Les Roches International School of Hotel Management alumna and founder of Social Belly

Interview with Dimple Lalwani, founder of Social Belly, an app for like-minded foodies

on August 7 | in Alumni Entrepreneurship Innovation | by Les Roches | with No Comments

Name: Dimple Lalwani
Nationality: Spanish
Course: BBA with specialization in Entrepreneurship
Graduation: 2012
Current role: CEO and Founder at Social Belly

Dimple did her internships whilst at Les Roches in F&B, Guest Relations and Sales before focusing on Revenue Management as a Revenue Manager and Senior Revenue Analysis Manager at Marriott International.

  • Tell me about your vision behind Social Belly

Social Belly is the easiest & fastest way and the best possible way to meet like-minded people over food. Our desire is to offer professionals who’ve just arrived to a new city a way to feel part of a community and a sense of belonging wherever they’ve moved from.

Our beta website has  been live since March this year.  At the beginning, it was all about gathering social data, user profiles. One of the things we realised is that, because our hosts were giving certain dates when they would organize a dinner party, they were often  disappointed, because there was no guarantee anyone would be able to make it that specific day. Some days (weekends) would not be popular at all. We expected a lot of traffic that just wasn’t there.

We wanted to know more about our users, their consumer preferences, why they want to take part in Social Belly.  We asked them what they want, and found out that it really was not primarily about food, but about wanting to meet new people, like-minded people with similar interests.

So, our vision has progressed. We focus messaging more on Social Belly being the easiest and fastest way to meet people around you, over food. Whether you are new in town, here for a job or on a graduate program, SB is your one-stop destination for meeting people.

People love food. Food is what brings people together. If you just want to go for a good meal, you can go to one of the many amazing restaurants in London. What we are promoting, is a way to meet people…

We’ve decided to make midweek days our focus. People want something that gets them out of their house midweek, to use the midweek days to do something. This is our niche. Most people love food, you can’t target the entire city, you need to start niche.

We will soon be integrating independent restaurants in our listings, to give a chance to people who love to host, but are not into cooking the food themselves, to entertain via the Social Belly platform.

  • Where does that vision come from? (where does your passion come from? – childhood?)

It comes from personal experience.  I came to London 2.5 years ago, when I graduated from Les Roches. At Les Roches, you sort of meet new people every day.. It’s such fun.

I only had a few people to hang out with when I moved here and one of the things I felt was that I was missing the ‘new people’ thing.  When my restaurant idea went down the drain (it was too expensive),

I started hosting dinner parties at home.  I was experimenting with cooking new food, and always asked people to bring someone I didn’t know.

 I found that everyone had something in common,  that they could relax and enjoy eating good food in a home environment.

Every time I speak to people who’re new to the city, everyone expresses the same problem; how difficult it is to meet people in London. Connecting people with similar interests and meet up for a meal is ideal. It makes it a lot more intimate than meeting a group of people in a pub or in a club. .

  • How has your first year (s) been? (Highlights and biggest challenges)

One of the highlights was winning the start-up competition. The prize was equity free, dedicated to resources in marketing, legal advice, web hosting, web development. It got us started in March. It’s been continuous achievements, ever since.

We’ve been pitching at a lot of events.

We’ve been accepted as one of the 15 startups at one of the Accelerator programs  in Silicon Valley (out of +400 applications!). 

It’s been progression – talking to people. Finding out. Pivoting continuously in response to what users want.

Which is (hopefully) a characteristic of a successful entrepreneur.

  • Advice for current students at Les Roches who are thinking about starting their own business?

There are two things: before I went full time into entrepreneurship, I had already worked full time. If it hadn’t been for my full-time employment, this journey would have been a lot more difficult. One of the big challenges, is that you need a lot of discipline – with all the organization that needs to be done. But it’s also the ability to listen to your customers and to be able to react on what they say.

Internships are important, but you need that discipline within you as you start your employment.  You have to be logical. There’s a balance between quitting your job and taking the leap. E.g. it took me a year – I needed to prove the concept  first, to see if there was a market for it…  When there was validation and money in the bank, I quit my job.

One of my biggest pieces of advice.

It takes time, you don’t have to launch straight away. Think about your personal development when you are in your internships. We only look at superficial stuff, like titles. We think housekeeper, receptionist, that doesn’t sound great, but you need to look at your personal development in those jobs and embrace the learning. For that, Marriott was good for me. They helped me a lot, they put me through several trainings, not only about Revenue Management but to improve my leadership skills too. When I said I wanted to quit my job, one of my bosses said ‘I didn’t expect anything less from you.’ They know me, and are extremely proud of what I do.

  • What is the most useful lesson you learnt from Les Roches?

Before I came to Les Roches, I never realized the importance of building relationships. Talking to people. Learning from them.  What you can get from them. I studied in an international school in Madrid, but was never immersed in such an international environment. When you are learning from people from different cultures and backgrounds every day and socializing with them, you learn a lot more than you can imagine.

The other key lesson was Les Roches motto. ‘Les Roches is not just a school, it’s a way of life.’

I have applied this to my company. The idea that you should enjoy everything you do, look at the bigger picture and make the most of it, whatever you do.

All of us at Les Roches enjoyed what we did – that’s why we got the good internships.

Lots of people in the world do their work, without knowing why, without enjoying it. We get great enjoyment from what we do, and we believe in what we do.

  • What was the most surprising thing about Les Roches for you?

My first day at Les Roches. I  had no idea who anyone was, why we were there. We were standing in the lobby area.  Everyone had a similar quality in them. Hospitable people. It’s amazing how so many different people, from so many different places around the world, can unite and have so much in common. You don’t just get to know them, but you eat and live with them. They become part of your family. That is unique.

You make your life there. There’s no choice.

I was also surprised about the curriculum. Before I started,  I had my doubts. I felt it was going way too slow in the first year, that it was taking forever to get into the management side of things. Now I realize how important it was – service, kitchen. Had the practical modules been any shorter, the management lessons wouldn’t have added up or sunk in. I now understand the entire process behind any hospitality operation, because I have lived it and worked it.

I understand management from doing it, not from reading a text book.

Les Roches International School of Hotel Management alumna and founder of Social Belly

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