Karan Bilimoria. (Photo By Arrangement)
This week we are talking to one of the well known businessmen who is a peer in the House of Lords, London UK — Karan Bilimoria, a son of Hyderabad, qualified as a Chartered Accountant with EY ( Ernst& Young ) in London. Deciding that wasn’t quite for him he went on to graduate in Law from Cambridge University. Now, for any normal person that might have been enough for 2 careers! However neither of those were in his naseeb.
While a student at Cambridge he came up with the idea of Cobra Beer. On the one side of the ring we have Kingfisher, king of beers, at the time and on the other side of the ring, Karan, unknown, no business experience. He had a mountain to climb but he had hit upon a unique concept — a different beer brand, less gassy and one which would compliment Indian food perfectly. (Between a larger and an Ale).
Excerpts from an interview:
Q Lord Bilimoria, were you always convinced this would work? Or were there times when you felt things were going wrong and you wanted to give up?
One of the toughest decision is to take the plunge, give up everything and make that decision to be an entrepreneur. You have to be single minded in that. It was a very difficult journey to create this beer and sell it against the odds when you have giants like Kingfisher dominating the market. But if you have faith that your product is different and better then you just have to keep going.
Actually there was never a time when I felt like giving up but there were many bumps in the road that were challenging. One of the biggest challenges was raising finance for an unknown brand. (Crossing the credibility gap) Why should anyone finance you/buy from you with zero credibility. How do you convince them? (Faith passion and belief in your product helps with this)
Q What was the toughest decision you had to make while setting up your brand/product?
The toughest decision turned out to be due to the success of our brand. We had virtually a 99% reorder from all the restaurants we supplied to and the sales doubled in one year. We had challenges exporting from India due to logistics and therefore we needed to now start to brew the beer in UK. I grappled with this. It was a huge decision to make as it was an authentically imported beer from India. What would my customers say? However, my fears were unfounded as my customers — i.e. the end user (consumer) — told us that what was most important to them was the less gassy taste and the least important aspect of it was that it was imported from India. And so we started to brew the beer in the UK. You have to adapt or die.
Q Through this whole process of setting up your brand — what was the most enjoyable?
Starting your business from scratch is the most amazing feeling that although its tough, you are in control of your own destiny. My mission was to brew the finest beer brand. The wonderful feeling of achieving and aspiring is really motivating.
Q So, having come on this amazing, successful journey, and now a peer in the House of Lords, if you look back, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Covid was of course very challenging as it was for all of us. Restaurants were closed and the only thing that stopped me losing my business was our supermarket sales. What I have found is that crises come out of the blue. I have had my fair share of those. The 3 things that have always kept me going are my wife who has been there with me since I began my business, she has been my greatest support, a strong, loyal team who stuck by me through everything and of course a strong brand that is resilient and sustainable.
When you are in a crisis, always operate with integrity. It is better to fail doing the right thing than succeed doing the wrong thing.
Q Your advice to people who are considering starting their own businesses?
The one word that describes entrepreneurs more than anything is ‘guts’. If you have the guts do it but more importantly you must have the guts to stick with it when others would give up. So if you have the guts and have what it takes to stay the distance, then yes. All I can do is to hopefully inspire others to start their own business and I try to do that at every opportunity.
My motto is to aspire and achieve against all odds with integrity.