Persistence and innovation are the adjectives that best define the 37-year-old Jaydeep Barman, Founder of Faaso’s, the popular chain of wraps in Pune and Mumbai. Inspired by the success of the burger chains, this engineer-cum-MBA launched his version of low-priced, fast food served in hygienic conditions in real quick time. The only difference being, this one was closer home in Pune … Kolkata’s famous rolls are now being home delivered from small, no-frills outlets in 25 minutes flat. In a bold move, Barman quit his job with McKinsey in London to roll out his plans in India.
Fresh and desi wraps served in quick time. How did you stumble upon the idea?
When I was working in the US, I realised there were many fast-food chains serving American, Mexican, and Italian sub-standard food in the country but there was none serving good hygienic Indian fast food which is popular all over the world. So I thought there is a huge scope worldwide to create an Indian chain of fast-food joints. There was a huge gap even in India between how Indian street food was served versus the pizzas and burgers. On the one hand, you have taste but on the other there was almost non-existing hygiene. We only had the Domino’s and McDonald’s popping up everywhere in India. But Western fast food is nowhere close to the Indian palates. So there is a gap in the market for food which is closer to the Indian tastes but is served with Western hygiene standards and convenience. I thought that would make a great story. I knew it could be scaled up like a pizza or burger chain. And I love rolls since I was born in the city of rolls – Kolkata. So I thought, why not rolls?
But thinking of starting a chain of fast food joints and actually getting down to doing it are two different things. You are an engineer with an MBA degree.
What made you quit your job at McKinsey & Company and start selling rolls?
When we started in 2003, it was not supposed to be a full-time thing. I was working with a start-up and Faaso’s was happening alongside. We had this one restaurant in Pune for a couple of years. Then I joined McKinsey in 2005 in London. Though we had started the business, its day-to-day management was handled by a few people we had hired. This continued until 2009. Faaso’s was something that ran parallel to our jobs and was not meant to be our livelihood.
What was your initial investment in Faaso’s and how has been the response?
The initial investment was about Rs 6 lakh. The property was leased. We opened our first 800 sq.ft. restaurant in Pune. When you start something, you tend to put your personality in it. So our first outlet was very fancy with air-conditioning. But after a couple of months, we felt it wasn’t working out.
We then realised that even smaller outlets can serve larger numbers and put our focus on home deliveries and takeaways. While being smaller in size, we became capital efficient by increasing our capacity. Having too many things on our menu was also disadvantageous for us. Wraps were always the cornerstone of our business but we were also offering biryanis and other items. The supply chain became quite complex. Also, training a person in 50 different items was also an issue. So we trimmed down the menu. These were the two biggest learnings.
The money we spend in an outlet is one-tenth of a Costa Coffee or Café Coffee Day, but our revenues are the same. Faaso’s started making money after the third year and from the sixth outlet onwards.
What are some of the HR initiatives you have undertaken at Faaso’s?
At Faaso’s, we look for entrepreneurial talent. We try to hire store managers who would have been very good entrepreneurs if they could arrange the capital, but otherwise who are totally like entrepreneurs in their mental makeup and psychology, and the decisions they take. They should understand the business model and be self-starters. The store manager is the boss at Faaso’s. So everybody, including me, reports to the him because I believe if he raises an issue and says I as the CEO haven’t solved a problem for three days, it will affect my performance appraisal.
For us, the head office is only a support function. The store is the key. Whatever it says is gospel. For me, the store manager is the CEO. This is not just lip talk. We have a 10-day “indoctrination programme” rather than an induction programme for new recruits. In this, we train them on not just running a retail business but also on things such as how to interact with customers. We keep a track of the high performers and fast track their growth. The selected few are given special training in English, customer interaction, reading financial statements, etc.
How do you maintain consistency across all outlets?
We have invested in our proprietary marinades. Whenever we introduce a product, all its ingredients are standardised. The sauce is made centrally and distributed to all our outlets. We source all ingredients centrally. Delivery vans leave our central kitchen in Mumbai at 7 in the morning and by 11 all the outlets are stocked with the dough, ingredients, and the marinades. We don’t use artificial colours. We never learnt it since we are not from the food background! In the whole of Faaso’s structure, there is only one person from the food business background. We intentionally kept those people out as they would have come and introduced artificial colours, preservatives, and taste enhancers. We never wanted that. We’d rather have a one percent differentiation in taste than add chemicals to our food.
What is the typical customer profile at Faaso’s?
There are two groups. One is the student group and the other is that of young professionals. Our location choice is based on the availability of these two categories. We stay away from big ticket markets. The only way to know if a customer likes the product is to give it to him rather than by asking him 30 questions. We believe in the philosophy of “lean startup.” We don’t believe in spending money in research and analysis. My philosophy is to be action-oriented. Do it first and then the market will tell you if you are doing it right or wrong. You can then course-correct it.
Please tell us about your store format and strategy.
Our average store size is 200–300 sq.ft. Some stores do not have any sitting area. The maximum sitting area we have is for 10 people. The area is divided into two – kitchen and the serving front. The staff strength is 15 for large outlets and 10 for smaller ones. The typical catchment area is 2.5 km around the outlet. We don’t look at the high street as the rents are very high there. We are not waiting for people to come to us. We go to them. We opt for the middle of a catchment area.
What do you attribute your success to?
We are not successful as yet. We have a long way to go. The biggest satisfaction is the fact that customers identify us with something different. If you look at our website, tweets, menu card, packaging … it’s crazy. We don’t tolerate any ego maniacs here. We are humble, down-to-earth people with a sense of humour. That’s the personality of the brand.