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Chillibreeze Interview with Rakesh Raghunathan
Rakesh Raghunathan is a food entrepreneur by profession. He is the founder and CEO of PetaWrap, a healthy fast food kiosk chain in Chennai. He hosts cookery shows on popular television channels in India.
I took up a 9-5 job at the start. While in the US, I interned with The Standard Chartered Bank in New York City and The Diageo Group (British multinational alcoholic beverages company). However, the global financial meltdown that was at its peak made me move back to India. I now feel that it was a blessing in disguise. As soon as I moved back, I took up a job in the software industry. I realized that it was not something that interested me or kept me thinking. It certainly was not a creative job!
My passion has always been food and somehow I could never see myself in any other industry/job. After much contemplation, I took the plunge. In my case, I decided to be an entrepreneur only because I wanted to empower people (our social initiatives include employing self help groups to work in our outlets) follow my dreams of building a brand and creating my own identity in the food space.
While I was working in NYC, I used to enjoy Mexican burritos and always thought that if I ever started a food business, I would work on creating a desi-style burrito joint that obviously had a desi-twist to it. With so many international brands coming into India and so many new local brands making their presence pan-India, I thought it was a good time to enter into the food industry. It was not merely a ‘business decision’ but also my passion to build a food brand that has a presence across the globe.
Food (be it cooking or creating new recipes) has always been something I have always liked and associated with. You can probably blame my mother for being a splendid cook and spoiling me with the brilliant food she makes. That’s the closest connection to the food industry I can think of.
3. Did you start PetaWrap on your own or is a joint venture? Please tell us more about it.
PetaWrap is my own venture. It was self-funded for the first year of operations and later financial institutions have backed us after looking into our business plan and projections. It is a private limited company.
The name PetaWrap is a pun on the song ‘PetaRAP’ from the Tamil movie Kadhalan. The song is a rap number and this is a wrap concept. I wanted a name that was local to Chennai yet unique. Since it was a local brand name unique to Chennai, we wanted a local theme too. Local name, local theme, brand born out of Chennai – what can denote the local experience of Chennai more than an auto? Thus the auto kiosk came into being.
5. Your promise is that PetaWrap uses no harmful ingredients like preservatives or Hydrogenated fat. Was PetaWrap a result of the growing need for healthy fast food?
Yes, indeed. Fast food is often associated with being unhealthy. While studying in the US, I used to eat these burritos/wraps almost daily and could still lead a healthy lifestyle. We did have brands that made healthy food, but not at affordable rates.
6. Where does PetaWrap have its presence India? Any expansion plans to include other states?
We are two years young and currently have a presence only in Chennai. We will be scaling up shortly. We are looking at Bangalore, Coimbatore and Hyderabad.
7. What do you think a wannabe entrepreneur will require setting up his own business?
The first thing an entrepreneur needs is passion. He will have to translate that into a business plan so that he remains focused and meets his targets. He/she must attend several networking sessions on entrepreneurship and seminars that showcase successful entrepreneurs. There are organizations like the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) and Tie (The Indus Entrepreneurs) where one can ask for mentoring help from seasoned entrepreneurs who have made it big. In addition to all the above, he/she must study the project, analyze its potential and most importantly have a good team in place to complement each other.
8. What challenges did you face in setting up your business after completing business school?
Recruiting people when you begin is a mighty task. I have had instances where I try recruiting people for mid-management but they have turned down the offer since it is a start up. Getting a qualified professional to join you at a start up stage is a major issue that I faced.
9. Any other challenges you face today while running a novel business venture of this kind? And how did/do you overcome these?
Labour issues haunt me. Gone are the days where you find loyal people. This is a kiosk model managed by just one person. There have been days/ times when some kiosk employees don’t show up after their pay check. On my way home when I look at the kiosk, it would be shut! Not a pleasant sight!
Inflation is yet another issue that worries us. Our margins dwindle owing to the increase in cost of raw materials, labour, fuel etc. But we are unable to increase rates and pass it on to the customers.
10. Is there something you’d like to share with our readers about yourself? Something Interesting that people do not already know about?
I love music! I perform carnatic music concerts and team up with many others for western classical and carnatic classical fusion concerts. In addition to this, I cook and host my cookery show on regional television channels. I love photography too, my interests being portraits and food photography.
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