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How Nishita Biyani had her waffle and ate it too

Tanvi Dubey
22nd Mar 2016
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On a balmy afternoon in the fort area of Mumbai, Nishita Biyani walks into her second waffle outlet in Mumbai –Wafflist. It all began in 2014 when she couldn’t find an exclusive waffle joint all across Mumbai.The business opportunity and an excessive sweet tooth gave birth to Wafflist. And soon she opened her second store in 2015.

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With no prior baking experience, Nishita turned to the book Science of Baking to understand baking so she could create waffles without eggs when the chefs back in Belgium told her it was impossible to do so. After much trial and error in her mother’s kitchen, Nishita created a batter recipe that didn’t require eggs.

Impossible is a word that does not go down well with her. Since childhood it has been that one trait that has fuelled her desire to create her own path. So be it the music album she sold to Hungama in 2012 or her photography course at Berkley to the pictures hanging on the wall of Wafflist, which have been taken by her via a phone in natural light, Nishita has done it all. “I have been a creator at heart from the start. I love to own things and since this was the first time I was giving myself a chance to create a business. I said to myself, why not!” she says about jumping into entrepreneurship.

The ‘Biyani’ tag

Though Nishita hails from well-known business family and it is easy to assume that she has always had the money, Nishita says, “That is far from reality. I could have continued to work for the family business, but I wanted ownership. You’ve got to start from somewhere and that somewhere for me was the family business,” she says. She was not directly answerable to the consumer or the shareholder in this case and felt like a fly on the wall.

“I took away a book of learnings that in the first place gave me the guts to start my own venture and I am thankful for the opportunity. In comparison my venture is tiny, but it is mine and I am responsible for each and every aspect of it. That sense of creation and ownership is what drives me.”

All in the family

Nishita studied at the Gopi Birla Memorial School in Mumbai. Having grown up in a large joint family in Mumbai, Nishita has always had the privilege to learn and be influenced by more than just her parents. “Its always nice to have your growing years around a large family that instils values and keeps you grounded and humble and of course fun!”

Nishita’s uncle and father have both been teachers from who she has learned the ropes of business, including things like the importance of supply chain, how to manage costs, balance sheets, etc. “I know my balance sheet by heart,” she says beaming with pride. While her uncle and father have been great teachers, as seasoned businessmen, they have also been her critic. Before she started Wafflist, her father challenged her to go and try selling waffles one day. Nishita stood outside a mall and started selling waffles. “It was a great learning expereince. It was out in the open, so in the wind you had to keep the stove running and it was hot so my batter dried up. The dosa vendor next to me who had prior experience with dosa batter taught me how to keep my batter moist. I was glad that I went and sold my waffles. It was a great learning.”

Overcoming challenges

Starting Wafflist has been one of the most enriching experiences of Nishita’s life and among other things it has taught her to live life one day at a time. “Every day poses a new challenge, but it also brings up fresh perspectives and ways of addressing these challenges. In Buddhism, they say, you grow through your challenges, downfall and grey days which you face way too many times in a startup. This anecdote from one of the teachings of Buddhism has kept me afloat and I read it first thing in the morning. When the crucial moment comes, it is crucial to battle through it with the ferocity of a charging lion. This is the key to creating a record of lasting brilliance.”

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Music is the key to her life and her anchor during stressful days as an entrepreneur. “I am a musician. And through the day, in between meetings, in between stressful days, its good music that keeps me going. Its unbelievable how good music can convince a let down brain to not give up. And on other days, its my extra supportive family!” After a long day playing the piano helps her unwind.

The team Wafflist

Wafflist currently has a team of 25 people. Hiring is not that big an issue as much as retaining or training is. There were problems initially, but as her team has got familiar with the products it has been a smooth

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sailing. Since most of her team comprises college students and young people who are not comfortable with English, team meetings are usually conducted in Hindi. “Not knowing English is not a criteria for hiring people for me,” she says.

Breaking even and constant demand from customers for new additions to the menu are the challenges they face. “Striking a balance between the two is the most challenging task. What keeps us going are the new launches and additions to the menu that attracts a lot of footfalls. Its way beyond just the concept of having an eggless waffle store. To quote an example, our Fort store is eight times bigger than the Bandra store. We just don’t have an extended menu, but a WiFi-enabled and communal seating arrangement gives us more time with our customers. More time = more consumption = more revenues.”

However, raising money for the second store has not been easy. It took her about six months to convince the bank to lend money without a collateral from the company.

A healthy bottomline

Nishita’s motto isBottomline. Bottomline. Healthy bottomline’. While the response has been phenomenal and consumers are open to the idea of spending Rs 200 or more according to her. She wants to capitalise market wise/city wise. They wish to open more stores in the future. They plan to start retailing a specific variant of waffles very soon.

Meanwhile Nishita signs off “Be happy to face a challenge. It only makes you grow, either personally or financially or both!”

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