I sincerely believe that no advice serves better than advice from the ground. Having said that, today’s post contains information I put together with the help of a young entrepreneur from India. The entrepreneur in question runs a very successful hot dog business called Hungry Hogs (www.hungryhogs.com) in Bangalore, India.
I. Hot Dogs outside of the U.S.? You would be surprised by their popularity!
As one of Hungry Hogs’ founding member pointed out – “We realized from the inception that our biggest hurdle would be selling a relatively unknown product and that we were an unknown brand. People might have heard about hot dogs, but were either unimpressed with what other places had to offer or preferred something else to hotdogs.”
So they did what any other smart entrepreneur would do – “We carried big blown up photos of hot dogs wherever we set up our stalls and when people asked us what hot dogs were, we just pointed to our photos and then continued to explain the concept to them in more detail. In all honesty, it is still easier now to sell popular western products as people are more exposed to them than 10 years ago . People have already included burgers, pizzas, and pastas to their regular diets. The fact that hot dogs weren’t in this category is what prompted us to get into hot dogs and hot dogs only. From day 1, we could honestly say that we served the best hot dogs in town! Often, industry experts though excited by our idea, advised us to add burgers to our menu, and some even told us to add coffee! But we remained adamant from the beginning to keep it simple, and that has helped us stay focused ever since.”
II. Start-Up Issues: What to Consider?
Initially, the idea behind Hungry Hogs was to have hot dog carts all over Bangalore. But as they began researching and talking to people, they realized that it wasn’t very feasible as they had initially anticipated. Instead, they decided to start off by catering only to college fests, concerts etc.
“It seemed to be a safe first step at that point of time. But in hindsight, it was a crucial move because it laid the groundwork for the diners we would eventually open.”
“Since our scope of operations were limited, getting capital wasn’t a problem. Legally, rules were laid out clearly for establishments like us. The only thing we weren’t too happy was with the fact that there are no clear rules covering vendors selling food on the street. A lot of the existing vendors could not get licenses even if they wanted to (another reason we decided against hot dog carts).”
One World South Asia (http://southasia.oneworld.net/fromthegrassroots/saving-the-street-vendors-of-incredible-india) touches on this point by saying:
The existing laws to support the rights of street vendors are weak. City planners and other civic authorities scrap laws that support vendors’ rights. Instead of spending money on civic amenities, improving drainage, sewerage systems and garbage disposal facilities, they shift the blame for shortages of services onto vendors and migrants. They brand them a civic nuisance and actively encourage the police to evict them. Even when the rules are in favor of the vendors, lack of operative-level transparency plays havoc with their livelihoods. The harassment by various authorities, local bodies and departments, and the exploitative fees paid in bribes to those who exploit the loopholes in the system, leads them to destitution. This, in its worst form, takes the shape of eviction and a complete loss of working capital. Instead, regularizing their activities in a manner that gives opportunities for relocation would be a better option.
But as profoundly pointed out by Hungry Hogs’ founding member:
“So I guess the difficulties we faced initially were business related, but by starting small we feel we bypassed legal and financial issues that otherwise would have proven to be problematic.”
III. Growing your business might not be as easy as starting one!
“The upside and sometimes annoying fact about start-ups is that every day throws a new challenge — some are exciting, some are, for the lack of a better word, extremely challenging, some feel like they’re downright unnecessary (they aren’t). I guess the biggest challenge though, even now, is to maintain quality and consistency in the food as well as service throughout all our outlets/diners.”
“Once we started our diner though, our approach was totally different. We were (still are) already the only place serving specialty hot dogs. Our food was (still is) pretty delicious, and the rates were (still are) easily affordable. But what we set out to do was to ensure that anyone walking into our diner would have a good time. And I feel that’s what sets us apart. You walk into any Hungry Hog diner, you’re more likely to be met with a “Hey, What’s up (first name)” than a “Good evening Sir/Madam, welcome to Hungry Hogs, May I take your order”. We know most of our customers by face; we know what they like to order and also the little tweaks to their orders.”
Biggest Challenge: Transitioning from Self-employed to An Employer
“One thing common among all start ups is that the founders always seem to have this extreme passion which to the uninitiated borders on, insane behavior! So the challenge was to get everyone on the same page and showing the same energy/enthusiasm/passion.”
Have you ever questioned your age or lack of experience?
“It was hard not to. Wherever we went we were reminded that we were young, not as if we were oblivious to it, but we were confident that we had what it takes. But we considered our lack of experience as bringing a certain sense of freshness to our venture. Nonetheless, it hasn’t been a walk in the park, and obviously there are days when we feel we’re too young to be in this Food & Beverage industry. But being young is what gives us an edge as well as helps us connect to a growing middle class, a category made up of people largely in our own age group. So as long as being young has more advantages than disadvantages, we are not bothered by it.”