Dinesh Patel had a solid plan: go to the United States (US), play professional golf and win a PGA tournament. His dream took shape when he earned a sport scholarship to study at Florida State University. When he got there he realized that it was going to be tough.
“It’s incredibly competitive and I don’t think that I was good enough, to be honest. But I also don’t think that I wanted it badly enough… Those guys are good, they work so hard and they were willing to sacrifice so much more than I was willing to sacrifice,” he says.
Patel, the son of a doctor and teacher from Durban, South Africa, decided to focus on his business studies but flirted with the idea of a career in the music business. In his final years at university, he worked as a campus label representative for Warner Brothers’ Electro Records.
“You throw parties and you get access to all the new music and you basically build these artists on a street level.”
When it came down to a career, Patel followed the money. His first job was in Atlanta where he worked as a senior consultant for Deloitte.
“On the day I joined, I think I knew that this wasn’t for me. But it was a great training ground because you learn so much about reading financial statements and understanding the mechanics of business.”
Two years later, he worked as a banker, at the peak of the financial crisis, for Goldman Sachs in New York.
It was here that Patel came across the innovative virtual canteen, Seamless. Patel made use of Seamless to order food on the nights he worked late in the office. The company initially focused on corporates but when they branched out, catering for everyone, business boomed. The concept of Seamless remained at the back of Patel’s mind and resurfaced years later.
After 10 years in the US, Patel returned to South Africa. He had many job offers and pursued his own business ventures but struggled to find his feet.
Through it all, he kept hearing his parent’s voice ringing in his head.
“Dinesh, first you wanted to be a golfer, now you’re not a golfer, then you wanted to be an accountant, now you’re not an to accountant, then you wanted to be a trader, now you’re not a trader, then you wanted to be an actor, well now you’re not an actor. What do you want? Can you just stick to something?”
Tired and on the brink of giving up, Patel experienced his epiphany. It came while he was lounging on his parent’s couch, in Cape Town, and the conversation was about dinner. It came down to two options: chicken from Nando’s or pizza from Panarottis.
“That’s when I immediately thought ‘there must be more options, if we had Seamless here it would be so good.’”
That night, Patel dashed out to meet Joseph Okleberry, who would become an investor. He had relocated from the US to South Africa to work as an internet strategist for Naspers. Okleberry brought his expertise of the web to the table.
Their conversation went something like this: “Joe you used Seamless, I used Seamless. Do you think something like this would work in South Africa?”
Okleberry was keen on the idea and the two men spent the rest of the evening drawing up the plan for OrderIn – an online food ordering service. It would partner with companies that offered delivery and customers would pay restaurant prices. In return, OrderIn would charge restaurants 8%.
Patel spent the next three months researching. He sent a proposal to Jason Finger, the founder of Seamless in the US, who jumped in.
“Jason brought in his development team from Seamless so we had all of their experience to build OrderIn from scratch. We used their experience and avoided some of the mistakes they had made. It was fascinating to see what a website that does a quarter million orders a day looks like,” says Patel.
Hennie Booysen, who worked for Skype in London and is also a co-founder of Groupon, joined the team as a co-founder. He brought his expertise in the e-commerce space.
With the help from an investor at Naspers and a hedge fund in New York, OrderIn secured the capital.
Patel formed a team of five who worked on the website for eight months, from a house in Camps Bay in Cape Town. As the launch neared, there were nerves.
Then the first order rang in.
“Everyone freaked out! We were like ‘oh my gosh there’s actually an order,’” says Patel.
The customer, who was working late at Investec, had a craving for sushi. Everything was running as planned. The order appeared on the OrderIn system, the machine at the sushi bar had printed the receipt and the customer received notification that the order would take 45 minutes. There was only one problem; the sushi bar had no delivery man.
“I raced from my house to the restaurant, picked up the food and dropped it off at the customer,” says Patel.
The guy told Patel, dressed casually, that he didn’t look like a delivery guy. Patel spun the story that as the first customer he received a special delivery from the founder and CEO.
Although OrderIn has had its fair share of hiccups, it has not deterred them. By next year, they would have signed 650 restaurants.
Patel says many overlook the cost of staff, maintaining a website and customer service when calculating profits.
“A lot of guys coming into the market are pricing themselves very cheaply, one to three percent. But the reality of it is that’s not a sustainable business model.”
When it comes to business, the 32-year-old founder and CEO of OrderIn doesn’t worry much, as he relies on the expertise of his team.
“I’m always the stupidest guy in the room. My investors and our team are so much smarter than me, that makes running a business so much easier.”
From sportsman to banker and now online food, Patel is happy he kept moving forward.
“I’ve always had this hustle. I want to do something on my own; I want to create something… When you are in a large corporate environment you don’t feel like you’re in control and as an entrepreneur, I think you want to feel like you are in control. You want to feel like you’ve got a say in your destiny.”
So, if at first you don’t succeed, try everything, try anything but try, try and try again.