May 22, 2018

How this entrepreneur found 'khazana' in 'khana' with his brand Wonderchef

As a former high-flying corporate executive, Ravi Saxena has had the opportunity to taste a slice of life in more than 65 global destinations. What are people wearing, what are they talking about, and what are they eating? He would be clued into all the latest trends from around the world.

However, the epiphany to start Wonderchef surprisingly hit him when he was interacting with some of his Indian colleagues while travelling abroad.

“The most common lament I would hear from my colleagues and other travelling Indians was ‘wife ne bola hai non-stick pan le aana’ (wife has asked for a good quality non-stick cookware),” Ravi says. It set him thinking, and he founded Wonderchef Home Appliances Pvt. Ltd in 2009.

Ravi invested his own savings to fund the business. As a brand executive who had turned around a number of brands during his corporate stints, Ravi hit a six when he roped in celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor of the Khana Khazana fame.

“I had known and worked with Sanjeev Kapoor when I took The Yellow Chilli chain of restaurants to scale. He was very gracious and agreed to support Wonderchef,” says Ravi. What worked for Ravi was Sanjeev’s endorsement of the cookware while cooking with his signature recipes.

Omnichannel, the way forward

Today, 80% of Wonderchef’s customers shop online. Besides, the brand has a presence across India with its multi-channel sales strategy which consists 6000 (MBOs), 12 (EBOs), a D2H (direct to home network) of 50,000 women, e-commerce, and teleshopping.

Wonderchef products are sold in around 1000 small towns by these women entrepreneurs, and Ravi is happy that it reaches places as far as Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast.

With a turnover of Rs 250 crore, the company is now focusing on expansion to become leaders in their category by 2020.

Headquartered in Mumbai, Wonderchef recently tied up with BigBazaar and is also planning to set-up a fully integrated manufacturing unit.

From an intrapreneur to an entrepreneur

Ravi, an electronic engineer and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, has been responsible for the success of brands in India like Sodexo, Gloria Jean’s Coffee, and The Yellow Chilli chain of restaurants.

He moved to France when he joined Sodexo but missed the excitement of building something new. However, he was able to convince the company that they needed to be in India. In the early 90s, India was not a very attractive proposition for global companies. Ravi was the one-member team in India and built Sodexo here ground up.

He subsequently went on to work at other corporates and finally around the time of the global downturn decided to start on his own.

In an interaction with SMBStory, 49-year-old Ravi gives some pertinent advice to those who are venturing out in this sector. 

“I would like to say that first gain some experience before you jump into entrepreneurship. Then be ready to give it everything you have, and be patient. Most businesses are closed when they are just about to turn around. It will take at least three to five years before a new business settles down. Most importantly, learn how to respect money. Working capital is the biggest challenge of any business. Choose your partners carefully and your investors even more carefully.”

Wonderchef has raised three rounds of investment from Zurich-based PE Fund Capvent, France-based family office Labruyere, and PE Fund Amicus Capital.

Ravi says, “From humble beginnings in 2009-10, the company has come a long way and counts itself as being in the top three in almost every segment that it competes in. Scale has been built up with the judicious mix of innovation, aggression, and capital raise.”

Business strategies

Wonderchef is an omni-channel distribution company with as many as 11 distinct, developed and mature channels of distribution, each one led by a business head with domain expertise.

Talking about the company’s cash flow and capital management, Ravi says, “We are obsessive about capital management since we have bootstrapped our way to success and never allowed things to run away in terms of capital requirements. Even the funding we have raised has been the relatively small ticket in every round so as to maintain the fiscal discipline.”

Cookware & kitchen appliances market in India is about Rs 20,000 crore. Wonderchef aims to top this market with their offering of cookware and appliances. “The Indian market, as everyone knows is price conscious. While they want international quality, they are not willing to pay for it. Our products offer value for money. And we have found that 80 percent of first-time users come back to us,” he says.

Talking about its innovative products, Ravi says they had launched appliances like cold press juicers five years ago. Today, cold press juices are a big health trend.

MSMEs growth engine

An entrepreneur’s journey is invariably tough and full of excitement, believes Ravi. “One has to survive a lot of heartbreaks and challenges especially in the early years of the journey.”

Stating that MSMEs are the engine of growth for the Indian economy, Ravi says, 

“In recent years, professionally driven MSMEs have emerged which will lead the economy as it embarks on the path of double-digit growth over the next two decades.”

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Dipti Nair

Documenting tech influence on people and society. Storyteller at @yourstoryco. Potter. Photographer of trees.
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