Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jottings : slice of life - 53 ( Goli vada pav - a journey)

Jottings : slice of life - 53 ( Goli vada pav - a journey)
To be part of a system, work with it, accomodate to its demands, pressures and necessities, and to retire with enough money to keep you comfortable for rest of your lives - is an accepted and socially blessed way of professional living. But on the other hand, to break from that rut, conceive of a quaint idea, nurture and nourish it with your “ Sweat, blood and toil”, endure the rigors of its progress, withstand the tremendous psychological and financial pressures it brings upon your family life, to duck innumerable criticisms and downright vindictiveness (sometimes), equally blessed with luck and encouragement from known and unknown sources, and above all, to sustain an idea through a long decade despite all vicissitudes and build a successful business enterprise commanding national acceptance and international penetration - is a bold, audacious and adventurous journey worth, in retrospect, every minute and effort that went into it.
I am proud, honored and privileged to introduce Venky (Venkatesh Iyer), part of my extended family, CEO of “Goli Vada pav” , an Indian fast food chain, as he humbly calls it. Vada pav is a quintessential maharastrian fast food, and does not need any introduction to readers from the sub continent. But for others, it is similar to a burger - a layer of rich potato based patty sandwiched between two buns. And like a burger, there can be many variations on the same theme. That such an innocuous, common place snack could be transformed into a symbol of nutrition, pride and fashion; to be manufactured large scale under strict , stringent and hygienic conditions that meet global standards of food processing; marketed with care and deliberation to reach corners of India where Vada pav was unknown or unheard of; to provide employment, education and sustenance to thousands of young boys and girls wearing that flashy and catchy Goli T-shirt and proudly manning their numerous outlets spread across vital locations with beaming smiles and unbounded energy; to entice conservative financial institutions to believe in such an idea an invest in it; and more importantly, to keep the intense levels of energy up there and continuously innovating to grow, adapt and diversify - these are the hallmarks of true entrepreneurship and capitalism.
When I met Venky nearly over twenty years go in Chennai , scarcely would I have believed that this lanky, young man would one day abandon his comfortable job as a middle level executive, and launch into business throwing all caution to winds. I would be lying if I said we weren't worried. But that is life. One never knows when that transforming moment occurs. Both his wife ( Asha, My sister) and he believed wholeheartedly in their idea and vision, and were willing to gamble everything at its altar. This is not an easy thing to do in a conservative Brahmin family. Believe me!. Venky was particularly fortunate in finding his enterprising, beautiful wife Asha driven by the same passion and energy which drove him. They complement each other wonderfully well. It couldn't have been possible otherwise. It needed the clapping of two hands ( as Zen buddhists would have it) to make this particular sound happen.
Its been twelve years now since the first outlet in Kalyan, Mumbai opened; and since then the brand of “Goli” has grown really well across India and to some parts internationally. More than 350 stores attest to its popularity and quality. I have often heard Venky say “ When McDonalds can do it, why not we?”. He greatly admires the food franchisee model of McDonald’s , and its always been his goal to replicate the rigor of that process into Indian food industry. Many years ago, I remember watching Venky’s video on Goli’s philosophy. To watch the process of Vada pav’s from its conception to completion, fully mechanized with minimum human intervention, transported to different own and franchisee locations in refrigerated containers, to be unpacked and cooked within six minutes - still remains fresh in my memory.
On November 27th, Venky releases his book “My journey with vada pav”. I think it is a story worth telling. In an age when entrepreneurship is growing, it will relevant for youngsters to learn few lessons on what it takes to build a brand, and keep it there. I have not read any pages of it, but I am sure, knowing Venky and Asha, the story will be told as objectively as possible. Here is the link to pre-order the book, if you are interested.
I would like to finish this jotting on a personal note. Few months ago, I chanced to read an essay by Shruti (Venky’s beautiful daughter). In it, she had written about the rigorous journey her parents undertook, sacrifices all of them had to make to reach where they are. I was tremendously moved that Shruti intimately shares and participates in her Parents vision and achievements. Her writing verged on the emotional in those few lines where she described their struggles as Goli was being built. It only means that the venky’s have not only established a successful business, but did equally well in bringing up a wonderful daughter as well. And that is dual success for them.
Our prayers and wishes for a richer, successful, purposeful and contented Goli family - wherever they are.
God bless..
your in mortality,
Bala
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