Interview with Anusha A Chowdaiah, co-founder of L’inoui Chocolates
“We wanted to create a world class Indian brand that is on par with international standards”- Anusha A Chowdaiah, Founder & CEO of Linoui Chocolates.
Anusha A Chowdaiah is the Founder & CEO of Linoui– a premium chocolaterie brand that aims to bring the authentic and luxury couverture chocolate experience to the Indian market.
Inspired by her delightful chocolate indulgence experience in Belgium during her early career days, she launched L’inoui in partnership with her husband, Lijesh Vincent.
Born and brought up in Bangalore, Anusha is a seasoned traveller with several academic accomplishments from various international universities.
She earned a master’s degree in marketing from the prestigious Purdue University in the United States and studied business at Emlyon University in France and Zhejiang University in China.
Lijesh, her spouse and business partner, earned his MBA from the reputed Indian Institute of Management.
Anusha and Lijesh started building their brand in 2013 and the journey has been extremely exciting since then.
How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?
Anusha A Chowdaiah: We were very clear of what we wanted to establish when we started- a consumer brand that met international standards.
After being captivated by the quality and taste of true Belgian chocolates, we aspired to bring the same indulgence experience in the Indian market.
At that time, when we launched, there were hardly any players in the market producing couverture chocolates.
Couverture was a relatively new offering. So one of the biggest challenges was educating the consumers.
Since our primary goal was to provide the best quality, non-adulterated products, we had to give a lot of effort in finding the right ingredients.
The markets were flooded with ingredients that were highly synthesized. Finding the right ingredients that adhered to our zero-tolerance policy towards adulteration was a huge challenge. But once we overcame the challenge, it became easier.
Although there were challenges, the journey has been very memorable. Both me and Lijesh have single-handedly shared the brand’s responsibility since the beginning.
While I was responsible for the brand’s marketing activities, business operations are managed by my husband, Lijesh, who has 12 years of expertise in supply chain and operations.
From setting up retail stories in different parts of Bangalore city to taking the online route during pandemic, every trivial or non-trivial decision about the brand gave us learning experiences. All I can say is that the success and failures have helped us grow as entrepreneurs over time.
What was your mission and vision at the outset?
Anusha A Chowdaiah: As mentioned earlier, the mission was to create a world-class Indian brand that was on par with the international standards.
Also, to make couverture chocolate lovable. In a market filled with compounds and synthetic flavours, we were committed to provide an unprecedented chocolate experience to the Indian consumers with premium, high quality and non-adulterated couverture chocolate products.
The mission and vision of the brand remains the same even now. Since the last 9 years, we have persistently ensured that the quality of the product is not compromised.
In fact, this will remain our goal and priority forever since we know that our Indian consumers deserve nothing but the best.
What were your challenges when you started the business?
Anusha A Chowdaiah: We were too early in the market. 9 years ago when we started couverture chocolates , there were only a handful of brands that offered couverture chocolates.
Therefore, the challenges were multifold:
1) Creating awareness among consumers about the difference between real (couverture) chocolates and their namesakes (compounds, which are actually not chocolate at all).
2) Encouraging chefs to unlearn. When we hired people for the kitchen, my sister had to teach all the chefs to unlearn techniques they were used to.
For example, 99% of the market uses non-dairy cream. So the lovely cream peaks on the cupcakes are usually made with hydrogenated fat (coconut oil or palm oil).
So when our chefs (from top hotels across the city) were asked to whip real cream, they were flabbergasted. They had to really unlearn their previous training and get used to working with real ingredients.
3) Finding the right ingredients was a big challenge. The markets were flooded with ingredients that were highly synthesized.
Finding the right ingredients that adhered to our zero-tolerance policy towards adulteration was a huge challenge. But once we overcame the challenge, the process became easier for us.
4) Pricing- Nine years ago, we were considered expensive. A slice of pastry was 240 (inclusive of taxes).
But what people often do not realize is that you are what you eat. Would you rather eat adulterated food and pay the hospital fees or consume quality food? Quality has a price.
Real and premium ingredients are expensive. However, nowadays, the market puts similar prices or even more than us for sub-par products just for fancy branding.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Anusha A Chowdaiah: Until the pandemic, we were relying solely on the traditional brick and mortar model for business. Our offline stores were doing well through word of mouth advertising.
However, post 2020 March, the entire scenario changed. Everything came to a standstill and needless to say, our offline shops had to shut.
That’s when we realized that the digital route is not just an option but a necessity. In order to sustain and remain relevant we decided to completely reconsider our business model by venturing into the online retail space.
Although the transition was not smooth, I feel it was a fruitful decision. Our business is now capital-light and easily scalable. In the near future, we intend to develop a hybrid of digital and experiential outlets soon
Key things to consider before starting a startup:
Anusha A Chowdaiah: Few key points to consider before starting a business:
- Research is the key to your success. With a solid data backing, you can anytime challenge the status quo
- Your stakeholders are your lifelines. It’s important to generate long term value for them
- For long term sustenance, it is necessary to plan your source of income for the next 5 years. Preparing a detailed blueprint will help to check when you can start monetising your idea.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Anusha A Chowdaiah: Not every startup succeeds on the runway. Most of the brands you see around that have lasted for decades were built over time. So patience and perseverance are essential.
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs
Anusha A Chowdaiah: Everything that’s worth doing, takes time. Entrepreneurship is an adventure, strictly not for the faint- hearted.
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