using delivery systems. And I think that you already see in some markets in the, in like Singapore, if you go to Singapore and you want to buy an apartment, they ask you if you want a, a bigger living room with a small kitchen or do you want a bigger kitchen?
And most of the people, they want a bigger living room because they order in. So I think, um, if you have a good quality service, if you have good quality food, if you have, uh, a good price. You'll have delivery coming, coming in much more often than you have right now.
And with our busy lives, you won't want to spend one hour, one hour and a half cooking dinner if you can just make a call in someone bringing in a home cooked meal that you like. So I believe that, um. Cooking at home will be something that will be much more as a hobby than it is right now. Maybe our country, Portugal will be one of the last ones because we love cooking and I think that that is a big part of our culture, but at least in the U S and, uh, um, the Western countries in the, the Eastern countries, maybe this will happen faster.
Maria Almeida: It's interesting because the other day I was having a conversation about customer experience and user behavior. and. I was talking about, you know, it's very easy to use some products, like on a daily basis. Like for example, Uber, you, it's just, you take your phone and you order an Uber and that's it. It's so easy. You don't even see the money going out of your pocket because, you know, it's, mobile payments and I think it's kind of the same thing for delivery. So it's, it's easy. you don't really think it's already part of your routine. And I think Zomato has, you know, the potential to, actually, tap into this kind of user behavior.
Miguel Ribeiro: For sure. Because we have what the others are building. We have the traffic, we have the users. People that go to Zomato are hungry. I think it's just a question of time because right now in India, we're already number one in delivery and we're growing very fast in other countries.
Maria Almeida: Uh, so I think before we, when we were talking about culture and feedback and so on, we forgot to ask a question and I think Rafaela would love to ask this question.
Rafaela Cortez: Yeah, I do. Um, it's a serious question, but don't be scared. Um, so I've read this article that you posted on LinkedIn about receiving feedback and you say passion isn't a weakness. It drives you as a leader. And, and I was not expecting this. You cite the Sith Code, which for the initiated in Star Wars in our audience is essentially the core beliefs of the bad guys of the dark side of the force.
And if I can just quote you, it goes: Peace is a lie. There is only passion through passion I gain strength. Through strength I gain power, through power I gain victory, through victory my chains are broken. The force shall set me free. Miguel, are you not for the resistance?
Miguel Ribeiro: No, I'm not. I'm not for the bad guys. I'm also always, always for the good guys. But I think passion is everything. I think passion drives you. It gives you motivation. It gives you a drive.
I think, um, uh, of course you have to have emotional intelligence to drive that passion and to manage that passion. But for sure it's something that is very important. Sometimes uh, it, it can cloud your, your good sense in, in, in your vision. But, uh, as a whole, I think passion is something that if you don't have, you won't disrupt the market. It's something that it's very important for a hyper-growth kind of company or any startup that you launch.
Maria Almeida: Thank you so much for joining us. It was a pleasure having you.
Miguel Ribeiro: Awesome.
Maria Almeida: May the force be with you.
Miguel Ribeiro: Thank you.
Maria Almeida: This was another episode of Customer Centric, an original podcast from Unbable where we were bringing humanity back to the customer experience, one conversation at a time.
I'm your host Maria Almeida and this episode was produced by Rafaela Cortez and myself, and it was scored and mixed by Bernardo Afonso.
You can listen to customer centric on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or any podcast app.
And subscribe to get these episodes. As soon as they come out.
You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter on customercentric.unbabel.com
Coming up, next episode.
John Keefe: In life and in technology and journalism, I like to think of myself and I actually, uh, in practice am a serial beginner. I like to try new things and keep experimenting. Um, it's a blessing and a curse, so I keep trying new things.
Maria Almeida: That's John Keefe, head of the AI studio, and the investigations team lead at quartz, one of the most innovative news organizations out there.
We talked about the relationship between journalism and technology, how to build chatbots people love, and how to regain the public's trust in media.
John Keefe: I think that skepticism and questioning is a good part of being a global citizen. Um, and then for those of us who are focused on working on pursuing the truth and understanding the way things work and telling people that, um. I think it's like just incumbent on us to do the best we can at that, so that, that the truth is out there, uh, and we're making it .
Maria Almeida: That's next on customer centric. Thank you for listening and we'll see you soon.