How these young Bengaluru founders started up in a basement and took their business to Rs 3 Cr revenue
In 2015, two friends were working out of a small basement in a house in Bengaluru. The basement had a few laptops, chairs, a table and a mosquito bat.
“Lanwin Pais and I started as event enthusiasts during college -planning and organising experiences for F&B clients. We decided to leverage our network of reliable contacts within the F&B industry and start a business. The basement of my house would become our first office,” says Mayur Tekwani.
Mayur and his St. Joseph’s College of Commerce batchmate Lanwin worked full time jobs at a family textile business and Amazon, respectively, and took the decision to quit so they could start a business.
Mayur co-founded Think Tree Media when he was 22 -around the same age as Lanwin. But Lanwin had been organising events for Bengaluru restaurants and pubs before Mayur.
So, when Mayur frequented Lanwin’s events, the two started discussing the possibilities of organising events like pub crawls, screenings, brunches, etc., together.
“Then, a friend approached us and told us he wanted help with promoting his restaurant and pub on digital platforms. We immediately saw this as a business opportunity and realised that there are so many more F&B brands out there who were looking for such help,” Mayur says.
With Lanwin’s focus on business development and Mayur’s expertise in marketing, the young graduates felt certain they should join forces and start a media house that specialises in digital marketing, branding, and production.
“Although, there were existing kingpins and traditional agencies catering to the bigger brands, we found that the same was needed for small and medium scale restaurant businesses as well,” Mayur adds.
The duo, along with freelance designer Hugh Loren, started digital marketing and production business Think Tree Media in 2015, and began organising programmes, marketing campaigns, events, handling artist management, and more.
The initial days
Despite the wide range of services on offer, Mayur and Lanwin started small. They didn’t require a huge investment to start operations.
Lanwin says, “Technically, we had no investment when we started. We worked out of a basement and then an apartment. All the funds we needed were for paying the salaries of our first set of employees.”
He adds that the co-founders didn’t take a salary from their bootstrapped business.
However, all of this was before the business was officially christened ‘Think Tree’.
At that point, Mayur and Lanwin had business development and marketing covered, but they lacked design.
They met Hugh (who is four years older than Mayur and Lanwin) on a trip to Goa. Lanwin told Hugh he could make five times his salary if he joined Think Tree and took care of everything related to design.
Soon, the duo turned into a trio as Hugh joined the business as Creative Director.
The founders moved out of the basement once they needed more space. They came across an apartment in Frazer Town to set up camp.
“The apartment was named Raintree. While brainstorming for a name for the company, the name Raintree inspired us to come up with Think Tree,” Mayur says.
“When we started Think Tree, I started reaching out to clients from our college days. We landed 12 in the first year,” Lanwin says.
Scaling up and a global outlook
Think Tree doesn’t have a CEO, and with the three at the helm, the business grew to a team of 27 and moved into a 5,000 square foot office in Benson Town.
“We landed over 50 clients across India. Since 2015, we have made over Rs 10 crore on the whole. In 2019-20, we are on track to make Rs 3 crore revenue,” Mayur says.
Think Tree has not limited itself to digital marketing and production services in F&B; it has a range of clients from other sectors too, Lanwin claims.
“Our core competency remains F&B, and 60 percent of our clients are restaurants, pubs or breweries. But the other 40 percent are hospitality, entertainment, and sports clients,” he says.
The business also has clients in Australia. In November 2018, Think Tree registered itself in the country, started an office in Brisbane and started to service outsourced requests from the country through a local partner.
The founders believe the Australian and New Zealand market holds opportunity for a company like theirs. They are currently working on generating new leads in that market and onboarding more employees to service those clients.
Lanwin says, Think Tree wants to go global and explore markets in different countries. But the company isn’t looking for external funding to scale up. Think Tree raised some funding from friends and family earlier, but the founders aren’t looking to dilute their stakes from here on.
Finding the right balance
“Initially, we founders had a lot of arguments about priorities and working styles. We also needed to hire more people to balance the workload. Further, managing all our employees was tough,” Mayur says about the challenges they faced early on.
But they still find themselves in a predicament: getting timely payments from clients. According to Lanwin, 20 to 30 percent of the company’s revenue is still stuck in the market. “The last three months have been tricky in getting our payments on time. But we still ensure our employees are paid on time,” he says.
Mayur and Lanwin also find it challenging to manage their other two ventures: Pronto Kitchen, a Quick Service Restaurant in Mangaluru and Laughing Llama Gastropub in Bengaluru.
There are also other companies offering services similar to Think Tree, but Mayur and Lanwin remain confident that their focus on delivering high quality performance and results sets them apart.
“We only onboard F&B chains. We don’t work with restaurants with single outlets. Further, we hire people who are better than us founders at certain skills. And by delivering results, we get referrals from our clients, who talk about us to other F&B players,” Lanwin explains.