Salad Café founder Syam Sasidharan says they are aiming to build up a national brand for healthy salads. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter
In the world of startup funding, founders are known to pull out all the stops, from perfecting their pitch decks to networking with investors and prestigious incubators. However, one Kollam-based startup has taken a unique and unforgettable approach to secure investment – through the humble medium of a lunchbox note.
In a bold move last month, Belly Partner Private Limited sent out boxes of their signature salads from their Trivandrum unit Salad Cafe, along with a special message. Nestled amongst the greens and veggies was a note that read: “If you're happy with our services, you can invest in us. We're building India's biggest salad brand, and investment starts from just 50k.”
If out-of-the-box thinking is the quality needed for a startup founder to forge ahead, then Salad Cafe founder Syam Sasidharan ticks that box, as his pitch for investment shows. Not just that alone, the 36-year-old’s model of a salad business itself reflects that.
Syam, as he is known in the industry, became familiar with the world of salads after his job on the Caribbean Island of St Vincent in 2014 as a marketing man after completing his MBA at Visvesvaraya Technological University in Bangalore.
By 2019, he had returned to Kerala and was in Cochin when the idea of introducing proper salads to the people here began to form in his head. “The salads we got from the restaurants were the same old sliced raw cucumber, onions, and carrot fare that were popular in the city bars for years. I longed for the tastier salads I used to enjoy while abroad,” he says.
Soon, he got in touch with his friend and Malayalee chef Sixon Francis in Trinidad, who used to work with the renowned Paragon Restaurant in Cochin, and they drew up a menu for different salads. “Many chefs try to cater to the local palate by bringing in local ingredients and sauces, but we decided not to,” says Syam. “We figured there were a sizable number of people in Kerala who were exposed to such salads during their trips to foreign countries or those who expanded their culinary horizons by exploring food from different regions.”
After starting their venture as a dine-in facility in Trivandrum, Syam and his co-founder Syam Sugathan pivoted to a delivery business in 2022 and developed an app for customers and a subscription plan. The company says this has helped them generate revenue of around 8-12 lakh rupees a month from 2023, up from around 2 lakh rupees in 2020.
Syam says their salad, which consists mainly of fresh greens, sautéed or boiled veggies, and grilled meat, is being welcomed by many health-conscious customers. “Some customers would come and ask us to provide all three meals, but we advise them against such a drastic change to their diet as we, in Kerala, are essentially used to carbohydrate-rich meals. We advise them to make salads a part of their regular diet instead of a dramatic switch over.”
With this confidence under its belt, Belly Partner is setting its eyes further afield.
“There are good salad providers in some major cities, but they are confined to that one city. We want to become a national brand and make our salads a recognised brand across the country,” says Syam. He says the company has already established a presence in Pune, and talks are ongoing with potential partners in some major cities.
The model that this startup wants to bring in sounds like a combination of a cloud kitchen and a “reverse franchise”. Under this plan, anyone with an eatery can become a partner, and Belly Partner will send their trained chefs for a few months to train their personnel. Orders will be received through the app or online, and Salad Cafe brand salads will be sent to customers through delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato.
“Unlike a franchise model, these eateries who join us need not spend money to set up a new facility and can use the existing one to earn extra income. They make the salads according to our specifications and hand it over to the delivery guys under our brand name. They earn a cut of our income,” explains Syam. “After trying out such a system in Pune, we are confident of doing it in other places also.”
“We now want to become a brand of salads that provide the same quality and taste across major cities in India,” he says with the confidence that startup founders are known for.
Right now, this startup is caught in the same bind as other startups that are looking for funds and personnel to scale up. Syam says they will need to raise about 75 lakhs to 1.5 crore rupees to establish themselves as a brand across the country.
The firm had approached Kerala Startup Mission for support but has been unsuccessful in its bid so far. Syam says most of the startup finance is aimed at the IT sector, and it is difficult to convince such agencies about the Salad Café model as most see it as another restaurant business.
But for now, the startup founder is focusing solely on establishing his current setup in Trivandrum as a stable and steady base for the future. Syam says the venture is ready to scale up as a new model for salad businesses, but he has to present a formula that is palatable to investors. One investor he met even asked him to relocate to Mumbai.
If the response to the idea of inviting investors in Trivandrum through salad boxes is any indication, this startup has its plate full. The only response they received for those notes was from a journalist – me.
A jumbo problem that cries out for tech help
Kerala’s jumbo problems have been grabbing newspaper headlines with the latest drama surrounding a lone tusker who has developed a liking for rice and raiding houses in the Idukki area, leading to death and destruction. But what caught our eye in this was the effort of the authorities to place a radio collar on the rogue. Apparently, the collar has to come from Assam, and reports also say components needed for the tracker belt have to be imported from abroad. Is this another case of our startups and innovators missing out on ideas to address local problems, as we saw in the case of solid waste management?
Conflicts between humans and elephants are not limited to India alone, and a Nepali inventor has developed a mobile app to warn about elephant movements. In Africa, experts in Liberia say they have successfully experimented with a new technology that produces the buzzing sound of killer bees to drive away marauding elephants and have video proof for it. Implemented with the help of conservation groups, this contraption called BuzzBox produces different sounds that irritate elephants and even emit strobe lights. While the experts say the problem of shrinking habitats is the root cause of the problem, this gadget is proving to be an effective deterrent for now.
Chatbot continue to stir up controversies
Have you heard of the false sexual harassment case against George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley or the bribery case involving Melbourne mayor Brian Hood? These incidents were fabricated by ChatGPT, even claiming that The Washington Post reported on the American law professor. These examples highlight the troubles that AI chatbots may cause, and experts continue to call for a halt in AI development until these issues are fixed. Three prominent Indian figures – Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu, Ispirt’s Sharad Sharma, and former Niti Aayog vice-chairman and Pahle India Foundation chairman Rajiv Kumar – have recently joined these calls in an open letter, stating that such bots “can have catastrophic consequences; it is imperative for all nations, including India, to find an answer to this existential question”. Is anyone listening?
Steve Jobs now linked to bitcoin founder mystery
The search for the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, continues, and the latest buzz in some tech groups is that it could be none other than Steve Jobs. This speculation emerged after technologist Andy Baio revealed that he found Nakamoto's white paper on Bitcoin, published in 2008, buried in his Mac computer. He says such a copy exists in every Mac that has been shipped out since 2018, and this has been corroborated by some other Mac users. Apple is yet to comment on this, and speculations continue on why and how this document was buried deep inside Mac computers. There is no firm evidence to link Jobs to the cryptocurrency, but Bitcoin fans say the fact that Nakamoto disappeared around December 2010 and the Apple founder died in 2011 is an indication. Go figure.
Something for everyone to chew on
There is a mammoth competition going on between two companies when it comes to meatballs. Australian lab-grown meat company Vow says they made a meatball with woolly mammoth protein in it. The researchers say they didn’t eat it as they were not sure how this 5,000-year-old protein would behave in their guts. But their experiment was devoured by global media. Now, a Belgian competitor called Paleo says their team did create a similar meatball and had a bite of it too. Its CEO and founder, Hermes Sanctorum, says it was meatier and tastier than the beef we get today. We have filed it away under the “things were better in old days” section.