The Bengaluru-based company was started in 2008 to bring global quick service restaurant (QSR) brands to India. It is the master franchisee for Booster Juice and Kiwi Kiss, both widely popular Canadian brands. Booster Juice, which offers healthy smoothies and juices, was the first brand to be launched the same year. Naqvi knew that building a brand new category like healthy smoothies would take time but they would have an early mover advantage in it. And he felt that partnering with a leading brand that had a great culture would be beneficial.
“The smoothies category was interesting to us as we felt that the same trends of healthy living and fitness that were sweeping the world would also affect India,” he says. Kiwi Kiss, launched in 2010, was an effort to continue the trend – the frozen yoghurt is a healthy dessert that has lesser fat or calories than an ice cream. Even in his personal life, an all fruit smoothie is a part of his daily diet routine. “At home, I experiment with adding vegetables to this, which often results in a strange taste,” says Naqvi.
“While Booster Juice as a fitness fix defines our brand strategy, we find that a new product introduction – a seasonal re-introduction or a brand new product, creates a far greater buzz amongst our consumers than anything else.”
In 2009, Helion Venture Partners invested Rs. 16 crore in the company. The investment went essentially towards scaling up and providing working capital. “We have kept marketing costs at the minimum by focussing on using our stores themselves as billboards for our brands, and leveraging social media to connect with our customer base. Our loyalty program, which now has over 50,000 members and our Facebook page with over 72,000 fans have become our communication tools of choice,” says Naqvi. The company currently has 21 outlets for Booster Juice and five outlets for Kiwi Kiss. With six of them being franchisees, Naqvi adds that there is potential for this number to expand rapidly. While both the brands enjoy greatest retail density in Bengaluru, he finds great growth potential in several major cities with Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad being at the forefront.
A brand new day
A typical day for Naqvi begins with a quick breakfast, newspapers and email. “I try and get the meetings done first thing in the morning as that leaves me with much more time later in the day. As restaurant business runs late into the evening, this gives us more time to concentrate on the stores when they are busy,” he says. And evenings end with a final flurry of emails. Hence, in the age of information overload, Naqvi likes to unwind with a good book. “I enjoy movies and that’s our shared family pastime especially on the weekends,” he adds. Travel is an integral part of his business as he shuttles between India and Canada. Though he would like to think that he leads a balanced lifestyle, Naqvi accepts that the number of hours he puts in at work makes him look like a workaholic.
While Naqvi oversees strategy in all aspects of the business, functionally he is more hands on with marketing and supply chain. But he also makes sure that the team is self sufficient to take own decisions. “I tend to be hands off when there is an expert in the team. So, finance and operations are run by those who do a better job of those functions than I would,” he shares. The leadership team of four also involves the team leaders in the decision making processes to enable them to be strong contributors. Besides engaging in group activities, the company has also nominated people for personal development programs, thus trying to foster a culture of empowerment.
“We do have issues of attrition and these are not minor, but we believe that we have found the right recipe for cutting attrition by creating opportunities for people within the system,” says Naqvi. Whenever he and his team visit an outlet, they speak to the employees and customers present there.
From fashion to food
Naqvi is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College and The Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. He started his career with Brooke Bond India Ltd, which is now a part of Hindustan Unilever. His time at Brooke Bond and then at Madura Coats Ltd as the head of sales and marketing of the Madura Garments business were the key experience elements that have helped shape his career. In 1999, he co-founded Indus League Clothing Ltd., which gave birth to brands such as Scullers and Indigo Nation. “This was the first company in India to receive venture capital investment that was outside the technology space,” he recalls. After Indus League, he returned to a corporate job. But the entrepreneurial bug which was still alive in him and the support from his co-founders made him start Brand Calculus.
The initial challenge was in setting up the QSR business as its learning curve was steep. “The dynamics of a QSR business are different from the apparel business. In apparel retail, you sell a pre-made product that was assembled in a factory somewhere else, but in a restaurant your store is your factory,” states Naqvi.
To ensure that all recipes and processes are kept in sync with international standards of the brands, Brand Calculus works closely with both the brands. “Localising the product and working with local ingredients is a key part of our own innovation agenda. We have largely import-proofed ourselves as well as developed several products locally that are now a part of our best sellers,” says Naqvi. There is also constant training to drive standards at the outlets. “We train a batch of team members on a weekly basis in our head office, so that everyone gets regular training every year. For the newer ones, we follow a buddy trainer system in our outlets to help reinforce what the team member has learnt.” But there are also challenges that the company faces regularly – unreasonable rents, the absence of a well connected cold chain across India and staffing. To counter this, Brand Calculus tries to increase its productivity per outlet and recruit the bulk of its employees from NGOs in small towns that offer vocational training to young people, who are committed towards a career in the restaurant industry. “We’ve largely overcome the problem of cold chain at the metros but the costs for a startup from this infrastructure element are very large,” he adds.
Brand Calculus’ business strategy revolves around great products, a great experience and great value. This is also the basis of its marketing strategy. Besides social media, it has also used radio to promote its brands. “While Booster Juice as a fitness fix defines our brand strategy, we find that a new product introduction – a seasonal re-introduction or a brand new product, creates a far greater buzz amongst our consumers than anything else. This new product innovation, therefore, becomes a fundamental basis of our marketing strategy.” It is currently working with internal accruals but further investment in the future cannot be ruled out.
It will design and manage its first food court for a mall in Bengaluru that will launch this April. “Running a foodcourt offers new challenges but it also allows us to develop and showcase our own brands. We see this as a very important part of our future growth,” he shares. As the company is targeting a turnover of Rs. 25 crore for FY 2012, he hopes to be able to double it in the next two years. “Our vision is to be a QSR business that has a portfolio of differentiated global brands, that we partner with or create ourselves, that is among the top brands.” As he works towards it, Naqvi carries with him the management mantra he learnt from his very first job, ‘What succeeds is an idea, not so much the person’.
What is your unresolved dream?
To be a landscape photographer
What keeps you up at night?
The fickle experimentative customer
Pet Peeve: That our unbelievable rents might go further up
Favourite food: Awadhi Biryani
Your biggest critic: My daughter