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Amuleek Singh Bijral, co-founder and CEO, Chai Point explains how technology has helped it become an omni channel brand
What was the inspiration behind Chai Point?
After graduating from Harvard, I joined the corporate world and my last stint was MD, RSA India and Saarc. In my several years on the corporate side, I saw how loved chai was for the white collar professionals. It is a fuel which keeps them going the whole day. To our utter disappointment, getting a decent cup of chai was not an option and we were forced to either drink the premix tea from the office vending machine or go to down to the nearest chai staff for our fix. Both the options, didn’t offer a quality, consistent and hygienic cup of chai. That is when the idea struck me that how the last mile of India’s most powerful beverage is broken. This is how the idea of Chai Point was born. In 2010, we started with out first store in Bengaluru which opened to rave reviews from our customers.
In the early days, I remember, an old gentleman, walked up to me in the store and expressed his happiness for a company realising the importance of serving fresh ingredients based chai which is a winner on all parameters of consumers. Such feedback from our customers over the years has inspired us to do innovative things at Chai Point.
How has the brand evolved over the years? Which regions/markets contribute the most to turnover? Exports?
We have evolved to become an omni channel brand. As we saw the customer preferences and their touch points evolved around us, we knew that by being present at select places will soon make us irrelevant. Thus, we embarked on building an omni channel brand, one which is present and accessible whenever the customer wants it and where he wants it. Today, Chai Point is present through its 115 plus store network in seven cities, chai on call — which is our delivery model through our app, partnership with the biggest food tech partners, selling our brand of loose leaf tea through the leading e-commerce sites and servicing the corporate channel through IoT enabled dispenser boxC.in. Fastest growing regions for Chai Point are NCR, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
What has been the response to boxC.in?
With 2,000 + active installations, boxC.in has emerged as the fastest growing business channel for us.
Tell us about your technology initiatives, especially the latest AI face recognition billing system?
In our quest to become an omni-channel brand and scale up fast, we decided early on that technology will be our torchbearer. Thus, we pride ourselves in saying that we started investing early on in technology and continue to do so.
We have an in house team of techies who have built SHARK, and run and manage it. SHARK is the backbone on which every aspect of Chai Point runs, right from sourcing to supply chain to stores, billing, warehousing etc. SHARK which connects stores with the back-end of the operations, enables us to open stores faster and go live in no time.
Since, white collar professionals are our target customers, it is important that we are most accessible to this customer base. By design, we are present inside top corporate parks and inside leading corporates. To scale up fast in the corporate segment, we launched IoT enabled dispenser boxC.in, the dispenser in its latest avatar is an android platform machine, which is linked to the Chai Point command center. The client has a dashboard to check cup wise consumption while the machine sends info to the command center. In case, there is a problem with the machine, it flags off to the command center where the trouble shooting can be done remotely. Recently, we have also incorporated a payment option in boxC.in where customers can use their Paytm wallet to pay for the beverage.
Earlier this year, we rolled out face recognition billing for our loyalty customers. The idea was inspired from our customers feedback, who would go to our stores 4 — 5 times a day and didn’t like the experience of every time giving out their mobile numbers for the loyalty points. With the introduction of face recognition, the customers are now no more required to share their details as it is encrypted in the Cloud and only the last four digits of the mobile number is visible to the sales counter personnel. We also have plans to scale up the use and benefits of face recognition technology.
How much funding has Chai Point garnered so far and how much of it has been invested in technology?
In April this year, we announced raising US$ 20 million in Series C from Paragon Partners where our existing investors also participated. In total, we have raised close to US$ 34 million in funding till date. Other investors include, Saama Capital, DSG Ventures and Eight Roads Ventures.
What inspired BYOC? When do you plan to roll it out and in which markets?
BYOC – Bring your own Cup – is an idea which is crucial to one of our core business mantras – Being environmentally responsible. Over the last five years, we have consciously taken steps to reduce our carbon footprint – whether it is switching to glass bottles or bagasse based cutlery in the store or discontinuation of straws. BYOC is another step in that direction. Fortunately for us, our target customers, are of millennial mindset, which means they like to be associated with a brand which is aligned to their values. This includes, good quality, consistency, natural ingredients and sensitive to the nature around us. We have recently rolled out BYOC in select stores and the response has been encouraging. Essentially, we have asked our customers to bring their own cup to help us reduce paper cup consumption and in return they will get discounts from Chai Point. Now BYOC is being made main-stream and will be a core option across all of our stores.
Your future roadmap?
Focus on improving the overall chai experience for our customers across all our channels without losing focus on our core product chai . This is the numero uno task for us.
Any advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs?
It all starts with the product. Product has to be the hero. Then post this remember that it’s a long haul.
Your favourite tea?
I love our Lemon-Grass Chai.