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Our journey from $0 in MRR to raising a $2.5M round with India's largest food services business

4 mins read

A question I’m often asked by colleagues, friends, and founders, is - What has your entrepreneurial journey been like? More often than not, I hold back a quippy response that’s at the tip of my tongue, and respond with ‘It’s been a rollercoaster, but we’re Thrive-ing’.

I managed to put down the raw details of our journey - in an attempt to give insight into the rollercoaster we’ve been through so far.

Circa 2015, 3 engineers put their heads together and realised that the corporate life shunned behind a desk was not one for them. The mantra that we first started with was quite simple - use technology as a catalyst to help offline businesses grow. Enter, Hashtag Loyalty, a digital loyalty & CRM tool for retail and hospitality businesses. Of course, HL came about after a few early entrepreneurial bruises. But when we found ourselves on the SaaS route by 2017 with a mature product and a focussed ICP (ideal customer persona), in our minds, we’d cracked the code. We were growing steadily with Hashtag Loyalty, had more than a few well-known brands utilising our product, a seed round with great early investors, and everything looked (sorta) hunky dory until the pandemic hit.

Subscriptions came to a standstill overnight. Food businesses took a downward turn, and we lost all our revenue. Yeah, the pandemic really f*cked us over. And we weren’t the only ones obviously. The immediate future of the very industry on which we based our entire business was not looking too bright. Along with the future of our company.

We didn’t waste a minute (we couldn’t afford to; runaway was ~3 months). It was all about staying busy and surviving. In hindsight, with everything that was going on it would have been extremely easy and normal to just wrap up and call it quits. Yet, we buckled down and hit the drawing board with all our might, most of my energy was consumed with work - regular conversations with customers, partners, team members, and the startup community at large. And a singular focus on: “How do we utilise the resources at hand to help our existing customers?”

The first comeback project we started with was ‘Save Local’. While the team got busy with Save Local, as founders our primary focus was keeping an ear out and speaking to customers daily. These conversations were instrumental in helping us put together a mind map of how we could tangibly build value for our customers. On the financial front, candid conversations were had with our investors to extend our runway. Unfortunately, the market was also in a wait-and-watch mode, and unable to deploy any capital at least for a few months. We buckled down and cut costs to extend our runway to 6 months. That did mean salary cuts, and for everyone who decided to stay, this lost revenue would be compensated with ESOPs once and if we hit the ground running. Krishi, Dhruv and I cut our personal salaries to 0.

Our conversations led to an MVP, an ordering solution called Thrive. The product was built for and by restaurateurs who massively impacted the #OrderDirect movement. When we started with our first consumer, Izumi, our logistics API failed. Krishi and I delivered the first few orders (quite fun, might I add). Something seemed to stick. Restaurants were getting onboarded by the dozen, and at the backend, we continued to improve our product based on tiny glitches, and a ton of great feedback. This created a virtuous loop. Most of the restaurants that started using our solution also used it as customers.

Our then-existing investors aided this growth with a seed fund to help us capitalise on the initial traction we received. Additionally, the Razorpay founders joined in on our journey. Things were finally starting to look up now. We attended a digital town hall organised by the NRAI on #OrderDirect in March 2021, where we met Pratik Pota (the then-CEO of Jubilant FoodWorks (JFL). Interest sparked in Thrive’s model, and conversations with their investments team ensued.

Once the second lockdown hit, our product scaled massively. To put things into perspective, the adoption of Thrive grew by 400%, and our merchant growth grew by 120%. Closure of the round with JFL took us about 6 months. During this interim, there was also a time when we did not have the bandwidth to pay out salaries to our employees. This is where the founder community showed up, in clutch situations, and we witnessed that firsthand. Yash, from Gimbooks, loaned us a payroll at 0% interest. For all those wondering; yes this happens in the Indian ecosystem - look up Upekkha and the massive community they’ve built and scaled up.

Investors' ears were perked throughout this period, and we had term sheets from other VCs at better terms. However, we chose to align with a company with aligned goals and people who would help us understand the food industry better.

Today, we continue to build and rebuild parts and aspects of Thrive that makes food commerce better for everyone.

Our common vision is to create a world where food commerce becomes transparent, delivering real benefits for restaurants, consumers and riders.

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