Mikul Shah (31), the co-founder and chief executive of online restaurant guide Eat Out (eatout.co.ke), talks to How we made it in Africa on how he introduced the concept to the Kenyan market. Shah is among the new technology entrepreneurs tapping into the potential presented by the growing internet penetration in the country.
How did you start Eat Out?
The idea was born when I came back to Kenya after staying in the UK for over a decade. I was surprised that my friends who had lived in Nairobi all their lives barely knew some of the fantastic restaurants in town. I was familiar with the concept of online restaurant engines such as Top Table and Urban Spoon, which are popular abroad. My two partners, Ami Doshi and Chris Cellini, had vast experience in agency marketing and hospitality and together we founded Eat Out in late 2009. While being a comprehensive guide for expats and tourists, Eat Out’s success is largely based on the fact that it provides the convenience of booking hundreds of restaurants by visiting one site or calling one number.
How has the concept fared so far?
It has proved to be a viable and sustainable business concept. We list restaurants in Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani and Malindi, and have recently also ventured into Tanzania. We have thousands of users and recorded over 650,000 page views in 2010. We had a profitable first year and have attracted considerable offers from venture capitalists worldwide.
How does the site make money?
Our model varies considerably from similar concepts in the West as it is subscription based rather than transactional. Advertising sales also generate significant revenue.
Any plans on going mobile?
We recently received a grant from Samsung Mobile through the bada Application Challenge and plan to launch our mobile site and applications before the end of the quarter. With the entry of cheap smart phones in the country we expect to reach more users once this is operational. The mobile application will allow users to search and book restaurants by cuisine, location and budget right from their mobile phones, plus stay up to date with the latest news, offers and events. The growing mobile penetration, which currently stands at over 20 million users in Kenya, presents a new market for us.
You have recently also ventured into print publishing; why is this?
Our entry into the market received mixed reception from the traditional print-based media houses. While some welcomed the concept, others were extremely hostile. Regardless we have a fantastic print presence and have formed formidable partnerships with UP (with our Yummy Magazine), Kenya Buzz, XPATLink, Susan Kamau’s Kenyan Kitchen, Capital FM and Concierge Kenya. Print media is still very powerful in Kenya, although the free distribution model works best.
What are your future plans for Eat Out?
We are currently piloting Eat IN, an online restaurant delivery portal, extending Eat Out to the region and have just seen the launch of Yummy. Next is a partnership with one of Kenya’s leading group buying websites to launch Meal Deal, a weekly 50% discount restaurant offer. We are also venturing into other markets and are currently piloting FLIX (flix.co.ke), an online cinema guide.
What is your advice to other technology entrepreneurs?
Our advice is the same to everyone. Concentrate on your strengths and find suitable partners to cover your weaknesses. Techies lack business knowledge. They’re not sales persons or marketers or lawyers. It is sad that some very promising ideas do not generate revenue because the founders do not understand business dynamics. In addition and where possible focus on the mobile platform and do not underestimate the presence of print. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and assistance. In Kenya get involved with the communities at the iHub (ihub.co.ke) and Nailab (nailab.co.ke). Ask any successful entrepreneur, and they will agree that no amount of knowledge and skills can do without hard work.