Venkatesh Iyer, founder of Goli Vada Pav in Mumbai, shares his fascinating story of how he built a Rs 50 crore food business from this popular snack.
Vada Pav the ‘fastest fast food’ of Maharashtra is often referred to as one among the greatest gifts to the Mumbaikars. A versatile food, it is a meal for all meal-times – breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just an afternoon snack. So popular is this deep fried potato dumpling stuffed in a ‘pav’ that it has a special day dedicated to it – 23 August.
From being a meal for many migrant labourers in the ’60s to being a celebrated dish on the menu of various ‘new age’ restaurants, the ‘Bombay Burger,’ as the Vada Pav is sometimes called, has come a long way.
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Venkatesh Iyer (Venky), the founder of Goli Vada Pav, saw the immense business potential in this humble recipe. Started in 2004, it has now grown to over 350 outlets across India, with its presence in 20 states and 100 cities. Case studies on its success and growth are undertaken by top business schools such as Harvard Business School, IMD Switzerland, and ISB Hyderabad.
Venky allows The Better India a glimpse into how the business was built and the challenges and pitfalls that accompany the growth of a start-up.
‘For me, vada pav was like an item number in movies’
Kids who do not study well get to hear jibes like, “If you do not do well in your studies, you will have to end up selling vada pav”, and that is exactly what Venky did. “Typical of most middle-class Tamil Brahmin families, my family also wanted me to study well and become an engineer, doctor, or a chartered accountant,” he says and adds, “Never did I imagine that I would end up being so successful just by selling vada pavs (laughs).”
Venky, who spent close to 15 years in the financial services sector, says, “My focus in all those years was to build up the retail sector, and in the process, ensure that enough and more jobs are created at the bottom of the pyramid. In all my years of trying to help entrepreneurs raise capital, perhaps the entrepreneurial bug bit me as well.” Armed with his experience of managing supply chains, franchising, brand building and fundraising, in February 2004, the first store of Goli Vada Pav came into being at Kalyan in Thane district.
As Mumbai and the vada pav have almost become synonymous, Venky admits that if he hadn’t started this venture, it would have weighed very heavily on his heart.
In a rather interesting way of describing why he chose to launch a vada pav company, he says, “In my Tamilian household, we ate idli, dosa, and Pongal. For me, the vada pav was similar to an ‘item number’ in movies. From college parties to post cricket matches, vada pav has been such a constant part of all our celebrations.”
Kya goli de raha hai?
In the labyrinth of bylanes in Maximum City, where the sizzling sounds of the vadas being fried are carried, the raw potato patty—before it is dipped in the gram flour mix and fried—is often referred to as ‘goli’.
Venky adds, “When I started sharing my idea of starting a vada pav store I was often asked if I was bluffing in a colloquial Mumbaikar term — kya goli de raha hai? That seemed to stick with me and when I was thinking of a name, I decided to use ‘Goli’.”
While the classic vada pav remains a crowd puller, some of the additions like cheese vada pav, schezwan, mixed veg, palak makkai, paneer, and even the aloo tikka versions are rather popular at this franchise. Venky also constantly worked on ensuring that the taste and quality of the product remained stable. He says, “Have you ever noticed a change in the taste of any popular beverage you consume?”
“I wanted to ensure that the taste of my product remained the same in every outlet, no matter who tasted it or on which day.”
Even from a marketing perspective, the company has embarked on some rather unique marketing strategies. He says, “From strategic brand placements in movies to having a Goli vada pav branded bus stop within a movie, we have always tried to find innovative methods of capturing the consumers eye.” With eight distribution centres across India, and over 20 crore customers, the company is only looking forward to scaling greater heights.
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Displaying his social conscience, Venky mentions, “Business success aside, getting boys who were usually school dropouts or just a Class 6 or 10 pass to work with the company and grow was another dream I managed to realise through the franchise.” Venky takes pride in saying that the company is founded on three E’s – Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.
Venky was inspired by stories like that of a middle class engineer — Narayan Murthy, who managed to get Infosys listed on the country’s stock exchanges and also gave the employees stock option, in addition to making such a big name for himself. He says, “Making the humble vada pav a corporate entity was the idea along with an equitable distribution of the wealth we create. ”
Through Goli Vada Pav, Venky aspires to take the humble vada pav to the globe. He is one of the up and coming Indian entrepreneurs who dreams about giving Indian street food wings. We wish him all the success in his endeavours.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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