From MBBS to edutech to CEO to being a chef, meet Deep’s crazy heartBinjal Shah
Deep Lodhari, a fearless wayfarer, studied MBBS but realized that he wanted to fill a glaring gap in the edtech space. After a successful exit, a cushy CEO gig beckoned - but the closet chef's passionate heart had other plans for him.
Listening to Deep Lodhari talk about his career choices transports you into an Awkward Yeti comic—where the delirious ‘Heart’ keeps pulling the sage-like ‘Brain’ into adventures that it solemnly swears are no good.
After all, on a journey that involves an MBBS course, an edutech startup, a pharma company’s executive chair and a brand new line of dips, the traveller ought to be someone with a manically passionate heart, who refuses to shortchange themselves while finding their true calling.
Thirty-year-old Deep, an alumnus of BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad, had the baffling courage to follow his heart as it trundled upon a different path right after college. He started up immediately, an educational social networking web portal, My Test Buddy.
While working at My Test Buddy, he got acquainted with the AMI group of companies—initially as an advisor, and later as an associate. Eventually, he was presented with an opportunity to head its new business of nutraceuticals. He clocked three years there as CEO and was heading 400 employees across three cities.
With a fancy title, lunches at fancier hotels, and a steady pay cheque to top it off, looking back, Deep still wonders what made him give it all up for AllThatDips.
“A feeling of being a bird in a golden cage comes to my mind. I wanted to do something that was closer to my heart. Securing a parachute hardly prepares you for the free fall that it is, being an entrepreneur. But those 30 seconds mid-air is what you remember the most. And it has been the journey of a lifetime,” he says.
Interestingly enough, his Stockholm syndrome wore off way before he got the idea for his next leap, and he quit without training wheels - or even a map. He first got cracking on an ERP solutions model. During the brainstorming sessions, Deep would meticulously prepare some of his favourite dips and sauces. “Dhaval, a friend and ex-colleague, suggested I retail these dips, and we impulsively decided to be part of a flea market that was happening in Vadodara. Well, ERP didn’t cook up, but I found the missing ingredient I needed in my life—AllThatDips,” he quips.
From cooking for himself, to starting a line of edibles that are commercially viable, Deep was neck-deep into it before he could say dips! “Personally, I do not like to eat foods that are laden with harmful chemicals and preservatives. So, that was the basic motto we had while developing products.” This was point zero on a then, still foggy path ahead.
“This has gone a long way to help us and ease our way into a segment that is almost non-existent in the market of Gujarat. There was no information regarding the demand for our products and it is always difficult to navigate unknown territories,” he adds.
Since dips are highly perishable, their biggest challenge was to serve fresh dips with longest possible shelf life so that they could reach maximum retailers, and maximum customers, in time. “After lots of trial and error, we created the perfect recipe using healthy ingredients that act as natural preservatives. That, coupled with packaging and storing techniques, helped us achieve a shelf life of 30 days,” he reveals.
They’re further working on increasing their shelf life and decreasing their dependence on storing conditions. Every batch that is produced at AllThatDips undergoes lab testing for microbes or other defects. They have developed nine flavours: five hummus and four salsas. “Our spicy Sriracha hummus and Olive Tapenade hummus are favourites and in salsa, Peri Peri and Picante salsa are the most popular items. We also carry Jain salsa and Jain hummus,” he describes.
The perks of staying rooted
Deep took full advantage of living in a small town to build a robust retailer network. According to him, the best part of being from a small town is that one knows everyone, and everyone knows you. “Your local vendor becomes your friend and your evangelist. Creating long-lasting relationships based on trust and mutual admiration is the key to success in retail,” he says.
They have built a network of over 50 vendors in Vadodara and Ahmedabad, where they also home deliver. They will be available in Anand, Surat, and Rajkot soon, and will expand to Mumbai by mid-July. “We plan to add three to four cities every month and cover all major metros in FY 2017-2018. Currently, if you want fresh dips in India you either need to go to a gourmet store and need to be in a metropolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai or Bengaluru. We want to streamline our online home delivery pan-India for fresh dips,” he says.
They clocked Rs 3.5 lakh in sales in their first month, and since then, have been growing at 200 percent month over month.
At present, the market leader in the fresh dips segment is Wingreens. Damai and Chef’s Basket are other competitors. Veeba and Fun Foods are market leaders in mayo-based and long shelf life dips. While Wingreens’ yearly turnovers are over Rs 40 crore, it’s too early to define the market size for a segment that is still just scratching the surface.
Fully bootstrapped, they only plan to initiate talks with VCs for Series A funding while expanding their production capacity, perhaps six months down the line.
Deep’s meanderings have led to many challenges in his life, wherein he skirted the expectations of family and society repeatedly—first, by not practising as a doctor, and later, thwarting a successful career to start all over again.
“I joke about how Rajkumar Hirani has affected my life. In school, I got inspired by Munnabhai MBBS and joined medical school. When I finished my MBBS, I watched 3 Idiots and decided to follow my heart and start up. While all was well as CEO, I felt like PK in a strange corporate world and got back to my core love—hospitality,” he quips, adding, “but, it was the best decision and I am sure I will be proud of it someday.”