Road to entrepreneurship: Off the beaten track

You have a cushy job or have just received a fantastic job offer. Would you give it up to start something new?


Photo: ThinkStock
Photo: ThinkStock

A TECHIE’S CUP OF TEA

Nitin Saluja

Sunshine Teahouse Pvt. Ltd

Founded: November 2012

Nitin Saluja. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

When Nitin Saluja graduated from IIT-Bombay and moved to Houston, US, to work for Opera Solutions in 2007, the thing he missed the most was a good cup of chai, especially after an Indian meal. A few years and much research into Indian tea later, he decided to come back home in 2012 to launch Chaayos in Gurgaon, along with co-founder Raghav Verma.

“Our Indian palates are not compatible with delicate teas. Our objective is simple, ‘Hum humaari chai aapko pilana nahin chahte, aapki chai pilana chahte hain’ (We don’t want to make you drink our kind of tea, we want to give you your kind of tea),” said Saluja.

Each cup of tea is priced between Rs. 38 and Rs. 85, depending on the kind of tea leaves used. Interesting add-ons like saunf (fennel), ajwain (carom seeds) and kali mirch (pepper) add to the flavour.

Sunshine Tea House raised approximately Rs. 2 crore from Powai Lake Ventures in March; Saluja plans to use the money to open at least five more stores in Delhi NCR by the end of the year.

THE SCIENCE OF SANDWICHES

Vivek Jha

Yummy Express Pvt. Ltd

Founded: March 2013

Vivek Jha. Photo: S. Kumar/Mint
A computer science engineer from Purdue University in Indiana, US, Vivek Jha loved cooking, but he never thought he would quit his Bank of New York job in Boston to start a chain of restaurants in India.

“None of these decisions are rational when you sit down and weigh the pros and cons of it, but you still go ahead and do it,” said Jha, who founded, along with Tenzin Thargay, a chain of quick-service restaurants called Rocket Sandwiches in March 2013.

That was almost a year after he quit his job to start, also with Thargay, who he met at a TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) conference in Mumbai, a food delivery website called ‘getmymeal.in’, where they assembled dishes from over 400 institutional kitchens in Mumbai to deliver food to people at lunch time. They wrapped the company up before starting their next venture.

Mumbai-based Rocket Sandwiches has five outlets across the city, where customers can get “good food at fast-food speeds”, said Jha. The menu, which currently features only sandwiches, will soon include a variety of rice and curries too.

Yummy Express, the company behind Rocket, raised around Rs.4 crore from venture fund India Quotient and Unilazer Ventures Pvt. Ltd in April.

BANKING ON BEAUTY

Kaushik Mukherjee

Vellvette Lifestyle Pvt. Ltd

Founded: September 2012

Kaushik Mukherjee. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

With a management diploma from IIM-Ahmedabad, Kaushik Mukherjee interned as an investment banker in Goldman Sachs, New York, following which he started an online insurance portal in 2008. The venture did not pick up so he took up a consulting job with McKinsey and Co. between 2010 and 2012, but his entrepreneurial dreams refused to die.

Finally, Mukherjee quit his McKinsey job to start a subscription-based service, Fabbag, in September 2012. “There was a chance for me to create something unique and special, and it was only possible in the start-up zone,” he said.

The concept of sending goodie bags of beauty products, including sample products and full-sized introductory products, to women every month was popular abroad. Mukherjee, and his co-founder, Vineeta Singh, who is also his wife, realized that Indian woman would love the idea too. “It was not like selling insurance. Consumers were excited about each bag. They put it on Facebook and stuff,” said Mukherjee, who has more than 16,000 unique subscribers as of today.

An annual subscription of Fabbag costs Rs.4,799 and each bag has products worth at least Rs.1,000. Mukherjee claims Fabbag has shipped more than 50,000 bags since its launch and plans to expand into men’s grooming and wellness products soon.

Vellvette Lifestyle is backed by venture fund India Quotient and three HNIs (high networth individuals), who together have pumped in more than $500,000 into the venture.

ONE FOR THE BOOKS

R. Sundar Rajan

Strata Retail and Technology Service Pvt. Ltd

Founded: June 2008

R. Sundar Rajan. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

R. Sundar Rajan spent 15 years working with i-Flex Solutions, which was acquired by Oracle Corp. in August 2005. In early 2000, he started a small home library so that people in his Whitefield area locality in Bangalore could access the books with ease.

Soon he found himself being drawn into the venture full time. “The decision to step out and experiment was easy, but I was always open to going back to an IT job,” said Rajan.

In June 2008, he quit his job and launched his first library, JustBooks, with his wife. The idea was incubated as part of IIM-Bangalore’s entrepreneurship cell. “One thing led to the other, and people started signing up and wanted to start similar projects in their neighbourhoods,” said Rajan, who currently encourages people to own franchisees of JustBooks.

Members pay average membership fee of Rs.3,000 per annum to access around 850,000 books across JustBooks’ 60 franchisees in India. They are present in 11 cities as of today.

As the project gained popularity, many of Rajan’s former colleagues from i-Flex Solutions joined him as board members. The company is bootstrapped with no external institutional funding.

THE POPCORN GUY

Chirag Gupta

Zea Maize Pvt. Ltd

Founded: March 2013

Chirag Gupta. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

When Chirag Gupta decided to leave the US and come back to India after working for five years for Deloitte Consulting Services, he knew he was not going to take up a job.

“I knew that India had potential, and something new could be created and implemented here,” said Gupta, who, with co-founder and friend, Ankur Gupta, zeroed in on gourmet popcorn.

In March 2013, the Guptas launched their first outlet of gourmet popcorn called 4700BC Popcorn in Delhi. The name stems from the belief that popcorn was discovered in Peru around 4700BC.

Today, the brand is present across six outlets in Delhi and Punjab, and offers 18 flavours of popcorn. Each pack of popcorn costs between Rs.65 and Rs.1,000, depending on the size of the packet or tin. The company also delivers popcorn to other parts of the country.

Zea has sold Rs.3 crore worth of popcorn in the last 18 months.

The firm is now looking to raise its first round of external funding, which will be used to expand into Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore.

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