Interview with Prachi Patil, Co-founder of Suzu Agro Private Limited (Brand: Aaj Pakao)
At Sugermint Media, our aim is to bring to our entrepreneurs community some of the inspiring and motivational stories from the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
As part of this endeavour, we invited yet another entrepreneur Interview with Prachi Patil, Co-founder, Suzu Agro Private Limited (Brand: Aaj Pakao) for an exclusive interview with us.
Tell us a little about yourself
Prachi Patil: I come from a regular middle-class Maharashtrian family with no history of entrepreneurship.
I studied in my home state until I completed my engineering and then joined Texas State University, where I did a course in engineering and an MBA.
I aspired to become an astronaut like Kalpana Chawla during my early years. Still, due to the lack of any learning opportunities in the field of aeronautical engineering, I had to choose an alternative career.
After finishing my US studies, I joined Schaeffler, a leading automotive company. I worked with the company for three years and traveled all over the USA.
Later, I had a chance to work at the company’s headquarters in Germany as a project manager. Those were beautiful years when I traveled, explored new food and cultures, and met people. Subsequently, I returned to India just before the pandemic, married, and launched Aaj Pakao.
Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey.
Prachi Patil: After returning to India, I had a lot of discussions with my husband Aditya, and we were both looking at various business ideas.
One day, I asked him a simple question about India’s lack of ready-to-cook canned food options. We explored the local markets and found very few costly or unpalatable options.
That’s when we decided to launch a business in this field. We bootstrapped and launched Aaj Pakao using our savings of about 10 lakh rupees.
The first year was quite difficult as we spent most of the time and money building the products and getting necessary licenses and approvals from FSSAI, ISO, USFDA, etc.
We earned a nominal revenue of about 3 lakh rupees in the first year and had to live very frugally to cut costs as far as possible. In the second year, the business took off, generating a revenue of about 40 lakh rupees.
Our perseverance paid off, and Aaj Pakao is now manufacturing 15-20 tonnes of products each month, and apart from clients in India, we are exporting to the US, UK, UAE, and some African countries.
We plan to set up a manufacturing facility and scale the brand into offline markets all over India and abroad. Now, the company is in its third year, and we are aiming to generate a revenue of one crore plus rupees.
What product(s) do you offer at Aaj Pakao?
Prachi Patil: We offer various authentic ready-to-cook packaged foods hand-picked from different parts of India.
We currently offer a product portfolio comprising six beans and seven curries, of which three are sprouts based.
We have also introduced new products such as the famous Misal pav from Maharashtra, Pav Bhaji, and Mangalorean ghee roast.
What is unique about your label brand?
Prachi Patil: Aaj Pakao is a unique brand with its roots in Indian cuisine. We focus on families where cooking is a significant part of the daily routine.
The aim is to make cooking less time-consuming by offering a range of products that are quick to make and accessible to all, including men who prefer to cook.
We have built a people-centric brand that focuses on customer delight and convenience. At Aaj Pakao, we constantly innovate and create new products to expand our offerings.
For instance, we started with beans and introduced sprouts, as these are items that require several hours of soaking and sprouting before being ready to cook.
Through our products, the cooking time is significantly reduced, and using Aaj Pakao; one can enjoy a sprout salad almost instantly.
A core differentiator of our products is that each gravy represents a food region, not just a state. We have introduced authentic regional flavors such as Pav Bhaji, Mangalorean Ghee Roast, Goan Xacuti gravy, and Chettinad gravy.
Our tech-driven manufacturing processes offer our customers the best taste, hygiene, and nutritional value.
What made you choose this type of business?
Prachi Patil: During my days in the US, I relied extensively on canned, ready-to-cook food items. These used to be of incredible help as they were easy and fast to cook.
After returning to India, I realized there was a lack of quality products in the ready-to-cook segment in the country.
With millions of urban families spending a lot of their time cooking, my husband Aditya and I realized that a venture in this field had immense potential, and we launched Aaj Pakao.
What was your mission at the outset?
Prachi Patil: Our mission was to create products that help cook better Indian dishes without spending long hours on preparations.
Each household has a unique cooking style and modification of recipes. We aim to create products that preserve this uniqueness and allow users to add their tastes or spices to best use our offerings.
How many employees are there in your organization?
Prachi Patil: We have a team of about 15 people with a mix of full-time on-premises, contractual and part-time workforce.
We have people taking care of verticals such as production, marketing, sales, finance, PR, etc. So far, we have adopted a lean approach wherein we operate core functions and processes in-house and engage agencies or part-time workforce to outsource specific tasks.
What are your company’s goals?
Prachi Patil: Our goal is to create an extensive range of ready-to-cook products that simplify cooking by reducing the preparation time alongside offering the flexibility of customizing taste and ingredients.
We are building an inclusive range of products for the global audience that is easy to cook and accessible to all.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Prachi Patil: We had some failures due to our inexperience in the field and the lack of due diligence, but we have learned from each.
One of the biggest learnings is that running a startup is a massive challenge with some inevitable setbacks.
No matter how qualified and experienced we are or how strong the vision and idea are when a start-up goes to the market, there are bound to be hurdles, and one has to be resilient and patient to overcome those.
What was the inspiration behind turning into an entrepreneur?
Prachi Patil: I have known my husband, Aditya, since my school days in Dhule, Maharashtra. We remained connected despite choosing different career trajectories and going to the US for education and work.
There came a time when we had a serious discussion about how we wanted our future to be. Aditya knew he didn’t want to spend his life utilizing his talent for others.
He convinced me to consider entrepreneurship. When I returned to India after quitting my job before the pandemic, he did the same and decided to embark on our entrepreneurial journey.
Key things to consider before starting a startup?
Prachi Patil: In my opinion, the most significant consideration has to be the hardships and the economic costs of launching a startup.
When in a corporate job, one is assured of a fixed salary at the end of the month. However, with a startup, you have a vision in mind, and the earnings might take months or even a year.
There would be a lot of sacrifices in terms of lifestyle, family time, or financial wellness, and often startup founders give up in the face of such daunting challenges. If one is sure about the vision and committed to hustling, then there is no reason to stop.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Prachi Patil: We encountered a major setback right in the early days of our operations when we launched our initial range of products.
We had a clear concept and design in mind, and we launched our products based on our assessment without a thorough market analysis or adequate due diligence about trends and practices.
Thus, when we launched, we faced issues with the packaging, and eventually, we struggled to get buyers. We had to revamp our packaging design, etc., which cost us significant time and money.
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs
Prachi Patil: My advice would be to pursue your goals with confidence. If you have an idea or a solution to an existing problem at scale, go wholeheartedly for it. Self-belief is key to entrepreneurial success.
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