For most of us, resisting the temptation of street food is nearly impossible. The sights, smells and memories of our childhood draw us in to visit the old haunts and savour the moments again.

Order from Faaso’s on the phone, through Facebook or Twitter and the kebab wraps will be delivered to any place, including bus stops and railway stations.

But Jaydeep Barman and Kallol Banerjee found that the call went beyond the occasional binge. And in response, the duo decided to start a quick service restaurant (QSR) that brought back the kebab wraps they had relished growing up in Kolkata. They set up Faaso’s in 2003 in Pune to dish out fresh wraps and today, one can order on the phone, through Facebook or Twitter and the kebab wraps will be delivered to any place, including bus stops and railway stations.

Switching over

Barman and Banerjee were engineering graduates from Jadavpur University, who pursued their masters in business administration, first from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (in 1999) and then from INSEAD, France (2006 – 07). “We were travelling abroad frequently at the time, therefore we got exposed to the QSR format abroad,” recollects Banerjee. As the two were missing the street food of Kolkata, it seemed logical to enter the QSR market in India with such an offering, especially since there were few organised players in India at that point.

However, at that stage, they were not thinking of devoting their time entirely to the food business. That happened much later. In the initial days, Faaso’s was more of a hobby while the two continued to pursue their careers – Barman worked for Mckinsey in London and Banerjee was with Bosch in Singapore.

By 2008, the idea and ambition of building a chain and a great company in the process had taken root and in 2010 – 11, the actual process began. “It dawned on us that our true calling was Faaso’s, hence the decision to come back, raise money and take it to the next level,” says Banerjee. It was a brave move on their part as they had to work on one-fifth of their corporate salaries they were used to drawing and it also involved other sacrifices such as being away from their families.

Learning with time

The first outlet in Pune had an open kitchen with a glass façade, air conditioning, in short, all the works. “The outlet lost money soon and we finished our earmarked working capital for the entire year in four months time,” admits Banerjee. At this point, they also realised the mistakes they had made and felt that they could do things differently. And so after borrowing from the personal circle, the second outlet was started minus the frills. The focus was on two things – food and service.

As this outlet did well and more outlets came up, the nature of challenges the duo faced also changed. “Today, our biggest issues with expansion are the lack of organised retail infrastructure such as availability of shops, dealing with the various government authorities, hiring and retaining talented personnel,” he says. On the same note, Banerjee adds that these are entry barriers, which are common to all players in the industry and things get easier with progress.

An honest presence

Banerjee opines that firstly, a brand needs to be honest to create recall with customers. “At Faaso’s, we stand for challenging the status quo, are irreverent and capable of laughing at ourselves,” says a candid Banerjee. Indeed, that’s how the company’s website is designed. “This is not something that we arrived at after extensive research on the perceived space in the market. It’s just who we are. I guess all other decisions flow from this,” says Banerjee. One of the things Faaso’s has done is to gift its customers a calendar with coupons on every page that they can use throughout the year. These are not small discount type coupons, but big offers with nothing hidden in fine print. For instance, one could order a wrap and gets eight wraps free that month. This has enabled a lot of word-of-mouth referrals and increased visibility. This also stems from Faaso’s belief that a satisfied customer is the only believable promotion in these times of media clutter.

Snap Shot

Founders: Jaydeep Barman, Kallol Banerjee
Core: QSR for wraps and kebabs
Investors: Sequoia Capital
Investment: US $5 million

The second focus was QCA – quality, convenience and affordability. “The other rule we have is, if something has been done before, we will not repeat it,” states Banerjee. Highlighting some of its different approaches, he says that Faaso’s does not hire senior management members with a background in the food industry. And this was a conscious decision. Another is that Faaso’s has executed a Twitter-based ordering system – a first in the world.

Faaso’s main competition is from international QSRs present in India and the company believes that as long as it maintains the same predictability of product quality, hygiene and service quality, it will continue to have loyal customers. “Our customers interact with us every day on various social networking platforms. We consult them for new product launches, new locations and we are absolutely paranoid about any complaints – be it about product or service,” adds Banerjee.

Future plans

Recently, Faaso’s received US $5 million from venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and the money will be used to expand to 70 outlets across Pune and Mumbai. Post the execution of this expansion plan, the company intends to enter a few more cities. At the moment, all of Faaso’s outlets are self-owned and Banerjee feels that it is not ready to go the franchise route as yet.

The key strategic input to the expansion process is to develop a prototype that can be replicated inclusive of all – food process and quality, supply chain, organisation structure and more. “I think with our experience in Mumbai and Pune, we are very close to developing that prototype,” signs off Banerjee on a positive note.

Concept in brief

Twitter is no longer just an online forum to voice an opinion. Faaso’s has ensured that one can even place an order for food through this platform. This is one amongst the many novel ideas that team Faaso’s has implemented. Its difference in thinking extends to making a conscious effort to avoid hiring senior management folks with a background in the food industry to avoid engaging in tired ideas.

Born out of the love that Jaydeep Barman and Kallol Banerjee shared for kebabs from Kolkata, Faaso’s began as a part time responsibility till the duo realised that their heart was set in it. Since 2011, it has expanded to more outlets in Pune and Mumbai, and plans to have a total of 70 outlets across both cities by the end of 2012. Faaso’s will then consider entering a few more cities in India. The company raised US $5 million from Sequoia Capital recently and is optimistic about replicating its business model successfully. For the company, the buck stops with its store managers, ensuring high quality in each of its outlets.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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