Shreyas Kulkarni

Can online restaurant ordering platform Thrive Now make a dent in Swiggy and Zomato's market share?

It started on a high note with "Order Direct", can it sustain its early promise? A chat with Dhruv Dewan, co-founder, Thrive Now, in which Jubilant FoodWorks recently picked up a 35% stake.

When Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi realised Anakin Skywalker, his ward whom he had taught and nurtured since his childhood had turned to the dark side, he bemoaned against the gross injustice.

“You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness,” cried out Kenobi after he defeated Skywalker in a lightsaber duel.

Skywalker would go on to become Darth Vader, the main antagonist of the Star Wars franchise and one of the most popular villains in cinematic history.

It was, for me, the first visualisation of “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. A quote I would hear a decade after watching 'Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith' in ‘The Dark Knight’.

Earlier this year (2021), restaurants decided to launch a campaign against online food delivery brands like Swiggy and Zomato and urged customers to order food directly from the restaurants. Why? Because the restaurants, big and small, felt these delivery brands were causing them losses with their high commission fees and refusal to share customer data.

The once darlings of the Indian startup ecosystem were now being seen as the big bad bully. Now, I do not state the brands are terrible organisations hell-bent on “my way or the highway”. No, these brands have made restaurants reach the unreachable, generated direct and indirect employment for thousands of people, and led the rise of the Indian food tech and startup space for a near-decade.

Also Read: Restaurants look to reclaim food delivery space from Swiggy and Zomato by getting the 'Order Direct'

However, the resentment from the restaurants prompted SaaS (software as a service) firms like Thrive Now and DotPe to enter the Indian food tech/delivery space. They designed food ordering platforms for the restaurants where a customer could visit, place his order, and pay for the food and tax. No extra charges. The tech cos would charge a commission per order.

A resistance was born.

I first spoke to Dhruv Dewan, co-founder of Thrive Now in August this year where he remarked Thrive saw itself as an alternative to the Swiggys and Zomatos of the world. It was a time when the Order Direct campaign was at a high and it was a ripe time for Thrive Now to establish itself among the minds of restaurants and customers alike.

Dhruv Dewan
Dhruv Dewan

Three months later, Dewan tells me his online restaurant ordering platform enjoys a presence in over 100 cities and that Thrive Now’s “restaurant base is growing 7-8 per cent month on month.” This means many restaurants must have signed up during the festive period of Navratri and Diwali. Turns out, I was off by a few months because restaurant sign-ups rose in the July-August-September period.

“We’ve reached over 7,000 restaurants until now and we have not put in any market capital,” remarks Dewan and goes on to reveal that bulk of Thrive Now’s orders come from the big cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi NCR, Bangalore, Pune.

Dewan admits Swiggy and Zomato have better pin-code reach but in those areas, the average order value (AOV) is on the lower end and can go as low as Rs 200.

What startled me was Thrive Now’s AOV on Diwali that was as high as Rs 1,700 while the range on usual days is between Rs 600-900.

He tells us the order numbers decrease during festivals because one person orders for many (parties, meetups). “But, the order value spike up. We charge a commission, so we're always content with the value of the orders and not the numbers.” Thrive Now levies a three per cent commission per order.

The high AOV, on festival days, is good news for Thrive Now but there’s a slow creeping issue for the food delivery brand—the return of the dine-in. "Order volume per restaurant has decreased slightly because offline has opened... We saw it after the first and after the second wave." Dewan feels dine-in has not increased considerably and won’t till 1 January 2022 because the holiday season continues till that time.

With so many restaurants joining Thrive Now’s platform, was the brand facing the same challenges while onboarding them earlier this year or had new ones taken their place? “In cities like Mumbai, our home market, we’ve not had a challenge because brands have come to us organically but when we go to new markets, education is required… There is no competition today right now. We are trying to educate the market and it will take us a year or two," says Dewan.

And with newer partners, Thrive has also revamped its technology and has been at it for the past few months. “I see Thrive as a jigsaw puzzle right now which will all fall together in one and a half quarters.”

Along with its technology, Thrive has rebranded Hashtag Loyalty, the co’s original avatar which was a brand that let you build customer loyalty, improve customer retention and increase your revenue, into ‘Thrive Marketing’. Reveals Dewan, “Now, we have the bandwidth to deeply integrate the Thrive Marketing module onto Thrive ordering in case somebody wants to use another service of ours... That's one of the launches planned for the next few weeks."

With all these changes and developments in the background, I had to speak of the Elephant in the room. In October, Jubilant FoodWorks (parent of Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts in India) acquired a 35 per cent stake in Thrive Now.

One could expect to order a Veg Farmhouse pizza from the Thrive Now website but Dewan was clear that the goal was to take their (Jubilant) prowess to move faster compared to other players. “The idea is to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we can acquire a significantly large portion of the market together… Jubilant has cracked direct ordering in India when we look at their volume in terms of how to market.”

With such a big investment and so many new restaurants signing up, I wondered if Thrive Now had plans to launch its own delivery fleet than depend on its existing five partners. “Not at the moment,” he tells me and says they are open to it in the future. Thrive Now is adding three more delivery partners and is along with the existing five “trying to form dedicated fleets with them but as a contract, they will not be under their payroll.”

Also Read: Swiggy Instamart rides ‘quick commerce’ wave with "15-30 minutes delivery" promise

And going forward, Dewan also feels the food-tech industry will see disruption just like the grocery delivery space is witnessing with the quick commerce revolution. But, unlike dark stores which fueled the disruption for e-grocers, the same cannot be said for food tech because it is “controlled very much restaurants who’re not the most tech-savvy… it will happen at a slower pace but it will.”

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