The 14th of February as widely acknowledged as it is as Valentines day, is a significantly important occasion for those who look forward to the opportunity to express and celebrate love. For Ms. Anju Kumar, the day is associated with yet another event that she very well acknowledges with the same intensity of love as one would for another individual. For it is this day, that saw her initiation into the world of entrepreneurship and business – as founder proprietor of the now hugely popular – Shokolade that has people from the North to the South of the country devouring their freshly made chocolate brownies with much enthusiasm.Explains Anju of her beginnings, “I have always been passionate about baking. It was on the 14th Feb, 2007, when a few friends came over for lunch as a way to celebrate the day that incidentally led to professional baking. I had everything apart from desserts ready. Since most of my guests loved brownies, I impromptu decided to try my hand at baking some.” The next thing she knew, 27 pieces of brownies had vanished between 6 friends leading her to believe she had done something right. The rest, as they say, is history.
Anju’s oldest son helped her put things into perspective and hence she could transition the journey from passion to profession.
“I believe there was lots of love that got baked that day which led to word being spread rapidly and the first few orders started coming in. For the same reason, our utmost priority has always been and will continue to be the quality.” says the proud mother-of-two. That explains their functioning against orders only, i.e. there is no ‘ready stock’ and every order is delivered fresh from the oven.
Of her own personal journey, Anju shares that it was marriage that got her to move to Mumbai as before that she was working at a 5-star hotel in Delhi. “Admittedly, the background helped but I’ve come around to believe that it’s always best to work for oneself than for someone else; nothing else beats the work-satisfaction.”
Shokolade - which means Chocolate in German is based full-time in Mumbai but makes deliveries to places as far as Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore amongst others. And even though it is still a small set-up with only a few helpers and delivery boys, a total of 18 hours is all they need to ensure you get freshly made brownies at your doorstep.
Anju’s commitment to quality is evident when she says that one of their biggest challenges has been to be over-ordered. While most people might be overjoyed, some even taking pride in having more to deliver than can be managed with ease, Anju’s worry stems from her concern for quality which is not difficult to be compromised on in bulk orders. Yet, the pride in this case only arises from knowing that it is not the quantity but the quality that has been their biggest USP; in her own words, ‘my brownies are my best sales manager’.
Another belief that has held the business and its management in good stead is the circumstances they have been through and their learnings out of it. Sharing an anecdote, Anju narrates how once they refused an order for a single box of brownies because the delivery was to be made far away from their workshop. “Within 10 minutes of first calling, the lady messaged me politely to say that she would come over to collect the order herself. The guilt I felt was immense and took it as a lesson that no order is too small or delivery too far to make my customers happy.”
With no big investment or a special seed capital, Shokolade has grown from scratch with only such situations to learn from, the equity of Anju’s tremendous efforts and hard work combined with the sharp business and creative acumen of her husband and kids. Hence while the older son takes keen interest in developing new products, boxes and expansion strategies, the other members ensure that the brownies are packed and delivered on time.
The vision is clear and simple. That to spread the word and build up the customer base to as many as possible. And it is word-of-mouth publicity that is being relied upon by the group to drive business. “This is the primary rule in the food industry and business strategy which I have foremost on my mind. I plan to target and spread the word to as many people as possible so my customer list keeps increasing. I want my brownies to be bought and not sold” extrapolates the exemplary entrepreneur.
And to help others also reach the same sweet success that she has, the advice she gives is “Stay focused on that big idea till you Crack It”