Saurabh Saxena talks about IIT, Holachef and more

This article was first published in Asian Age. You can read the original story here. 

What’s cooking today?

Conceived as a solution to this daunting everyday question, Hola Chef brings you culinary delights from a different kitchen every day of the week

At 16, Saurabh Saxena, the founder of Holachef, found himself battling a choice between academics and his passion. What followed was four years of studying metallurgical engineering at one of the most coveted institutions in India — Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.

Saurabh Saxena

However, it turned out to be a period in his life which he likes to remember fondly and thinks is the reason for whatever success has come his way so far. “I was very much interested in sports, but in my final year of schooling, I had to choose between academics and athletics. I chose the former,” recalls Saurabh.

Hailing from Udaipur, the city of lakes in Rajasthan, Saurabh has built a successful food start-up, Holachef that offers different menus from different kitchens every day. Based on pincode locations, Holachef provides customers with food from their closest kitchens, adding to the variety and options since each has a distinct taste. The kitchen could be that of a professional chef or a homemaker.

Although he was confident of it becoming a successful enterprise right from the time of its launch in last September, a recent 20 crore investment from Ratan Tata has certainly been an icing on the cake, feels Saurabh.

“I was very fortunate to get through IIT. With so many aspirants applying for Joint Entrance Examination, I think, one needs to have certain amount of luck to get through as well,” he says.

Telling us about how Holachef came to be, Saurabh says, “The idea came from a very personal crisis. We realised that food is a big problem for working people in Mumbai. If there’s no food at home, then we have to order from somewhere, and you cannot have restaurant food everyday. You either need to make it on your own or hire someone to make it for you,” he points out.

For Saurabh, the years at IIT were his most defining years where he got exposed to different people and ideas. “Some of our role models were my seniors,” he says, but cites the young entrepreneur Kashyap Deorah as his mentor.

After graduating, he took up a job at a law firm working on intellectual property rights. “That was a very interesting chapter in my life. I learnt a lot while I worked within a small set-up” he recalls. But it wasn’t until 2006 that he came up with his first venture. “The wish to do something on my own was always latently present. But after a point I realised that I had to take that plunge.” In 2004, he founded his first company, Aakar Knowledge Solution, which provided products and services for schools. “At that point we realised that a lot can be done in the education sector, where there was a wide gap in the methods of teaching. Our efforts were to bridge this gap in whichever way possible. A lot of my batch-mates collaborated in that venture. But then it was acquired by Mexus Education. After that I worked with them for almost five years,” adds Saurabh.

It was at the tail end of his tenure with Mexus that he finally found a new idea to work on — one that he would later name ‘Holachef’. “The problem was genuine, and we figured that not many people have done anything about it. The idea was to primarily an answer to the dreadful question we ask daily: What’s for food today? So we decided to introduce a service where one will get quality food made with ingredients and methods that they would use for their own food,” he says.

“The biggest challenge for us was to convince the chefs to work with us,” he adds. But thanks to the appeal of the idea, it wasn’t difficult to lure them in. “From the very beginning when I heard of Holachef, I wanted to work with them. They are giving opportunities to new chefs and one gets enough independence to work in their own small kitchen set up; we also get enough space to experiment, while keeping the dishes less complicated,” says chef Shahzad Variava, a dessert specialist for Holachef.

After recently lunching services in Pune, Holachef’s trajectory seems to be gaining upward momentum.

“Currently, we are focusing on going deeper in Mumbai, because this is a genuine and more rooted problem in a city like Mumbai,” explains Saurabh.

Meeting with Tata:

We were in talks with him since June and finally things fell into place. Meeting Ratan Tata was, needless to say, quite an experience. The fact that he acknowledged our endeavour is a boost in itself. Though it was never quite informal, the kind of questions and points that he raised during our meetings were an impactful learning experience for us. He is a man who has spent so many years in the hospitality sector, so with every statement, he shared his years of experience.

Giving lessons to young guns:

“The only thing that I have realised from my experience is that there is no such thing as the right idea, right time and right place. One needs to take the plunge, and only then will they find their way. Ideas that are in your mind are much different than the work that you have to do at the ground level. And ideas will keep evolving and this is the school of thought that I come from,” concludes Saurabh.

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