A startup founder's account of a meeting with Ratan Tata that led to funding
My favorite story about Ratan Tata has to be the one where the Tatas bought Jaguar from Ford in 2008, and how as a Tata company, it became profitable once again. I think what converted it from a loss-making to profitable company was not just the TATA presence, but Mr Ratan Tata’s ability to address its fundamental issue – he asked Jaguar what the problem was, found that they knew what needed to be fixed, and allowed them to fix it. An approach that has been the benchmark of the 90+ companies that make the TATA conglomerate.
In the last week of December 2015, Rohan, the Teabox Head of Inbound Marketing, and I found ourselves in Mumbai with an appointment to meet Mr Ratan Tata himself. Needless to say, I was nervous. He’s a man I admire, as an industry leader and as a person, and it’s not everyday that one is invited to make a presentation to him.
That Mr Ratan Tata would be interested in a young firm like Teabox was validation enough but to be there to describe our work and our plans and to have him ask more was even better. We met him in his unassuming office on the 3rd floor of the TATA offices in the Elphinstone building in south Mumbai. Despite our nervousness, Rohan and I could feel at ease almost immediately. The man who has made Indian industry what it is, was friendly and not at all intimidating; a little while into our meeting and we were actually arguing.
“Why do you think people want fresh teas?” he asked of one of our fundamental offerings. He was playing the devil’s advocate, to show us the pitfalls of falling in love with an idea, and the need to step back to view it.
“I have a theory,” Mr Tata said. His manager, who has no doubt heard it many times, was happy to tell us about it: If you ask someone what was wrong with their car, they won’t know. But ask them to schedule the time for a pickup to get it serviced, and they readily will. It’s for the mechanic to identify the problem and that can’t be expected of the car’s owner.
This was in the context of our subscription program and he was trying to understand how it worked and what it demanded of the customer. And for me, it was an opportunity to describe what we were doing and hear feedback and gain a perspective from someone like Mr Tata. It was invaluable.
What we are trying to do at Teabox is to be an Indian company but a global brand that customers can trust. And again here, Mr Tata has paved the way forward. The TATA brand is recognized world-over. Closer home for me, the Tata-owned Tetley tea is the world’s second largest tea company, bought in a move that the media called “a minnow buying a shark”, referring to the fact that Tetley was, then, three times the size of Tata tea. This fearlessness is what the country, and in particular the Indian tea industry, needed at that time.
There are so many stories about Mr Ratan Tata that inspire me, and to be able to tell him the beginnings of our own made for a 40-minutes that I will always remember.
The meeting ended, photograph taken, and we left. Later that evening, we received a call from Mr Tata’s manager, informing us that Mr Ratan Tata was definitely interested in investing in us. He found our approach to tea interesting, and that we didn’t look like a traditional tea company but were radically different. “If you hadn’t told me you were a tea company, I wouldn’t have guessed it looking at your packaging and branding,” he’d said at the meeting.
We are now a company backed by Mr Ratan Tata. It’s nothing short of a dream come true.
(Disclaimer: Ratan Tata is an investor in YourStory.)
This post first appeared on the Teabox blog.
Kaushal is the founder & CEO of Teabox. His family has been involved in the tea industry since the 1940s, and it's no surprise that the beginnings of Teabox were sown a long time ago. With Teabox, Kaushal has disrupted an old and established industry, insisting on change for the better.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)