"I started my first business at FLAME. I got together with a few friends and started an Online Marketing company to apply the fundamentals of what we had learned in the real world. I got to work with businesses in the food space and understand the economics of the industry, consumer behavior, etc." says alumnus Advait Makhija. CEO at 22, challenging the might of top aggregators in the business and leveling the playing field for local restaurants in the country, his story offers much food for thought, and we dig in.
Food delivery apps have built their duopoly in the market. While customers have become reliant on them, their policies, including 30% commissions and lack of transparency with consumer data, are hurting the restaurant business. Advait asserts that food business giants like Starbucks and McDonald's have invested millions in technology to avoid being dependent on aggregators. "While your average neighborhood restaurant has similar problems, it doesn't have the capital and technical know-how to develop these ordering systems from scratch. We aim to level the playing field by giving access to these tools to restaurants at affordable prices," he says.
Advait admits that the journey hasn't been easy, as Eatabl is trying to change the behavioral patterns of millions of consumers and disrupt an industry with multi-billion dollar incumbents. However, he is confident in the feedback he has gained through extensive research and their mission. "My co-founder and I were always clear that we would only build something that would address a significant pain point for the market. We don't have any restaurant background, so we spent the first few months diving deep into the industry with our research. We realized that the pandemic compounded their problems as the business depended on delivery revenues," he adds.
Restaurants were some of the worst affected businesses in the lockdowns. Earlier, delivery was an additional channel of revenue, but it became the primary source during the pandemic and turned the business on its head. Advait believes the model isn't likely to change anytime soon, but Eatabl is clear about one thing. "Eatabl exists to serve the restaurateurs of India, and we have been working tirelessly to earn and maintain the trust of the community. We have seen restaurants substantially improve their unit economics for delivery, and strongly believe that this is the beginning of a dynamic shift in the industry," he states confidently.
While Advait wears the CEO hat at a young age, he is aware of the responsibilities and the fact that he doesn't know all the answers. He is also aware that the buck stops with him, and if things go wrong, it will be on him. How does he handle the pressures and challenges of being a CEO at 22? "Working on something I am passionate about is a huge privilege. But my co-founder and I are also accountable to our investors, clients, and our team for our company's success and failures. A startup journey has its advantages, but you are more likely to fail. You try anyway because the future you are trying to build is worth it," he says passionately.
He recognizes that he developed this passion at FLAME, where he was actively involved in Kurukshetra, DIP, and the Student Council. Advait says that it builds his understanding of leadership and management. Studying with a diverse peer group also helped him see different perspectives, which he believes is vital for innovative solutions. "The level of energy at FLAME Entrepreneurship Lab was contagious. When you're in a community with rising stars from different backgrounds, every discussion is filled with possibilities, and each collaboration can unleash the real value you bring to the table," he says.
Advait is excited about his future and the entrepreneurship lab where it all began for him. Looking forward to seeing how the space evolves, he signs off, confident that FLAME Entrepreneurship Lab will play an integral role in shaping the next generation of founders.