I met Saswata Shankar De at TRH Hyderabad Meetup for all of 5 mins. But he left an impression on me. I was captivated when I heard him speak about what they are trying to do at The First Meal (TFM). Saswata is all of 25 and his team is all of 5. But when you hear him talk about his team’s endeavour to simply provide people in Hyderabad with healthy fresh food options – the honesty in his voice stands out and touches a chord. He’s not a hustler. He’s a builder. He’s quietly building a food venture that not only solves a pain, but adds enormous value to a person’s daily life, without making a huge noise about it!
TFM was our food partner for the meetup. And what we sampled was super fresh (sandwiches), non-greasy (samosas) and interesting food that people really enjoyed and appreciated (which is not often at an informal meetup!)
He still hasn’t showcased TFM on TRH yet. He will when the site is revamped. To me, Saswata is the quintessential Rodinhooder who just wants to make a difference in people’s lives. And I think you all will adore him when you get to know him via these quick set of q’s…. (especially when he you read his deepest fear :))
1. Why did you do a startup? No, really, why did you start up?
I started up to create something of my own…to learn new things not just by watching, but by trying them out too! I did join a corporate company after my graduation, but after a few years, I felt my job was holding me back from the things that I wanted to do/learn/experience. From that point on, quitting to ‘start up’ became a very easy decision to make.
2. Why breakfast?
We think it’s a space with a massive scale/opportunity if we can come up with the right kind of products. Our idea (philosophy) is to treat breakfast as a ”health product” rather than just “food served in the morning”.
3. Do your parents get you? If they don’t, tell us the worst/funniest thing they said to you! If they do – tell us the most encouraging thing they’ve said to you.
No. Not always. But that hasn’t stopped them from supporting me in whatever I do. Thankfully, the two most rational people I have ever met…my parents. My father has this favorite line that he likes to repeat often, “Remember, there’s a time and place for everything.” I just felt that the time is right! 😀
4. The craziest thing you’ve done to get something done…
“What’s life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do…” ~ GBS, Pygmalion
Starting up itself was crazy (I guess), and I’m sure every start up has their own set of crazy stories…
Soon after starting up, we had to take up a late order of around 20 odd vada pavs (we wanted to keep the numbers growing early on, and were not too particular about the time the orders came in). Called the kitchen but there was no answer, so started looking around for a place to buy pavs at 11 pm in the night. Regular sources being closed (obviously!) we managed to accost and convince a night time chaat vendor to sell us his stock.
We got back to office feeling happy, and then the real concern struck home – the pavs were too small! Since we had already got as much pav as we could (we serve 2 pavs to a plate), we then decided to add something complementary to the pack – like cookies? OK. Went out to an all night Just Bake and got two boxes of cookies (around a 150 odd, because if you had ordered something other than a vada pav and happened to see your neighbour’s/friend’s/family-member’s vada pav pack… *shudders*).
We hand packed 60 odd complementary cookie pouches in butter paper, then parked the car around 3 am in front of the kitchen so we could catch the chef coming in at 5 am and get him to make the extra vadas. Successfully served our “cookie-pav” packs the next day to happy customers 😛
5. Ever been broke? An incident when your friends had to come to the rescue?
My friends are the ones that I always rely on…some of them literally nursed me through engineering! But no…not yet, thankfully. I’m a big advocate of financial independence, something that I’d like to keep at all ‘costs’.
6. The one thing you hate about being on your own?
Everyday looks the same…no weekdays or weekends 🙁
7. Who is your pillar? Who do you turn to when you need advice?
For everything start-up, I turn to Yuvraj (my co-founder and longtime friend). For anything else, I call home 🙂
8. Ever fought or disagreed with your co-founder? Over what? How did you make up?
Many times, on many things. Starting from the marketing strategy to product pricing to what to serve next week. However, we have a deep respect for each other’s work ethic, and to be sure, nothing would have been possible without him! In fact, we possibly wouldn’t have started up at all.
9. Ever felt like “giving up”? What made you change your mind?
Sometimes. Then I just look around…see the team working their guts out to build something, and get my head back down to whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing.
10. The one incident when a supplier/vendor/delivery boy ditched you
Happens with sickening regularity during festivals. No other option but to take the car and the ‘do-it-yourself’ manual out!
11. Your most silly mistake (the kind you can laugh at now)
We made, and continue to make, many mistakes. Off the top of my head – we initially got 750 ml boxes for serving 3 idlis (ideally, you would want to pack a full plate of biryani into them)…most of the boxes are still lying around with us!
12. Your #epicshit moment
Sometimes when things seemed out of control, I used to have these mind-freeze moments. Like the ones where you suddenly have no idea of what’s going on, and generally feel everything will go wrong. Then a few things did go wrong, people backed out at crucial stages, but we still managed to pull through somehow…and I had an epiphany of sorts – “The best anyone can do is to keep building. Sure, you may get knocked down at times, but draw confidence from the fact that if you could do it once, you can do it again. And again. And again. As many times, as necessary to make it stand and be counted.”
I think that’s what start ups are all about, the courage to build, no matter the odds.
13. Your deepest fear
That I’ll not be able to get up when the alarm rings!
14. Your fav part of the day
Right now, it’s just around early noon…means we have successfully survived one more day 🙂
15. One thing you miss most about “doing a regular job”.
The perks…gotta be the perks. I used to travel fairly often, and checking-in to plush properties ever so often definitely gives you a high!
16. Your one passion you’ve kept alive and don’t let your work interfere with it.
Reading. I read to learn, to de-stress, to unpuzzle things out. Also keeps my (out-of-sorts) sense of humor alive.
17. Sometimes I feel like __ (complete it)
___the world’s at an end. Usually happens when Liverpool loses a match; and more recently, if our weekly sales figures don’t turn up so good 😛
18. One person you’d love to be if you could
(Batman. Who doesn’t want to be Batman? :P)
Michael Faraday’s modern equivalent (to me the greatest experimental scientist ever, given his background)
19. A startup that really inspires you (or you envy)
Munchery. The way they have executed their ideas is really inspiring. Would love to meet the founders if I could!
20. If not food, what would you have done?
Written. (Yep, thank God for small mercies! :P)
21. What do you like about TheRodinhoods?
Such a vast source of knowledge on just-about-everything! Many of the seasoned Rodinhooders are also among my entrepreneurial icons. Generally I Google things, lately (and in fact for more precise answers) I read through The Rodinhoods’ posts!
22. Saswata’s gyan to aspiring entrepreneurs
I think I fall right into that category (of aspiring entrepreneurs)! A few things though – surround yourself with awesome people (a man is definitely known by the company he keeps), do the right things for the right reasons, and persevere. For the rest, may the odds be ever in your favour!
So that was Saswata in 22 q’s for you! Reach out to him if you’re also a struggling foodpreneur and forget to come up for air! And look out for TFM’s showcase post on TRH soon…
We will be hunting down more young entrepreneurs who have been quietly creating value for all of us in their own way. If you would like feature another rodinhooder in a similar format pls go ahead or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can create your own set of quick q’s and get started!!
UPDATE APRIL 27, 2016
Congrats Saswata, Joginder & team!