Vijay Abhimanyu Rajendran, a second generation entrepreneur, at a young age of 25 is the force behind Billion Smiles Hospitality Pvt ltd. With three business verticals under Billion Smiles like casual dining, catering business & QSR’s, they operate two brands under casual dining verticals, South Indies & Bonsouth & in QSR vertical, brand called Upsouth, a fast food chain. They are driving with a vision to build a strong brand which is highly scalable in India & eventually aspire to take it internationally with south Indian cuisine.
He started Billion Smiles in 2007, at the age of 19, with the launch of their first restaurant, South Indies, with investments coming from Billionways founded by his father, which is a holding company of Billion Smiles. Currently with 14 outlets in Bangalore & Pune, in next 5 years, they plan to go pan-India, with massive expansion plans of more than 250 outlets & also have presence abroad.
What motivated you to start at such a young age?
Everyone was entrepreneurial in my family, that’s what pushed me to start something on my own. And my father always used to tell that this economy will be built & driven by entrepreneurs & we will build India in to one of the top three nations, in spite of governance. But entrepreneurs will drive growth & this is evident from the last 15 years in our country. So that is something which excited me.
One thing which came as revelation was the fact that there was consumer retail consumption driven business had reached a significant scale. We see KFC’s & McD’s with thousands of outlets doing extremely well, building nation-wide brand, moving to international markets, this was the trend which was clearly visible. And during that time, it was only about 7% of penetration through organized operators & this was a huge opportunity & there were lots of data points that indicated that markets from the west, Europe, china etc., these markets had chain restaurant penetration to an extent of 40 to 50% of the market. So this was the drive that was clearly going to happen & now it’s happening.
So that ignited some passion in me, as a business the space seemed right, opportunity seemed fantastic, the timing seemed perfect, so the idea really appealed to me. At that point, my dad decided to back this venture & the initial seed money came from the group holding company Billion ways & started Billion Smiles Hospitality at that time.
What were your initial challenges when you decided to start?
We were from IT background & running a restaurant was new, so we made it a professionally run business from day one. But core competence & capability in south Indian food was a challenge & we got Mr. Ventatesh Bhat who is the ex-Taj & Leela group bought the core competence of south Indian cuisine. We wanted to specialize in this & take south Indian food to casual dining brand & occupy the up-market south Indian dining space which was vacant.
What were your early advantages when you started out?
South Indian is probably is the only cuisine which is apt for a fast food all day dining format in Indian cuisine. You can have idly & dosa any time of the day. The product is friendly for an 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. offering. But you have north Indian food which is generally a meal centric offering. It’s more of Lunch & Dinner centric offering; not necessarily an all-day diner. This gives south Indian cuisine an edge to build a highly scalable fast food experience.
Second is, the south Indian cuisine is the most sort after cuisine in terms of popularity across the country. Typical traditional cuisine like idly, vada, dosa etc., this is something which is liked & have indicated to be the popular cuisine in the country today. You can look at Bangalore alone, which has more than 2500 darshini’s in home market. In north & western market, it’s more of an exotic & unique for that market which has not been penetrated.
Vijay can be reached on mail.