YourStory’s Awesome Startup Employee Campaign is back! The first in this series is Vrinda Pandey of Mast Kalandar
Gaurav Jain, Co-founder of Mast Kalandar, which has 55 stores across India, has nominated Vrinda Pandey, Head of Marketing at Mast Kalandar, for the YourStory Awesome Startup Employee.
Vrinda joined Mast Kalandar in 2010, at a time when she was on a sabbatical. She started out as an enthusiastic customer who would regularly call and email about their food and customer service. When she continued to be invested in this practice of calling and following up as to why things had not changed, Gaurav Jain invited her to join the company.
Gaurav says he had called her on board but he was very skeptical about what she would do at Mast Kalandar. He claims that when she joined he did not know what role to assign her, but in two, three months he realized she had potential and was doing great at Mast Kalandar.
Before joining Mast Kalandar, Vrinda had just three years of work experience behind her. She had no idea of the food industry or how the supply chain worked. Today, she deals with everything right from marketing, social media, customer feedback, new ideas for stores and even designing their media campaigns.
Vrinda started when Mast Kalandar had 9 stores and now it has 55! According to Vrinda, her relationship with Mast Kalandar has been beyond doubt out of this world. She says the kind of experience she has gained working for a startup would not have been possible with a big corporation.From producing 200-300 phulkas in a session to handling customers and their feedback is a tough job. She says,
Lunch and dinner time is very hectic. It is like getting two daughters married daily and you have to run these four hour sessions and make everything go smoothly.
Moreover, “Serving food that is simple and can be easily cooked at home provides another great challenge. There are multiple ways of cooking a dish and everyone has their own style of making it. So serving your idea of rajma chawal or aam panna to customers is a difficult proposition.”
Since the product is perishable, it is not something you take home and give feedback later. It’s a then and there kind of situation. The customer feedback comes instantly with the food. “While some customers may praise the rajma, another customer could well criticize the same dish,” she adds.
Food and hospitality industry means working on weekends as well as public holidays. Vrinda’s work involves a fair bit of travelling too. Where does this leave time for one’s family? Vrinda feels that the best way to ensure work-life balance is to have friends within the industry so you can hang out with like-minded people. Most of her friends are within the industry. Her husband is very understanding and helpful which works out to her advantage.
Working with Gaurav and Pallavi, Co-founders of Mast Kalandar, has made her realize that you cannot work in a startup if the core team does not work like a family. “We cry on each other’s shoulders, party with each other, and share customer complaints and cry to each other about it. Having a strong core team helps in keeping us steady and performing well.”
The challenge goes up a notch because they serve ‘home-cooked’ food daily. To glamorize this food and sell it as inviting, tasty and healthy is what adds to the zing of working at Mast Kalandar. From working on the floor to marketing to opening new stores and running the floor and the business is a joy ride for Vrinda. A few years down the line she sees Mast Kalandar having 100 and more stores across India.
Gaurav agrees that working in a startup involves taking a bit of risk because you are trading it for a secure job. “Working for a startup means you need to think differently, act fast and execute things differently,” says Gaurav, and he thinks this is Vrinda’s forte.
Another aspect that sets Vrinda apart is that she never hesitates to chip in and rise to the occasion. If there are more hands needed in the kitchen, Vrinda will don the chef’s cap and go help make phulkas! Gaurav recalls that once when he sent her an email at one in the morning about an angry customer, she had already taken care of the situation.
The key lessons that Vrinda has learnt during her stint at Mast Kalandar is that last mile execution is very important, and if you think you can do something better than others then you simply must take the lead. Her most memorable moment has been the opening of the Mast Kalandar identity store at Gopalan Mall in Bangalore, last year.
The message she wants to convey to people at her workplace and others in a startup is: “You have to continue to believe and trust in your brand and keep true to it. That is the best way ahead.”
Gaurav’s message to his top employee: “Vrinda Pandey keep going, and let us continue to do great work together!”
We are sure Vrinda will continue to rise up to the occasion every time. What advice do you have for Vrinda? Share it with us in the comments below.
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