Entrepreneur India's Second Digital Cover Presents India's Chai Grand Master Amuleek Singh Bijral

India runs on chai

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What is chai to you?

For some a morning ritual for some the purpose of life. Chai is something that India swears by. It is one of those soul beverages that connect people from every race of life.

Just imagine- boiling water with brewing tea, the transition of it from the hue of gold to brown, the earthy smell of the leaves, a hint of crisp milk and sugar or jaggery along with freshly grounded spices – well, this is what Indians get high on.

What’s unique is how as per every individual’s taste it can be customized– paaniwali chai (water-based), dudhwali chai (milk-based), with ginger or mere masala chai – there is something for everyone’s cup of tea…actually chai. And believe it or not – chai lovers take their chai every seriously. Just like religion and cricket, Chai is very close to every Indian’s heart. A good cup of crisp tea can literally make or break a deal.

Have it with rusk, theepla or even a plain biscuit. It even works its magic when combined with a cigarette. No wonder we have the infamous ‘chai-sutta’ break during office hours. In simple words, India loves chai! (PS: Calm down coffee lovers, because yes we are biased to this amazing drink).  

On average, the country consumes 900 billion cups of tea annually. That’s quite a number right?

While for some of us it is merely a cup of chai, for entrepreneur Amuleek Singh Bijral it is an opportunity to touch millions of lives and hearts.  With Chai Point, Bijral aims to brighten up lives and get people together with ‘a perfect cup of chai’.

Discussing the purpose of the brand, in an exclusive conversation with Entrepreneur India, Bijral says, “How do we unlock the social power behind chai moments. How do we enrich these moments – is a mammoth task and that’s what we are after.”

When the brand was conceptualized in the early 2010s, the entrepreneur wanted to make Chai Point not just an authentic, high in quality chai brand but more importantly accessible to as many consumers as possible. “Our ambition really is to be a part and parcel of consumers’ way of life and by doing that, we want to become the major owner in the chai-ritual of the customer,” he noted.

A Drop in the Ocean

What if we tell you that, Chai is 75 per cent of the non-alcoholic beverage market! The Indian tea market is roughly around 1.5 lakh crores presently and is expected to go to 4.5 lakh crores in the next four to five years.

Yet, in the last few years, we have seen several old and new players (from Wagh Bakri to Chaayos) experimenting with the Indian tea market.

So, what makes Chai Point standout in this crowded and clustered market? Bijral promptly says its approach.

He defines Chai Point as an omnichannel brand which is not interested in just improving the experience at their cafes, but every customer touch points from delivery to packaged products. This, he believes, what makes Chai Point so unique and successful.

“The way to unlock this market is through omnichannel approach. This is very clear to us. But when you start talking about omnichannel, the vagaries and complexities of the various channels also hit you. The only way to surpass is to have a great team who are working to score,” Bijral pointed

Hence, Chai Point is now busy building a culture which is very ambitious and yet has a small team mindset.

“If I have to be pedantic, the agility team philosophy is something that I subscribe to. My experience in building Chai Point in last seven years, clearly tells me, during all the seminal moments and developments was accomplished by a very small group of individuals,” he asserted while adding that, “ Even with the company of our size, the best product was launched by a team of two-three or four. So, I have come to appreciate the power of small teams and that’s the culture we want to build.”

Tech in Your Pot

In a market where billions of teacups are consumed annually, with a multichannel approach – how do you streamline your process – is a question that lingered in our heads for quite some time. This is when Bijral disclosed to the Entrepreneur India team that the majority of the Chai Point’s management comes from a technology background which added flavour to the company’s approach.

“If we have to reach to as many customers as possible, we will have to embrace technology and make sure that, the omnichannel outlook of the brand really works. That’s the starting point of technology,” he added.

This led the company to develop a cloud-based platform called Shark that integrates Chai Point’s supply chains across all channels and streamline deliveries with various third-party aggregators and it’s native fleet.

It also allows them to work with online sellers and modern trade which helps sell our packaged products.

Elaborating on the platform, he says, “Shark is the platform glue which makes our brand purpose and business really possible. Without it to think of building an omnichannel brand is such a large market would next to impossible. It is an ultimate differentiator for us to have our own in-house technology which can help us grow the brand bigger.”

The Personal-Touch

Needless to say, for Bijral the sheer passion of chai or in other words, the product category itself drives him as an entrepreneur.

Having said that, chai is such an important ritual which includes emotions of consumers in hugely varied manners. Building a brand, that deals with all these facets, is an immensely an exhausting job. Sharing the turning point in his entrepreneurial journey, he divides it into two stages and fellow entrepreneurs, you can surely relate to it.

He explains the first stage as the inception period where you are spurning of something, there is a lingering doubt whether it is actually going to take a shape the way you want it to.

This is also the time when you are building teams, looking for seed capital and once you do, you are justifying the result to your early investors.

“This brings a certain pressure and intensity along with doubts, which frankly can change the person quite dramatically. So when that happens, I went through gut ranching time, both on personal and professional fronts and tried to evolve as a more solid CEO.”

The second stage is when the idea is slowing taking shape and the doubt that it is not going to scale slowly fizzles out.  But then the question in front of you is how big it will be or how much impact can it make.  This is the stage when you take the second leap. You want the best of talent to be a part of your team and serious investors to back you up. This is also the stage where the competition starts hitting you hard.

“Here you also rediscover various aspects, your priority and more importantly, the balance between innovation and cheer execution.  This also can completely change you as an individual and it did that to me. These two junctures have been quite impactful for me.”

Future Endeavours:

Nonetheless, Chai Point has huge future plans. Birjal hopes to grow their stores by 15-20x over the coming years. He also anticipates that the dispenser’s (BoxC- their patent tea machine) count will increase to tens of thousands in the immediate future.

But then, they are merely 0.01 per cent of the gigantic market and there is a long way to go. “Even though we are at it for 7-8 years, we are at a very nascent stage. And every day feels like a startup day. We haven’t really done anything as of yet,” he concluded with hope and passion to grow bigger as he aspires.

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