Sheroz Zindani of Zooted Delivery
Sheroz Zindani is the founder and CEO of Zooted Delivery, a new service in Cincinnati that delivers food from restaurants that do not typically offer delivery services.
How did you start your business?
I filed for an LLC in June 2012. I remember in the beginning, we wanted to do a mini beta test in downtown Cincinnati before we launched the business primarily for students on campus. I remember my partner and I passing out about 5,000 handbills up and down Fountain Square, and getting cold shouldered about 90 percent of the time. We didn't really get many orders—I honestly think we got like five orders in three and a half weeks. We had a burner phone that we stared from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in downtown Cincinnati while sitting in my 2002 Honda Civic burning up in the heat.
Finally, we came to the conclusion we needed to do a lot more advertising on a consistent basis to attain the downtown market, so we decided to come back strong at the start of the school year. I formed a team of people that were interested in working with me on the project because I didn't have time to do everything myself.
I was the program director of concerts for the Programs and Activities Council on campus, the Muslim student association president, and I was taking 17 credit hours at school. I needed all the help I could get. The team consists of Kasim Ahmad (COO and my childhood best friend), Saadiq Sayani (CFO and my cousin) and Charlie Cryder (Marketing/Sales Director, who went to grade school with me). It may seem that I chose these guys because I had relationships with them prior, which is true, but more importantly, I chose them because each individual brings something different to the team that the other can't replicate.
We went operational September 21 only on the weekends, which we're still doing. It was basically regarded as our beta test as we learned the intricacies of the business, making sure we were comfortable with going seven days a week because our reputation is on the line. Our service is our identity. If we had gone seven days a week prematurely, there may have been some complications, but we're pretty confident/comfortable now.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
My freshman year at UC, I was enrolled in a business fast-track course like all freshman who are enrolled at the College of Business. We had to come up with a business idea that we needed to present to the class at the end of the semester. The idea that I came up with was a convenience store that delivered.
My sophomore year, I remember sitting in my apartment in Clifton with a friend of mine just hanging out, and I brought up the conversation with him that if I don't make any entrepreneurial moves within my four years at UC, then after that, I'll be too busy being a "grown-up" that I most likely won't pursue any creative endeavors. I remember bringing up my idea from freshman year to my friend, and 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. I woke up the next morning and I remember the first thought going through my head was being in Pakistan (my parents are from there, and I used to go visit every two/three years) and how McDonalds and other fast food restaurants offered delivery mainly because of cheap labor, so 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 about the idea to deliver for places that don't deliver, and 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 brainstormed for a few months, then filed the LLC and were on our way. Funny thing is, when I first thought of the idea, I thought I was one of the only people who had this idea. I did some research, keyword "some." I didn't really find many delivery services. Later on, once we formed our business plan and did some heavy research, I came to find out that there are about 400 delivery services across the nation, which is about a $500 million market and is growing pretty steadily.
What local resources did you take advantage of and how did they help?
To be honset, we didn't really use many local resources. Last semester, UC granted us permission to make Zooted Delivery an internship experience that we got credit hours for and developed a strong relationship with the head of the entrepreneurship department, Dr. Charles Matthews. I would say he was one of our biggest resources. We did make a relationship with the Hamilton County Business Center but haven't really been utilizing any resources from them until recently where we've had a business coach, Scott Jacobs.
What would you do differently if you started your business again?
Nothing at all. I learned a lot about business and myself in general through all the experiences—more than I learned at my two years at UC. I cherish all those experiences, so I wouldn't want anything different if I started my business again. Experience is knowledge.
What’s next for you and your company?
What's next for Zooted Delivery is that we're about to go seven days a week starting Monday, June 17. Our delivery radius is going to cover Hyde Park, the downtown business district, The Banks, Clifton and Norwood. In the upcoming weeks, you'll also have the option to place take-out-only orders for a multitude of restaurants in the Mason/West Chester area via ZootedDelivery.com. Also, we just got into the top 22 for an NKY business accelerator called Uptech, so we're working hard on trying to get into that program ,which we'll find out about next month. We are working on a few other things that I can't reveal too much about, but hopefully you'll be hearing our name pretty frequently in the near future.
Interview by Sean Peters