Mr Prafull Billore, Founder of MBA Chaiwala, a tea cafe chain based in Ahmedabad India. He had a tea stall earlier, which has emerged as a cafe now. We reached out to Mr Prafull Billore and interviewed him to get an insight into his journey as an entrepreneur and also to discuss the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on the hospitality industry.
MBA Chaiwala is an interesting name, tell us how did you come up with the idea and a little about yourself?
Prafull: That is a fascinating story! After hearing the name MBA Chaiwala, people generally think that the founder might have done MBA, but couldn’t get a job as he might not be good in studies, so he started his roadside shop, which is common in India. But this is not the case. The story is completely different. I dreamt of taking admission in India’s top business school. So 4 years back I started my preparation but after preparing for 2 years, I didn’t get admission.
Later I thought of doing an MBA from a private college but then realised that I have to wait for 2 years and it’ll be an investment of Rs. 8-10 Lakhs. I thought that it’s a waste of money doing an MBA without an interest, instead, I can start something of my own. So I got a job at Mcdonald and started working as a sweeper and later was promoted to manager trainee in just 4 months.
While working in Mcdonald, I tried to learn as much as I can from taking orders to serving and also I was inquisitive to know if this brand became international just by selling burgers, how they are functioning, how do they earn and what additional value do they provide to their customers. After learning a lot about Mcdonald, I thought of starting something of my own but did not know what. That is when I was looking for a cafe or a restaurant but the maintenance and investment cost were too high so I thought of starting something from zero that is very small, as it’s better to start small than never, where I thought to start my tea stall business.
I asked for Rs.10,000 from my parents and started a tea stall. Initially, I named my tea stall as Mr Billore, but people used to get confused as the spelling of Billore sounds similar to Billionaire, then I added Ahmedabad before Billore and from there the name MBA Chaiwala was born. Everyone knew that I wanted to do an MBA, but couldn’t do it so I was majorly known in that area as an MBA Chaiwala, so that is how an MBA came from Mr Billore Ahmedabad.
So as of now for how many years, you have been working in this industry and what are your major learnings?
Prafull: I have been working in this industry for 4 years now. To be honest, it is not as easy as it seems, in fact, it’s completely opposite. There is no work-life balance, your personal life gets completely screwed because there is no relaxation. There is no weekend and during all the holidays and weekends your work and responsibility increases.
Another problem is that everything is so uncertain. You need to control wastage and the quantity of the items being cooked and believe me it’s a very tedious task. The other major problem is that even after delivering good services, still if a single customer is not satisfied and happy with your food and service, this single negative review from a customer will create a negative impact on the restaurant in the market.
Also, in the past 2-3 years, the competition has increased a lot especially due to cloud kitchens. And the biggest thing is patience. One has to be very patient throughout this journey because it is a business of goodwill and one can only build goodwill with time, patience, and continuity.
What are your secret sauces to retain customers?
Prafull: We not only serve tea, but there are a lot more than that at MBA Chaiwala. We have created a space for networking, dating, building friendships, and more due to which our customers remember us. As a matter of fact, I know one cannot keep their customers happy with old strategies. One has to do something innovative and provide more resources to its customers.
What are your plans for the future?
Prafull: We have tried to look at other domains, and have entered into real estate. We do events, we have started taking part in weddings where we have tea counters, we also do corporate events. I am a speaker as well. I have given talks in several elite colleges and corporates all across India. As a public speaker, I tell people about management and how marketing is done. There are a lot more things which will be coming in the future, you have to stay tuned to know!
How do you see the changes to come in the hospitality industry post-COVID-19?
Prafull: There will be a lot of problems as social gatherings will not be allowed and people will be hesitant too. But India is a country where people accept things very late and also leave it too soon as per their convenience. Especially if it’s not in their favour. I don’t think that the impact of COVID-19 will last for more than 6-8 months.
People will be scared and will avoid gatherings and going out in public places which are the nature of cafes and restaurants or the hospitality industry as per se. And also I strongly believe that in 2-3 months we will be getting the vaccine and once the vaccine comes into the picture, we will get more clarity. I personally don’t think the industry will face problems for more than 6-8 months in terms of revenues.
What measures are you guys going to take once customers start visiting your restaurant post lockdown?
Prafull: See, we have to take measures, they are important keeping in mind the current problems. Will focus on maintaining social distance, sanitizing the place regularly, will make sure everyone wears a mask and at the same time, we’ll encourage hand wash and check if all the required systems are in place. Concerning business, we’ll increase our hard work 4-5 times more than we have been doing now. We’ll start deliveries and give some discounts to our customers. They say when the time is bad, do the hard work 4 times so that even if the 3 times of it gets wasted, you’ll get the returns for the 1.
How are you supporting your staff at the time of this crisis?
Prafull: We are giving a complete month’s salary to all our employees without any deductions.
Are you taking the orders online through Zomato or Swiggy?
Prafull: No! There are a lot of restaurants that are taking the risks and doing online deliveries, but personally, we don’t want to take this risk as we understand how serious this issue is.
What will be your strategy to increase sales after Corona?
Prafull: There will be no change in sales strategy, and at this point in time, we cannot make random investments. We will see the market conditions and the changes which are taking place. Based on that, we’ll decide. But as of now, we don’t have any plan and also our ticket size is very small, so we cannot spend more than a certain amount on an individual customer.
A lot of restaurant owners have been asking for a relief package to sustain amidst the Corona outbreak. So what do you think about it?
Prafull: It should be given because the model of our businesses is such that the proportion of fixed operating expenses is “very high-risk”. Now with the prospect of zero revenues staring at us for a substantial period of time, our fight is a battle to retain our existence as commercial entities. Even post lockdown, it would take some time to become sustainable again, and on top of that, there are high fixed expenses which makes it hard for the restaurant and cafe owners to sustain.
What is your suggestion for all the restaurateurs so that they can survive in this pandemic?
Prafull: Suggestions are a lot, but the major suggestion which I want to highlight is that one has to change constantly with the changing market. Change is the rule of the world. Many restaurant owners have been doing the same thing repeatedly over the years and they were not ready to accept online deliveries, but later they realised that they are losing customers.
In MBA Chaiwala people don’t only come for the taste, they come for the engagement and different activities that we do. They come for networking, to make friends and there are 100 more reasons which we have created for our customers to visit us. So one has to change and evolve and create more reasons and add more value to their customers in order to visit them.
What will be your advice for the people who want to be entrepreneurs?
Prafull: One can take up anything which sells, one can earn money with anything which can be sold and it is important to dedicate ourselves to that. If you have to build anything sustainable forget about earning money from your business for 2-3 years.
Don’t run behind an instant result, one cannot eat, digest, and build the body on the same day. This is never going to happen and that is not how it works. The most important thing is to keep on working as you never know when you will become famous and start making money. All you have to do is just keep on working because you don’t have any other option.
Consider this as a 100km marathon, if in 3 years you run 25km then only 65km is left. Therefore it is not wise to leave it in between because again if you take up something else even there you have started from zero that is from scratch. Anyway, you have already spent 2-3 years in this domain so continue irrespective of your odds, it’ll benefit you more in that way. Try to meet like-minded people from your industry, meet your seniors, godfathers, talk to them, and connect to them.
The last thing which is very important is that don’t consider that you know everything about the business or industry, it is not going to help. Don’t be an omniscient knower, try to learn as much you can at every step and just keep hustling, you’ll succeed!