Starting with just Rs 20k, how these Pune-based entrepreneurs built a kathi roll empire


Bootstrapped Rolls Mania now has over 100 outlets across the country on a franchise model. In an interview with SMBStory, founder Puneet Kansal lets us in on his recipe for success

Originally, kathi rolls were skewer-roasted kebabs wrapped in parathas, but they have evolved and any filling in a roti is passed off as a kathi roll. Around 2009, Pune was a growing market for the food industry, and seemed like a good opportunity for a business that could leverage the changing nature of the kathi roll.

At this point, 18-year-old entrepreneur Puneet Kansal had just started Rolls Mania, his kathi roll business, with a meagre Rs 20,000. He was running a table-sized kiosk outside a restaurant at Magarpatta city, and had just one chef. Could his small business succeed by tapping into the large and rapidly-growing kathi rolls market?

Now 28, Puneet recalls, “Initially, I had just one kiosk, and I was getting an increasing numbers of customers each day. During this period, I found friends and partners in my regular patrons, Gagan Sial and Sukhpreet Sial, who had already set their foot into the restaurant industry. Together, we formed Rolls Mania as a registered company, and opened the second outlet in 2010.”

A Rolls Mania QSR outlet

In an interaction with SMBStory, Puneet recalls how he grew the brand from strength to strength, transforming it into a Rs 35-crore business with a 102 outlets spread across over 30 cities through the franchise model, and selling around 12,000 rolls each day.

SMBStory: How was Rolls Mania conceptualised and started?

Puneet Kansal: When I was 18, I came from Mathura to Pune with an empty pocket and the dream to set up a successful business. I had meagre experience in odd sales jobs, and zero knowledge of the F&B industry. But I had an idea to bring back the roti-rolls I grew up eating. I wanted to offer healthy rolls with a pinch of nostalgia.

An old school friend lent me Rs 20,000, and I started a small kiosk outside a restaurant. Right from sourcing, and accounts to delivery, I did it all. I was even asked to vacate the kiosk, so I decided to set up an outlet in the same building.

Here, I met Gagan and Sukhpreet Sial, who were customers. We realised we had a common vision of expanding the business across India. We then officially launched our first Rolls Mania store in 2010.

SMBS: How do these partners help run the business?

PK: I kept my focus on expansion and business development, whereas Sukhpreet is the finance guru. His purchasing tactics of getting things at a better price makes him the backbone of the company. He keeps the company’s operations going smoothly and also brings in innovations when needed. 

Gagan is a marketing genius. He is aggressive in business and is a fast decision-maker. His desire to keep learning what’s new in the market allows Rolls Mania to have all the latest marketing styles and branding, and also promote innovation..

SMBS: With the help of Gagan and Sukhpreet, how did the company diversify and expand its reach?

PK: We strongly believed in our three Qs: Quality, Quantity and Quick. Rolls Mania in Pune became a sensation within just a few years and it was time to take this success countrywide. With a healthy and pocket-friendly array of veg and non-veg rolls, it was time we engaged with an expanded audience through expansion across diversified taste scenarios.

That’s when we opened our doors for franchise models and expanded across 30 cities. Now, we are clocking over two lakh orders per month, including walk-ins and deliveries, and we sell over five lakh rolls per month.

SMBS: What were the key milestones in the journey leading up to this success?

PK: The initial milestone was setting up our own store, and the next one was setting up a store in Mumbai. By 2016, we grew from four to 20 stores, and by 2017, we had 45. Reaching hundred stores was the biggest milestone till date. Now, we have another 15 coming soon. We are successfully growing at 103 percent per year.

SMBS: How did you raise investment for Rolls Mania once you began expanding?

PK: Rolls Mania is a self-funded company and we have grown organically. We have invested between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh so far. We have not raised the funds through venture capital or private equity, but we are currently in talks to venture into the global market. Our franchise partners, who believed and invested in our company by taking up Rolls Mania franchises, have invested Rs 25 crore.

SMBS: What is the market size of your sector and how are you differentiating from the competition?

PK: Currently, the entire $50 billion Indian food service industry is dominated by the unorganised sector. The Indian Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) market is likely to scale $4.1 billion by 2020, growing 20-30 percent, year on year. Generation Y is more apt to eat at QSRs and order food online. Millennials are the priority audience for food delivery services as they spend the highest share of their income on prepared food, in comparison with other generations.

Since Rolls Mania outlets are QSRs, customers find it easy to order online or call us, and receive their food within 30 minutes. Our quick preparation saves time for the customer, and we deliver a heavy meal at an affordable price. The QSR sector will continue to grow due to reductions in time spent in cooking.

On occasions when delivery partners and employees didn’t turn up, the three of us have personally delivered food. Further, in a day and age where people opt for MBA graduates to do the job, our employees have progressed from desk workers to area managers.

We also provide an entire support system to our franchise owners, enabling them with the right amount of skill and training. Ranging from trained kitchen staff to region-based marketing strategies and pricing, we founded a base of loyal customers and owners across the nation, and fulfilled the dreams of many who aspired to own a restaurant.

SMBS: What are some of your challenges in sustaining and growing the business?

PK: We have had many challenges while setting up and growing Rolls Mania. This sector is very unorganised and it’s difficult to get it systemised in India. Further, ours is an enterprising country where competitors copy our business models and enter the market since there are no patents, rules or regulations regarding starting up in the food sector.

At the beginning, it was easier to handle operations in a single city and a single vendor. But as we grew, we started tying up with local vendors and national brands for raw products, while the masalas (spices) were transported by our company to all our franchise stores, to ensure that there were no alterations in taste and quality.

SMBS: How is Rolls Mania using digital in its business journey?

PK: It is clear that India's dine-out culture is evolving drastically, along with the changing food habits of millennials. Online food delivery platforms are expanding and so are the choices available to customers. For our business, we have special discounts applicable on orders through our website.

We also have a Rolls Mania app available on Android and iOS. Further, we are present on online ordering platforms, and we try to reach our customers faster by ensuring a quick preparation time of less than 10 minutes and a quick delivery system.

SMBS: How has your business impacted customers and society?

PK: Our loyal customers from the past have now become our business and franchise partners. Our impact on a customer’s mind is so firm that they want to take up our franchise. Further, 70 percent of our franchise owners are women.

We truly believe in women entrepreneurship, and support them and our women employees in every way we can. Our headquarters is largely led by women, right from HR and operations to marketing and training.

SMBS:  What is your advice to entrepreneurs who want to venture into the same sector?

PK: As we all know, most Indian houses have people with chef qualities built in them, and they may want to start their own food store, but have no knowledge or experience. Whenever someone wants to start a venture in this sector, they should always seek professional help or get into franchising of a proven brand.

On the outside, it looks easy and green, but it is a really difficult business to sustain and grow.

SMBS: What is the way ahead for Rolls Mania?

PK: We are adding more stores this year, and we hope to reach 400 by 2020 and achieve a turnover of Rs 150 crore. We are now growing internationally and setting up our first outlet in the Middle East, and successfully coming up with international stores in other Asian countries as well.

Our vision is to reach each and every household and reduce the time it spends cooking fancy meals.