Running a start-up means taking responsibility for other people’s livelihoods
When running a startup double up to do multiple tasks and be disciplined
In a warm evening in Singapore in the summer of 2009, Arun George and his school friend Sibi Venkataraju met up at a local brewery. George was then a financial analyst with HP and Venkataraju, an IT consultant at Catena. That evening, the two 28-year-olds spoke about starting a brewery together in Bengaluru, their hometown. A year earlier, Venkataraju had a similar conversation with another friend of theirs, Mukesh Tolani, an Ernst & Young (now known as EY) auditor, during a holiday in New York.
Most times, people return to work the next day and such plans never come to fruition. But the trio, along with another friend, Glen Williams, went on to start pH4 Food & Beverages, the parent company that owns one of Bengaluru’s first microbreweries-cum-pubs, Toit.
Business-wise: George, who has an MBA in finance from Nanyang Business School in Singapore, was growing restless in the corporate world. “It was boring, I detested what I was doing.” But setting up a business was uncharted territory. For Tolani, 38, who comes from a business family, quitting his job to start his own venture was like a “home-coming”.
“Setting up a brewpub was our first real business idea. Mukesh, Sibi and I spent 2009 researching the market and laws,” George recalls. From interactions with the excise department, they found out that Haryana had become the first state to introduce the concept. “This led us to believe that with the right push, Karnataka could well follow suit,” he says.
Tolani had already quit EY and was running a few ice cream parlours and a café in Bengaluru. “It was a huge leap,” says George as he fiddles with a beer tap behind the bar. “We had major setbacks right at the beginning, but we stuck with it.” Throughout the initial journey, Tolani firmly believed that a brewpub made complete sense, as the country’s IT capital was also its beer and pub capital.
The learning curve: Don’t miss out on the first mover advantage
Personal shift: If the corporate job was predictable and mundane, the excitement of starting their own business came with heaps of uncertainty and stress. “The biggest difference between the job and our own venture is that there is a lot more responsibility when you work on your own. Knowing that so many people depend on you for their livelihood makes and keeps you true. Self-discipline comes automatically,” says George. For him, the biggest change was the realization that in this venture, a team of close to 300 people depend on him and his friends doing their bit right for their livelihood. “That was not the case when I was in a corporate environment. All I had to worry about was my task and my salary. That’s where self-discipline comes in a start-up. It keeps you focused,” he adds.
Tolani feels one is cushioned from all other external factors in a corporate role. “We are made to do one kind of job and that’s what we do day in and day out. When you become an entrepreneur, you are the company, the accountant, the HR, the office boy and everything else. All this until you are sure of the business or till you have sufficient funds to fill these vacancies.”
The learning curve: Double up to do multiple tasks and be disciplined
People management: Roping in Williams, founder of Bengaluru-based confectionery chain Sweet Chariot, turned out to be one of the best things George, Tolani and Venkataraju did. Williams had more than two decades of experience in the food and beverages sector, which proved valuable as other three had little knowledge about the industry, let alone the brewery business which didn’t even exist back then.
The learning curve: Include someone with implementation skills and basic knowledge about the business in the team
Managing money: “It took us almost a year to take the leap of signing a location. Some of the capital for the investment came from my savings. The rest I borrowed,” Tolani says. “The initial days were like being back in school and college...I fell back on my dad to advise me and take care of things.” George, meanwhile, says he hadn’t been very prudent with savings. “It is definitely not the ideal way to go about it, but I took the proverbial plunge without any safety net. My close friends and family invested money in our brewpub. We are fortunate they believed in us when there really was nothing to suggest that things would take off the way they did,” he adds.
The learning curve: Seek advice, go slow, and, look for angel investors
The good, the bad and the ugly: Neither George nor Tolani see themselves going back to the corporate world. The perks of a corporate job are no match for the thrill of being in total control of a venture. “The biggest difference between being employed and running your own show is that you are solely responsible for the failure or success of your business,” says Tolani . In the years since its inception, Toit’s first-mover advantage may have dissipated with competition and evolution in the F&B industry. But the four partners are adopting newer trends to stay in the game while keeping the old Toit charm alive.
Executive to Entrepreneur is a series that looks at the lessons learnt by 9am-5pm employees who set up their own business. Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.
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