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How a chartered accountant turned into a successful chai-wallah

Narendra Kaushik| New Delhi 23 Nov 2016, Vol 7 Issue 47

Robin Jha from New Delhi has literally brewed a storm in a teacup, with his company’s daily take-out rising from Rs 2 lakh per month in 2013 to Rs 50 lakh per month in less than four years. This astounding 2400 per cent increase has primarily accrued from the sale of tea and snacks.

No, Robin, 30, is definitely not your ordinary street-corner tea-stall vendor.  He is the CEO of tpot, a start-up chain of 21 tea bars spread across Delhi NCR (National Capital Region).

CEO of tpot, Robin Jha, has set a target of setting up 200 outlets across the country by 2020 (Photos: Navnita)

A chartered accountant, and a former mergers and acquisitions executive with Ernst & Young (E&Y), Robin never dreamt of such a meteoric rise.

Definitely not at the beginning of 2013 when he pumped in an initial capital of Rs 20 lakh -made up of his savings from his jobs with global consultants Protiviti and E&Y, and contributions from a couple of friends, Atit Kumar, a marketing executive, and Asad Khan, a chartered accountant – into a tea outlet in Malviya Nagar in south Delhi.  

Earlier, they had formedShivanta Agro Foods, a private limited company incorporated on April 13, 2012, with Jha as CEO, Asad Khan as head of operations, and Atit Kumar as head of marketing.

“The thought of starting something on my own came from the promoters, founders and start-up owners I interacted with at E&Y,” Robin says. “Each of them had a vision. I asked myself, ‘Is there something I want to do?”’  

Along with chai, tpot serves Thai, Italian and Continental snacks also

He brainstormed with his friends for business ideas and then zeroed in on tea. His father Narendra Jha, a bank manager in Ranchi, and his mother, Ranjana Jha, were both initially against the idea and apprehensive about its success, but gave in ultimately.   

Going forward, Jha studied a stack of reports on café markets and demand- and supply-side surveys. “85 to 90 percent of Indians drink tea – that’s a huge number,” he explains his business logic for tpot. To the popular pot of tea, he added a wide range of snacks.

Using his experience in designing business processes, Robin searched for tea gardens and scouted for the right talent among tea experts in different cafes in Delhi.

Finally, tpot was born in the shape of a rented 800-square-foot outlet in the Malviya Nagar main marketin south Delhi in 2013. It initially had 10 employeeson the rolls, and offered 25 types of tea and a few refreshments.

“We wanted to start compact,” he recalls.

Robin, who moved from B.Com at Ramjas College, Delhi University, to correspondence in the first year to pursue graduation in commerce and chartered accountancy simultaneously, says initially he didn’t intend to start a chain.

Unsure of tpot’s success, he continued to work with E&Y until June 2013, when his entrepreneurial spirit made him go all out for his venture.

To chalk out and correct his forward plans he invited customer feedback through tablets and papers for the first three months at the Malviya Nagar outlet.

Nothing like grabbing a bite at your own shop

The findings revealed that the majority of their customers were in the 25-35-year age group and office-goers who dropped by through the day.

This made Robin turn his attention to office spaces, and he opened his first office outlet in ibibo, a leading online travel company, in Gurugram in June 2014. “Pooling customers in an office is easy,” he points out. 

Today, out of tpot’s 21 outlets, about half are in office spaces in Delhi-NCR, such as the World Trade Tower, Noida, and K.G. Marg, New Delhi.

The rest are located in markets, metro stations and other places such asthe high-footfall T-3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Today Robin’s tpot outlets serve more than 100 arrays of half a dozen classified teas – Black, Oolong, Green, White, Herbal and Flavoured.

Tpothas a tie up with five tea gardens in Assam and Darjeeling, introducing around five new flavours and retiring the same number every year.

Life revolves around cups and saucers for Robin

To complete chai-nashta, the tagline for the company, tpot serves Thai, Italian and Continental snacks, including cookies, muffins, sandwiches, vada pav, keema pav, wraps and more.   

“We understand our customers, have goodcontrol on quality and a long-term vision,” Robin says, counting his secrets of success.

Building upon this, he plans to have 200 outlets in 10 major cities of the country by 2020. He believes the future belongs to herbal, Oolong and non-milk teas.

As the British novelist Jasper Fforde wrote in Shades of Grey, ‘There is no problem on earth that can’t be ameliorated by a hot bath and a cup of tea’.

The bath, it would seem, is optional; the tea – indispensable.

This Article is Part of the 'Super Startups' Series 


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