India Deserves a Good Cup of Chai: Raghav Verma of Chaayos

The co-founder plans to scale up his offerings with the use of technology by 2019.

“Loyalty is the basis for everything and it comes from positive interactions and relationships. Speaking to people while they have their favourite cup of chai makes it more personalised and feedback-oriented,” says Raghav Verma as we see him interact with his customers with as much ease as his staff. “We believe in encouraging leadership that’s why every café manager is the CEO of the outlet, in-charge of operations and deliverables. He is like the boss of his outlet,” smiles Verma, who coolly fetches his order from the counter, it has his favourite Honey Lemon Pepper Chai with a combo of Monsoon Special Chat – recently introduced in Chaayos.

As we settle into the spacious 2200 sqft outlet of Chaayos in Connaught Place, Verma takes us through the setup and the quirky décor designed by him and his partner — a veritable mix of smart, contemporary and historic interiors with high-ceiling lamps, junk wheels, combined with an eclectic wall art and a small fireplace that reminds one of the drawing room in an old palatial bungalow of the British colonial era. The architecture of this outlet has many variations in design and can host upto 80 pax.

“When me and my co-founder Nitin Saluja, both from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), started in 2012, we wanted to make chai cool like coffee and evaluated the customer chai drinking patterns in India. There was no doubt that chai would not work in this country – it was just a matter of doing it right! After all, it is the second largest consumed beverage after water so why not experiment with it,” explains the 31-year-old entrepreneur who started out as a software consultant with Opera Solutions LLC.

The year 2019 for Chaayos looks promising. “Now we want to focus on execution and scale up our offerings with technology. We have tied-up with Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda for door-to-door delivery, and this contributes to 20% of our revenues,” says Verma.

The brand has plans to roll out Chai Monk (an IoT powered chai robot) across all the outlets which automates the entire process of making chai. “We have this already up and running in eight 8 cafes, including Gurgaon, and it has really worked in increasing our NPS scores so far,” he confirms. Chaayos has also invested in technology, and developed all its systems in-house, from the point of sale system and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to customer life cycle management, feedback and delivery software.

According to Verma there is no perfect chai recipe. He makes Chaayos’ specialities from 12 add-ons available – adrak, mirchi, elaichi, etc. Today, the Chaayos network is spread across 55 outlets in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Chandigarh. In Tiger Global Management’s first ever investment in a non-tech startup, Chaayos raised $5 million in 2015. “Our revenue has been growing at 200% year-on-year (YoY) and 100% in number of outlets with a repeat customer rate of 42% month on month. South launch is on the cards and we will roll out a plan soon,” he adds.

Commitment towards the goal and cognizant of the fact that the new set up will have many challenges is an important phase of learning and this Verma learnt from his failed edutech startup. He feels, “Experiential learning helps us sail through tough times.” 

As an alumni, Verma takes great pride in opening up an outlet for students in IIT Delhi. “It offers community co-working space in an open campus-like set-up, which like any other outlet, has our 25 varieties of tea customizable in over 12000 ways!”

As increasingly conscious of the environmental and sustainability efforts, Chaayos has cut down on plastic in Mumbai outlets and now use bio-degradable plates and cutlery. He plans to rollout in all the other outlets in North India very soon.

For him, the biggest trend of the season is the plug and play of old flavours. Verma feels, “India is a treasure trove of flavours and people have started revisiting the old recipes. We have experimented with tea time snacks in relatable format to give a blend of the old and the new. Like Vada Pav, Lemonade, Garden Sandwich, Palak Patta Chaat, Keema Pav are served as an accompaniment to your favourite beverage like kullad chai and thandi chai at our outlets. India certainly deserves a good cup of chai to explore these regional snacks,” he smiles.

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