Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho – whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
Saurabh Saxena, CEO and Co-Founder of Holachef, the food delivery startup started in September 2014 that brings cuisines prepared by chefs to your doorstep — available in a few places in Mumbai so far — started off as an entrepreneur. His first venture got acquired, he moved on to work with two firms before starting up again. He is also an angel investor.
Saxena talks about his entrepreneurial dreams even as a student at IIT (Bombay) where he graduated after doing his B.Tech and M.Tech in Metallurgical Engineering in 2004. Along with his entrepreneurial dreams, he never lets his bucket list out of his sight. He shares how he made his dreams into reality and the efforts it took him to reach where he is now.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Did you always dream of starting a venture of your own?
Even before I graduated, I knew I would do something on my own. Before I co-founded AakarKnowledgeSolutions (which got acquired by Mexus Education), I had worked with Nishith Desai Associates (NDAs), a research-based international law firm, and Halliburton, one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry. My parents were quite surprised initially because they were not aware of my aspirations to be an entrepreneur. However, they were supportive from Day 1.
What is it about IIT graduates that most of them are in the startup eco-system?
It’s the culture that breeds inspiration for IIT graduates to start on their own. IIT is a closely related community where everyone is connected and willing to help out each other in every way possible. It gives real life role models.
How challenging was it to startup? How old were you then?
Starting up in itself is a big challenge. You are devoid of money, structure, knowledge, resources – everything needs to be put together brick by brick. It’s a great learning process and no two days are alike. I was 26 when I first entered the startup eco-system. It was exciting and gave me the confidence to venture again with another startup.
I took some time off to prepare myself for the next venture. This time I had more cushion with respect to money and network of people. Just as in a corporate job one gets promoted, in a start-up eco-system one evolves into a better entrepreneur with time and experience. However, each industry has its own challenges. From education sector to food, the transition was not that easy. I am still learning about the F&B sector.
How did the idea of Holachef come about? Tell us a little about it – how you met your co-founder, set up your food delivery startup?
Like any classic story, ours, too, began in a basement; except that it wasn’t as much of a basement, but our dinner table. All we wanted was to have some good food delivered to us without burning a hole in our pockets. We were bored of the local restaurants in our vicinity: the pizzas and the rolls. Also, none of them exuded much confidence with their menu options or the quality of ingredients used. The finer delivery options were either too expensive, too far for delivery or not good enough to be considered as a regular ordering-in option.
We intend to provide many cuisines prepared only by the experts. Chefs prepare their dishes from their signature cuisines and it helps us serve a distinct platter every day.
Anil Gelra, my Co-Founder, and I graduated together from IIT. Since then we have worked together for Mexus Education and have always been in touch. In college, we were part of the team that organized a very successful tech fest together.
Tell us about the genesis of the name Holachef?
We wanted to bring out the element of chefs serving hand-crafted meals. Holachef implies – saying hello to the chef. Plus, holachef.com was an available domain. This eased the process.
What did you plan with Holachef?
The time between when I moved out of Mexus to starting Holachef was spent in planning my next venture. It was also the period when I got to spend time with my daughter who had just turned a year-old then. I travelled, built my house and relaxed before I stepped into the entrepreneurial shoes again for Holachef.
What is your business strategy?
Our only strategy is ‘customer first’. Everything else revolves around that.
You have received multiple rounds of funding.
Team, efficient execution and time is important for any start-up. However, funding equips all of these to move ahead. Capital breaks barriers. Raising money in time is an important skill set that an entrepreneur should have, particularly in a B2C space where brand building takes time.
What are your future plans?
We will be fueling our infrastructural expansions that will enable better preparation and delivery of food. This will help us penetrate deeper into Mumbai as well as other cities in India.
Do you have a hero/heroes you admire and want to emulate?
Rahul Dravid. I would like to emulate every quality that he has exhibited. I saw him play for the first time I was in class 4. He was my hero since then.
You are an angel investor too. Tell us how you choose projects that you want to invest in.
I can tell you five things that I need to feel positive about when I consider a start-up to invest in. No research, no tons of reading up or number crunching, it’s primarily ‘that feeling’. Besides that:
– My gut feel about the idea
– Whether I would like to be a part of that company/brand as an employee
– The scale and my understanding of the industry
– Whether the time is right for that idea to enter the market
– The core team – should be exciting. Everything depends on the team
You are a loyal Royal Enfield rider. How often are you able to take a break and vroom off on your bike?
I wish I would get more time to take my bike out. However, I do go on short rides whenever possible.I like indulging in off-beat travel experiences. Be it kayaking for 15 nautical miles in Malaysia, bungee jumping or a back-pack tour across South India; I have, in my personal life, always been a fan of everything that requires more action and less planning. Once I left everything that I was doing to go watch Messi play in Kolkata. That was like ticking something off my bucket list!
You can follow Saurabh Saxena on Twitter here.