CINCINNATI - See a challenge, find a market, create an opportunity. That's the story behind Zooted Delivery, a local restaurant delivery service launched in 2012 by a group of Cincinnati college students.
Founded by Carl H. Lindner College of Business student Sheroz Zindani, Zooted Delivery carries food from a number of urban Cincinnati restaurants to places around the city and near the UC campus. The idea evolved from a freshman class project, and has grown into a viable business.
Eateries that use the service include:
9 Questions for Sheroz Zindani, CEO and Founder of Zooted Delivery
1. How did you come up with the idea for Zooted Delivery?
My sophomore year, I remember sitting in my apartment in Clifton with a friend just hanging out. I said that if I don't make any entrepreneurial moves during my four years at UC, I'll be too busy being a "grown-up" later. I remember bringing up my idea from freshman year to my friend. I distinctly remember just sitting there in silence with him right before I asked. "What do students need?"
From there, the idea came about of grocery delivery in terms of developing relationships with corporate grocery stores (Kroger, Meijer, etc.). My friend loved the idea of grocery delivery and it sounded pretty good to me at the time, so I slept on it. When I woke up the next morning, the first thought going through my head was Pakistan (my parents are from there, and I used to go visit every two/three years), and how McDonald's and other fast food restaurants offered delivery mainly because of cheap labor.
I thought there had to be a way I could figure out how to make it work here. Later that night, I told my friend Kasim (Ahman) about the idea to deliver for places that don't deliver. He was on board from the get-go. He urged heavily that we should pursue it while, I was a little bit hesitant, telling him that ideas come and go. Regardless, he's the COO of Zooted Delivery. We filed for an LLC in June 2012.
2. What's the story behind the name? What does it mean?
There's not really a story behind the name. It just came to me out of nowhere. The reason I chose it as the name was because it has kind of a speedy connotation to it, similar to “Zoom.”
3. Do the founders make the deliveries or do you hire someone?
Initially we made a lot of deliveries. As business started picking up, we staffed ourselves accordingly. Albeit at least once a week we’ll jump in the car and make deliveries. That way we save some money, but we also love the customer interaction.
4. Do you cover a certain radius of the city?
Yes, we cover a 25-square-mile radius around the University of Cincinnati’s campus.
5. How do you connect with these restaurants? Was it difficult to get them to agree to work with you?
We find the manager in charge, and convince him that this is the next best thing since sliced bread, so he can be the liaison between the owners and us. Getting a meeting with the owners initially can be ridiculously difficult. While we’re primarily a delivery service, we are also a source of marketing for each of our restaurants. We are able to help restaurants on everything from delivering to loyal customers to improving their SEO. It was hard to get the restaurants to agree with us in the beginning, especially since we didn’t have any credibility. We were all college students starting our first business. They had reason to be skeptical. Now that we have established ourselves, and proven our worth, the process has become much easier. Restaurants have started contacting us because they see the value in the delivery as well as the marketing.
6. How do you make money? (Tips, from the restaurants, etc?)
Most of our revenue comes from charging the restaurants a per transaction fee, which we negotiate with each restaurant. Our goal is not to rain on anyone’s parade. We try to come up with an agreement that will be sustainable and profitable for both parties. The delivery service fee that customers pay barely goes in our pockets, it mainly covers overhead expenses and driver wages.
7. Who are your target customers?
Our target customers consist primarily of students and faculty at UC and Xavier, OTR/downtown residential, downtown corporate employees, hospital employees, and hotel occupants looking to order an individual meal or place a catering order for a larger party. We are also looking to penetrate the Hyde Park business/residential demographic.
8. What is your "Big Vision" for Zooted Delivery?
Our big vision for Zooted Delivery is to expand the operation regionally as well as nationally. We have an excellent service, with a strong, fun, brand that sticks with people. The delivery service market is one that is growing rapidly, and there is a lot opportunity. We've already received considerable interest from individuals looking to franchise. We have a lot of great plans in place to really make an impact on the restaurant industry (even outside of delivery), but everything requires capital. That is something we are currently aggressively pursuing.
9. What are your near future plans for the business? Any new services or growth?
The plan is to expand our service to suburbs like Mason, Blue Ash, West Chester, Fairfield, etc. I am going to ease into that operation by first offering the take-out service to those restaurants so people can become familiar with how we work, and to make sure we are able to handle everything from a delivery standpoint. In terms of new services, there are a couple things we’re working on but I would rather keep them as surprises until we’re hundred percent ready to implement those features.
Connect with WCPO Digital Contributor Feoshia Davis on Twitter: @feoshiawrites
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