1. How and why did you make the decision of becoming an entrepreneur, and leave the ‘security’ of an executive role in a well-established corporation?
There was, in me, always a burning desire to cook and get involved in the food industry. At times, it felt more like a cherished sentiment or an unattainable dream. But eventually it was a deep-seated, palpable, pulsating longing that I couldn’t ignore. I just had to birth a new Life to this idea. So in essence it was to create something out of virtually nothing.
All barriers came down once the dream evolved to a trial run for 6 months cooking for colleagues, neighbours and close friends. I had a gut feel that my concept would be appealing and the decision to quit the corporate life evolved from that point. And in doing so, it created a virtual ball of energy that just kept expanding over the years and still today keeps me growing.
2. Do you come from a family of entrepreneurs? Did you know what to expect from owning and running a business?
No, the family was not entrepreneurial and was quite horrified at my sudden career change in my mid-30s especially when I was thriving at my role at GoldCorp. We had a banker, a lawyer, lecturers, and semi-professionals in our family of 9.
Did I know about running a business? No, but I was determined to learn all that I could. Fortunately, I had people around me who knew a thing or two about running a business. But that was obviously not enough. Plenty of long hours, hard work (and some tears) were called for.
I knew I wanted to work on my own terms and not be dictated by the industry norm and so I seriously felt that I could do whatever it took because it was such a burning desire within me to fulfill that passion.
I was practical about it though and planned an exit strategy should things not work out as planned within 6-7 months of my initial capital. So making it successful from Day 1 of operation was an imperative.
3. What is the part that you like the most about what you do? What is it the part that you dislike the most?
I am a creative person and happiest when I make things for others. It fulfills a deep part of my soul in giving joy to others. I generally do not like taking care of admin work such as filing, completing forms and documents or managing technical issues pertaining to websites and the various e-commerce channels. And so I outsource much of this work.
4. What are in your opinion, the key planning aspects before starting a business?
A vision of what really makes you YOU. Knowing yourself in a frank and open way and approaching that knowledge with what you can do to fulfill a need out there in the domain. It is an essential part of what kind of business you wish to start and it starts from a basic and honest approach. Some of the following are other key planning aspects:
1. Understanding your product or the service you are offering and where it sits in the marketplace.
2. Knowing your target area well i.e. the demographics and socio-economic characteristics.
3. Financial implications.
4. Being flexible and responsive to changes.
5. Being bold.
6. Knowing when to call it quits and/or diversify.
5. Which were some of the main challenges that you ran into after launching your business and how did you go above solving them?
As mine was a food business, the main challenges always centered on educating some patrons why we did things differently to other ‘Indian’ restaurants. Some didn’t like the fact that we didn’t have a menu or that there weren’t table service or that we cooked dishes in such an authentic manner and it wasn’t toned down to their requirements.
I solved the issue by staying true to what was real in the first couple of years and not be dictated by the minority I encountered. Eventually the fact that we were different was what made us successful and stay the course.
6. To grow awareness and to increase your clientele, what tactics did you implement and which were most successful?
I recall I wanted to introduce Perth to the flavours of my childhood. I was also very aware that most Indian and Asian restaurants didn’t offer their customers food that they cooked at home for their own families – simple, honest, everyday food. I wanted to change that.
I wanted to shake things up a bit and shock them with some of our food choices such as mango curries, lentil and banana blossom dishes, curried chicken livers and fish head and wing curries. It wasn’t sexy food but it was wholesome and natural and real food bursting with flavours and very moorish.
This kept our customers coming back for more discoveries and with their families, friends and colleagues in tow. It was so successful and I was the one left gobsmacked. I had a daily changing Bain Marie menu housed in customised terracotta clay pots handmade by a local ceramic artist which further enhanced the appeal of the dishes.
6. With your marketing and advertising background, what advice would you give to business owners on a tight budget, to increase awareness of their products/services?
Keep it honest, keep it real, and that is easily achieved if you give your passion, your all. This meant I chose not to turn everything into a profit and some were loss leaders like our Masala Chai. We made each cup by hand and it can take 15-20 minutes to brew it well. So I chose not to make a huge profit at the expense of growth in the first year or two to grow my range of customer base.
I chose a spot that had huge foot traffic during the day as well as evening and weekends so it meant working long hours until we had the word of mouth referrals going. That in itself generated media interest, and we had many glowing reviews which all helped to get us to where we are now.
7. How important is social media for your business? Which social media platform shows more engagement with your desired audience?
I believe social media is extremely important to keep abreast of everything that is happening around us.
We use Facebook to update our followers with our events and social calendar, Twitter, You Tube and lately Instagram. However we chose very early to engage with our loyal customers by regular newsletters, and an informative website.
Social media helps us engage with our stockists and their customer base as well as our other support partners like primary producers of fresh food, bloggers, and other local food businesses.