V .G. Siddhartha is no more. I could not have imagined writing that. But I do it with sadness today, as the man who built the Café Coffee Day (CCD) empire is no more. He decided to call it a day. Possibly tired and exhausted in the journey that belongs to the life of an entrepreneur. Siddhartha the entrepreneur, Siddhartha the friend and Siddhartha the caring job-giver are all personas that will be discussed and debated over the next few days. Let me, however, focus on the brand he built.

Siddhartha started his first CCD outlet from scratch at Brigade Road in what was then Bangalore. As of March 2019, the brand had 1,752 outlets—hubs that attract the young and the young at heart. A lot has happened over coffee across these spaces, one café at a time, with passion and painstaking effort. There’s a bit of CCD in every young life. A bit of it in our romances, our marriages, our courtships, and even in our working and business life. CCD grew in fits and bouts really. For a long time, it was all of 14 outlets in Bengaluru. The ambition of the company that seeded it all was small and regional for a start. To an extent, Siddhartha was test-marketing the offering. And, much to his delight, youngsters thronged the initial cyber café that offered the joy of internet surfing at 40 per hour. They loved the coffee as well, and were willing to pay a multiple of five for the same as opposed to street prices of coffee those days. He was selling the experience. Not the coffee. And he did it first.

I remember Siddhartha inviting me to the launch of his first outlet in the early days. I was the vice-president (marketing) at what was then a Tata company under the name of Consolidated Coffee Ltd. I remember our meeting that day in November 1996, when he took me around and showed me what was on offer. There was pride in his eyes and humility around the rest of his persona, a trait he built into the DNA of CCD. Every aspect of CCD’s brand persona comes from the ethos of the founder, a person whom I would unhesitatingly call the Simple Schultz of India. Let me look at each of these simplicity beacons in the CCD brand. The corporate brand name: Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Co. Ltd (ABCTCL) was put together as an entrepreneur’s lark at naming. Call it ABC Trading Co. Ltd, and it will still fly. It did, and how!

Siddhartha then had give his brand a name. It was to be that one place that would define a “third place" to hang out in. The “first place" for the young was home, and the “second place" was the school or college. The “third place" was where you could hang out, let down your hair and be yourself. This was the Café. A place no parent grudged their young ones frequenting. The café was a licit place, as opposed to the relatively illicit pubs and discotheques that thronged Bengaluru even then. His diktat was simple. Nobody could be asked to vacate a space. They could hang just as long as they wanted to. Even after partaking that one cup of coffee.

So, what did he call his café eventually? “Coffee Day". Something that got abbreviated into the hurriedly but easily said CCD. To an extent, Siddhartha imbued even into his brand name the trait of clarity and simplicity.

CCD is a classic example of a brand that was built without advertising and only through word of mouth. What a great way to grow. And all of this was “Made In India"!

Despite the Cassandras out there saying what they say best, I do believe the brand will live. The brand will thrive. And even as it does just that, it will remember with great fondness and affection the one man who did it all single-handedly with dogged determination. Siddhartha gave it all to the brand. His life included.

The author is a brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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