Lured by the technological divide of the market and the desire to use their full potential, two childhood friends bid farewell to their marketing profession and started a software company to build one of the leading restaurant websites – tossdown.com – In Pakistan.
L’Express Tribune caught up with Omair Bangash, co-founder of Hooked Technologies who launched the tossdown as a flagship project in 2008.
“We felt underutilized in our work,” said Bangash, while explaining the desire to start his own business in 2007. Bangash, then 24, and his friend Shahzeb Rizvi, considered working in companies. restaurants because they felt a technological gap in the market, which could reach people.
“Since our family had owned a restaurant for 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, but the next challenge for them was to hire a programmer for the website, for which they lacked the financial means. By taking lessons from YouTube, Bangash learned how to build a website with Rizvi taking care of the marketing side.
“Ironically, no one invests in virtual products,” said Bangash, who leads his company’s vision and product design area. In the absence of educated investors, he said, financing was a major problem they had to struggle for during the first three years of their business.
The majority of investors in Pakistan, he said, were looking to invest in tangible products, which was a problem faced by many young entrepreneurs. Funds were then generated through projects that Hooked Technologies worked on. Once the funds started coming in, Bangash and Rizvi started approaching the restaurants.
However, the start was not easy this time around too. “The response (from the restaurants) was horrible as they suspected us of being agents of the excise department,” Bangash said, adding at times that they were not even allowed to enter the restaurants.
The breakthrough came when the Gun Smoke restaurant showed interest in their idea and slowly other restaurants in Lahore began to express their interest as well, taking to blogging in 2010.
Last year, the tossdown team introduced discount cards and coupons to take advantage of the market attention it had attracted by introducing ‘Khaba’, a premium membership card, which offers discounts in 30 food and dessert outlets in Lahore.
“In 2012, we were able to find ourselves where we initially imagined,” Bangash said, adding that several “food bloggers” are now contributing to their websites. He said the idea of the Restaurant Portal, which he claimed to be the first in Pakistan, was to bring all the restaurants together on one platform, including the “foodies” – the foodies.
From 30 visits per day in 2011 to now thousands of visits per day, he said food is important on the web in Pakistan. With more than 600 restaurants in Lahore listed on the website, in addition to over 400 in Karachi and nearly 200 in Islamabad, Bangash said the website also caters 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.
Posted in The Express Tribune, June 15e, 2012.