The B-school of vada pav

Feb 04, 2017, 10:33 IST | Krutika Beharawala

Seven entrepreneurship lessons from a man who made a fortune off a modest street snack, and survived competition to tell his story in a book

Pic/Sneha Kharabe; Illustration/Uday Mohite
Pic/Sneha Kharabe; Illustration/Uday Mohite

On A rainy evening in 1996, while in his chauffeur-driven car, investment banker Venkatesh Iyer came across a moving scene on P D'Mello Road in Wadala, one that changed his life. A hungry child was fighting with a dog for a piece of chapati. "For the next few days, the scene replayed in my head. I realised that if I were to start a business, it should be something that creates education, employment and entrepreneurship for those at the bottom of the pyramid," says the 50-year-old, who quit his 15-year practice in corporate finance and entered the F&B scene by launching Goli Vada Pav in Kalyan in 2003.

Venkatesh Iyer
Venkatesh Iyer

Today, the chain has over 300 stores in 100 Indian cities. With this, Iyer changed the way India sees the street find, whipped up by automated machines and served by uniformed staffers, employing local youth from franchise towns. In the recently published book, My Journey With Vadapav (Bestsellers 18), Iyer delves into his experiences — from the concept creation to the business model and marketing jugaad. Here, he shares entrepreneurship lessons for young mid-day readers.

Find your life mission
Entrepreneurship is not just about making money but contributing to society and taking it to the next level. So, have a purpose that goes beyond your personal needs. Once you have a clear goal, it will help you dream, get inspired and find a means to achieve it.

Imagine and ideate
A new world is born out of imagination. Think of a concept you believe in, even if others may not. Always look for opportunities. "A senior executive at a multinational food company told me that no matter what you do, Indians prefer eating only desi food. That's how I sensed an opportunity in this sector," shares Iyer. The idea of a vada pav chain struck him when he spotted a vendor selling vada pav near a hoarding that advertised burgers. "Both are similar but vada pav was often overlooked because the youth were attracted to fancy looking MNC-operated outlets. I decided to upgrade the status of the vada pav."

Focus and develop the idea
Once you are convinced of the idea, narrow it down to a single thought. "We were able to become a national chain because we focused on a single product, the vada pav, instead of adding other snacks to the menu," reasons Iyer. To understand its viability as a successful enterprise, do your research, figure out your consumer base and scaling possibilities.

Get into action to find funds 
Initially, it may be difficult to find venture capitalists willing to invest in your idea. So, perfect your product, pool in your savings or seek help from friends and family, get a team together and launch the pilot. "I opened the first store in Kalyan with the help of six friends, who formed the core founding team. The product quality led to word-of-mouth publicity and gradually, we received funding," he adds.

Categorise challenges
Every entrepreneur faces challenges but it's best to focus on the main obstacles, which when overcome can take the business to the next level. In Iyer's case, the challenges were wastage, pilferage and standardisation of taste. He solved these by outsourcing the manufacturing of raw vadas to a foreign company that supplies raw patties to a leading burger chain in India, using automated machines. With a central manufacturing unit, he was able to curb wastage and pilferage in the franchise outlets.

Learn from mistakes
Mistakes are integral to running a successful enterprise, asserts Iyer. In the early part of the decade, due to high real estate prices, the team tied up with Aarey milk booths in Mumbai to serve vada pav. "There was a disagreement with a few political parties and we had to shut shop. However, the issue brought our brand into the limelight and we received franchise requests from Tier 2 cities and could, thus, go national," he recalls.

Keep the story alive
Even if you are excellent at operations and have a great product, you may not sustain your business if you don't invest in marketing and brand awareness, which in turn, leads to more funding. "We did a lot of jugaad marketing like barters, in-film placements and store inaugurations with celebrity look-alikes, especially in smaller towns, which attracted a lot of attention. By then, I was also being invited to speak at B-schools in India and Switzerland. This led to interest from angel investors," shares Iyer.

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