Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Business is about minimising mistakes, not avoiding them: Ajay Mariwala

Mariwala, the founder of VKL Seasoning and Food Service India, on why one doesn't need to burn money to build a business in the food sector

Rajiv Singh
Published: Jun 14, 2023 12:18:36 PM IST
Updated: Jun 15, 2023 10:27:43 AM IST

Business is about minimising mistakes, not avoiding them: Ajay MariwalaAjay Mariwala, Founder of Food Service India Image: Mexy Xavier 

He doesn't believe in mincing words. He doesn't like to garnish truth however bitter it might be. "If you're avoiding mistakes, you're not doing anything in business," reckons Ajay Mariwala, the founder of VKL Seasoning and Food Service India. "There is no need to throw money and build a food business," says the third-generation founder in a free-wheeling interaction with Forbes India. Edited excerpts: 

On The Slow & Steady Way Of Building Businesses

One doesn't need to burn money to build a business in the food sector. A lot of outstanding food companies and brands in India have been built by business families that have done it in the traditional way—patience, unit economics and steady growth. They've taken a whole generation to do it, so, there is no need to throw money and build a food business. It does not happen that fast.

On Entrepreneurship

It’s not about what your balance sheet or net worth are. These are incidental and nonsense. The biggest satisfaction for a founder is in winning the hearts of the employees, customers, and stakeholders.

On Foodtech & Loss

The era of cheap money is over. Everybody is now working rapidly to turn their businesses around and make them cash flow positive. Many of them will succeed and some of them may not. It will boil down to how much fuel is left in the tank and how consolidation happens. But it's impossible for anybody’s business to keep pumping money. If you are depending on funding, at some point you either shut down or you have to take a call and start to take decisions to turn the business around. First, fix the unit economics, then fix the scale economics and then fix the overall business economics.

Also read: Ajay Mariwala 2.0: Spicing it up with a secret sauce

On New-Age Entrepreneurs

In all fairness to the tech sector and highly-talented founders, what has happened is that they have been told that what matters most is first-mover advantage. It has been drilled into everybody's head: First-mover advantage, winner takes all, land grab…everybody's been in that race. That's where the scale issue comes, and you need loads of capital to do that. I don't think the ‘first-mover advantage’ is going to go away but economics will have to be justified.

On Challenges, Business Dna & Staying ‘Independent’

Challenges propel you, whether personal or professional. It's not easy being an entrepreneur. People don't realise that while opportunities are great, the challenges are also immense and daunting. But if you can look at the larger picture, opportunities far outweigh the challenges.

I'm a third-generation entrepreneur. My older brother is an entrepreneur. My younger brother is an entrepreneur. I have several cousins who have started businesses. We have entrepreneurial DNA deeply embedded in us. The second part of the DNA is also being independent and active. My father is a 90-year-old gentleman who lives by himself in Mahabaleshwar and walks 16 km a day. So, we come from a stock that is designed for independence, being active and being engaged.

Also read: What's cooking with Manu Chandra?

On Winning The Hearts Of Emmployees

Nothing is more satisfying than seeing the transformational impact you can make on the lives of employees. When we started the VKL journey, and when I first walked into the factory in Kerala, there were only six bicycles parked there. There was nothing else, no motorcycles, no cars, nothing. Today, there are multiple factories and even if you go to the original one, you will see motorcycles and cars parked. There is education, there is healthcare, and there is quality of life.