In August 2015 23-year-old Murali Gundanna, a software engineer, decided to quit his job in Bengaluru and follow his passion for starting a food business. “The thought to do something of my own kept bothering me. So one fine day I walked to my employer’s cabin informing that I would not be working from tomorrow,” Murali says.
Murali, who hails from Mysuru, graduated in 2014 and was working with the JSW group when his entrepreneurial instincts kicked him. Recollecting the event, Murali said he explained to his boss about what was going on in his mind.
“My boss took it very positively and offered me three months of paid leave. He said, if I failed, I could join back after the leave was exhausted,” he adds.
The faith his boss showed in him may be confusing but Murali’s vision was clear. And from those early days of selling 10 boxes a week, he now sells thousands of boxes of food a day – all thanks to his grandmother, his aunts in Mysuru and the right spirit. Here’s his amazing tale of success.
A garage kitchen
Around October and November of 2015, Murali said he thought of a business plan and discussed the idea of starting a food business in Mysuru with his grandmother Indiramma, along with aunt Usha and Sandhya. They agreed to support him in cooking meals and deciding the menu.
“On December 3, 2015, we decided to prepare pulao, curd rice, kheer and fruit bowl. I prepared a list of 40 friends and acquaintances. To deliver the food, I requested two friends and a cousin to help,” Murali said.
The family used a small garage space and borrowed two big stoves from a grandfather who used them for picnics. Murali with his friends Manju, Vinay and cousin Skanga delivered food while his aunts and grandma prepared food.
“We went unannounced and knocked on the doors of friends working in the IT sector, juniors from college and others in the Hebbal industrial area, JL Purram, KD road, Chamundipuram, Shrirampura and Siddhartha layout in Mysuru to hand over the food. I informed them that this is what I would be doing from today and requested them to spread the word for me,” the entrepreneur said, adding that is how Food Box was formed.
From 15-20 boxes a day in initial days, Murali and his family started selling 2,000
boxes a week in Mysuru.
“My friends have always inspired me to do what I am doing. Aalaap taught me to follow my passion while Yathi Raj helped me during the financial crisis and other means. Both of them still support and consult me at various levels,” he adds.
Five years since the venture began, Food Box now has a team of 27 professionals and chefs. There are 30,000 registered users in around Mysuru taking services from the company.
Homemade fresh food a promise
“After a month of starting the business, Narayan Murthy, co-founder of Infosys and businessman, also ordered food from us. He ordered food on multiple occasions since then,” Murali exclaims.
Explaining how Food Box stands out, Murali says, “We provide online home-cooked food. A meal like Pizza ordered from Zomato or Swiggy will cost you anywhere around Rs 400. But we provide enough quantity of food in one meal for Rs 80.”
The entrepreneur feels he has redefined the quality of food with balanced nutritional value at a cost-effective price. Food Box says 30 per cent of its regular customers are doctors, and the majority of them order daily. “We have many customers ordering all three meals of the day. We have variation and demand to be creative in the menu,” he adds.
Murali says Wednesdays and Fridays are for ‘Traditional’ food, while the menu on other days switches from North Indian to South Indian to Chinese.
The business, which began with no investment other than buying groceries for the initial weeks and zero profits for six months, now makes a revenue of about Rs 1.5 Crore a year.
Murali says he succeeded purely by maintaining the quality of the food.
“We do not stock anything; the groceries are ordered daily and received by evening. The vegetables are delivered early in the morning, and spices get prepared the same day,” Murali explains.
The family cooked for almost a year since the business started, but with the increasing demand, they hired chefs and professionals.
“My grandmother passed away in March, but we have documented all the recipes which are followed at every step,” he adds.
The chief chef is also a shareholder in the company, ensuring the quality and dedication gets maintained in the process.
Consistency is the key
“The main challenge with the food business is the workforce. I cannot rely entirely on people around me. I know everything from cooking to doing the dishes as I may have to fill in at any place and be ready for any crisis,” Murali told The Better India.
Murali said that maintaining quality is another challenge. “Every batch is quality checked and tasted. The food also has to remain warm by the time it gets delivered to the customer,” he adds.
The entrepreneur said that many customers demand food that is light on the stomach.
“Many also seek only a few items listed on the menu. Customising the food to cater to each of the customer’s needs is also demanding,” he adds.
“We also started a new outlet in Mysuru in March 2019. But that got affected after a year due to the Covid-19 lockdown. We are resuming operations after the setback.
But our online sales picked up by 25 per cent,” Murali said.
Murali says over the time they have also moved from using plastic boxes to aluminium foil. “I requested customers to agree on the change as it cost Rs 16 per packaging. I offered them more food at the same price, and they all agreed,” he adds.
Not without my aunt
Murali’s aunt Usha, is now head of the operations and finance in the company. “My aunt took the risk and quit her 18 years of finance job to support me,” he adds.
Usha says, “I quit my previous job in Mysuru for good and always wanted to keep myself occupied. And while Murali was working, we even planned to outsource a car to a driver and then get into OLA business which never happened.”
The aunt added that when Murali discussed the business, she was very sceptical since it was risky but did not want to demotivate him.
“But for some time when we were supposed to cook and while I was seeing my nephew work so hard for nothing at all, in the beginning, leaving behind a well-paid job I felt quite sad about it,” she adds.
Usha said that when things turned around after almost two years and the business started doing better. “I am happy to be associated with this startup and learnt a lot and continue doing the same even at this age of my life,” she adds.
Food Box accepts orders on 96202 12227 in Mysuru.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)