If I have to write about Typhoo, I have to talk about Subrata Mukherji. He was the person who spearhead the business of Typhoo. Mr Mukherji as we all called him was in his late 50’s when he came into the business of Typhoo. He used to work as a bull. Even at that age when most of the people retire, he had the zeal to work late hours to construct the business.
Mr Mukherji has been one of my Mentor’s. Words are inadequate to explain the kind of knowledge and experience that he has given not only to me but also to the entire team of Typhoo. I was highly successful in Typhoo and have transformed under the able leadership of Mr Mukherji. It was through the learning’s that I have acquired from him that has helped me building Sharp Consulting and Implementing Company (SCIC). Along with Mr Subrata Mukherji; Mr Singi and Mr Sumit Roy are also the people who have been the important pillars of my life. Without these three it would have been impossible for me even to think of building up SCIC. Mr Mukherji taught me the art of building business for a new product, Mr Singi refined me by transforming me from an aggressive to an assertive person, Sumit through his coaching taught me how to launch my business and bought a major shift in my thought process. I will write more on Mr Singi and Sumit in in future. For now, I will talk more on Mr Mukherji and Typhoo.
Somewhere in the month of November 2017, I had quit my job at Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) to joined Typhoo. I was doing very well at HUL and when I had quit there was effort made to retain me but I did not stay back. I was in my early phase of career at that time, still learning more about what kind of person I was. When I had gone for the interview at Typhoo, the thing that excited me was that I was going to launch a brand and I very well knew that if Typhoo became a success so will I. That was my first exploration of my self – create something new.
For the first 3-4 months, I was not aware as to what was going around. I was the 2nd person in West and the 5th at all India to join Typhoo. After I had joined I got to know that the factory was not ready and would take some time. The first month elapsed and so did the second. I was sitting idle in my office. I just could not digest it. Coming from a background where I was handling the business of approximately Rs 20 million, to a business where the sales were ‘0’ was killing me. I had nothing to do. I am not of a kind who would just sit around and do nothing. I thought of introducing the products to a large number of prospects through writing letters. I was of an opinion when I go to meet them with the final samples, they would know something about the brand.
Even in the third month, the samples did not reach me, I started losing my patience. I started putting pressure on my immediate superior to give me samples. Finally, by the time it was February 2008, I got the samples. The samples came in silver foil and were not branded. After looking at the samples, I got a feeling that the samples were sent to me to keep my interest in the business. I was also kind of taken aback when I got the samples. On one side, we are saying UK’s finest and on the other samples are coming in unbranded silver foil. I fell a little dejected but I also thought something is better than nothing. I took these silver foil and started approaching business partners. This how most of the business start.
Whenever we have to start something we have to first start from our strength. I had a good rapport at TATA Motors Pune. I fixed a meeting with Mr Mayekar, who was heading the canteen. He was resistant but on my several requests, he agreed. I travelled from Mumbai to Pune with these samples of loose tea that I received. We did the sampling and got the product approved for bidding. All through this only one thing was playing at the back of my mind; I have to get some revenue. If we remain at zero sales, things will not continue for long.
While I was making this move, I was being pulled back. I somehow managed to convince everyone in the system and got the bidding approval for TATA. We won the bid. That’s how the business of Typhoo started in India. We got our first order and with this came the call from the factory manager in Kolkata. It was now revealed to me the factory was not fully operational, it would take at least a month more time to get it fully operational. I needed the product within the stipulated time of two weeks; else as per the tender TATA would purchase stocks from the market at whatever rate it is available and debit the difference amount to us. There was no choice but to airlift the stocks from Kolkata to Pune. This is how we made the first revenue in Typhoo. This is how we started, little did I know that within years to come I would not only rise to the position of Regional Sales Manager but also head both the business in West and in South, leading a team of more than 15 people.
It was the month of April 2008. If I am correct there were 47 sales people on board for Typhoo at all India level. Just 4 months later there were only 7 left. The pink slip was shown to the 40 people. I was one amongst the 7 to stay back. All of those who were retained had to take a salary cut.
A very big learning for all the start-ups: Never make plans on excel sheet. While all looks doable on an excel sheet, when it comes to implementation things are miles apart.
Why was I among the 7? There were three major reasons
– I believed in the brand Typhoo and had a lot of faith in the fruit infusion a category that I had to create.
– I had built a very strong distribution base. I was last among the lot to make channel partners. I am of an opinion that while launching brand you must work with established channel partners. Making larger distribution company your business partners is a task. They will ask you a lot of question and twist you a lot; if you win over them then your task becomes a little easier. Most of the channel partners made by me are still the pillars of Typhoo.
– Ujjwal, my colleague in Typhoo, introduced me to a new channel called Pharma gifting. He showed me the road, I started walking. There about 30-40 large Pharma companies where I was able to sell a large quantity of Typhoo. In my span nearing 6 years at Typhoo, the amount of fruit infusion that I sold was the highest at all India level.
It was in the month of August-September 2008, that Mr Mukherji took over the business. I was introduced to him in Delhi head office. My life and learning were about to change.
As far as I recall, my first meeting with Mr Mukherji was based on the sales report that he had complied. He said me that my numbers were good and also told me that the channel partners that I had made were rock solid. As the discussion moved further, he opened the payment outstanding sheet. Outstanding sheet? I have to be honest here. This was something new to me because when I had worked with established companies like levers all I had to do was only sales. I never bothered much about outstanding. My job was to ensure channel partners blank cheques were in sufficient quantity in the depot and it was the job of the depot to bank it.
My outstanding was more than Rs 12-14 Lacs. Mr Mukherji asked me why I have not deposited the cheques. I told it is with the CFA and I don’t know why they had not deposited the cheque. His face was jaw-dropping. I was damn scared from within. But I was able to hide my feelings. I told him that there is no issue at all, the cheques can be deposited after I make a call to the respective channel partners. I went to the conference room called up my two biggest channel partners who had to pay me. They readily agreed. This is the best benefit that you get when you work with large channel partners.
One of the cheques was amounting Rs 10 Lacs. When the instruction to bank the cheque had gone to Kolkata, the accounts team they called me told me to re-check if I had put an additional zero in the number. I told them it was correct and just bank it. The cheque got cleared. The two large channel partners that I had created never faltered on payments. It is now almost the 10 years of since the operations of Typhoo had started in India. They are still a large contributor to the business.
Spray and Pray
When we were restructuring the business both Mr Mukherji and I were talking to someone, where the phrase ‘ Spray and Pray’ was used for the first time. Mr Mukherji explained, this is what most of the startups do when they launch. They first make the business plan (excel sheet), then they start placing the products or in other words they spray the product across. When the product gets stuck, due to less offtake, we start to pray. While most of the employee start praying for number other start praying for jobs. Oh God, please help me in getting a job anyhow!
Spraying the product in the market will only get you the initial numbers but it will never build the business. Then I got the most important part of my learning – ‘mapping’. The technicalities of mapping were taught to me by Mr Mukherji and I took it up from there. I have been able to implement this very well not only during my time with Typhoo but also in my next venture with Vegit. After receiving training from Sumit Roy (Founder Director – Univbrand), I further refined it and developed the MAP TAP and ADAPT model for the consulting company that I started. I am now using this in Granules and Beans launch, it is not only effective but also improves the success rate.
Mapping and Expansion
Once I understood the mapping, the approach to the business started to change and evolve. We started mapping with standalone stores, the modern trade stores and the institutional sales. There are close to 30,000 + outlets food and beverage outlets in Mumbai area. Based on the classification the numbers could increase or decrease. If we go the premium outlets that are highly merchandized, browseable, self-pick up the numbers would come to less than 1000. If you further refine them it would come to around 350 – 500 outlets. Mapping is based on a formula where you have to understand the behaviour of the retailer and the type of customers that visit the stores. After the first year of operation, we had to pull out of a lot of outlets and then restart things again. This was an effective re-launch. It is very important to understand here that launching a new product is much easier than re-launching. This is for the simple reason when you re-launch you have to again go the same old outlet that had placed your product once. Therefore it is suggested that when you relaunch you must re-launch with a new frontline team. It may seem harsh but the old team that had launched the product has to go away.
With this new team, under the guidance of Mr Mukherji and the model of mapping, I started re-launching. I was myself new to retail. Before 2008, I was a hard-core Institutional person. Mr Mukherji had trust in me that he give me the charge of Retail. He did not give this to me easily; first, he gave me a couple of modern trade to start with and then eventually the entire retail. So by the end of 2009, I was a person who understood the business of Retail, Modern Trade and Institutions.
Brick by brick we started building the business. This time it was me leading the team in West as a Regional Manager. We started adding and building stores. Very soon we reached a stage where the offtake from store increased and the recall for Typhoo has started. We had moved to the next stage – building the brand Typhoo.
Along with mapping, the next big learning was the AITEA model. I remember it by heart. Not because it is easy to remember, but it actually is the principal on which brands are established. A= Awareness I = Interest T = Trail E= Evaluation A= Adoption. I have modified and adapted it to Sharp’s SPARK also known as Sharp’s Pentagon. This is one of the specialised services of sharp and you can only understand it well once you take our services.
Venture into South
By the end of 2008, when I had started restructuring the business and started having a grip on the retail business, I wanted to venture to South. My main motives were two:
- The south had a very large market of tea bags
- The Modern Trade business of south
It took me a lot of time to convince Mr Mukherji to approve my travel to the south. This time he was getting tough on me. He was trying to tell me that we must first streamline stabilise the business in West and then move to the south. I was of an opinion that we can do both simultaneously. But he disagreed.
Based on the mapping that I had learned, I started collecting and collating data of the Bangalore. After some groundwork, I sent my detailed report of Modern Trade and Institutional business in Bangalore. I also sent a proposal that I would travel to Bangalore on train and stay with my friends, this would keep the travel cost low. Finally, he agreed and I did the market work in Bangalore on the above terms.
I successfully build up the business in South, with the appointment of a distributor and without any manpower. It was only after proving that south had potential that I got my first full-time person after three months. By the time I had moved out of Typhoo, the business in south had expanded from Bangalore to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. We had a Sales Manager in South, 1 person for institution and 2 persons for retail, besides off roll employees. South was contribution about 25-30% of all India sales. My first travel to the south was on train, thereafter all the travels were by flights. Had I not chosen to make the first move on whatever was available then, I would not have been able to create such a big opportunity.
Sales Linked Marketing Policies
Budgets were never a constraint with Typhoo. But Mr Mukherji had very successfully implemented the sales linked marketing strategies/policies. According to him, the new age marketers should devise marketing strategies that are linked to sales. Usually, the marketing team devises the strategies and it is left to sales team to implement it. But at Typhoo whenever a marketing strategy was developed, it was always linked to sales. Therefore the marketing team always had the ownership. The sales and the marketing team had their own rifts but when it came to implementing both had to work together and ensure that whatever is planned is executed well.
There were many other things that we have done to ensure that Typhoo becomes a leading brand in the category. Of the 5-6 people who had joined the company, only I stayed back to see it growing. When I had decided to move, I had built up a capable team who could take it forward. I always had a belief that people build the business. You take care of your people; your business will be automatically taken care of. I have always believed in giving. So the team under me was very well trained and after I had left they were able to take care of the business. Not only is this they were able to take the business to new heights as it today.
I have always worked with emotions. My belief system is based on the fact that only those people who are emotionally attached can achieve good results. If you cannot feel the brand, you are just an employee doing sales and earning your salaries. The moment you get a new job you move out. Along with this, it is equally the responsibility of the core team of any business to respect the team. If you disrespect them, you will never get commitment from people.
Along with Mr.Mukherji, I also used to meet Mr Karan Paul who is the chairman of the Typhoo business. I acknowledge the patience of Mr Paul that was a pillar of building the brand Typhoo.
Learning were immense on how to build a brand of a start-up company. These learning were my inspiration in building Sharp Consulting and Implementing Company. Why do I use the word implementing? Because brands are not created by making plans, they are created by implementing them. I have a deep concern when a consultant comes to advise a business and based on his past experiences gives direction. The world is changing at a very rapid pace, a technology that was path-breaking becomes obsolete soon. In the digital world, every 2-3 month’s something new comes. The old people have to give the way to the new one. It is very dangerous to take advice from someone who is only speaking. It is very wise to take advice from someone who can actually implement it also.
Typhoo is today a leading player in the speciality tea and tea bag category. It product ranges extends from black teas, flavoured teas, green tea, organic tea etc. It was great to be a part of this brand and work with Mr Mukherji.
You can get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me 9702277967.
Vijay Singh Sokhi
Sharp Consulting and Implementing Company (www.scico.in)