Inspiring Stories
A collection of personal Interviews with celebrated leaders, entrepreneurs, corporate honchos or any success stories.


The Force Behind Goli Vada Pav: YOU CEO 2 by Dr Nitin Parab Presents Inspiring Story of Mr Venkatesh Iyer

What started in 2003 as an idea discussed over chai and vada pav has today grown into the largest vada pav chain in India. Venkatesh Iyer's vision of corporatizing the humble vada pav may have seemed ambitious back then, but he has translated this idea into an extraordinary success story. With over 300 stores spanning more than a hundred Indian cities, Goli Vada Pav is now a prominent case study at Harvard Business School, IMD Switzerland, and ISB Hyderabad.

The chain's remarkable journey earned it the Golden Spoon Award for the Most Admired Food Chain of Indian Origin. Beyond creating a thriving business, Mr. Venkatesh Iyer has fostered an entrepreneurial ecosystem, empowering franchisee owners and providing employment opportunities to school dropouts. In an insightful interview with Dr. Nitin Parab for his book "You CEO 2", he shared the inspiring story behind Goli Vada Pav's rise to success.

Goli Vada Pav Conceptualization: Mr. Venkatesh Iyer's Vision for Social Impact

Mr. Venkatesh Iyer's entrepreneurial journey with Goli Vada Pav began with a profound sense of purpose. His aim was to address education, employment, and entrepreneurship, particularly focusing on connecting with the underprivileged. Influenced by the prevalent belief that India was a poor country, he sought to engage in a business that would bridge the gap between the urban poor and the rural farmers. This led him to the food industry, where the urban poor could be employed as frontmen, and farmers could be the source of raw materials. Thus, the idea of Goli Vada Pav began to take shape.

Building the Business Model: From Pilot to Perfection

Goli Vada Pav's initial operations started in Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai. Mr. Iyer and his team experimented with three different store locations to understand customer behavior. A small central kitchen supplied these stores, establishing an efficient logistics system.
Goli Vada Pav He quickly realized the importance of brand connection with consumers, leading to the creation and documentation of the Goli Vada Pav brand. Despite initial challenges and self-doubt, he remained committed to his vision, constantly refining his plans and strategies.

Balancing Perfection and Pragmatism:

Mr. Venkatesh's analogy of Aamir Khan's perfectionist movies versus Govinda's fun and spontaneous films illustrates the dual approach needed in business. While striving for perfection is crucial, accepting and navigating the unpredictable aspects of business is equally important. This balance helped him steer Goli Vada Pav through various challenges.

Core Team and Technology Integration:

From the outset, he assembled a core team of five key members, each responsible for different facets of the business. This team-centric approach ensured that operations were handled efficiently while he focused on the overarching vision and strategy. Additionally, Mr. Venkatesh explored the integration of technology in operations, which proved pivotal in scaling the business and maintaining quality across multiple locations.

Goli Vada Pav Securing Funding: A Unique Journey

His pursuit of funding for Goli Vada Pav is a notable chapter in corporate history. He aimed to elevate the respect and recognition for vada pav, a popular street food, by seeking corporate finance. A chance meeting with Jerry Rao, a former head of Citibank India, led to securing an initial investment of five and a half crores. This funding, combined with an international partnership for producing batata vada patties, enabled Goli Vada Pav to standardize its product and gain significant respect and credibility.

Overcoming Setbacks: The Aarey Milk Booth Challenge

In 2007, Goli Vada Pav faced a major setback when political sensitivities around vada pav in Mumbai led to the closure of their operations in Aarey Milk Booths. Despite losing 4.5 crores, Mr. Venkatesh Iyer remained undeterred. He borrowed 3.5 crores to restart the business and soon received numerous inquiries from across Maharashtra. This resurgence was aided by extensive media coverage, turning the initial failure into a stepping stone for broader success.

Expansion and Technological Advancements:

Goli Vada Pav expanded rapidly, establishing stores in tier II and III cities, as well as in major cities like Bangalore. Mr. Iyer emphasized the need for a scientific approach to business, leveraging technology for home delivery and centralized kitchen operations. This technological focus helped Goli Vada Pav adapt to changing consumer habits and streamline operations.

Goli Vada Pav Innovation and Quality:

Goli Vada Pav's success is rooted in its commitment to quality and variety. The menu features different types of vada pavs, nuggets, and masala fries, catering to diverse regional tastes. The introduction of a mascot, the Goli Man, and new product categories like vada rolls and curry balls further strengthened the brand.

Training and Development: Goli Academy

To ensure consistent service and quality, Goli Vada Pav established the Goli Academy, a training program delivered via a mobile app. This initiative, along with a dedicated BPO, enabled the company to train and manage staff across India effectively, ensuring a high standard of customer service and operational efficiency.

Future Plans: Diverse Formats and International Expansion

Mr. Venkatesh envisions Goli Vada Pav expanding into tier II and III cities with its traditional format while introducing new formats for major cities and international markets. These formats range from small stalls to larger outlets offering a variety of products, aiming to cater to different market segments and consumer preferences.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs:

His advice to startups is to focus on innovation and courageously explore new opportunities. He emphasizes the importance of imagination and continuous improvement, drawing inspiration from historical figures and civilizations. By maintaining a macro view of life and business, entrepreneurs can navigate challenges and leave a lasting impact.

Historical Perspectives: Learning from the Past

Mr. Iyer draws significant inspiration from history, looking to ancient civilizations and historical figures for lessons in courage and innovation. He emphasizes the importance of a macro view of life, understanding that our time on this planet is limited and that our impact is determined by our contributions during our brief existence. This philosophical approach reinforces the idea that entrepreneurship is not just about profit but about leaving a positive mark on society.

Final Thoughts:

Mr. Venkatesh's closing thoughts highlight the necessity of imagination, education, and continuous innovation. He believes that every entrepreneur must be willing to dive into uncharted territories, much like explorers of the past. By embracing change and seeking constant improvement, entrepreneurs can create businesses that not only succeed but also contribute meaningfully to the world.

Goli Vada Pav's journey is a powerful example of how a simple idea, driven by a strong purpose and executed with resilience and innovation, can grow into a successful and impactful enterprise. Mr. Venkatesh Iyer's story serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, showing that with the right mindset and approach, one can overcome challenges and achieve remarkable success.

Get your hands on a copy of YOU CEO 2 to delve deeper into more of these inspiring stories!Grab your copy here: YOU CEO 2: Success Lessons From Leading CEOs

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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 29th June 2024.

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