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05 Aug 2022 Webinar

Brick by Brick: Creating New Categories & Enduring Brand Love




Welcome to the third session of our series: 'Brick by Brick: Building Insurgent Brands' with Rohan Mirchandani, CEO & founder of Drums Food. Join us as we talk to the brightest minds across the world about building enduring consumer brands.





HP: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. This is the the third episode of the brick by brick Series where we talk to the brightest minds across the world on building insurgent brands in a fundamentally strong manner of Brick by Brick. The topic for today is creating new categories and enduring customer love. We have with us Rohan Mirchandani, co-founder and CEO of epigamia the brand that created and owns the Greek yogurt category. 



This should be a very interesting conversation as you know, especially in the current environment, you know, if I even think of our portfolio, there are a lot of brands founders that were digitally first, you know who are considering expanding into the offline channel and you know, the online unit economics is coming under stress, founders try and push hard in the online channel. So it should be good very good conversation with respect to the offline Channel and what it takes to to build that out as well.


Rohan, let's start off with with the founding moment. You were an NRI and had absolutely no connection to to greek yogurt. The odds were like completely stacked up against you. So how did you identify Greek yogurt as the category you wanted to go after and what gave you the conviction that you could pull that off.



RM: Yeah first again, thanks very for for having me; obviously very excited to be part of anything DSGCP does. So I'm very much a member of the family and always will be. I'll try to give a short answer even though there's a very long story but I'll try to go as fast as I can.

So my sort of exposure to India started back when I was in B school. Right before B school, I had come on a, like you rightfully stated, NRI visit. We used to come every December with my family to visit Mumbai. I'd come for a wedding. I hate when the NRIs come now because they clog the traffic but that's a different story for a different day. And I had met a local chef and some other folks and started my foray into India and FNB by being an investor.


I invested in an ice cream brand called Hokey Pokey with some of you may be familiar with which was sort of the beginning of Drums Food. Again there was no vision there was no business plan. It was purely a passion driven side hustle side project. I had no intent or desire to be in India. I just sort of invested a very small sum of money into an ice cream parlor, which was India's first Cold Stone concept that you mixed on the stone. Some of you may remember it. We launched in Bandra and then I was back in the United States. I just came for a very short stint to launch it and then thought I would do this, you know over the weekends and and I went to B School in these school. I started my career in banking and the intent was to sort of go back into Finance after B school. I would take a call every maybe Saturday or Sunday to see what's going on in this maybe once or twice a month.




In B school, I took a class called marketing to the Indian consumer where I came to India in 2011 December and that was a big pivotal point in my career and for Drums Food, I guess and I came for two reasons. Actually one I came to take the class and second I came to look at what's happening with this ice cream parlor, which wasn't really making any money. It was a QSR concept. I think we were very early at its time. So I took this class and one of the guests lectures was a gentleman named Shripad Nadkarni, another one was who's today the head of the CEO of Reliance retail and both of them just sort of, you know talked about the next 10 or 15 years. Shripad talked about the next 25 years in India and how I remember him saying brands would be born that would stand the test of time and it was the beginning of modern trade just starting in India and and the sort of convergence of new brands and organizing this very unorganised market that existed and I had that eureka moment and I realized that there was something much bigger here. 



The larger calling was to build a consumer brand and and obviously we had the ice cream business. Terrible unit economics but it was fantastic from a brand perspective way. It had a cult following; people were really coming out there.



So I reached out to Shripad then. I said Hey listen, you know, class ends everyone, rushes the guest speaker. So I rushed up there and grabbed his business card. I sent him an email, went back to Philadelphia and said Hey listen, it was a fantastic lecture. Really love what you said, we've got this little ice cream parlor that's in Bandra, you know, if you're ever heard of it, so he responded saying, of course I've heard of it. It's a fantastic product. If you don't mind me saying it's just a terrible terrible brand. So we ended up Skyping; back then Skype was a big thing and I sort of explained to him. I said, I was really moved by what you said so he said come out.



Come to India and let's talk; meet me. So I came. I skipped spring break my second year of B school, which is a big deal, by the way, and ended up coming to Mumbai meeting him and he said look, I think you've got something, you know special in terms of what you know the space you're in but we look at the larger category. Secondly, he said I would love to help you but I will not and I'm not gonna be a consultant. I'm gonna be too expensive and I've just sold my company to Publicis. So I'd love to be an investor if that's something we could work on and third I'll only do any of this and be involved if you move to India and do this full-time.



And so that was a big decision. It took me some time to sort of figure that out and then in January 2013 against sort of everybody's advice said you're out of your mind, you're gonna go to India with a business school degree to work on an ice cream parlor, you know made no sense, but I said, I think I have to do this for myself. So January 2013, I moved I took a one-way ticket and then I'll quickly sort of tell you the story how it became to Greek yogurt.



So we had about three parlors when I moved and and I spent all my time in the parlors. I realized that the key, sort of, you know, insight I would get is from actually talking to people and consumers and one of the challenges we had being a premium ice cream brand is people, you know, we're not consuming us on a daily basis. The frequency was very low it was maybe twice a week or maybe just two or three times a month. So I started, literally the first few months I lived and worked in our ice cream parlor, you know in Bandra. Literally spent all my time there having conversations speaking to consumers trying to understand what was sort of motivating them to not consume myself frequently.


A lot of the insights that we got was it's a cheat meal, you know, we come here to celebrate and we realize, you know by being just to purely cheat meal celebration brand we had to change focus; obviously fmcg was on the cards. We just sort of reshift our thinking but one of the things we realize that premium segment, there's a lot of conversation going around healthier eating and healthier lifestyles and you know, there's conversations around protein and just sort of more, you know, clean food, clean eating and there weren't many options available. And that's where sort of just unlocked that value in terms of a problem statement that there just weren't many options for healthy snacking and this came from three four months at the parlor talking to people. One of the thoughts for the business was to venture into a larger, you know, sort of category not just Ice Cream and Dairy and that's where you know looking at our supply chain and you know coming with with my co-founder Chef developing dairy sourcing, fruit sourcing. We decided that Greek yogurt, will be an excellent sort of product to launch given everything we've done and everything we've learned from consumers.



I also happen to be one of the first Chobani consumers when I was an undergrad on campus. So I was a huge fan of the brand and what they did, so culminating and all of this in 2015 we launched Epigamia. So 2015 was sort of the soft launch, in 2016 was the hard launch.


HP: Interesting and it's very interesting that you mentioned, you thought about a larger category whereas, you know, we consider epigamia as sort of a category creation story and you know, there are a lot of Founders in the portfolio and outside that are creating new categories in the country. So, you know when you started out, how did you think about you know, what the addressable Market could be and how big it could become because Greek yogurt was was non-existent when you started.


RM: Yeah, I mean forget even yogurt in its category. It wasn't was was insignificant. And obviously we were told by pretty much every VC that you know, the categories too small, whatever that means. I think the reality for us when you look at the category and market sizing, etc.


Number one. It was to look at the larger parent that we fall under so the larger parent we fell under was dairy, right? And today we're and by Dairy, I don't mean just milk dairy even today plant-based dairy is part of the larger parent, which is dairy. So we don't sell milk, you know nor will we probably will never sell just plain fresh milk. We have a lot of value added milk categories like almond milk and milkshake and we can talk about that later. But for us the idea was we fall in this larger parent and what that means. Let me sort of define what that means.


HP: Interesting and it's very interesting that you mentioned, you thought about a larger category whereas, you know, we consider epigamia as sort of a category creation story and you know, there are a lot of Founders in the portfolio and outside that are creating new categories in the country. So, you know when you started out, how did you think about you know, what the addressable Market could be and how big it could become because Greek yogurt was was non-existent when you started.


RM: Yeah, I mean forget even yogurt in its category. It wasn't was was insignificant. And obviously we were told by pretty much every VC that you know, the categories too small, whatever that means. I think the reality for us when you look at the category and market sizing, etc.


Number one. It was to look at the larger parent that we fall under so the larger parent we fell under was dairy, right? And today we're and by Dairy, I don't mean just milk dairy even today plant-based dairy is part of the larger parent, which is dairy. So we don't sell milk, you know nor will we probably will never sell just plain fresh milk. We have a lot of value added milk categories like almond milk and milkshake and we can talk about that later. But for us the idea was we fall in this larger parent and what that means. Let me sort of define what that means.


It means is the product profile was not new to consumers, right? So in essence the category was brand new. But if you look at Greek yogurt, it's you know, nothing more than you know, taking the plain old Gujarati shrikhand, removing the nuts lowering the sugar and you get Greek yogurt, right? If you look at our smoothies that we do they're nothing but Punjabi thick lassis flavored, you know, contemporized, modernized and and sort of made into the products that we have. So if you look at sort of our category, our sort of product portfolio, these aren't things that are sort of new if I may right.


So what do I mean my new, you know, if I look at something like an avocado it's something very new to the Indian palette, you know, it's something and by the way, there's a good consumption of avocado today, but it's something that consumers, you know, the Indian palette is not seeing. It's something new, so fermented dairy, if I may, is not necessarily new. The subcategory I would define that we play in was new was revolutionary. I think I could take the liberty of saying that if you look at it in that context that's where we were able to sort of look at, you know, defining what we thought were going to be our consumers who would sort of be the first early adopters and then who followed suit.


If I still remember when we were doing our trials for our mango Greek yogurt, I had to give it to some of our premium Hokey Pokey parlor consumers, but I also you know, we gave it to so many people including my help at home including my driver and all of them absolutely love the product. 


Had I tried giving them avocado, they would have spit it out. So, and, not because of anything else. I remember my help at home saying it. Like she looked at me like what's so special about this product to come up with and that's where I think you know, something to think about when you think of larger categories, you know, what's the relevance that that you can create from a product perspective so that you know, so that consumers are just not it's not completely new. You can create the brand experience the sort of consumer experience but some relativity when it comes to what you know consumers want and I think that's where we were somewhat able to crack the code.



HP: Got it understood and you know, the other interesting thing was you know, you already had incumbents like Nestle, Amul and you know, you would price your product at a premium to to these incumbents. So, you know, if you were to go back and think through your first set of super users given it's an offline brand maybe your first hundred stores that eventually became super users. How did you get those early in roads? I was just saying what would your advice be for? You know founders that are looking for those, you know initial set of stores in the offline channel, that could become power users.


RM: So if I look at if I look at pricing we were very clear that you know, when we started we were Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt was three times the protein or regular yogurt, you know two and a half times the protein of an egg one egg. And so we really wanted to hone in and and demonstrate that this was a premium product now, unfortunately it comes in a cup. You have to scoop it out. So on the shelf it was put into the the dairy section along with the other yogurts and maybe some yogurt beverages that were out there. Um, but we really wanted to signal to the market that this was far superior product. And of course margins also had to make sense right unit economics have to make sense. So we were actually priced if I'm not mistaken almost 50 to 60% premium to whatever other products are out there.


Now some of the competition, you know at that time were either supply chain folks who just had excess milk, milk cooperatives with excess milk and we're just trying to do every product under the Sun so they weren't focused on on product there. It was just more supply chain, you know value addition game for them or they just thought they knew the Indian market. 


But they were really focused on thinking that they were foreign brands and as long as they put their products on the shelf they would sell. So I think in some sense we got lucky because those are the only two strategies in the market. No one really focused on the product itself. And therefore, you know, if you looked at sort of our pricing strategy one our signal to the market, but two, I'm a huge believer and I think DSGCP is as well that India still is very much a value market. So if there's a value proposition to be had consumers will sort of go out there.



I think the story of Audi is a great one, you know Audi has a car has done so well in the Indian market in the premium super it luxury segment has gone head-to-head with the BMW, Mercedes. I mean every year the numbers change and if you look at the fundamentals of the vehicle, I mean, it's probably the best sort of engineering possible out there and people are willing to pay a premium, you know, because you don't want the service the car that often etc. There was some articles that came out about this a few years ago.



It wasn't just a plain yogurt. If you were trying to make it at home to deconstruct the Greek yogurt, you take milk you you ferment it, you make dahi at home-- you strain it. By the time you've strained it's two or three cups of Dahi for one Greek yogurt. Then you add fresh mangoes, fresh chocolate, and at the end of the day you were paying more to make it at home than you would to buy it from us. And that's where we believe we have had the signalling early on in our social media.


We talked about this; what it takes and that's where I think we were able to win early early on in terms of the pricing strategy. Later on it became really about generating trials. So we had to work on how to generate trials because our repeat rate was very high but early on that that sort of signalling helped and then for us the low-hanging consumers the part to the question, we're the health nuts, right?



We're the one the gym goers luckily for us. We did have a little bit of Advantage we had this database of ice cream consumers. It would only come once a month or every six months and we sort of, you know qualified them as saying they like ice cream but they don't want to eat it that often.



So we really reached out to them initially our offline sort of work. We work a lot with dietitians. We sponsored dietitian events. And then we did a lot of fitness events. We did work a lot with gyms and yoga studios to do sampling. We're really really honed in on who are early adopters would be and again this won't be the same for everybody but we knew exactly that there would be some sort of the fitness nuts and then from there we sort of focused in on where did they purchase? So obviously the easy answer was Nature's Basket, but that's a tough one, right? Because you have to pay your slotting fees and today they literally charge you an arm and leg to launch.



We also identified probably 50-60 super premium, you know independent GT stores in Mumbai. So that's how we started off. I think in our first year, in our distribution was maybe 150-200 stores, which is nothing but that's how we sort of started off in our first cohort of stores.



HP: And you know, as I said, there are a bunch of founders that are you know, trying to create new categories Etc. knowing what you know now, what would your advice be for these founders? You know what to focus on in the first, you know, maybe two years of that journey.



RM: Yeah, so I mean, I know it's very cliche but honestly living and dying by your consumer is end-all be all right. I'll give you some specific examples. I won't just leave it at a cliche statement. You know, I think what ends up happening is a couple of things one is we always solve for our own problems. We don't know if that problem is is everyone's problem or at least a larger cohort problem. So that's the first thing, that's really important to sort of understand. We loved our ice cream. We thought it was great. I still think it's one of the best ice creams ever made back then you know when we were sort of figuring out was it really a problem that we were trying to solve right? And we thought it was, but something we learned and then finally when we got the insights for yogurt, we found that there was something here, something missing that consumers really wanted.


What I mean by end all and be all in terms of living and dying where your consumer is even today, you know, whatever scale we're at. Instantly having conversations, you know, and literally what I mean by that is senior leadership on the phone hammering it out, talking to actual consumers that are paying rupees; not just your family and friends. Actually having those conversations and what you're hearing, you know is is this price really an issue, is there really too much sugar, is sugar really a concern? Is there something else? these are all and I'm obviously being very specific to food but this cuts across everything. is this really something that you're you're solving for? And then also when you're starting out, like as I mentioned, our journey sort of how we launched wasn't just saying let's go attack stores and launch you can go and find the fanciest and best store and the ones that do phenomenal numbers for others and put your products in those stores.


But how are they going to turn right? How are consumers gonna know they're there?


So the best way to start out is actually finding and especially for some of the D2C guys. I think you guys have a brilliant footprint starting out by seeing where your consumers are where they purchasing and going to those stores first, even if you have five or six consumers that are purchasing in a store it's enough to get those people to start talking about it. Word of Mouth spreads really fast as we know.


So honing in on where your consumers are where they purchase and looking at those cohort of stores first rather than going with assumptions that you know where our competitors are or where that where we think the premium stores are at least for the first two or three four or 500 stores. You know, I would I would really really hone in on where your consumers are having those conversations and my conversations. I mean literally picking up the phone and calling them, you know offering them a freebie to have a conversation with you and really understanding what their day looks like. You know, now people are back at work do they shop on the way home do their mothers shop for them, do their wives shop for them, their husbands shop for them, who does the purchasing and then really finding out how does it reach their home their household?


So these are things that are super important. We spend a lot of time on this early on and then identified where our first cohorts where and then once you have your first cohorts, you know, sampling etc. spending time in those stores building the footprint and expanding from there. So that would be sort of my very simple advice,


HP: And if I may add the other, you know recommendation that we always have for Founders, you know that our own category creation journeys is to focus on business sustainability as well because when the market opens up is anybody's guess, but just being there and having the staying power and shows that you're there to win the market whenever you know, you hit the inflection point.


This actually brings me to the next section that I wanted to cover, which is around sustainable business building and best practices in the offline channel. So, you know, just talking about fundamentals in the offline channel.


Can you talk us through the the metrics that you monitor? What what does your dashboard look like in terms of metrics that you monitor on a daily weekly and monthly basis.


RM: it's not rocket science. I mean, it's offline. I mean, others have been doing it for a while. I think we sort of you know tend to look at the data which is important for us. But you know basic sort of I'd say four, you know buckets of sort of metrics that we look at right?


So for us distribution metrics are very important and by distribution, I mean not just expanding distribution, but even within the distribution, you know throughputs within the store. So we're up to about 22 or 23,000 distribution points today, which is you know, far from our our goal of maybe a hundred fifty thousand that we're still, you know aiming towards. it's a little tougher for us because we're a cold chain product.


So, you know, it's not it's not it's a little more difficult for us to just sort of spray and then move on from there. So we have to sort of fundamentally develop distributors and make sure our supply chain is intact and make sure there's no compromising.


For us, you know just for distribution metrics. We've got the sort of straightforward sales executive productivity; this throughputs per store volume and our vehicle throughput. Because it's cold chain how many, you know, drops are our vehicles doing? how often are distributors servicing the stores? we change probably every every month or two months, depending on the stores performance. What portfolio should be in that store should it have for example, not every one of our stores has our plant-based products, right? It's a subset of our distribution. And then at what point do we want to try some of the premium products and some of the stores that have been faring well, so, you know, these are some of those those metrics in.


In terms of supply chain metrics, fill rates. In terms of working capital, looking at sort of days outstanding and then the distributor Roi. So for us distributer Roi is an interesting one and could be interesting for some of the folks on the call.


When we started our journey, you know, a lot of folks will tell you that, you know, it's probably makes a lot of sense to go direct first and I mean by direct I don't mean direct to consumer folks on here do something even one that's one layer up. We were sort of d2s, direct to stores which was a big big thing. You know, we were the the new ones that did this. I think ID was probably the first to start and then we did it as well ID fresh and and what was interesting for us why I love to tell you that it was it was some revolutionary model that we came up with. We frankly could not for the life of us get a distributor to carry our products. I mean I have sat in you know in in offices with my hands-folded begging distributors to try to carry our product and they said, you know, Danone has failed.


Miserably, you know, we have no interest in carrying your product. So we were literally forced to create our own coaching company because we really believed in what we were doing and then once we got scale


We realized that it made more sense now to sort of move to distributors because of working capital because of unit economics profitability, you know, a distributor carrying multiple products. We are only carrying our own so for us distributor economics becomes very important again, not something new, you know, most the offline guys do this but something we track very carefully because the last thing we want is for them to be disinterested and not reach the service levels. We need them to in terms of supply chain coaching integrity Etc. So I know I've rambled a couple of metrics here, but these are sort of the the baseline metrics that we follow.


HP: could you give some guidance, it obviously varies by category, in terms of what's like the whole standard when it comes to store throughput etc. What are the benchmarks that that you use internally?


RM: I think I think it's it's unfair to sort of categorize ours as others because again really category led. Um, so for example, salesforce productivity you want to be hitting 25 to 30 stores a day and then you're looking at a subset depending on which the store profiles. How many bills are they cutting how many, you know sort of orders in the making I mean, obviously you want 100% but you know, there's some leeway. So 80-90 percent depending on the beat that they're going on. I think that number should be probably higher if you're purely and offline like a large shelf life, no cold chain category player. It could be very different in terms of build cuts because for us we need one to two bill cuts a week not even want to do two to three actually because our shelf life is low. I remember back in our ice cream days. We didn't need more than one or two. Because you had 12 month shopping, and then for us we're all looking at freshness. So I think a lot of these sort of variables play in terms of our productivity, our throughputs are very high.


I don't have the exact numbers because again our distribution expansion is still unsteady, we can't just blitz into and another 20,000 stores overnight. We have to slowly and surely build these up. So our throughputs have to be good in order for us to keep expanding. So, if you look at ours, will probably tend to be higher than the most especially in the stores that we're in. We also have been lifestyle products. So, you know people aren't celebrating with Greek yogurt during Diwali and Christmas or when they score well on an exam. This is more of daily consumption product. But we will tend to be higher than other categories.


HP: Just talking about these metrics and you touched upon working capital as well, which is an important consideration and the offline channel. Do you have recommendations on you know any tools software that has helped you as you scale.


RM: We always used Salesforce automation from day one. I mean back then it was again when we started using it in sort of 15-16 with ice cream. I think it's not really about the option. It's about how you execute. So making sure that you're really on top of your game. I highly encourage the early folks starting out. Please do your own sales. Don't leave it to your Distributors. If you're going direct great. If not, right now let the Distributors do fulfillment and sort of supply chain for you. And obviously we'll talk about working capital in a second. I really encourage you to do your own sales even now we do our own sales 


and I think for a long time we will it's really important to own that store had that relationship yourself and then more important most importantly collect the data, right? If you're doing your own sales, you can collect data getting third party data honestly is not going to be accurate and it's gonna be too late until you can do your analysis so really having that data early.


Also coming back to the working capital question; honestly when we started out, our days outstanding were like 95 days. Early on whether you like it or not-- you're new, retailers are not going to give you up front payment maybe the first bill you cut sure, but replenishment wise if you want to push they're not gonna do it. So you have to work out a healthy norm there; what works for your balance sheet, works for your cash flow and what works for business as well because once you start, you want to keep that momentum going.


What's important, I think, is making sure that over time you're looking at that data, making sure you're monitoring the sales sort of data points and making sure translates the cash, right? So for example, and this will, I wish someone had told us this back then because we were definitely, you know under the impression that we're gonna have to figure out a way to sustain this the rest of our lives, but that wasn't the case. Let me give you an example.


We went from 95 days outstanding in 2016-2017 to 6 days outstanding today and that's not gonna happen overnight. What that did though, is it showed us that the strength of the brand; the sales throughput, the focus on consumer, all of these things paid dividend to working capital over time, right?


I've been asked this many times. How do you sort of measure the strength of your brand? You measure the strength of your brand through working capital when distributors and retailers are willing to shell out cash for your product and your brand, you've crossed the chasm.


You've done a good job, and I think it's very important for the sort of Entrepreneurs out there and especially for Founders and CEOs to consistently track, you know the movement, you know, is this 90 coming down to 80 to 65 to 60 to 50 and put pressure on your team to do that? I think it's tough, you know from day one. If you start pressuring them to pay up front, you'll be able to monitor it but then there's a trade off because you're not gonna get the growth. So again, you have to see what your balance sheet can afford, what your cashflow can afford and I think it's really important to have that trade off, you know, if you can afford to sort of let it go for a little bit. But then making sure that's coming down; if that number goes up or it's staying flat-- that's not showing health as far as I'm concerned, so really important to sort of you know, look at days outstanding as a very important metric for the brand health.


HP: No, that's that's the way interesting definition of brand strength. Just moving on to the brand itself, Rohan and you know, just understanding how Epigamia got to where it is when it comes to customer love when you started out. What was your hypothesis, in terms of you know, the positioning for epigamia as a brand. What was the hypothesis in terms of what epigamia as a brand would stand for?


RM: So we were very sort of laser focused on this from day one. I mean, this was I'd probably spend more time on this than anything else. There's gonna be a long answer. So just just stay with me. Starting with those consumer insights we talked about right in terms of when I was sitting at those ice cream parlors talking to consumers when we move into ice cream from Greek Yogurt as well. So obviously I already alluded to this earlier but number one was sort of the lifestyle piece and we found that there was an inherent demand for healthier snacking, consumers were looking for something with the goal of healthy snacking Etc.


But what that did is the consumers we were speaking to and the ones who were sharing these insights, um tended to be sort of and older audience when I say older audience. In the world of marketing, you know things end at sort of 35-40. So because that's where you're anchoring your positioning. So we found that sort of that 25 to 30 year old audience is who we really wanted to speak to because they're the ones that started seeing a pain point. I'd even go further to say 28 to 32 from remembering my numbers exactly and I'm a big fan of really focusing early on on a sharp positioning. The other thing we found was these folks and the reason for that age group was these folks were the ones that were now willing to shell out a little bit of money for you know, and really look at value propositions in healthier eating vis a vis, you know, the college grad who probably is, you know, looking to splurge on indulgence, you know, maybe beer whatever that is, right the early college grad and also has restricted pocket money or saving. So this is you know, now you've sort of moved into your second potentially third job.



You're someone on your way to getting established in your career. You're a mid-level manager, you know sort of late 20s, early 30s. And we found that this was this is when you sort of now had time to think about health. That was one big inside the other thing we found and this object is honestly just simple stuff that came from the ice cream parlors as we'd find that couples would come in, you know, so whether they were early married or they were Boyfriend/Girlfriend or something else because this is the point in your life at this late 20s, early 30s where people were starting to be in relationships. So like I said, either you were arranged married very recently or you know, a girlfriend or boyfriend or combination



The word 'Compromise' which had never existed in your vocabulary before started entering your vocabulary and what I mean by that is you know for the first time now that you're in a relationship you're compromising on things. It's not about where you want to eat. It's where about you both want to eat? It's not about where you want to go on vacations, it's about where you both want to go on vacation. And again, these were insights. We got from straight up literally sitting in parlors being on the phone talking to people and and so now you've got this age group where you know, you're starting to spend on some premium products because you can afford it. You've got this conversation of Health that's entered into your lifestyle because now you're late 20s early 30s and this new vocabulary word compromise it has entered your dictionary which never existed before because it's not about you. It's about we.


And we found positioning ourselves around these; a good sort of clear laser sharp communication as to what the brand stood for and the brand stood for, you know, here's a healthy product high protein that you don't have to compromise on and we targeted ourselves towards couples all our communication all our first conversation. Our first web series that we were involved with was purely around the couple dynamics, relationship dynamics. It also sort of gives a little bit of credence to the larger definition of the name epigamia, which I'll just take a second and bore your audience some of you have heard this so roll your eyes if you've heard it already, but I'll repeat it. So the term epigamia comes within what is the name come from? If you go back to our history books, you know, sort of back to 400-500 BC you had the great Empire Alexander, the Great the Macedonian Empire, and then on the Indian side around the same time, we had the mauryan Empire gendered up, the maurya the more in Empire on the Indian side. So the Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Greeks had done Wars across Europe had gone across Persia modern day Afghanistan and reached the Indian side on the Indian side where the more in Indians and it was the first ever war that took place between eastern and western civilization. And that war ended so it ended with the two different definitions the European history books say that, you know Alexander the Great's armies got tired and went back our history books. Say we won the war. So who knows we never know what really happened but we do know is the war ended in the first ever documented peace treaty between eastern and western civilization, which is called epigamia in ancient Greek which means marriage of civilizations basically a compromise and a peace treaty and there we thought you know was a great name to play off this, you know, couples compromise peace, you know where you can both agree on something and that's where our first very sharp positioning came around and honestly, that's all we focused on in the beginning every line of communication every line of advertising any kind of you know, in the beginning that wasn't much advertising but anything we put on social media channels anything in store was all around this. Here's a product that you don't have to compromise on cater towards this 28 to 32 year old Sec A Metro.

HP: I think the question is given you were an offline brand. How were you able to target couples effectively?


RM: Yes, so, um, you know and again, I'm sure this is coming from a very D2C consumer. So we didn't you know back in I guess 2016-2017. There wasn't much that we could do in terms of you know Performance Marketing because we weren't selling online. I mean literally our sales online zero maybe a big basket had just started so, you know, but for us big basket was a modern trade account and wasn't necessarily online selling. So there were a couple ways to do this for us. Number one is communication. I think that's super critical. You know, what you're communicating will end up reaching the Right audience. So, you know what you're communicating critical secondly through Facebook, Instagram, we and that back then we use Facebook a lot more we were able to hone in on you know people that said that they were single so we removed ourselves. So you remove people that said they're singing along on the platform right you can do age groups you can do metros. So we eliminated folks that said they were single and then we obviously looked at age groups, etc, etc. And then even within the stores we would it's more about the communication than it is. So if let's say, you know a 28 year old or 32 year old 20 year old man or 30 year old woman walks into the store. We're not gonna go up to them and ask them. Hey, are you in a relationship? That's not how it works. They're gonna slap you what you do is the communication you have is gonna should hit them when they see that you know that here's a here's a product that you know, what the compromise on and then of course a big sort of outburst for us was our the web series that we participated in we've reached a little bit of scale and that was on what the folks and that really, you know, really put us out there and gave us some serious winds in terms of the business that and you know.

HP: I've seen it first-hand how the the branding and positioning is front-in center, even in board meetings the solar system slide with the concentric circles and all the product. I think one of the things where some of our founders also you know face challenges is when they launch newer products like your original Greek yogurt product was very sharply positioned as you mentioned, but now, you know as you end up products like, you know, let's take milkshakes for instance. How did you think through you know how it fits, you know within the whole brand architecture positioning Etc.


RM: Yes, so we we have a very as you're aware of very sort of laser focused brand architecture and the concentric circles you talked about which we keep having in our board meetings probably spend half the board meeting talking about those what sort of where we came up with when we saw Greek yogurt and where we reached a certain phase we and again this started early on when we were doing our own distribution. We realized that we if we really wanted to be an offline player we had to have in our space now this is not relevant to other spaces, especially not personal care. It's a very different business model, you know, we were never gonna be the nine lack distribution of you know, whatever maybe we will 10 years from now, but you know, we identified 100 to 150,000 stores that we want to be in which we reached about 25% of today. And the way we saw it is that we're gonna have to have a portfolio to go in here, right? We're gonna have to have a portfolio and now those sort of 28 to 30 two year olds, you know have become 35 to 40 which is an interesting conversation. Some of them have kids. So these you know offshoots we had this core hardcore. We were very loyal hardcore base. So how do we sort of you know expand and play off of that and for us to distribution expansion became you know, sort of the key driver to the next wave of growth and then along with distribution expansion was how do we sort of you know, fit the product portfolio? It can't just be a one, you know, a one product portfolio. We have to sort of expand.


So the first thing for us was of course within yogurt, we looked at plant-based yogurts, which became sort of our premium range as Greek yogurt became more and more mainstream and then we looked at something which we called a distribution driver which was our regular fruit yogurt which we continue to have which is a 20 repeat product today, which is not Greek, which is just plain yogurt, which is done very well. But again, I think it was very important for us to established a brand here and then move to the sort of the more entry level accessible price points for us. The idea behind that is to get people to enter the category through reasonably acceptable price points and then upgrade their way into the larger sort of more premium price points one day. Once they see a value proposition into the brand right again, the story remains the same. we try to sort of focus on similar communication as this is not a product you can copy of the compromise on but now that we're expanding distribution expanding sort of cohorts. It's expanding consumer cohorts income levels because we've reached that level, you know, it's sort of for us the focus is to get people to trial the brand and that's where we got into Fruit yogurt when we were doing these sort of different and again, you remember that architecture expansions, you know, one of those the sort of discussions they came about is, you know, can we come up with something that it has a little bit longer shelf life but place to the core of what epigamia is which is really it's ingredients and it's flavours, you know, it's the fruit sourcing and see ingredients and it's the taste and that's where we run a couple experiments and I'm very happy to admit. We probably failed on eight out of the 10 experiments but you know two of them really and then I think it's really important and you know, this is I want to communicate this to every founder out there. Please do not lose the experimenting keep it up, of course do it at a low cost and fail fast because you know, you can do as much analysis as you want in the office. But really when you get out there and get consumers to pay is when you're gonna really know if this is gonna work or not, so don't you know, I think it's really important to do that and that's what we found with with, you know, we struck a chord with Milkshakes that our consumer base really accepted it well kids. Now as I said some of those early adopters started having kids so they started, you know, having their kids try the product and they there's a big faith in the brand right. They know the brand where the brand comes from. They know what we stand for they know about our quality parameters and that helped us sort of expand distribution much.


And again, the goal is very very straightforward. So if you look at any any cup or any box of our our milkshakes, they will all tell you to go and try Greek yogurt, you know, and it's very important that this was a way for us to acquire consumers into the Epic Army of category into the epigamia brand and have them sort of move up the chain in terms of the more premium offerings that we have. So very clear cut strategy. Not much change just now it's happening at a much larger level.


HP: In the online channel, there are levers such as content Community Etc that you know, some of our brands are working on to to build brand love what were the levers that that you used in, you know and getting into where you are, you know being a predominantly offline first brand, you know, either levers or you know any anything to do with your culture, you know, you mentioned about customer centricity Etc. When you look back, you know, what would you attribute that to in terms of just you know, input metrics best practices that that Founders can can you know can can know about


RM: Yeah, I mean again not not rocket science. I think it all really comes down to culture, hustle being religious about the consumer. I know a lot of my friends on this call the Sleepy Owl guys. I mean we all do it. So it's not that you know, it's not just us doing it. You know, it's it's just being completely religious, you know about about the consumer XYXX all these guys, you know are doing the same thing. I think what's you know, so what I can do is I can share sort of an excerpt in an example.



I think that for me, it's just sort of well executed. what I mean by being religious about the consumer and the culture, um, you know, we had something which was a huge problem child, you know, maybe I don't know how you may remember it was before you I know deeply remember a huge problem child for us was our our shelf life and spoilage, you know early on in the journey, the greek yogurt was completely manual manually made and when we were making like literally small batches of you know, 1000 cups, 500 cups. It was unmanageable the minute we started to scale that up. It was a complete nightmare. I mean we would have, you know spoilage we would have a lot of issues and it wasn't really about the source and we were able to do a good job on figuring out how to have a very clean environment and Manufacturing. It was really about the supply chain.



The product was so sensitive to heat that even a little bit of a heat/ shock would ruin the product. So what would probably be something that could be a 30-day shelf life would expire in five or six days, right and and honestly consumer can care less and and they shouldn't care about the supply chain. That's not their problem. That's your problem. Right? So when the consumers buying the cup and is sitting in their at home, and there's it's spoiled. They're not blaming the retailer who turned the fridge off at night. They're not blaming the supply chain partner who you know the truck that went across they're blaming you the brand. It's a Brand's fault and you know, I always say that it was a huge problem, but I think it became an asset for us because the way we address this is literally every single person in the company was all hands on deck for consumer complaints, you know, it became like a friendly contest who can reach the Twitter handle first and respond, you know, try to be Rohan because if you know, Rohan will get there before you will. And and we were just absolutely religious in not only I mean you can give consumer freebies. That's fine. But really reaching out to the consumers and telling them look let us tell you what's really going on here. Right? It's not, you know come to this and we had consumers visit our facilities to see firsthand. Some of them were just disgusted by you know, the way that the product spoiled would come out we had consumers come out to our facility see how the product was made and like wow, okay, you know, this is a really hygienic clean environment. I see what you're saying.


There were challenges it reached a point where we had consumers then the whole thing reversed would actually yell at retailers would actually go to stores to pick up they would email us that would message us that retailers turn the fridge off and I yelled at him, you know, I yelled at her um, and and they became like they became our Force out there. They became our sales force out there. They were the ones out there, you know, telling us that there's a problem with this store because they realize that we came from an authentic genuine place and it was this sort of religious focus on consumers. we would respond within seconds. We would address the issues. We would have conversations with them. It wasn't just the marketing team anyone across the board, you know would constantly look at issues that came up on email Twitter or Facebook. Whatever it was and address them immediately sales guys would get complaints from the stores address them immediately.


But my point was how do you address them you address them by showing them and demonstrating what's happening behind the scenes not just by saying sorry. Here's a free cup. We did that as well. And I think that's what built sort of a great culture that became consumer first. And then honestly, I think if I go back it was one of the reasons our brand got built is the way we responded to some of these foolish complaints in you know, some of our most loyal users today will tell you that our first interaction with the brand was because our product that's built.


there's a great case study for hotels, you know, when they look at, you know consumers when they go to hotels and you've got two set of consumers who got the same exact room one person got exactly what they wanted and left and was satisfied because they got exactly what they wanted. They may or may not come back. There's one consumer that had a terrible experience, you know, there was a cigarette burn and in the bed, but then the hotel upgraded them to a suite and now they're loyal consumers for life, you know, so so we kind of you know played off of that and really work for us both the great culture for us as well.

HP: Why did you choose B2B over b2c for launch?


RM: I guess that the question is, you know, why did you start off with horeca before you went all out? So we didn't we didn't necessarily start off with horeca. I don't know if I mean, is the question did we go to offline first versus d2C. I don't know.

In the beginning as I was saying earlier we focused on dietitians. We went to yoga studios. We went to gyms to get the trials going and then understanding where these folks could consumed and then of course from our ice cream parlors understanding where folks were said. It happened in parallel, you know, I wouldn't say I mean in fact horeca is a business for us came much later.

Um, you know, it was more just on identifying the first initial cohorts and and really doing set it was more about sampling for us than it was and that's where we sort of went for sampling was focused on on these areas first.


HP: How did you overcome the usual barriers? Like shelves is constraints listing fees. What was the secret sauce?


RM: I'll say it sort of openly, they're still not the easiest to deal with, you know, they sort of had a fall during covid, but they made a big bang come back now. So we have to give them a lot of love tender love and care. Look I think you know in the beginning some of the early accounts, you know, we ended up paying the listing fees whatever we did what we found and this wasn't just an empty was across the board is and I think one of the questions was how do we use our marketing budgets? And I think so, I'll let both of them in together. What was absolutely critical for us. And this is something that even at the board they were super supportive of is I was very clear to the team as in terms of marketing rupees we have zero. But if you want to use our yogurt as currency, we're very rich and what I mean by that is sample sample sample sample sample. Now, we are fortunate enough that we have a low rupee entry price point so we can sample we can break the cup we can give people spoons in stores. And that's where I think with modern trade we took one or two accounts early on and we really focused on sampling.


I've personally gone myself spent time in store sampling and then we built the phenomenal sort of sampling program. And that's when we started getting velocities and momentum then when you go to subsequent retailers, or you get inbound interest from subsequent retailers, they start, you know, reducing the listing fees. It's a churn. It's there's no secret sauce. It's really again brand strength how you get the momentum and my advice would be if the economics are not making sense up front wait, you know take that time build it off of GT a little bit build some of the super premium GT stores. So I would, I would take my time they do come down over time. I mean, there's an account that took us two years to crack and if you look at what they first quoted Us in, you know in year zero and what they quoted Us in the two years was literally like 20 or 30 percent of what they first asked us. So the, you know, once you get some strength modern trade will play ball, but it's not an easy one.

HP: How do you think through your Innovation Pipeline and strategy? How long is your current pipeline of products?


RM: I kind of alluded to this earlier. So we're very focused on an architecture, you know what place and I can have that offline chat with whoever needs to but um, you know, the way we sort of we have a very defined architecture, we keep a good amount of products in our pipeline. So at least a year out we've got stuff in our pipeline what's important though is is experimenting and failing. I think that's super critical making sure that we know what failure is and defining that failure fast and then sort of just moving on. putting too much energy and effort behind a product. That's not working can really be a drag on on cash and really be a drag on resources and really be a drag on time. So simple answer, you know, one year out pipeline in play and then iterating on that pipeline constantly and constantly doing experiments to see does it really you know, what what metrics do we get this out to the larger distribution? Otherwise we launch for defined short, you know, Consolidated distribution.


HP: How how did you ensure that the perception of yogurt was beyond just a breakfast consumption product?



RM: I think it's a very interesting one in terms of you know, how you thought through the occasion for consumption which is completely in new category creation. So for us we were I mean we were never defining ourselves as a breakfast brand and I'll share some some metrics on that. We were very clear that within our positioning. We were a healthy snack and we played in the choti si bhook category and what that means is, you know, the small hunger in between breakfast and lunch and in between lunch and dinner and even potentially post dinner what we found is and we've stuck to that we've not changed any of that week. If you look at it, you'll see snack snack snack is constantly in our all our communication what we found though is when you translate that, um, we've got a pretty pretty much a 33 33 33 distribution and we're not going to change. So 33% of our consumers are having this for breakfast 33% of our consumers are having this for dessert post dinner and 33% of our consumers on a daily basis daily dessert and 33% of our consumers are having it as that mid meal snack.

And we believe that because we are positioning ourselves as that choti bhook snack. We're getting the dessert and the breakfast as well because people are looking at small, you know, people are who don't want a huge breakfast or just want something on the go. It's falling in on breakfast and who want it, you know sort of post dinner sweet, you know, just a sweet sort of healthy kick before they go to sleep or having that as well. We will not change that we will not talk about breakfast. We'll not talk about dessert we continue to talk about snack and we will keep talking about snacks snacks next time because that's working for us across the portfolio and and that's sort of pretty much as simple as that.



HP: Rohan, what would your advice be on in terms of skill sets required personality traits that you know that could help them be as successful?



RM: So 100% people people. I mean just having the right people around you. I think we've been very fortunate. I've been very fortunate, you know, literally everyone on our leadership team is far more intelligent than I am and I'm a big believer in listening to them. I prefer playing moderator then being the guy who tells you what to do and it's my way the highway, you know, I find you know healthy and especially as you're trying to scale and build an organization that's not an individual dependent. I think that's super critical, you know for for folks to do that. And I know it's I think it's important to start looking at that early in the journey you sort of you what your management style is how you sort of build the org and for us I think we've been very blessed and fortunate to be able to have folks like that who joined the team who've been able to sort of come in you you meet a lot of them hurry at the board meetings. We bring a lot of them in to talk and I think that's really important for them to sort of know that when they recommend something it's gonna be heard and end of most likely the action. It's not just gonna be what Rohan thinks right? And I think that's that's super critical as we as we build this org going forward this to kind of company. We're at least we're trying to build and so far so good. And I think it's it's sort of fits in with consumer Centric as well. Right? So people Centric in terms of consumer, but also people within the company and sort of mixes up really well and I mean, I sort of leave it at that I think in terms of hunger, I think stay with the hunger the stuff does not happen overnight. It'll never happen overnight. It's a, it's a long churn, but there is there is sort of a Chasm to be crossed then when it crosses. It's a lot of fun and I can I can honestly and probably say today I'm having so much fun. It's awesome.

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