Sunday, November 1, 2015

TieCon Chennai 2015 - Highlights

It's been a year since I turned an Entrepreneur. Ever since, I have been a member of TiE - The Indus Entrepreneurs, Chennai which is a group of current and future Entrepreneurs. The syndicate is professionally managed by a team of able people and has successful Entrepreneurs as Members, Charter Members and various other roles. TiE conducts atleast 3-4 events every month which is open to all members and non-members can join by paying a small fee. In the one year that I've been a member, I have benifited immensely by getting to know some very interesting and knowledgable people, some who have even turned out to be my business beneficiaries. TieCon is an annual event held by the Syndicate which aims to bring together Entrepreneurs of various walks of life. The current year's edition was held on Saturday, 31st Oct. 2015 which was preceded by an Awards Night were a few Entrepreneurs were recognised and honored for their contribution to the ecosystem. The event was held at The Grand Chola, one of the marquee locations in Chennai and is probably one of the biggest of its kind in the country.

The day started from 8am onwards, with bring entry of participants and a quick introduction and networking. The official proceedings commenced with a Drum show (yeah, Jus Drums! was the name of the team that performed) which woke not just the senses but also set a great day in motion. There were addresses by the Distinguished charter Member, Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice chairman of Cognizant Technologies, which is among the top 5 IT services companies of India,  Current President of TiE Chennai, Mr. Naru Narayanan and Event Chair, Ms. Padma Chandrasekaran. The day started  with a session by Mr. Mahesh Murthy, an angel Investor who has more than 50 companies in his portfolio which was followed with a key note address by Mr. Ronnie Screwala, Founder and CEO of UTv Pictures, a first generation Entrepreneur who was also the first in the country to operate a private Cable Tv Network way back in the 90s. He spoke about his journey, the struggles, the good ones and the not so good ones and the various aspects and facets of Entrepreneurship. 


Mr. Girish Mathrubootham, Founder of Chennai based Freshdesk, a SaaS company that provides tools for customer Service and Support to more than 50,000 clients all over the world was awared Big Billion Baby which included a fireside chat with the man himself, ably conducted by Mr. Chandu Nair, another serial entrepreneur and charter member of Tie Chennai. Girish spoke about his inspiring journey, hailing from erstwhile small town Trichy, having worked with some of the largest companies earlier which provided the same service, his first fund raise, the ups and downs and finally about the recent $50 million funding received by the company. An extremely humble and down to earth guy, he spoke about how Entrepreneurs have to sacrifice quite a bit of their family life and family time. Incidentally, the day marked his Wedding Anniversary too.

After this session, there was various Masterclasses, Mentoring sessions, Luncheon meetings and so on which was well attended enthusiastically by budding Entrepreneurs. 

I couldn't attend any of these sessions, for my latest and upcoming Hyperlocal Ecommerce Venture Oyethere.com was among the Top 20 Finalists for the Pitchfest which is a highlight of Tiecon. We were selected among 100s of applications that were submitted over the past few months and it was an honour and privilege to meet potential Investors and to have a one on one discussion with them. I had the opportunity to pitch to 8 Investors, and the feedback for the venture from each one of them was overwhelming. The Investors acknowledged the hotness of this category and wished me luck for the future. Some of them have said that we could meet in the coming days to discuss further. Will know the course of action and next steps in the coming days. 

After the Pitchfest was over, I joined back the main session which had an interesting standup Comedy session by Arvind Subramaniam of the popular theatre group Evam. The valedictory session was led by Mr. Raju Venkatraman, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Medall, a Chennai based Healthcare Company. The final session of the day was on Leadership Lessons from Actor Rajnikanth, presented by Mr. Mohanram, Theatre personality, Actor, Trainer and Entrepreneur. 


The day ended at 6pm with a lot of learning to more than 1,500 people who had gathered for the event. I, for one was double delighted with the recognition that my venture was given as well as meeting and hearing snippets from Entrepreneur stalwarts. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Seven Tenets of a Start-Up Entrepreneur

I wrote a column 10 days ago about my completion of one year of Entrepreneurship. It received unprecedented reach from my professional world. Over 2,500 people had viewed it, over 750 “Likes” and more than 75 people took time to comment on the article. A few requested me to keep writing and share more about Entrepreneurship and I am hence writing this as a follow-up article.

I would like to highlight the seven tenets of Entrepreneurship, as I have seen it in the past few years myself as well as from the experiences of those around me. Of course, there could be more but then these would summarise and may include other points as well within them.

All ideas are not monetisable

Most often, as to-be Entrepreneurs or existing Entrepreneurs, we try to build a case on an issue which we think could solve a problem. In some cases, it would solve even an unknown problem that the customer never knew (Read: Apple/Steve Jobs/iDevices). But before you build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or a Prototype, do check if the product you are building would be profitable (at some stage), scaleable (across geographeis, for example) and saleable (potential buyer for the business and not just customers). If these three points have a green tick, then you are good to 

Funding an Idea vs. a Person

Most often, one would hear that the Investor is not funding just the idea but the person as well. This is quite true. Most investors look at how the Founder/Promoter approaches the idea or concept and in general, their view of life. Only a few founders who go to build massive companies focus on the larger essence of life which excludes monetary and material pleasures. It doesn’t mean that the Founder takes a Public Transport to work or operates in a dingy pigeon-hole work environment. It means how frugal they are in their thought process about spending every penny that has been invested into the venture by Investors.

Looking for an Angel Friend

Most Entrepreneurs, mostly first gen like me, do not come with the backing of a family office or hereditary wealth. They save up a bit and start off at some point in their life mostly depending on someone else to fund their ideas. While friends and family would encourage them to move ahead, you would also see them exercising caution, not to be myopic in their view of business and life. Those who talk big stuff, usually end up doing nothing for the Founders. Some avoid emails and calls, let alone introductions to potential Investors. But that’s just fine. Don’t mix up Funding and Friendship.


Age No Bar

There is no age for starting up. If you think you are willing to give up your lifestyle (that doesn’t mean a compromise though) and work a bit harder than you are working for someone else ((I mean like, really hard), then give it a shot. Fix a timeline by when you will return back (unfortunately or otherwise) to a day job if things don’t go your way. There is no fixed time for this. It could be a year to five at the max. In five years if you haven’t got it right, with just one idea or probably a handful, then I guess it is time to move on.

Money, Money, Money

Save quite a bit before you start-up. Things could go horribly wrong with your idea, product or service. You may need money to demonstrate, scale-up and prove that what you have founded works. In the meanwhile, you could have other compulsions – family, health issues, insurance, vehicle repairs, etc. It is wise to keep aside your minimum monthly requirements for atleast 36 months before you start your venture to be on the safer side. That is if you are willing to sail that path for so long.

Reboot – Plan B

If one idea doesn’t work over a period of time (as an Entrepreneur, you would know what’s best), then have Plan B, C, D and so on. Never get stuck with just one idea that you believe could change the world dramatically. Have alternate ideas and plans. Remember, it is you who has to click as an Entrepreneur and not just the idea. It’s a two-pronged approach and you need to keep this in mind. Always.

Never Give Up

You will hear advises from all over the world around you. Believe me, talk is cheap and free. At the maximum, data charges for emails and messages and perhaps call charges. The Advisor loses nothing to preach. However, they could be people like you who have started up and failed and their wisdom is speaking. They could also be those who started up and succeeded but probably know the difficulties. If you keep the above six points in mind, then go ahead with what you believe in. Never Give Up. But do remember, all ideas do not work for various reasons. So have the grace to accept and move on.

Hope the above points have helped you as a budding Entrepreneur or if you are already one. Cheers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Year as an Entrepreneur!

It’s already been a year, I wondered. What started as a passionate journey has gained momentum in the past 12 months. Life has been very different, as an Entrepreneur to say the least. It is one thing to turn an Entrepreneur when you are in your fifties – you probably have enough savings to dip in, dabble on experiments and have alternate plans if one thing doesn’t work. The world has indeed seen many successful Entrepreneurs who started late in their lives. And it is completely different to start off on your own when you are in your twenties, which currently seems to be the flavour of the Entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lads that age have successfully demonstrated that their ideas can be converted into mega-businesses, touching the lives of millions of people. So, starting off in my late 30s was something I was not very comfortable, honestly, at the outset. I was having a fixed salary, enjoying air travels and hotels across the country, meeting the high and mighty exchanging business cards of large companies who gave me the identity that I probably deserved.


But things changed. They had to. The past two years have been troublesome for me, at a personal front which had an impact on me professionally. Entrepreneurship instincts come naturally to a few, and many others develop it over time. Mine was the latter. That’s probably because being born and raised up in middle class environments taught me the essence of valuing money. It was not too wise to let go of all what you have earned and saved, forget borrowing and running a business. It’s a bit of a taboo too, for an Entrepreneur is expected to do things which one doesn’t have to otherwise. I too, like any other person thought of all these things before I ventured in to the entrepreneurial journey. To say the least, it has been extremely gratifying and satisfying. I have learnt quite a few things more in the past 12 months, which I may not have seen and learned if I was still working for someone.


The decision to start my own venture was a well thought out plan. My wife, who is my pillar of strength (sounds a bit clich├ęd but a golden truth) and I planned our goals meticulously for over a year before I finally got on to it. We worked on various business plans and models and finally arrived at something what we thought was a profitable, scalable and a saleable model. Smiling Baby (a baby shop that would cater to young parents and parents to-be) was first coined in my car during a long trip we had undertaken followed by the logo designs on a computer screen. Quite soon, the first store was up and ready. We commenced operations on a Friday. We had sunk in (or invested, if that sounds right) almost all our savings that we had accumulated over the past decade or so. It was a roller-coaster ride that we anticipated. And boy, what a ride it has been. I would have met atleast a 100 potential so-called Investors over the past 2 years. The very first one whom we met chided the idea. The person (and I am not going to identify their gender at this stage) discouraged me to pursue Entrepreneurship and instead focus on a day job which was more stable and secure since I had a family and two little girls. I gave a patient ear. And went about what my heart said. No offence to the person’s thoughts.


We prepared and shared a MS Powerpoint presentation coupled with backing numbers on an MS Excel Work Sheet with numerous people. The first question was – “Have you started off?” and this kept bothering me. It looked like they would pour money once we started. And there were quite a few examples that way in the entrepreneurial ecosystem already where professionals had been backed by “Angel” Investors who went on to build successful companies. So, I decided to quite a full time career and start off – 1st Aug. 2014 was the day I was officially an Entrepreneur. Wishes and congrats poured on my LinkedIn page along with messages and calls from all corners of the world. Friends and Acquaintances appreciated my gall to quit a full time salaried job and pursue my dreams. It was very encouraging and I honestly enjoyed the attention and spot light for a few days.


We spoke and met a number of so called potential Investors. Some displayed grace. They heard our story. They encouraged us. They offered to support us. Many others said this would fail, probably they were a lot more clairvoyant than me for they were seasoned “Investors” who could predict which way things would go. They knew cock-shit about Retail, forget knowing what it takes to quit a full time job and become an Entrepreneur especially when you have a Cancer patient at home and five dependents including your little ones to take care of.


I should have probably listened to them and should have quit being an Entrepreneur. I didn’t since I was already in the game and wanted to give it a whole try. Things were fine for some time. Not a single instance of brick-bats from our customers, who appreciated what we were doing. The journey was turbulent but we thought it would stabilise slowly. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way we had anticipated. There were a few reasons for this – we were a bit myopic in our thoughts about the business. I was quite confident I could raise money in a couple of months from starting, since the business idea was a strong one. It continues to remain so. And I had a decent pedigree – I was among the Top 50 Retail Professionals in India as recognised by a top research firm in 2014.  


We went door after door, making presentations and pitches, changing our business course as we moved forward from time to time. Our bank balances were drying. And one day, it was near empty. A few good Samaritans came forward to help us cross the bridge. It gave us a buffer. Although a short one. Those who had promised to support us couldn’t, for various reasons. Many emails, messages and calls went unanswered. We were losing hope on people whom we thought would give us a helping hand. I was willing to offer even half of my equity at some stage, just to ensure survival. Things went awry. My lowest point was for a few days when I gave up even on God.


I finally came to terms. It was my life and no one is expected to make an impact on it except me. Probably my close family and a few friends. I decided to shut the first store we had taken on lease. I had built it more passionately than the three houses we had bought in our lifetime over the last decade. I pulled out everything out of the first store, some personally with my own hands. I was choking. But with a glee in my heart, that this was not the end. And probably it could have got worse.


On 31st July 2015, the day I completed 365 days as an Entrepreneur. This day and date will be etched in my mind all my life. It was a Friday too. The day we commenced our venture. And on this day, I had to legally cancel the lease agreement. It was a couple of hours’ thing and it was all over. Finally. For a venture which was started with so much excitement, it was not the best way to end.


As I wake up, sip my coffee and write this article, I begin my second year as an Entrepreneur. I have stood up, dusted, come to terms with the Ecosystem and have moved on as an Entrepreneur although I have a bit of baggage left as an individual. I have lost faith in people whom I trusted and those whom I didn’t know much – I would get carried away at times by sweet talk, but not anymore. I have realised that people come and go out of our lives for a reason. The “going” and let-go part seems to be more important, on a lighter note.


I always thanked my ecosystem for making me a reasonably successful professional over the past 18 years. In my first job when I used to scoop Ice-Cream 18 years back at Baskin Robbins as a part time job during my graduation, little did I realise that I would be blessed to offer jobs to a few people one day. “My Retail Journey” has been a very exciting one. And it continues to be so. I felt that an important reason for my success was the ecosystem. And I also feel that the same ecosystem let me down as a first time Entrepreneur. Am not sure how much importance should I give anymore to the ecosystem though. But I will continue to respect the views of people around me, although I may not be able to abide by what they say at all times for all issues, unanimously.


I have a few plans for the next couple months on what I should be focussing on. This time, I have not one but multiple back-up plans. Although they are just plans on paper and computer at the moment. But am sure, I am going to crack this, come what may. I cannot and shall not allow life dictate terms to me. This is my life and I shall live it the way it suits me and those around me the best.


I have Miles to go, before I sleep. This is not the end of year 1, this is the beginning of Year 2.


Watch this space. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Are Cafes sustainable?

The most discussed topic these days in Retail circles in India is the impending IPO of the company that runs the Cafe Coffee Day chain of stores. The holding company, Coffee Day Enterprises is planning to raise ₹1,150 Crores from the Indian Stock Market for which Draft Herring Prospectus has been submitted recently. The company is among the few of its peers such as The Future Group, Shoppers Stop, Trent(Tata's) and Dominos (Jubiliant Organosys) who have gone public with the companies. CDE plans to utilise the money raised for paring debts and for expansion almost on an equal basis. The company started out renting its premises for Internet enthusiasts to browse in 1996 while also encouraging them to buy a good cup of Cappuccino, coffee that is prepared and presented in the Italian style for 5 times the price of a normal cup of coffee. Very soon, the company decided to change its strategy for Internet to consumer and positioned itself as a place for conversations and more. The rest is history. 

A lot happens over Coffee, is not just the tag line for CCd but also something that is real. A lot of things get done at cafe similar to CCd such as Costa, Barista, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and of course at Starbucks, the world's largest cafe chain which entered India in 2012 in a joint venture with Tata's. I was at a Starbucks for over 4 hours yesterday, which included a one hour meeting, a half an hour call and rest of the time on Mails and office work. During those four hours, not more than two tables were empty for more than 5 mins. The cafe was running at full occupancy. There were people working on their Macs and other laptops, a few who were reading stuff on their books and devices and one man sitting next to me who watched a full movie! 



With an Investment of over ₹1 crore in interiors and hefty rents for locations, this SBUX outlet does a Sale of about ₹40-50 Lakhs a month. Compare that with ₹3/5 Lakhs that a CCD would do, albeit with 1/4 th the investment and 50% lesser opex. So, are these cafes really viable in the long term?

Answer is Yes and No. 

Cafes are viable in the medium to long term provided they receive continuous and healthy patronage. Keeping aside the Capex and Opex for a moment, the cafes would be profitable not just financially but as a Brand asset in the medium to long term when their occupancy remains high. Consumers walk in to a cafe for the coffee (and food) for only 30%. The rest is for the experience in itself and a peaceful me-only space that one doesn't get at home or workplace. 



It is far easier to be viable as a single store than as a chain of stores, for Ny format in Retail. Most of the Indian Retailers are bleeding due to unresponsive assets in the form of their stores and high costs of operations including servicing debts. This will change over time with Retailers finding new avenues for their revenues. But what about cafes? CCD took a strategic position to be the nearest cafe in every neighbourhood and that has paid off. There are over 1,400 cafes across four formats in over 250 cities in India apart from a handful of them in Austria and Malaysia. Most of the cafes for CCD are operationally viable and are not seeking money from Corporate anymore. The newer ones face tough competition with the traditional outlets, especially with the changing landscape in the out of home consumption sector.

Cafes have always been viable provided you get the fundamentals correct. So, for every Java Green and Barista, there is a SBUX and CCD as examples. As the saying goes, the 120 bucks you paid for the coffee is actually not for the coffee but for the sofa and a/c. With the increasing trend of people working in casual environments, cafes will have a large impact on our lives. Next - probably a Bollywood fil, on how cafes have made or broken marriages! Watch this space. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Highway dining is back…

I have travelled extensively (by road) during April 2015 across Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Being a road warrior myself, I love the journey as much as the destination. As age catches up one wants to take frequent breaks – nature’s call, food stop, caffeine, fuel, etc. It’s been difficult to search for good (read hygienic and safe) places, especially when the family is around. It is common to see passengers stop at large fuel stations or one of restaurants on the Highways but then, as I said, one needs to take more breaks to find each of the above mentioned facilities.

McD Logo

Cafe Coffee Day, India’s largest cafe chain has been on a massive expansion and growth spree over the past decade and now has over 1,450 cafes across India and interestingly has over 50 cafes just on the highways. However large this number looks independently, it is indeed a very small share of the immense opportunity that lays ahead. For example, between Chennai and Bangalore, a distance of over 360 km, there are just 4 cafes, 2 on either side of the road. Chennai – Trichy (280km) has just one cafe! Tourist locations such as Virajpet & Madikeri (Coorg), Udupi, Kozhikode Beach, Tanjore BIG Temple, etc. do not have a single cafe in the vicinity. Well, I am not mentioning here about just the CCD chain but any organized F&B player for that matter. With better road conditions and more excitement for road trips among Indians, there seems to be a much larger opportunity on hand than what many Retailers think.

When I read recently that Reliance is planning to open its 1,500 plus fuel stations across the country, I was elated. I have been a regular user of their services when they were operational until 2010 when they had to shut shop most of their fuel stations due to indiscriminate differences in fuel prices between the Govt. controlled OMCs and the private players. However, things have changed ever since 2012 when Petrol prices were dergularised and in 2014, Diesel prices have also been deregularised which is good news for private players like Essar, Reliance and Shell. A1 Plazas, as they were named, Reliance Fuel Stations were as big as football stadiums that had atleast 12 fuel pumps for vehicles, large food courts, both a/c and non-a/c, large open spaces for Car Parking, Garden areas for walking and ofcourse, spic and span rest rooms.

01034d5ab2ff5a7fd37563f01aacdfb8a49667c558_00001 

These 1,500 Fuel stations can readily take up 1,500 foodcourts, atleast 500 fast food restaurants such as Mc Donalds and KFC plus 1,000 cafes if not more – that’s a whopping number of new retail outlets to be created. Each foodcourt which could be run by players like A2B (Adyar anandha Bhavan), Haldirams, and so on (essentially local cuisine) can employ about 15 people, the restaurant can employ about 15 and the cafe could employ atleast 10. so, we are talking about creating over 10,000 jobs within the next six months in Organized Retail – that many number of families would get benefited. Being a market leader, Cafe Coffee Day has a massive opportunity to scale-up. Their consistency is not up to the mark of late, one of the perils of massive expansion, but then, no other F&B player has it anyway. 

Just 50km outside Chennai, there are several restaurants, fast food outlets and cafes which people are already flocking to. Same is the scene outside Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Pune and so many other cities. There is one such place called “The Farm” on OMR (Chennai) which raises poultry animals, Horses, Cows and Buffaloes among others.

In a few years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if many families would be driving for an hour outside their city for a Brunch coupled with leisure activities. Hope F&B players gear up and smell this opportunity, sooner than later.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

180 Days as an Entrepreneur

DSC_0310 

I started my entrepreneurial journey exactly six months back from today, on 1st Aug. 2014. The journey has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. I have always wanted to have a company for myself, but for that to happen in 2014 was based on various conditions at workplace and home. The last six months have been super exciting – everyday has been a revelation. I set foot by creating a retail business for myself, Smiling Baby which is a baby care venture that focuses on a wide range for products aimed at newborn children upto six years of age and catering to the aspirational middle class to shop in an affordable, comfortable and convenient environment. Confluence Retail Private Limited was established on an auspicious occasion – Teacher’s Day, which fell on 5th Sep. 2014. It was a great way of me dedicating my efforts to my teachers and Gurus, my mentors and well wishes and to everyone who have taught me a lesson or two in my personal, professional and public life.

DSC_0125

We inaugurated the (physical) retail store on Friday, 26th Sep. 2014 and the venture is seeing good traction. We are currently taking the next big leap of taking the business to the web, but it wouldn’t be yet another E-Commerce store selling diapers and creams at deep discounts but something more engaging and interesting.

Here are some lessons that I learned as an Entrepreneur which I would like to share;

  • Time Management – From waking up in the morning to hitting the sack late in the night, time is at our own disposal. What we do with it completely depends on what outcome we expect out of it.
  • Results are directly linked to the efforts we put in. Well, its the same while we work somewhere else, but most probably we are working in large or small teams. But as an Entrepreneur, we are working for ourselves and most often alone, or in a short team.
  • Blame ourselves when things go wrong; probably try to put the pieces together and find out what went wrong, where and why. No Blame Game – no one to pass on the buck - to juniors, seniors or peers.
  • Money Management is key – as important as managing time. While most Entrepreneurs start off with a buffer of savings, what we fail to remember is to keep maintaining or building the buffer from time to time to help you stay longer in the game.
  • Trusting those around – this has been a great challenge for me. While we work for large organizations, we believe people will do their job. But when you are on your own, it requires a lot more monitoring and follow-ups.
  • Getting compliments from your first time and repeat customers – gives us a high but also makes us to be more and more modest.

Some of the pain points compared to a professional life;

  • After being in the Corporate world for a decade and a half, we expect a certain level of professionalism at work, which doesn’t happen in most cases.
  • People walk in at their will at your office and expect you to value their time, leaving behind what we have been working upon.
  • There is no respect for appointments – in most cases, we are taken for granted since we don’t carry a business card of a popular company!
  • Money is always scarce, especially if we are used to a certain lifestyle.
  • Friends and Family look up to us differently – as though we are wasting time without pursuing a full time job.

Overall, its been one exciting journey, a very long in terms of knowledge yet a short one in time. I have learned a lot more things in the last six months than in the past six years or so, probably. Setting up your own company, especially in the Retail world which has its own complications from Finance to Supply Chain, Marketing to Operations.

The journey has just begun and I have Miles to Go before I sleep…

Friday, January 16, 2015

Breaking fast the traditional way!

Indians are fond of their meals, especially their breakfast. Except that they find increasing lesser time - to prepare as well as to consume. A typical bachelor skips his or her breakfast atleast 17 times or more a month according to a survey conducted by the students of a premier B-School in Chennai. And most other times, their obvious choice is Maggi or Bread & Jam prepared in a jiffy at home or hostel or mansion where they live. In the family households, its usually Idly/Dosa in the South Indian households on the weekdays and something a bit more exciting on the weekends when the family spends more time together. Typically, the breakfast options include Omlette with Eggs and/or Parathas/Puris in the North & East of India while it is the ubiquitous Vada Pav & Poha in the West and Central parts of India. The upwardly mobile and the health conscious have moved on to more healthier options such as Corn Flakes and Oats, which is more a fad at the moment than a habit. Doctors prescribe atleast 3-4 short meals a day with a 3-4 hour break in between and recommend that the Breakfast should be the most healthy and sumptuous while Dinner should be the least. 


With increasing awareness through TV and Social Media coupled with higher spending power, consumers are naturally looking at better options for their breakfast. India has the highest number of Diabetics in the world and those having this disorder are stricter with their diet regimen than the others. A large segment of Senior citizens who are part of SEC A+ A and B are also quite health conscious with their diet, especially their breakfast. And this is good news to companies who are operating in this segment. Kellogs India has been present in India for 15 years now and has gradually replaced traditional breakfast with their corn flakes over the years. There are many variants of the Corn Flakes now and are an attractive for people of all ages. Another rapidly growing breakfast category is the good old Oats, but in a new avatar. Oats has several benefits: cholesterol, sugar and weight control; easy to digest; filling and energising; fibrous; and easy to prepare, says a Nielsen India report, 'Oats are making waves at the breakfast table'. The annual sale of oats is growing at 38%, higher than the breakfast cereal category's 21.7% growth according to the report. Quaker Oats is the market leader in the organized Retail segment followed by Kellogg's, Saffola (from the house of Marico Industries) and Horlicks (from Glaxo Smithkline). 

Kellogg's has done a lot of innovative and interesting Marketing over the years and some of them have been within the confines of the retail stores as well as outside through traditional and social media. At Retail Stores such as Food Bazaar, part of the 12,000 Crore Future Group, Kellogg's conducts sampling exercises of its corn flakes and oats to customers - normally a small portion is given to sample the product and apparently, there is a 30% conversion of users to buy the product, according to Ms. Smita (29), a product associate at one of the retail locations who has been promoting Kellogg's products for over 2 years now. Saffola provides samples of oats along with 2/5 Litre Oil packs to its customers and such exercises are undertaken at premium retail outlets to reach out to the relevant target segments. "Kellogg leads the ready-to-eat cereal category and is a major player in oats. It continues to innovate and invest. Kellogg's Oat-bites is the only ready-to-eat in the market. We expect to see sustained growth in breakfast cereals, driven by consumers' increasing nutrition awareness and spending power," said Sangeeta Pendurkar, MD, Kellogg India in an interview to Hindustan Times.


On Pongal day this year (15 Jan. 2015), which is celebrated as Harvest Festival in the South of India, Kellogg's put out an interesting advertisement on the first page of The Hindu - proposing readers to switch over to Oats pongal as an alternative to the traditional Pongal which is made out of Rice & Ghee. The idea had a mixed response among readers. My 73 years old aunt was happy to note that there was such an option from Kellogg's - she has been consuming Oats for a couple of years now and sensed that this could be tastier and crunchier as well. Some people felt that nothing can be replaced by the steaming hot traditional rice pongal which is consumed with a tinge of liquid ghee on it. 

From a "call to action" point of view, I felt that they could have done a bit more than just mere advertising. In today's context, Modern Marketing is all about reaching out to consumers collaboratively. Kellogg's could have perhaps provided free samples along with the newspaper, quipped someone. I spoke to a general marketing practitioner and he said most companies have refrained from such activities because a few retailers take advantage by buying newspapers themselves and hoarding the free samples. Also, logistically, it is a nightmare to attach a sample pack with every newspaper, especially at 3 am in the morning when the newspapers reach the distributors. Instead, Kellogg's could have tied up with a prominent retailer which could have provided free samples. This way, the brand could have collaborated with a Retailer to drive footfalls which benefits the latter as well while attracting massive visibility. The paper-cutting could have been used to redeem the sachets at the retail store. And perhaps the customer would have also bought a thing or two in addition to the free sample. The same Ad through the Kellogg's Facebook Page could have generated much interest to the internet addicts as well - they could show the Ad to the retailer to get a sachet too!

The upcoming years would be interesting times for Retailers and Brands. Its not about selling (products) to consumers anymore. Its all about engaging them for the long term. And we have just begun.