Scaling Tech with Anirban- Founder of Urban Piper
“When you see a gold rush happening instead of jumping into the gold rush, build the tools which will enable the gold rush”
If you use Swiggy or Zomato - there are high chances that you’ve experienced Urban Piper in action. Urban Piper is a full-stack restaurant management platform that enables restaurants to manage online orders & flows from multiple services on one dashboard.
Urban Piper’s COO - Anirban, joined us for a chat with our SVP - Ankur Kayesth, where he talked about starting his career in tech, to building UrbanPiper - A company that helps food giants like McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, and 2500 other restaurants manage their online orders.
What were you doing before starting Urban Piper?
I started my career with Infosys, and worked there for 2.5 years, and with time I may have started feeling monotonous with my work, and that led me to search for alternatives. At that point in life, I wanted to work with Yahoo, and AOL, but was rejected at both places, because I lacked experience with Product companies.
That was the first time in my life, I understood the difference between Product and service-based companies. For me, tech was about writing code, but this new information was a big shocker for me.
In 2007, I found my way to a startup that gave me the opportunity to work with them. They were able to look past my background and focus on what I brought to the table - my skills and my experience.
Since then, I started getting involved with startups, and multiple experiences in tech and startups paved the way for me to eventually start Urban Piper.
What was the thought behind starting Urban Piper?
“When you see a gold rush happening instead of jumping into the gold rush, build the tools which will enable the gold rush”.
For example- Levis manufactured jeans and clothing that enabled people to work in goldmines during the gold rush, so irrespective of people finding gold, Levis made money, and built a business out of it.
Back in 2015, 2016 - Food-tech was a fad, and everyone wanted to get into Food-Tech. It was the new gold rush. With Urban Piper, we built a tool that enabled restaurants to manage their orders and operations, and that got us to a point where we are currently managing half-a-million orders a day.
The first version of Urban Piper was to build a customised Shopify-like solution for restaurants that enabled them to manage orders and restaurant operations.
How did you manage to scale?
My background has nothing that shows I can scale or build a product that can handle millions of users in a day. At the moment, we are handling upto 10 Million API calls a day, and previously the max I had handled was about 5000 API calls a day.
I am a big proponent of learning by doing things and making mistakes. I literally Googled my way to learn everything that I know today.
When Zomato and Swiggy started scaling, Urban Piper grew leaps and bounds, and breakdowns were bound to happen, and something that I actively did was - “Build elaborate dashboards that would measure, and report important metrics, and predict systematic collapses.”
Scaling for us was hiring people who were able to scale as the company grew, and about building dashboards that monitored our tech infrastructure, enabling us to find points of failure before they occurred.
How did you get both Swiggy and Zomato to invest?
We realised we had achieved Product-Market Fit when none of our customers dropped, even after we had a massive breakdown on New Year's eve - that time of the year when everyone was expecting a lot of orders.
This was a strong indication that we were solving a big problem. Both - Zomato and Swiggy had individual dashboards, and restaurants struggled to keep track of orders on both these marketplaces, and parallelly manage their operations, and that’s where Urban Piper’s product sits perfectly.
I think Swiggy and Zomato saw value in our products and decided to invest.
What do you plan to do with the funds?
The next step in scaling is to establish Urban Piper as a truly global SaaS company, and get into geographies. We’ve failed to enter previously.
Tech is a great equaliser, and the code I write in my bedroom can work perfectly in Germany, but that’s not the case with Sales and operations. The business dynamics change drastically in different demographics, and for us to enter foreign markets, we’d need to adapt accordingly.
We plan to scale our efforts across tech, sales, and operations. We want to build a restaurant ecosystem similar to how AWS has been able to do it with web services.
Where restaurants and franchises can start with the smallest expectation to have a point of sale system or online ordering and then can go through too many complex things like supply management, inventory management, workforce management, etc.
We are still very early in that but hopefully will get there soon.
What are your thoughts on work-life balance?
It’s more about work-life integration rather than work-life balance.
We keep on thinking about work-life balance, which is fine, but when you are in a growing startup - The concept of Work life balance fades away, and you have to figure out ways to integrate different aspects of your life to work in tandem.
To give you a better understanding for the last one month, my wife has not been here. I'm driving up and down, taking kids to and from school, and doing all of this in a balanced approach can be tough. So, instead of thinking of time as my -” Job time”, or “Personal time”, I optimised my life to do work as and when I have time.
How important is data for your business?
In our business, data is very important. There are two parts to the data as I look at it:
- Storing it effectively
- Building it to a degree that gives us actionable insights
For example - Data can help us in predicting how much biryani a restaurant can sell, or let restaurants know about best-selling dishes in their area, and these insights can help a restaurant manage their operations better.
Currently, the biggest challenge with data is how to store it effectively, and the next one would be to build models on top of it, allowing us to make better business decisions.
For example, both Uber and Ola have a concept called “Surge Pricing” where the ride fares are decided based on supply, weather conditions, and, of course, availability of cabs. To do this - They have worked really hard and invested heavily to create that tech infrastructure.
Presently, people don’t understand storing data well, and in my opinion, if you can’t store data well, extracting value out of it can get tough.
How can one overcome cognitive biases?
One way to get over bias is to be aware of its existence. In my case - Initially, I didn’t want to build a product that would allow restaurants to manage their orders on Swiggy, and Zomato, and that stemmed from my bias that - A restaurant should focus on building on their own brand, rather than relying on external platforms like Swiggy, or Zomato.
But getting over that bias, thanks to the efforts of my Co-Founder - Manav, we built an initial prototype for the restaurants, and today that product has allowed Urban Piper to scale to millions of orders a day.
Another way to get over bias is to surround yourself with teammates who are good at calling out your biases or have skills and experience that complement yours.
How was your hiring experience with Masai?
When we were screening Masai students, I was looking at their GitHub profiles, and not their resumes.
8 out of 31 developers in our Engineering team are from Masai and have grown to lead independent modules, and I think Masai is doing a great job at bridging that employment gap by training students to be competent developers.
Learn more about Anirban and his journey to build Urban Piper