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From ‘Ardha Tea’ to ‘Half Tea’- The Story Of 4 Engineers Building A Tea-Café Chain in Bangalore
Intro of the Founders:
Half Tea is a unit of Healthywood Pvt. Ltd., a venture founded by Mr. Suresh Narayan, Mr. Vinay DC, Mr. Hanumanth GC, and Mr. Chandan Patel. All four of them are Engineers by qualification.
Mr. Suresh is a computer science engineering graduate from a college called ChannaBasaevshwara Institute of Technology in Tumkuru, a town in the Karnataka state of India. Prior to starting Half Tea, Suresh has worked for three years with MPhasis, a software company; started a travel booking venture called Infinenet; and secured a Government job in Karnataka & worked there for another 1.5 years.
Mr. Vinay, in turn, is a Mechanical engineering graduate from ChannaBasaevshwara Institute of Technology in Tumkuru in Karnataka, the same college & town as Suresh. Though unknown to each other until the time they met, he happened to be a junior of Suresh in the college. He had secured a technical job with a company called Reno & worked for three years. He developed a desire to step into Entrepreneurship instead of being a regular 9-5er, and that continued to drive him to explore many more opportunities before and after meeting Suresh, that finally converged with Half Tea.
Mr. Hanumanth, on the other hand, hails a small town called Haveri in the Karnataka state of India. He was born and brought up in a modest family background with his father owning a small tea stall in the same place. Until he completed his 10th grade, Hanumanth used to work in his father’s shop every day from 5 am to 7 am before leaving for his school. For his education, he went on to complete his mechanical engineering from PES Institute of Technology in Shivamoga, a district in Karnataka, India & secured a job for himself withAcumac Machine Tools, a CNC machine manufacturing company in Bangalore, a city in Karnataka.
In the spare time from his work, he was dedicated to finding the best locations around the city for quality tea and tasting different flavors of it. He was passionate about teas, and hence it doesn’t come as a surprise that he was an avid tea-taster. Also, his exposure to the varieties of teas mesmerized him, as growing up, he was aware of only a regular tea.
For gaining experience around the tea segment, he also worked in two Tea-Cafes in the city after quitting his job and trying his hand at an online portal for industrial supplies.
Mr. Chandan, a Mechanical engineering graduate from Acharya Institute of Technology in Bangalore, is an adventure-lover and a bike-enthusiast. He is passionate about road trips on his two-wheeler and is also a tea-enthusiast who loves tasting different types of teas at different locations. He and Hanumanth happened to be colleagues in Acumac Machine Tools.
How did the founders come together?
There are two parts to it: Mr. Suresh meets Mr. Vinay, Mr. Hanumanth and Mr. Chandan join them.
Suresh and Vinay:
Mr. Suresh’s life unfolded differently than he had imagined. After the completion of his engineering degree, he took up a job for three years with Mphasis, a software company. During his graduation and tenure in the job, he had developed a strong desire to step into entrepreneurship. He quit his well-paying job to start a travel venture called Infinenet. Though Mr. Suresh and his partner had managed to generate revenue of around Rs.20-25L, the venture had to be put down due to various reasons. Post the failure of his first venture, due to the pressures of earning from a job, he appeared for competitive exams and secured a Government job in which he worked for 1.5 years.
Meanwhile, during his journey of Infinenet, Mr. Suresh had happened to meet Mr. Vinay through a mutual connection. They got introduced to each other, and they were surprised to know that they both hailed from the same college, Vinay being a junior by a couple of years. Post the fall-out of Infinenet, they both got together and communicated more often about various entrepreneurial ideas as even Vinay was looking to step into Entrepreneurship.
He and Vinay, while researching and exploring various ideas, got attracted to the Tea segment as it is one of the most consumed beverages. With several experiences in their kitty of having tea at different places in the city, on their adventure expeditions; and having tasted quality tea at some places, not-so-quality teas at others; they ventured out into the tea segment as they believed that they can add value to the segment. A pilot of their venture 'BikeInsta Cafe' was launched. It was an on-demand tea serving model through which they could serve 30 varieties of teas to the customers. It had the following process:
- An order is booked by the customer through an app or Whatsapp
- A set-up was installed on a two-wheeler with the ready-mix of the teas
- A personnel travels to the client’s location on that two-wheeler and serves them the ordered tea
Another model was CarCafe, it was a model through which a similar set-up could be installed in the cars, and the cab drivers could make passive income out of selling teas to the customers. While the pilot of BikeInstaCafe and CarCafe did go well, they couldn't be continued as they lacked funding to be able to bring that into execution and scale that up.
Mr. Hanumanth and Mr. Chandan join in:
In the process of working on those models, they had already come up with the premix of varieties of tea: Ready to mix powders to make different types of tea with just the addition of hot water. They had premix powders of 7 varieties of tea in-house. They developed an idea of starting an online portal of various types of healthy beverages (healthy alternatives to a normal tea), and they had on-boarded 200 varieties of tea from 50-60 companies. According to Mr. Suresh, the online portal idea was not only capital-intensive but was narrowed down to premium customers. The middle-class and lower-middle-class people have had a belief that healthy products are not in the range of their affordability. This idea had to be shelved due to a lack of funds for the development of technology.
This is when Mr. Hanumanth got connected and joined the two because of his sheer passion for tea.
They discussed out the problems- as a solution to make more and more people aware of the alternatives of regular tea & coffee, and to become a brand to reckon with for healthy beverages, they arrived at the approach of starting outlets at different locations in Bangalore.
This was the point at which Mr. Chandan also joined in as even he was on the lookout for an idea to start his business. All 4 of them collaborated, and thus formed the story of a partnership that became the foundation stone of Half Tea.
The story behind the name ‘Half Tea’:
Mr. Hanumanth shares “In my native place, since my father had a tea stall, the customers would come and order for “Ardha tea” (translated in English to “Half tea”). I had heard this all my childhood”. Hence, when they had finalized on the concept of starting the outlets, and were pondering over the choice for a brand name, Hanumanth suggested the name “Half Tea”. Since it connected to the emotion of the people and is slang in the Karnataka state, it was instantly agreed upon by the other Co-Founders.
Concept of Half Tea:
“Share your memories with a cup of tea”- the tagline says it all. They envision encouraging people to have healthy alternatives to regular beverages like tea & coffee. For e.g.: Instead of having regular tea, a person can have Cardamom Tea/Ginger Tea which is a better alternative for health. They assure of ‘No chemicals & No adulterations’ in any of thebeverages. They have 5 products in-house in the regular Tea segment:
- Cardamom Tea
- Ginger Tea
- Masala Tea
- Lemon Grass Tea
- Lemon Tea
How has the journey of Half Tea been until now?
Concerning the growth of the number of Tea-cafes, 4 of them (Co-founders) first met in September 2019 and started their first café within 2 months, on November 1st, 2019 with minimalistic investment for the setup. It has been close to a year now, and they already have 4 outlets in the different parts of the city. Mr. Suresh adds “We serve people of all status. From BBMP workers to the people who are CEOs, Founders come to our cafes. Some people have come from other parts of the city as well.”
For the growth of the number of products they have onboarded, Mr. Suresh mentions “We had started with 30+ varieties of tea and then we started finding more such companies that believed in ‘No Chemicals, No Adulterations’ policy. We started onboarding more products. The number slowly increased to 50+ varieties, and now it is 150+ varieties from 50-60 companies.” He adds “we on-board the product of the other companies only after the verification from our research team if the products met our guidelines and if the ingredients mentioned on the packet and the ones that are used matched.”
Type of model to expand the Tea-café chain:
Mr. Suresh mentioned that they are looking to grow through the model of the franchise and adds “Every week we have been getting two enquiries for a franchisee. We are at 10-12 enquiries already at hand at this stage, and the talks are on. We are just waiting for these Covid times to settle down, post which the enquiries would be processed and taken forward.”
What is the kind of footfall currently?
Mr. Suresh mentions: “In our café in 1st block, Rajajinagar, we are serving 1000-1500 cups/day, while in the rest two outlets (6th block Rajajinagar; Sunkadakatte), we are averaging around 500 cups/day. The outlet in Jalahalli has opened recently”. They pride themselves on the fact that they have many repeated customers.
What are the key challenges you face?
In the words of Mr. Suresh, “the challenge is to create awareness among the customers about the healthy alternatives to a normal Tea or a coffee so that they can make a wise decision. We give our best to educate our employees too to make the customers aware of the various options available along with their health benefits.” He adds “Another challenge is to find an appropriate location for the outlets. Because, even though the quality of tea might be great, if the location chosen isn’t the best fit for the kind of market we are looking at, it will be bound to fail. Also, a location that is spacious and in a point where there is a higher crowd, the rent expected is very high that would make it difficult to manage in terms of working capital requirement.”
How are you managing the funds required for the operations?
Mr. Suresh mentions: “Currently, we are managing with personal savings, and we had raised the initial amount through loans from friends and family members. But, company accounts are positive, and we are doing well with the position of the company. When it comes to expansion, after we have 20 outlets across the city, we will plan for an online portal that was the plan initially. We also do wish to go forward with our concept of BikeInsta Café & CarCafe for which we might be in the requirement of funds in the future.”
As Entrepreneurs, you might have gone through times of self-doubts. How do you keep yourself motivated in those phases?
Mr. Suresh shares: “By reading books, motivational stories, inspirational videos of the stories of people help in re-motivating ourselves. Failure doesn’t affect us. I have seen many failures in my journey. Failures are important as they teach more than success. There are low-phases in the journey of everyone, but the person who has succeeded is someone who might take a minute to come out of the low phase, but someone who has just started his journey might take a longer time to cope. A person might take minutes, hours, or even days to cope depending on the level of maturity, and that’s the key factor. I have gone through many failures in my journey already, and I believe that I am at a stage wherein I cope with the failure in an hour or two. And we, as partners, support each other in all the ways we can, so that the failure doesn’t affect us.”
The bonding between Co-Founders is a vital factor in the success of a company. How did you gel-in as partners?
Mr. Suresh mentions: “We have built a great rapport amongst ourselves. We understand each other very well. We need to stay in sync with the mindset and with various aspects of the business. We make sure to do this every day. We don’t talk only about business; we talk about a lot of other things like various aspects of life. If there is something I have learnt by reading a book, I share it with everyone, and if Hanumanth has learnt something, he shares it with everyone, similarly with others too. We even crack jokes. With all of this, we have built a strong bond amongst ourselves.”
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Many Entrepreneurs face difficulty in prioritizing the aspects of their business. How do you prioritize your schedules and priorities of the outlets to be visited?
Mr. Suresh shares: “We manage our schedules as per the requirement. For the decision-making, we make it on the data that we receive every night. Every night from 9:30 pm-10 pm, we get the reports, and then we analyze the reports for 10-15 minutes. Data analysis helps in figuring out the problems in the day-to-day operations. Based on that, we randomly enter the outlet that is not performing well. We coach the staff on how to educate a customer about various products offered by us. We manage the outlets and ensure customer satisfaction. We also educate the customers about the options of healthy snacks offered. We have taken the effort to choose the snacks after a complete account of the number of calories it adds and other nutritional values. We have gotten suggestions and recommendations to add Samosas and other oily items in snacks, but we don’t want to do that as it doesn’t fit in our policy of healthy food.”
What are your future plans?
Mr. Suresh mentions: “We want to start outlets in several areas of Bangalore so that we can serve healthy beverages to more people. We have a target of opening up to 50 outlets in the next year. The other plans would include starting the online portal in the niche category of healthy beverages & healthy snacks.
The story of Half Tea and its Founders is a clear example of the quote: “At times what you expect and what happens don’t match. The faster you accept and adapt to what happened & work towards creating what you believed, that what you expected gets created in a whole new way..!” by Sujit Lalwani from the book Life Simplified!.
They stand as an example that when you are on the path to pursue what you wanted to, and you continue walking despite the challenges, taking the challenges as a bend instead of an end, one day the path would converge into something that would be beyond your imagination. You will find like-minded people from nowhere like they found each other, and a new journey would unfold from there.
They have also set an example that no work is small, the perspectives of people are. Though initially there was resistance from people including from the close ones since they had a perspective that these 4 would be starting a tea shop after being engineers, today they have outshone the expectations with the success of the venture and making it a brand.
If you happen to be from Bangalore, do not miss out on visiting any of their four outlets in Rajajinagar 1st block, Rajajinagar 6th block, Sunkadakatte, or Jalahalli. You can also follow their updates on Instagram here.
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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 20th January 2021.