Saturday, 13 October 2012

An Interview With Neerja Mittersain

Recently I met with Neerja Mittersain, formerly a consultant with KPMG and PwC and now an entreprenuer running Gourmet Company, an online retailer of exotic and gourmet food products. Here are a few excerpts from my conversation with Neerja, published with her permission.

Me: Neerja, what exactly is Gourmet Company?

Neerja: Gourmet Company is one of India's first online retailers of gourmet foods. Till recently, gourmet foods such as exotic teas, coffees, cuisine ingredients etc. were available only in metros through stores such as Natures Basket and more recently through FoodHall and other specialty gourmet stores. However, we noticed that the demand for gourmet foods and exotic cooking ingredients existed across the country. With increasing popularity of food channels and international cooking shows such as MasterChef, people across the country want to experiment with cooking at home - however availability of ingredients is an issue. This is where the idea of Gourmet Company emerged from - we are striving to bring quality ingredients, teas, coffees & more to everyone who demands it across the country!

Me: How did you end up starting such an exciting venture?

Neerja: Gourmet Company started off as a hobby and a way to indulge my creative side while I was still working as a business consultant. I started it with my mother as a gifting business which specialized in unique gourmet gifts. These became extremely popular and recognizing the demand for these products across the country, we launched the online store in January this year.

Me: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Neerja: I am a finance professional by training. I did an MSc in Accounting & Finance from the London School of Economics. That was in 2005-2006. After that I spent 3 years at KPMG, followed by 1.5 years at PwC - I was part of the strategy consulting team at both places - I worked on commercial due diligences, building business plans, strategic advise on market entry plans etc.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Neerja: I am an introvert and love spending time with my family and close friends whenever I am not working. I also love sports and play squash or go running everyday - it keeps me sane (a very shy smile).

Me: What would you have done if you hadn't started Gourmet Company? Did you give up something to start Gourmet Company?

Neerja: When I graduated from college, coming from a business family, I was expected to join the family business. However, I somehow never thought of myself as someone who wanted to run a business or be part of a family business. I decided to study finance at the London School of Economics after which I joined KPMG as a business consultant, as I said earlier. As late as last year if someone had asked me what I see myself doing five years hence, I would have probably said "consulting". But as they say, never say never - and a hobby and creative outlet soon turned into love, and I decided to leave my consulting career to do something I loved every minute of. It was an extremely difficult call to leave a traditional career that was going great and a salary paid promtly every month, to start something new and untested, but now in retrospect I think it is one of the best decisions I have made. I am currently working 18, sometime 20 hour days and loving every moment of it. (another smile)

Me: Wow! Do you have any partners or are you on your own?

Neerja: Gourmet Company is set up as a private limited company. As I said earlier, I started Gourmet Company with my mother. I handle the products whereas my mother runs the gifting side of the business.

Me: Where's your office located?

Neerja: Nariman point.

Me: How many employees does Gourmet Company have?

Neerja: Four, not including my mom and me,

Me: Do you have a warehouse or more than one warehouse? Where are they?

Neerja: We have a warehouse in Mumbai currently - as we expand, we will set up warehouses in other key cities.

Me: Where do you procure your supplies from? Are your products mainly imported?

Neerja: 90% of the portfolio currently consists of imported products sourced from around the world. However, we are keen on promoting Indian products especially those made by social enterprises or cottage industries or even private homes. We have a range of honeys and health products from such enterprises in India and are hoping to increase this as a percentage of our total portfolio.

Me: How do you deliver orders placed online? Do you use third party couriers?

Neerja: In Mumbai we have our own delivery team who turn around on the same day. We have logistics partners such as Blue Dart, Fedex etc. for outside Mumbai deliveries.

Me: What future plans for Gourmet Company?

Neerja: The online store has received a tremendous response. What is heartening is that we are now retailing our products in more than 45 cities and towns across the country including places such as Dimapur in Nagaland. We are focusing on having a curated collection of gourmet products based on feedback from our customers in terms of what they like, what they don't and what they'd like us to keep. We see this as our key differentiator.

We are currently focusing on not just bringing the best quality gourmet foods to consumers but also to educating consumers on different types of foods, ways to incorporate ingredients into their everyday cooking etc. Another extremely exciting project that we are working on is our own range of foods that we are aiming to launch in early December. This will include a range of products including peanut butters, mustards etc. We believe that India can produce world quality gourmet products and our range will focus on using local ingredients to produce high quality products that we are sure will be as good as or better than other imported brands in the market.

Me: Your own range of foods! Have you decided on the brand?

Neerja: The brand is under wraps till its launch in December.

Me: Would you be open to VC funding for Gourmet Company?

Neerja: We have seen interest from venture capital firms and will be looking at this early next year.

Me: Fantastic! All the best Neerja!

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