In conversation with, the CEO of Line Media and Hospitality, Mr. Vashisht Gopalka. Read on to know about his journey, which started from his Garage during his salad days to becoming the CEO of one of the biggest Marketing Consultancies today. Food Marketing and Technology Associate Editor Harish Penumarthi, spoke to him on his contributions to the food sector and the market potential of Indian Processed and Packaged food sectors.
Q. When and how did you get the idea of starting Line Media and Hospitality?
I was a door to door salesman at the age of 12. I sold Jam & Perfumes. I did that through my summer break. I would target one neighbouring building a day. That’s where my confidence to speak to somebody new started building up.
I stated working at the age of 13. After school, I would use my Dad’s music setup to record old LPs & EPs (Gramophone discs) into CDs. My Dad’s friends gave me some considerable business before I started dealing with walk ins. I operated from my garage. There came a point wherein I had to take help from my friends in order to finish the amount of work that came through. I did that every summer till graduation. After my 10th boards, I started with a stock broking firm as a broker’s assistant. The name of the firm was Navbharat Investments Pvt Ltd based in Mahim. I worked there for about an year.Then I took a year off to focus on my HSC boards, after which I joined an import/export house called Shacomtex Pvt Ltd as a junior executive where I was executing the deals undertaken by the upper management. This was a summer job that lasted for three months.
Post this; I started Mediamaker with a close friend. Mediamaker was a tiny partnership. We operated from my house and it dealt with graphics, web, events & print. I still remember, I was so excited to start Mediamaker. I signed my partnership agreement. By the time I was done with Mediamaker, I took up a job as a graphic designer in a management consultancy firm called Purple Ventures Management Consultants LLP. I worked there for about 3 months before I knew I was meant for a business structure. That was the formation of Line MH.
Line was setup with a friend from the hospitality industry. We started our operation from a small office in Ballard Estate. However, in the first six months, we were forced to cease operations due to a lack of revenue. At this point I bought over the company. Although I bought over the company, I still didn’t have an income so I went back to purple to look for a job.
I was then hired back as a CMO. I learnt a lot during this time. I also realised about my potential to sell. I worked for an year at purple before I realised I was limiting myself. After that, I worked at home for a while. I got some business into the company. A few months in, I shifted to my Dad’s office in Kalbadevi , where I drew up some desk space. About a year and a half later, I moved to a bigger place in Sewri.
Q. What are your main areas of focus?
Line focuses primarily on SMB’s & SME’s. Given the right personalised touch, they show the greatest scope of growth. The idea has always been optimising a Marketing Budget, not adding to it. To emphasise, Line MH looks at the current areas of expenditure, tries best to convert the impact from that to a tangible ROI. This allows us to understand the purpose of said activity. This is only capable in a SMB, where one can make changes to marketing methods and see a reflection in the sales figures.
Q. Being a designer primarily, how did you manage to step into this sector and prove your might?
Being a designer was something that happened by chance. While growing up, I was tremendously fascinated with how an Ad changed someone’s perspective on things. My Dad would always ask me to identify what message the ad was trying to convey. This got me hooked onto trying to understand the mindset of the advertiser.
Since then, I believed I wanted to create marketing content like this. That’s where the designer in me got trained and tested. Little did I realise at that point, that I was simply executing other’s ideas. That’s when I decided to infuse some of my own into my work. This eventually allowed me to design the strategies at the Management Consultancy firm where I was working as the CMO. That’s when I knew if I have to make it big, I have to set out in a more systematic manner to specialise in this field.
Q. Give us an insight into your stints in the Food and Beverage Sector.
The Food and Beverage sector in India is growing at a great rate. We have a tremendous population here, who day by day, is opening up to different products. It’s a brilliant opportunity for those who can seize it. That’s what we realised with Goli Vada Pav. We started out by understanding what Goli was trying to sell.
It wasn’t long before we realised that Goli wasn’t just selling vadapavs, they were providing the means for bonding. The Co-founder Venky Iyer, had a simple concept, he wanted to recreate the ‘Bambaiya Bollywood’ experience. It was all about creating a product and a purpose for starting a conversation in the typical “katte par baithna” style. That’s when we concentrated on this and pushed the product to people who had a greater chance of believing in it.
Vada Pavs, didn’t need advertisements, they just needed the reach. The product was good enough to sell itself. We capitalised on this and focused on Consumers who were likely to become advocates for the brand. That included a mix of prospective franchisees, fans and well wishers. By doing so, we kept a extremely minimal marketing budget, allowing the funds to be allocated for R&D and network expansion. That’s exactly how over a span of three years, Goli’s number of stores grew from about 250 to 330 plus.
Q. How did you make Goli Vada Pav such a big success?
We started working with Goli in early 2014. At the time, we were told that we needed to elevate their online presence. That was it! They had put all their faith in us and left us to it. It was up to us to understand the need of the hour. That’s when we decided to stray from the traditional route of collecting and engaging users to focusing our efforts on what our consumers preferred.
We started to churn out theme boards based on their lifestyles & preferences. This seemed to resonate with the bulk of our audience. The next area of interest was to bridge our actual consumers with our online space. Our consumers primarily comprised of people who were not very net savvy or didn’t have convenient access to digital space. That’s when we decided to Bridge the gap.
What better way to market ourselves than have our customers do it for us? We Set up a system called Facebook Wifi in select high volume stores. It allowed users wifi access for an hour as long as they logged in through our Facebook page. We hadn’t heard of any player in the Indian market who had implemented this on such a scale.
We did face some hurdles in setting up the infrastructure and logistics but we made it work. This led to an instant growth in organic followers and engagement started going through the roof. For a brand with 150k plus likes we were reaching average engagement levels of close to .3-.4 percent. This was an amazing feeling.
Not long down the line did we realise we were no longer competing with Ethnic brands or any other Vada Pav competitor. We were going toe to toe with the big guys. Goli can boast today of multiple F&B awards. In fact, the co Founder Venky Iyer just released the saga of Goli in a book published by CNBC titled “My Journey with Vadapav”. Currently we’ve got our hands full with promoting the book.
Q. How well do you think would the Indian Packaged and Processed Food sector shape out in the future (comparing it to the current scenario)?
The future of packed & processed food in the Indian Scenario, in my opinion is quite opportunistic. India has the capacity to fuel this industry. It’s just about the right product at the right time. For e.g., a couple of decades ago when Microwaves weren’t the norm of the average Indian household, it was foolish to promote ready to eat frozen food. But today , with families getting smaller, job roles changing and greater dispensable incomes, the packed and processed food industry is ripe for the taking. We are heading to a better metropolitan outlook as far as food is concerned and being the foodies, that we Indians are, I believe we can soon dwarf other first world countries in terms of consumption in time to come.