Former Private Equity Investor Rahul Manek has invested in businesses across consumer, services and industrial sectors. Now he is building Triquetrus Essentials, a startup producing beverages for the ‘hardworking Indians’.
"Perched at a 35,000-feet level as a director is very different from doing groundwork on the operating level," says Rahul Manek.
A former Partner at Fairwinds Private Equity (formerly Reliance Private Equity) and a former Director at Reliance Private Equity, Rahul left his investor job in 2016 to start Triquetrus Essentials in July 2017. The Mumbai-based startup is aiming to produce energy food and beverages for the 'hardworking' Indians.
As an investor, Rahul mostly dealt with mature companies and ticket sizes of minimum Rs 20 million and "always believed in startups in the consumer space."
Forty-four-year-old Rahul, who has a Master's in Finance Engineering from Cornell University, has always been on the other end of the table - from being an assistant manager for Fund Analysis in 2000 to a Partner at Fairwinds Private Equity in 2016.
Having invested in businesses across consumer, services and industrial sectors, he took the plunge in 2017 and turned to entrepreneurship. He says there was no better time than now.
And indeed, it proced to be a big change and challenge - from having everything and everyone a call away to trying to convince retailers and distributors to work with him.
"The journey has been humbling and eye-opening," he adds.
A single-man army
So why move out of the comfort zone? "My friend and I were always contemplating this and I come from a Gujarati family where everyone is into business...it runs in my blood and these factors combined made me take the plunge," explains Rahul.
While he began by ideating with one of his friends, Rahul was eventually left on his own after the first six months. One of the biggest challenges he faced was convincing professionals with 20 to 30 years of experience to join his team.
"They had to be equally convinced on what we were doing in the space and with the product," he says. Today, Rahul has a team of 12 sharing his journey.
The path so far
On a holiday in South Africa, the investor-turned-entrepreneur witnessed drivers consuming sachets of an energy gel that promised alertness on long drives and were being sold at petrol pumps. Impressed by the concept, Rahul wondered why we don't see such products in India. Curious to know more, he researched the success stories of 5-hour ENERGY shots in the US, Lipovitan in Japan and Krating Daeng in Thailand. "The products seemed very compelling," he says.
Rahul sourced up to 130 samples of energy boosters from across the world in various formats - gel, chewing gum, toffee, beverages and shots.
To understand consumer needs and tastes, he spoke to different classes of employees, visited dhabas and even talked to food delivery partners.
In one of his conversations, a group of three food delivery executives told him, "Jab kharab din hota hai (whenever our day doesn't go right), the three of us buy one can of RedBull and share it to feel energised," as they could afford only one can between them.
Rahul also met and talked to truck drivers, DTDC delivery boys, and Ola and Uber driver partners.
The Indian energy drink segment is mostly divided into - sports drinks (protein shakes and Gatorade), party energy drinks (RedBull and Monster) and hydration drinks (Glucon-D). With his company, Triquetrus Essentials, Rahul wanted to offer functional food and beverage to the Indian consumer at a reasonable rate.
Its first product is FYRE, an ayurvedic energy booster. Available as 30ml shots, it is a ready-to-drink functional energy drink priced at Rs 30; and customers say it keeps them energised for three to five hours.
With his target audience being regular officegoers, delivery executives, drivers and college students, Rahul ensures that his product is readily available.
They initially ran samples in office pantries and canteens. "Currently, FYRE is present in 120 vending machines and up to 38 MRP counters of offices in Mumbai," he says. This includes MindSpace, Axis Bank Airoli, E&Y Consultant Goregaon, Star TV in Bandra and TCS Powai.
Bringing skills to the table
The core team consists of four people: Siddharth Dhoot (36), former Head of Marketing at Merck Consumer Health, now leads the Marketing and Institutional Sales team; Pradeep Singh (53), who previously led sales for P&G in South India, is the Retail Sales Lead; Rupesh Tupe (31), the Operations Lead, was previously leading operations at Nature Pure Extracts; and Ajay Pathade (29) manages R&D and New Product Development.
Besides this, the team has sales officers and an area sales manager.
Initially bootstrapped, the company received a funding of $500,000 from Venture Catalysts last October. The investment was led by Venture Catalysts Angels - Apurva Parekh, Director of Pidilite Industries and Anupam Mittal, Founder of Shaadi.com, among others.
Triquetrus Essentials recently launched a new product on Amazon - FYRE energy drink mix, which contains vitalisers and is low in calories - (2 KCal per serving). It is priced at Rs 20 for a 4.5gm sachet and contains caffeine, taurine, Vitamins B3, B6 and B12.
While the Ayurvedic formulation is manufactured in Nasik, under contract, the mix is contracted to manufactures in Bhiwandi.
According to Research And Markets, the Indian Ayurvedic market is poised to grow at a CAGR of around 16 percent over the next decade. The segment also has Gurugram-based Good Vitamin Foods, which launched its Ayurvedic shots in 2016.
According to a Mordor Intelligence report, the Indian energy drink market was valued at $155 million in 2017 and is expected to grow at CAGR of 9 percent from 2018 to 2023.
While key players like RedBull, Monster and GmbH mostly contain caffeine and sugar, FYRE contains ashwagandha, safed musli, kaucha, amla and green tea extracts.
FYRE is currently the only energy 'shot' in the Indian segment. However, in the arrival of a local or global competitor, Rahul says, "The Indian market will be benefited and I will grow along with them."
Currently only supplying in Mumbai, Triquetrus Essentials plans to soon expand to Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi. Now available online on Amazon, Paytm and NetMeds, FYRE energy shot will soon be seen in retail outlets like Big Bazaar and Reliance Mart.