Start ups and Shaival Desai seem to be synonyms in Gujarat. He is a co-founder at Petpooja , the highly successful online restaurant billing platform.
Petpooja essentially focuses on increasing productivity in the restaurant ecosystem by digitally managing backend services. It also provides a complete solution to manage entire outlets or even a chain of outlets. Shaival’s start-up runs on the ethos of open communication, flat hierarchy and a technology-driven, problem-solving approach.
At 29, his business has spread across the borders but Shaival admits being what most people are at an age. A confused teenager. After schooling at Udgam in Ahmedabad, he studied engineering in the US and later pursued a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) degree to understand investments and money better.
Then came a U turn in his life. He took up organic farming. Organic farming still interests me but it is a very time consuming thing “. This was the reason he quit it. But the year he spent being a farmer was a very rewarding one. In fact, I made my first million growing cucumbers”, he beams proudly.
After a series of changes, Shaival finally decided that he wanted to be on his own. Start up on his own. That’s how Petpooja was born.
He has been working to grow it for five years. “I always knew I wanted to get into business and start something of my own. It takes time to learn about the fundamentals of a new business, but it’s only a matter of time before it can take off,” says Shaival.
From 20 to 480
At his stint in Mumbai with a venture capital firm, Shaival realised that the start-up scene was picking up. He decided to get into an operational role and not be limited to just being an investor. “When I learned about Petpooja, there were hardly 20 employees in a small office. But even at inception, I could foresee its bright future. Today, we are a team of over 480 people, with four offices and a presence in over 110 cities in India and across the globe,” he says, pretty casually but of course with a sense of achievement and unadulterated self esteem.
First million selling cucumbers
The organic farming phase has been one of his most satisfactory experiences of his life. Shaival rented nine greenhouses and grew 350 tonnes of cucumber and 100 tonnes of capsicum. In a good season, he sold cucumbers for Rs 35/kg and made his first million selling khira-kakdi! “I was 24 when I made my first million,” Shaival recalls.
‘One mistake of my business life’
Start-ups are synonymous with trial and error. A lesson, and a very important one that Shaival has learned, is that of hiring the right people for a team. “One rule that I have violated thrice and regretted every single time is hiring people for their IQ, rather than their attitude,” he says, adding, “We need to choose people with the right attitude, who are a good cultural fit for the organization. When hiring, emotional intelligence and niceness are more important than IQ.” Well, a good advice for all start up enthusiasts.
Not Working With Father
Shaival’s father Mayur Desai is an established businessman but Shaival chose to create his own niche. “I chose not to work with my father, because our attitude towards business is very different,” says Shaival, “He is people-oriented; his staff has been with him for decades. I’m process-oriented and I believe in investing in technology. His business view is macro, while mine is micro. We have fundamental and generational differences in how we run businesses. We can happily sit at a dinner table and have a good time – as long as we don’t work together!”
The curve for the food industry
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic hit the food industry hard. As a domino effect, Petpooja took on losses. “When restaurants hurt, we hurt,” explains Shaival, “It was bad during the lockdown, but soon, we saw a gradual transition towards digitalization. Gujaratis are quick to adapt. Ek vaar try kari joiye is the typical Gujarati attitude and this helped our business. The fundamentals of the food industry have switched from manual to digital platforms, and that’s where we come into the picture. I’m glad we launched our start-up in Amdavad instead of any other metro.”
Well before the pandemic, Petpooja’s team developed robots to serve customers at La Pinoz Pizza in Ahmedabad. “We look forward to new technology and also try our hand at hardware,” says Shaival. “For the next six months our idea is to expand our business vertically and horizontally — and integrate with new vendors across India.”
‘Don’t invest in things you don’t understand’
Shaival calls himself a ‘disciplined investor’. His first rule of investment is to invest in anything which is “alive and growing”. “I don’t believe in putting my money in a piece of land or gold. I don’t understand the point of it. I rather invest in mutual funds and then forget about the money for the next five years. I’m patient with the stock market. I also invest in start-ups and put money into ideas. The second rule is: don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Despite the boom in cryptocurrency and Bitcoins doing so well, I haven’t plunged in, since I don’t understand it.”