When Sagar J. Daryani mentions that his day starts early at 6 am, which is when he goes for early morning “marketing”, he isn’t talking about some unique marketing tool for his chain of Wow! Momo outlets, which, as the name suggests, sell one of Kolkata’s most preferred snacks— momos. He actually means “shopping” for the Wow! Momo kitchen; “marketing” being a term used by most Kolkatans essentially for vegetable and meat shopping for meals.
At the IPL matches in 2010 at Eden Gardens, they sold 1,000 plates per stall (they had three)in 20 minutes flat. “We were the only ones
who were selling hot food around there,” smiles Daryani. The trick that they used involved low-investment and was very simple. They merely got the food packed in thermocol boxes to keep it fresh and hot.
Sagar and his friend and business partner Binod Kumar Homagai, both 24 years old, keep the rest of the business model equally simple and almost predictable. What is not predictable, however, is the way their business has grown. Started in 2008 with an initial investment of Rs.20,000, which Daryani borrowed from his father, the company is now clocking a turnover of Rs.1.6 crore. Wow! Momo currently has 11 outlets in Kolkata and is looking at clocking a turnover of Rs.8 crore by the end of this financial year, by taking the concept to cities such as Bengaluru, Kochi and Chennai.
“It’s nothing but total commitment to our work, which we love,” says Daryani when asked about the eye-rolling numbers. He’s the more communicative of the two and takes care of the finances, marketing—the real kind—looking for ways to expand the business. Homagai, the quieter one, is passionate about the operations part of the business. Both friends go back to their college days, when they studied commerce in St Xavier’s, Kolkata, together. “We would study together and realized that we wanted to start our own venture together,” says Daryani. A management degree was not an option, he says, since mathematics was not their strong point.
But what made them zero-in on a snack like momos? To start a venture, Daryani says, they considered three basic needs of mankind—ie. roti, kapda and makaan. “Kapda didn’t make sense since my father was already in that business (he owns a menswear brand called Aladin, available in Kolkata and suburbs).” Makaan was out of question, too, considering the scale of investment required in the real estate business. The one left was roti—that one human need that practically makes the world go round.
Momos happened by chance, however. Both Daryani and Homagai initially wanted to start a confectionery in Mumbai, their logic being that the city still doesn’t have something like Kolkata’s “Cakes” or “Kookie Jar”. They tried talking to these brands about branching out in Mumbai, but nothing panned out.
Then one day, suddenly, a cook from Homagai’s home town Nepal came to Kolkata for his wife’s treatment. “He may not be very educated, but he makes the most amazing momos. He was looking for work, and we, for an idea,” smiles Homagai. And on a limb, they both thought of opening their first momo joint. Daryani’s father loaned them Rs.20,000 and the first kiosk, in a 30-sq-ft area, opened at Spencer’s in Tollygunge.
With just two varieties of momos to sell, they marched to their outlet on August 29, 2008. “We were nervous and scared, wondering if people will try our momos,” Daryani. Leaving nothing to chance, they decided to do something about it, and started giving the shoppers free samples. Steaming hot momos with spicy schezwan dip when you least
expect it, obviously people came back for more, and bought them this time around!
“We made Rs.2,400 in two-and-a-half hours and were sold out! It was a huge motivation
for us and remains so to this day,” says Daryani. And they never looked back from there. Next came outlets in Spencer’s in South City Mall and Rashbehari, and Pantaloons in Gariahat. In the first year, they had a turnover of Rs.11 lakh. Today, Wow! Momo boasts of 15
varieties of momos, which are available to you steamed, fried and pan fried, and sell 7,500-8,000 plates every day.
But Daryani is quick to point out that the past three years for them have meant 18-hour days and countless challenges. “We were selling street food but charging more money. But this did not come in our way as a deterrent since people appreciated the quality and hygiene,” says Homagai. What the duo had to learn, however, were the entire operations of the business along with servicing.
But it was a basic entrepreneur’s DNA that has helped them in their targets. For one, they know it’s a team effort and share everything from rolls to bus rides with the staff. “I am involved in the basic routine work of our venture and interact with each and everyone there. If there’s any problem our staff is facing, we try to help—emotionally and financially,” says Homagai. He also reveals that their attrition rate—the company has a staff of 50—is negligible.
Also, their criterion for employing someone is not the usually asked for graduation.
All they want is youngsters who are honest and have a pleasant disposition. “It makes financial sense to go for those who are not so good since they can be trained and upgraded,” says Daryani, the savvy entrepreneur, also hinting that one does not need to pay them industry rates.
However, it’s not like the two of them don’t have problems amongst themselves. Though partners, their temperaments differ a lot. While Daryani is impatient, impulsive, hot-tempered, edgy and looks at the bigger picture, a composed Homagai is a quiet man who is more patient, grounded and practical. “We bicker all the time and are like a typical husband and wife team but complement each other perfectly,” says Daryani.
However, at one level, both of them think from their hearts. “We want to add value to society,” says Homagai.
Daryani explains how from the beginning of this financial year, the company will contribute Re.1 per plate to a social cause. Also on the cards are plans to start a Wow! Momo fund.
The two already sponsor education for four children from the SOS village and Unicef.
“For us, money is a means, not an end, and we want to be in a position where we can help people with anything,” says Daryani.
They also have a number of plans to open charitable clinics and hospitals.
But for now, they are busy tapping venture capital channels and banks for debt equity and are mulling over how to take it forward. But considering their past record, the future should be sumptuous!