‘With Rs 10 lakh we started a ready-to-cook brand, whose turnover touched Rs 40 lakh in the second year’
Vol 13 | Issue 33
In early 2020, close friends Prachi Patil, 30, and Aditya Patil, 29, quit their jobs on the same day - 13 March - after discussing their future together and later that year joined hands in matrimony.
As the world was reeling under the impact of the Covid pandemic, the newlyweds explored various business ideas and eventually formed a company, Suzu Agro Private Limited (Food for Future) and launched Aaj Pakao, a ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat, food products brand in November 2020.
|Prachi Patil and Aditya Patil set up Suzu Agro Pvt Ltd with Rs 10 lakh and launched Aaj Pakao in 2020 (Photos: Special Arrangement) |
The company is active in both the B2C and B2B arenas. For the B2C market, the products comprise beans, sprouts, and different curries from various regions of India. Their B2B service is to deliver large packets to hotels, restaurants, and caterers.
According to the founders, the USP of Suzu Agro’s products is that there is no need for refrigeration, and they can be stored at room temperature for up to 12 months without any risk of bad smell or color changes.
“Using up our savings, we launched Aaj Pakao with a personal investment of about Rs 10 lakh,” says Prachi, Co founder and CEO of Suzu Agro. “The first year was challenging as we spent a lot of time and money building the products and getting necessary licenses and approvals from different agencies such as FSSAI, ISO, and USFDA
“In the first year (Nov 2020-Mar 2021) our revenue was just Rs 3 lakh. During that period, I repeatedly contemplated winding it up and returning to the US to take up a good job and lead a comfortable life.
“However, Aditya asked me to be patient and slog it out for three years. In the second year, the business generated a revenue of Rs 40 lakh; in the third year, we are targeting a turnover of Rs one crore.”
Prachi shares her exciting life story that began at Latur, a village in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, where she attended a vernacular medium school at Dhule till Class 10, and then continued her higher studies in Pune.
“Hailing from a regular middle-class Maharashtrian family with no history of entrepreneurship, late Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawla inspired me. I had planned to become an aeronautical engineer, join NASA and fly to space.
|Aditya and Prachi met at school and have remained as friends since then|
However, as life took me from one destination to another, the plans of becoming an astronaut were replaced by a vision of redefining the approach to cooking that I share with my husband, Aditya Patil.
From learning engineering to doing an MBA from Texas State University and building a successful tech-driven ready-to-cook food venture with my husband, a textile engineer who has an MBA from IIM, Rohtak, my life is at a fascinating phase.
My parents had identified my potential very early, so they sent me to Dhule, the district headquarters, which had a big school. I stayed with my maternal grandparents and rapidly made my mark on academics after initial adjustments.
Somewhere along the path, I met Aditya Patil, who had also moved to Dhule to study, and we became best friends. Those days we used to have a lot of fun.
My parents were very understanding, and since Dhule is a small town, my gang of 4-5 friends used to spend time at my place, where my mother would cook food for us.
I was a voracious reader and read many books on astronomy, space, and other such subjects as I wanted to become an aeronautical engineer and join NASA as an astronaut.
Later I shifted to Ferguson College, Pune, after class 10, and that’s when I faced a language barrier as I had been educated in a vernacular school until then and couldn’t speak English which was commonly spoken in Pune.
Another shock came to me a little later as I found out that there was no college in Maharashtra that offered aeronautical engineering. Hence, I had to settle for industrial engineering.
In my final year of college, I joined a reputed automobile firm for my internship, and that’s when I realized that there was no space for a girl in this industry in India.
|Aditya encouraged Prachi to go to the USA and make a mark in her career|
Girls were mostly missing from the industry, and the odd ones like me were relegated to HR, design, or other duties, but not allowed on the production floor with the machines. That’s where I wanted to be, and that’s when I decided to go to the US.
I remained close friends with Aditya even after moving to Pune, and later we realized that we had a bond stronger than friendship. It was Aditya who pushed me to go to the USA.
He believed in my potential and wanted me to achieve great success. He told me to go abroad and make a mark.
As for our relationship, he said, we will see what happens in the future. I got admission in Industrial Engineering at Texas State University and later did an MBA there.
After finishing my studies in the US, I joined Schaeffler, a leading automotive company, and had three wonderful years there. I traveled all over the USA and then went to Germany as a Project Manager at the company’s headquarters.
That one year in Germany was one of the best times of my life. I explored new people, cultures, food and so many things. I also made my parents and brother visit me in the USA and again in Germany, where I drove them around seven European countries on a road trip of more than 8000 km.
Then in early 2020, Aditya and I discussed our future together. He was always keen to be an entrepreneur; I also wanted to return to India, where my family and heart were.
We quit our jobs on the same day, ‘13th March 2020’, and later that year got married, by which time the pandemic had hit the world.
|Aditya and Prachi during those carefree days - without the responsibility of entrepreneurship|
We explored various business ideas until, one day, I asked Aditya a simple question about India's lack of ready-to-cook canned food options. We went around and found very few options, most of which were quite expensive, and that’s when we decided to launch a venture in this field.
The first year was challenging. I repeatedly contemplated winding it up and returning to the US to take up a good job and lead a comfortable life. However, Aditya asked me to be patient and slog it out for three years.
During our first year, we cut down on every avoidable expense. We didn’t go out for dinners, pubbing or anything. We had friends who would come home and order food, and we would have loads of fun at my place.
During that stage, some of my friends from Germany had come to India, and one day they spotted our products in a supermarket. They took the products along, which was a delightful moment for me.
The real turning point came when we received an order from a US client who told us our products would be retailed in Walmart outlets. In those days, we used to work crazy, like 18 hours at the manufacturing plants, and later crash at my brother’s place.
Perseverance paid off, and today, Aaj Pakao is manufacturing 15-20 tonnes of products each month and exporting to clients in India, the US, the UK, UAE, and some African countries. We now have plans to set up a manufacturing facility and scale the brand into offline markets all over India and abroad.
|Aditya and Prachi work hard and party harder|
I am a firm believer in working hard and partying harder. We work really hard but ensure that our lives are happening. We spend a fair bit of time running, working in the gym, and focusing on our health.
Aditya is a long-distance runner. He has completed more than 10 half marathons, including Tata Mumbai Marathon, 2018. He is an avid reader and has a liking for physical activities like trekking, and swimming, and likes to keep fit.
My one piece of advice for young and aspiring entrepreneurs is, “It is not easy or comfortable. There will be failures, financial hardships, and periods when no growth appears on the horizon. However, if you are well and truly committed to your idea and ready to be patient, dive in without thinking twice.” ©TWL