A Tete-e-Tete With Sohrab Sitaram: The ‘Persona’ Of Keventers.
The story of Keventers, India’s original milkshake brand dates back to 1889 when the Swedish dairy technologist Edward Keventer arrived in India. In 1894, he took over the ailing Aligarh Dairy in the United Provinces, modern Uttar Pradesh, and turned it profitable, whetting his appetite for more in the process. The early 1940s saw the batten of the brand being passed over to Krishna Dalmia.
While the brand deteriorated after its organic growth through the latter half of the 1960s and 1970s, once on the verge of complete shutdown, Keventers barely kept afloat till 2014 with nostalgic old school recipes. As Agastya Dalmia and Aman Arora closed the outlet in Pitampura within a year, they knew they had to turn to someone who would instil a brand new ‘personality’ to Keventers. The personality in the name of Sohrab Sitaram, the man who would eventually skyrocket Keventers to a bare 48 distribution of outlets in Delhi to a 100 Cr business all over the country in a span of just three years.
Sohrab Sitaram graced the esteemed pan-NIT conclave held in NIT Rourkela from 23rd to 25th August as the chief guest of the event. Monday Morning brings you a candid interview with Sohrab following his guest address to the gathered NIT fraternity.
MM: Give us a glimpse of your childhood days and what impact did it have on your future endeavors?
Sohrab Sitaram: Basically I come from an army background. My dad was in the forces and for that, I am really privileged. One of the many advantages of being from an army background is that I got to travel a lot. So I got a chance to spend my childhood in several communities throughout India and this helped to nurture my business sense. Apart from that owing to my army background I was exposed to all kinds of sports like cricket, golf, etc. I even got to do extreme sports like paragliding, horse riding, platform diving, etc. Moreover, for us, music and dance were part of the fauji culture. And this is how my life got intertwined with the love for sports.
MM: How do you manage to pursue your hobbies and passion along with your business ventures?
Sohrab Sitaram: To be honest, I am not a very organized person(laughs). I am that person who will work for 20 hours if needed and take the next 3 days off if the situation demands so. In the span of those three days, I indulge myself in tasks that make me feel relaxed. I space out my routine in such a fashion that everything falls into its right place at the right time. I might not be regimented, yet I find time for everything including my wife and kids and they are quite happy about that.
MM: How has your journey been as the CEO of Keventers and what has been the most fulfilling thing in your tenure ?
Sohrab Sitaram: I no longer am the CEO of Keventers.At present I am the co-founder of the Keventers brand.I like to enjoy life and I have toiled hard enough already.I would rather build and create more businesses than working too much. The thing that has been most fulfilling for me was to see the rise and growth of Keventers in the past few years and how the people liked it whole heartedly. People collect these bottles and fridge magnets and the beauty of them being that the souveneirs of one city are not the same as any other city. So people like collecting these things from different places and treasure them. The success of Keventers has been astounding and we do not care much about the private equity money. We dont need people coming in and investing money. We have been able to handle our internal matters well enough.We were successful in creating a company that has been profitable for us since the beginning and I relish that.
MM: How has Keventers been able to gain an extra edge in this ever challenging market?
Sohrab Sitaram: First of all, Keventers is a single product venture. At the onset, everyone was scared about this idea as it was relatively new and everyone thought that a single product venture based on a milkshake will not be able to create a name in the market. So, everyone had a mindset of clubbing it with something else like food or the other conventional drinks like coffee. Secondly, everyone thought that milkshake is just an off the shelf FMCG product. Thirdly, the milkshake is a hidden part of the menu, but we brought it into the foray. And we also revamped the marketing by introducing the glass bottles, the branding, and the appealing logo and tag line. So, I believe our risk-taking capacity and our ability to bring out a product without listening to conventional opinion has made this venture successful.
MM: What are some of the major problems you had to face while launching this product in a country like India?
Sohrab Sitaram: We didn't face any major risk in this venture but there was always this one thing that there are so many communities in India that you don't want to insult a particular community by doing anything. Secondly, there were problems regarding trade unions especially in big cities like Bombay which have their own set of rules that are not always welcome. So, there's a lot of things to learn that gradually comes with experience.
MM: How do you plan on expanding your business on the international level?Will we be seeing Keventers hit the international markets anytime soon?
Sohrab Sitaram: Only recently did we launch our ice-cream businees in India.We have grown from a single outlet to an astonishing number of 400 outlets.We already have step foot into the international market. We have our outlets in cities of Kenya such as Nairobi, Mombasa. We also have our oulets in Dubai . The idea basically is to focus on one particular region. As of now we are planning on expanding in the Middle East and Gulf. Later we would be thinking of Europe and America.
MM: What would be your advice for our readers and young aspiring entrepreneurs?
Sohrab Sitaram: Firstly the thing that I would say is you should have the ability to believe in yourself. You should not be too worried about what others have to say. Some people would be pouring in a lot of advice but it's up to the person to perceive and filter out their ideas and incorporate the necessary ones. Have the gut feeling to start and build upon your idea of your business. Be aggressive in your approach, have confidence and have a personality so dynamic that it would bring out the best in your business. Once you start with something, burgeon on and don't look back. Try to keep the lust of money from getting on to you. Try to make sure that your business is successful and money will come running after you.
Team MM was delighted to have him grace us with his presence and wish him all the best for his future voyages.