Learnings from the founder of a successful startup, Chaayos

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Chaayos-Raghav-Verma
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It’s safe to say that as a whole, we’re a chai drinking nation. Tea Rooms or Chai Addas as they’re fondly called have always been known to foster discussions which include everything from politics and society to cricket and the latest Bollywood blockbuster and/or disaster. Be it the classics like Earl Grey and Chamomile or the Adrak Wali or Darjeeling chai which are closer to our hearts, a cup of chai plays a large role in our day to day lives.

Considering that we’re a country of over a billion chai lovers, why are our cities filled with multinational coffee shop chains that have completely neglected our age old friend, chai?

Enter Chaayos, a modern day take on the age old Chai Adda. Founded in November 2012 by two IITians, Nitin Saluja and Raghav Verma, Chaayos aims to put chai back where it should be, at the forefront of our beverage cravings!

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We were lucky to have Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos, take some time out to give a talk to other aspiring entrepreneurs. This event took place at our Gurgaon hub and we managed to squeeze in a few questions that we hope will help you as you go about your own venture

 Q. So, how did you come about the idea to start Chaayos, any particular incident or story that triggered this idea? 

A. It was simple, we’re a chai drinking nation of over a billion people and yet getting a great cup of tea outside of home is difficult – you either have the unhygienic tapri chai, the dip chai with teabags or the office vending machine chai, all of which are not up to the mark. Another thing we observed was that when it comes to chai, people are very finicky and like their chai a particular way; less sugar, more water, a dash of milk or the numerous different condiments we like, be it ginger, cardamom, mint, lemon or even pepper are the common requests! So, we created a place where people can get together and enjoy a great cup of chai that is personalized to their exact liking.

Learning: It is important to understand your customer and their requirements thoroughly. Its important to make sure the insights are deeper than what meets the eye.

Q. What sort of research went into developing the concept, now commonly known as “Chaayos”?

A. It was primarily an assessment of the customer chai drinking patterns in India. We did collect some research surveys from a few locations, but the primary research happened more by observation and understanding what are the gaps in the current chai drinking behavior out of home. We also looked at why other ventures in this space have not taken off in the past, and what we could do differently to make it work. Overall, there was no doubt that chai would work in this country – it was just a matter of doing it right!

Learning:  Doing research surveys is something we must do as hygiene. However, you must base your primary research on observation and by analyzing the various gaps in the market you plan to enter. You must be crystal clear on how your product or service will fill those gaps in the market. So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel make sure you do your due diligence and learn from peoples mistakes.

Q. How necessary would you deem it is to have a co-founder and if so, how do you go about finding the right co-founder? 

A.  It is not necessary but it always helps to have someone who works with you on the entrepreneurial journey. Since startups are high risk, there are always ups and downs, and it is great to have someone to support you through those times. It also helps to have co-founders with complimentary skill-sets.

Learning: Always make sure your core founding team consists of people who bring a varied skill-set and expertise to the table. So if one is a marketing wiz and the other an operations expert, it’s going to be a win-win for both of you.

Q. How do you go about setting up your core team and what are the primary attributes you look for when hiring someone?

A. We mainly look for people who can get things done! Although experience is a plus, it is not necessary. We will take on people with the right attitude even if they have not done the work before

Learning: As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. So a lack of fancy qualifications shouldn’t be the reason you don’t hire someone. Also, when interviewing the candidate, try and get a sense of how they have shown hustle by getting into actual examples.

Q. Since scalability is such a make or break decision for any start-up, when is the best time to think of scale? And how does one avoid a dip in quality when scaling up?  

A. Scaling up should happen when you have built the right foundation. It is important to have processes in place to avoid that loss in quality or brand image. Having said that, scaling up will always break things. Its important to quickly iterate on what breaks and keep improvising.

Learning: There are so many startups that have scaled too quickly and suffered gravely for doing so. Learn from their mistakes and do not scale up to the extent where you have more employees on board and not enough work for them to do. Get the basics completely right first, then be prepared of how scale will cause leaks, and be prepared to identify and plug those cracks immediately.

Q. Most budding entrepreneurs have day jobs that pay the bills, how does one know the correct time to call it quits? 

A. For me personally, I could not take out enough time at my job so I decided to quit and then finalized on the idea. Its a personal choice – if you can manage it, it makes sense to have a concrete plan before you quit.

Learning: If you’re sure of yourself and your idea, go for it and take the plunge. There is no way of knowing 100% that that this is the right time to quit. So, instead of wasting time and procrastinating, go ahead and do something about it. As they say, the best way to get something done is to begin!

Q. Considering how expensive marketing is, when is the correct time to start marketing?

A. We have never been very heavy on marketing – our main marketing is the effort we put into our branding outside and inside the cafe, and the experience we provide at our cafes. Word of mouth is our primary source of marketing. We have recently started advertising on radio, once we achieved a critical mass of cafes in Delhi NCR and this was primarily targeted at brand awareness and customer acquisition.

Learning: As startups, it always makes sense to target your captive audience and partner with other brands to do cost effective marketing in the initial stages. Mainstream media only makes sense after you have crossed a critical threshold and  the objective is to reach out to a larger mass of people.

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2 Comments on “Learnings from the founder of a successful startup, Chaayos”

  1. That’s a very good interview of the co-founder of modern chai-adda – CHAAYOS ! I gained good knowledge on the challenges of starting a startup.

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