Ordering food online is becoming more popular in Oman, and one young entrepreneur aims to make dining in as appealing as eating out. Alvin Thomas met him.
How great is technology? Today, anything is possible online. Be it researching a topic or simply shopping, the possibilities are endless; all thanks to the invention of the internet.
And boy, some people really do know how to capitalise on it.
My latest interviewee is a prime example of a person using the powers of the internet to fuel his passion: food. He is the stakeholder and partner in the online food delivery company Foodfila.
While the concept is well over my head, 25-year-old entrepreneur Utkarsh Gupta, strongly believes that there really is a market for it in the Sultanate.
The amalgamation of food and technology may seem a bit odd (to me) but there’s great potential in it, as Utkarsh explains.
“You see, there is a market for people who now want to order food online; the kind of people who want the food to be delivered at their doorstep without the need for a phone call. Brilliant, isn’t it? No more screaming your order over the phone.”
Suddenly, all of it makes sense to me.
But before I delve into the Utkarsh’s idea, I question him on his decision to start a business of his own in Oman – especially given the current market scenario.
He answers: “Optimism is key when you want to start something of your own. Of course, that and the fact that when you do something you truly love, you will succeed.
Utkarsh says that his idea to start a food-delivery website and application stems from his love for food. He began his website in July this year.
“I cannot lie: my idea for such a platform came from a food website that I used to order from when I was studying in India. It was a saving grace for me, as it has saved me many a time from starving, especially when it was late at night and restaurants were closed.”
But this is not Utkarsh’s first attempt at establishing his own business. The youngster – at the age of 17 – ran an e-commerce website (with two other friends) providing financially-challenged students cheaper “used” books and stationery equipment, when he was working for his degree in engineering from the esteemed Birla Institute of Technology – one of India’s most prestigious universities.
Today, Utkarsh and his partner – Zaid al-Shukaili – own and operate their website and application on the same model – being the moderator for customers looking to purchase food from a restaurant in Oman.
“We are also one of Oman’s first independent online food platforms and have over 45 restaurants. More than 75 loyal customers also take orders from Foodfila regularly.”
Thanks to the pair’s persistence, more restaurants are soon to jump on board their website too.
“The vision is clear,” says Utkarsh. “Restaurants who cannot afford to have an online business solution such as this can come to us and register. We will provide them with our services. It’s fairly easy.”
Talking about the recent changing trend of people dining out, Utkarsh says: “More Omanis and expats are opting to order in and dine in the comfort of their own homes.
“It’s something that is happening all over the world. People want to experience what they want without actually expending much energy. It all started with shopping; you can buy everything from groceries to electronics online, today so why not food, too?”
Utkarsh began his career as a data analyst for an international firm, based in India, dealing with clients such as Home Depot and many other Fortune 500 companies.
He then explains: “Such a model therefore works in Oman.”
But what are the challenges that he faces on a daily basis?
“Competition from outside players,” he answers. “We have players from Egypt that are currently dominating the market. And we are not here to dethrone them but rather to capitalise on their shortcomings.
“Because they are based in another country, we have the advantage of being localised. We offer technical support and also live-chat options. It’s everything you could get from a quality restaurant in the country.”
Utkarsh then says that being an expat startup owner has been a challenge but a good one.
“Omanis are really supportive people. They do not judge me by my age or my experience. They always share their experiences with me and I learn from them. One restaurant chain owner actually sat down with me for an hour-and-a-half to give me knowledge on the market – it’s truly amazing,” he exclaims.
“Acceptance to the society is what makes Oman such a beautiful country. The people are hospitable and they all wish you well, even if you don’t particularly know each other.
“I strongly believe Oman can be a stepping stone for our business, and there couldn’t be a better location and atmosphere than this for a starter like me,” he says as I ask him an important question: “Is the online platform here to stay?”
He looks at me and smiles: “There’s only moving forward from here on. It’s all about making life easier for one another. And if someone thinks the service is necessary, they will use it. Nothing beats the experience of going outside and dining. But, the opportunity to choose your food online is an experience in itself.”
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