Entrepreneurial Spirit: Nobody in my family ever ventured into business except for my brother. My father was highly risk-averse. But my brother was a true entrepreneur. He started his first business while still an undergrad. My entrepreneurial drive comes from him. I started my first business venture when I was in college as a supplier for an FM station, then I started an advertising agency when I was in my second semester at FAST-NU, then I started an event management company called “Taqreeb” when I graduated and after that, here we are at ChaiChowk.
Why ChaiChowk? I always wanted to open a fancy restaurant. But opening a restaurant involves a lot of investment. So I decided that I would start with something small like a kiosk selling sajji and shawarmas. But the idea didn’t really pan out. Then I decided to open a small tea stall in E-11 where I would sell only two or three types of teas at very low rates. But a mentor of mine advised me to go for something fancy. My main objective now was to set up a cozy tea house where people could enjoy traditional chai but in a variety of different flavors. And that is how ChaiChowk happened.
Inspiration for ChaiChowk: In the days when I was planning to launch my own business and working on the business plan for ChaiChowk, I watched the movie “Chef” and I thought to myself, “If he can do it, why can’t you?” Another factor was when I showed this shop to a friend and I was reluctant because of the location but he said, “Whoever comes to your place will come because of you, the location won’t matter.” That was a huge buck-up.
Challenges Encountered: The biggest challenge was finding a fancy place, as my mentor wished me to. It involved a lot of calls to estate agents, chats with people who owned vacant lots, bargaining on the price, etc. But I stumbled on this shop purely by accident. It was in severe disarray at that time – there was fungus on the ground, the walls were all blackened and it was a huge mess. But I decided this was the place for ChaiChowk. A few friends from NCA helped me design the interior. Then there were mishaps with the furniture workshop, the carpenter, the electrician. But perseverance is what got me through it all.
Flavors of Chai: It’s very tempting to go for international flavors, but I wanted to stay close to the local palette. So instead of going for clear teas, like the have at Chaaye Khana, I opted for traditional chai with new flavors – like saffron, lemongrass and masala chai to name a few.
Plans for Expansion: Instead of expanding in size, I plan on opening multiple small, cozy tea houses just like this one across Islamabad at first and then across Pakistan.
Feedback: It has been absolutely overwhelming. When I started out, I wasn’t expecting this much appreciation. I was afraid that the space would be too small. But the feedback, the love that I am getting from my customers, it is inspiring.
Marketing Strategy: I once read a book in which the author said, “The best marketing strategy is your product.” If you have a strong faith in your product, you won’t need a marketing strategy. Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: When I came up with this idea, my survival was at stake. I realized that for the next three or four months I would have no money incoming but I still had to pay the rent and the utility bills. It is moments like these – the do or die moments – that decide the fate of all entrepreneurs. So if you really want to do it, burn all your boats. The best motivator, probably, is having no backup plan.