Are you the type of entrepreneur who gulps coffee to power through the entire day, or do you prefer to take breaks, enjoy a snack, and relax with a soothing cup of chai tea?

If you’re the latter and you’re in the UAE, chances are you’ve already seen and visited this popular brand serving real, authentic tea inspired by tea cultures from all over the world. I’m talking about Project Chaiwala founded by Ahmed Kazim and Justin Joseph, whom I’m interviewing in the Elevated Entrepreneur Podcast this week. Their homegrown tea concept brings a nostalgic charm and traditional recipes to a modern setting and celebrates chai culture every day.

In this episode, you’ll get a closer look at how these two friends turned their love for chai into a successful business venture, how they got started, its impact on their consumers, suppliers, and the world, and where they’re taking this business in the future.

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Episode Highlights:

  • [02:41] Ahmed and Justin’s background in finance before starting a business together
    [04:20] Their entrepreneurial ventures during childhood until college
    [06:37] Why they decided to launch a business despite having successful careers at Deloitte
    [07:41] How they came up with the idea to start a chai business
    [09:39] Touring the streets of India and having endless cups of chai
    [11:22] Why they decided to venture into the business of chai
    [12:49] The gaps they noticed from other chai vendors and shops in India and abroad
    [14:24] Where Project Chaiwala got its name from
    [16:46] How Project Chaiwala started from a popup concept to the first flagship store in Cinema Akil
    [17:45] Challenges of starting and running a few popups
    [22:00] Who they hired first on their team
    [24:36] How they were able to become successful and expand despite having no formal background in the F&B industry
    [28:11] What they would have done differently if they were to go back in time
    [29:22] Their plans prior to COVID and how it enabled them to have more of an online presence
    [30:56] The decision-making process and the importance of being aligned from the very beginning
    [33:13] Why decisiveness and agility play a key role in being a successful business
    [35:43] What would happen to Project Chaiwala if they were not each other’s Cofounders
    [37:53] What the future looks like for Project Chaiwala
    [39:35] The role technology had to play in the business in the wake of the pandemic
    [43:11] What being an elevated entrepreneur means to Justin and Ahmed

     Which CRM software tool has a shorter implementation time?


07:08The key thing for us was we understood the product, because we liked it, but also, we understood the culture and we aligned on what we wanted to do with it.” – Justin Joseph


19:56 “It was always exciting, and it’s always challenging. If you wanna build a brand, that’s the price you pay, but it is excitement, it’s not like a negative challenge, it’s a very positive challenge, you do get stressed but its positive stress. I think its perspective, the way you look at it, this is a very healthy thing that we have, we don’t put ourselves down. – Ahmed Kazim


31:58 “Part of the entire chain and that’s what we set out to do, it’s very difficult to have a big impact if you just do it on short term goals. It’s always a long term that’s what we strive for.” – Ahmed Kazim


 42:10 “We always wanna get better with data – whether it’s pricing, offering, ambience, etc., and how do you satisfy that customer. The customer is always our priority, and on the other hand, what’s also a priority for us is our own people.” – Ahmed Kazim


You can reach us at or book a discovery call on our website at

Ahmed 0:01
Keeping the business as a priority, not our biases or anybody else’s bias that is key for us. How can we make projects child as successful as a business and builds value. So value is always associated with our brand. So it’s more around building that chain of network in that hybrid business that we can tap to scale and take abroad and change people’s lives. Right. I mean, even serving the tea, helping some people and sourcing from conscious suppliers in India helping women in rural areas.

Dhiren 0:37
Hey there elevated entrepreneurs. Welcome to a brand new episode of the Elevated Entrepreneur Podcast. Today, I’m talking to two amazing Co founders, Mr. And Justin, who co founded a brand called Project Chaiwala back in 2017, which, coincidentally, is when I also moved to Dubai. I’ve seen these two guys do amazing things with this brand. And I’m super excited that they’re coming on the show to share their story. Now before we get into the episode, let me tell you a little bit about Karak Chai. Karak Chai is this magical concoction of milk, strong black tea, and sugar. And this concoction can solve almost every problem you’ve got, whether it’s mental or physical Chai in our culture can make great things happen and just in an Emirate have taken the love of Chai, to a whole new level as extra loyd employees, both of them quit their full time jobs to get into this. And I’m so happy to see the success that they’ve achieved. Ahmed and Justin share all of the stories about how they got started. What made them get started in this business, and where they’re taking this business in the future. So grab your headphones. And if you’ve got some time, grab yourself a cup of karak chai and help me cue the music and let’s get the show on the road.

Ahmed 1:55
You’re listening to the Elevated Entrepreneur Podcast, a podcast designed to help retailers, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs simplify business operations and use modern technology to elevate their business. here’s your host, Dhiren Bhatia.

Dhiren 2:14
Justin, Ahmed very big welcome to the elevated entrepreneur podcast. It’s a pleasure having you both on here. pleasure being here.

Justin 2:21
Thank you for having us.

Ahmed 2:22
Thank you.

Dhiren 2:23
Fantastic. So Ahmed and Justin, we were just chatting before we started recording that the idea here is to get to know Project Chaiwala get to know why you guys started. And what makes you guys move on a day to day basis. I guess I have so many questions to get started. But let’s start with the basics. Ahmed used to work at Deloitte previous to this? So tell us your background? And what did you do before you started Project? Chaiwala?

Ahmed 2:47
Sure, sure. So I’m Emerati and based in the UAE, I studied Islamic Finance, did Deloitte for a couple of years between other than financial advisory, I did my CPA as well. So I went towards that corporate journey. And while I was there, I was always exploring more challenging opportunities on what to do next. That’s where myself and Justin work in the same service line. So we should chat a lot during our tie breaks, and it breaks around business opportunities and what life has for us next, and then they will walk you through our journey. But let Justin introduced himself as well.

Dhiren 3:23
Yeah, thank you. And Justin similar background as well?

Justin 3:26
Yeah, I mean, that’s where we met. That’s where it all started. I was at Deloitte for around eight years, between consulting and financial advisory. And again, we landed up in the same space in almost the desk apart. And that’s where these conversations started. I’ve grown up in Dubai. So I went abroad to study but every time I ended up coming back after my undergrad, then even after my master’s, I ended up going back to Dubai. And for me, it was like this is home base. So I want to do something that would have as grassroots over here. That’s kind of how the urge to do our own thing started.

Dhiren 4:01
Fantastic. And I know you studied in Purdue, and what you studied in Bahrain. Was there any sort of entrepreneurial discussions back then when you guys were studying? Or was it just after you guys met at Deloitte? The question for Ahmed, we’ll start with Ahmed first.

Ahmed 4:15
We didn’t know each other before, so we only met it Deloitte. But I actually had some entrepreneurial adventure is back in high school. So I guess that’s when it started, when we come from a family of merchants, etc, back in the days, so I guess they say it’s in your DNA to have that. So I always had that urge to kind of become an entrepreneur go towards that journey. So I guess it had to be done at some point.

Dhiren 4:39
And does your family still run a business while you do this? What’s that look like?

Ahmed 4:43
Not really, my grandfather, actually. That’s how it started because they used to train between Mumbai, UAE, Bahrain, Iran, etc. So before trading and as much as I was very common, so that’s how it started. However, my father, he went deep dive into To the consulting and financial advisory world, apart from what the family does, I did a bit of both, I guess. So I started as a financial advisor. Now I’m a chaiwala.

Dhiren 5:11
And you’re trading tea. That’s awesome. And, Justin, what about you? Did you have someone in your family that only did random business? Where did that sort of streak come from?

Justin 5:21
No, I think my family, not really business family, obviously, their relatives were in different businesses. But in terms of entrepreneurship, I mean, for me, I went to Purdue to study engineering. That was kind of what I was good at in school, like physics and things like that. So it made sense to go into engineering. When I was there, what I really started enjoying as part of engineering was the whole statistics, the probability, the math end of it. So I always wanted to do something in that there was also like a lot of process related stuff. So it wasn’t your hard engineering in terms of mechanical masters, I did feel like I lacked knowledge in that space, post undergrad. But every given point, I always knew like, I would want to use these skills for my own business or venture. So the corporate was always a starting point for me to get the necessary skills that would be needed. But that urge for entrepreneurship was there from like, very early stage, like I said, I had like hustles, and side gigs along the way, even in university, we’ve always been something Me and my friends, you know, I have something on the side. But it was always kind of in preparation for like a big thing.

Dhiren 6:35
So I’m curious, I’ll direct this question to Justin. So you guys have really good jobs at Deloitte. And this is before 2017. Obviously, you guys started project travel in 2017. So you guys must have met, obviously, prior to 2017. And who between the two of you just sort of had this idea to launch this business?

Justin 6:54
I think it was a joint effort. I mean, we were discussing at least to throw different ideas. It was not always right. We would throw different ideas, see what sticks. brainstorm, there were a lot of these discussions that we had countless number of discussions. But the key thing for us, I guess, resonated because we understood the product, because we liked it. But also the fact that we both understood the culture, and we aligned on what we wanted to do with it. And that’s where it was like, okay, there is something here. And then that’s what kicked off that initial journey to India, which amber alluded to, in the beginning, was we took a trip down to India. And that’s where a lot of these ideas can manifest during that time.

Dhiren 7:37
So I have one question, and I’ll direct this to him. And so am I, you know, I can picture you guys sitting in Deloitte sitting at your desks, and you have all these bright ideas being passed back and forth. What made you guys click with each other to say, let’s start a business? How did that come about?

Ahmed 7:54
For sure, it’s common interest that besides business, I mean, sports and whatnot. And we were, I guess, a bunch of the young guys as well. So we were just in one service sign, we clicked with others as well. But you know, we took it a step further, we always, like stepped in business ideas. And then I guess, when the opportunity came, and we were aligned on that. So it made sense for us to explore it further. Like, we took it one step at a time, which was very healthy. And then once we traveled to India, that’s when it really got serious to start forming a business. It was an excellent starting point, because the foundation was right. It wasn’t just excitement, we really took it seriously. And here we are today, and the plans are way bigger than what we started with. So hopefully this can actually come to reality.

Dhiren 8:37
Absolutely. just alluded to this youth had thrown a lot of ideas on the wall, what some of the other ideas look like, Justin, before you guys did Project Chaiwala, anything funny that you could share?

Justin 8:48
We can tell you we were implemented in the business. So

Dhiren 8:52
It’s trade secrets, no. But apart from chaiwalla. Were there any other business ventures you thought of?

Justin 8:59
Now that you mentioned, I don’t actually remember any. So clearly, they weren’t that great. But it was not just business ideas. It was like we had shared interest in like, five, or something. Or if I had seen like a video of some businessman or some entrepreneurs, some leaders we really admire, and we then share notes kind of over our discussions. So I think it was a mix of just having common interests having common values and vision. But yeah, I’m trying to think of some of the ideas. I don’t know which one but this one definitely stuck.

Dhiren 9:32
Clearly, and it’s become a huge success. So that’s great. Now, Ahmed, you can talk about this trip to India, how did this trip to India come about? maybe share some background there? Sure.

Ahmed 9:43
So after like aligning on the business model, high level and what the gap is, we had some connections in India and specifically in tea gardens. I know we hopped on a plane, we went to India, it was doing an eat as well. That’s I remember. So we toured the streets of India, you know, the street culture. And we send the tea gardens. And that is an experience in itself because the tea gardens in the evening is just us in a, it’s in the house, completely isolated from everybody else. And it’s a village or a town. So nothing close to Dubai, or its standards. It was a very thorough experience of comes to knowledge and how tea is actually plugged, manufactured, produces packs, etc, etc. And it’s the finest places it’s Darjeeling, you can’t get better than that. And from there, we moved from Darjeeling to Calcutta, we toured the streets for the different Chai vendors, and what are the experiences that we get from different Chai vendors. So we had endless cups of Chai. On top of that, we also traveled individually to different parts of India, like Mumbai, Delhi, etc. To understand the different states, in India, we put all of that together, and then we created by just taking a step back in time, right, because there’s nothing much to do, and it’s pretty dark, so you can’t walk outside. So a lot of the ideas and brainstorming actually happened there. And then this is only us. And there’s barely any TV working. So it’s just putting down the node. And next steps, how we can materialize this.

Dhiren 11:16
So I have a question. I’ll pointed to Justin, Justin, where did the idea for Chai come from? I know you guys said you took this amazing trip to India, which is phenomenal. And I will ask you some more questions. But why tea.

Justin 11:28
So again, we are all these conversations over tea. So it was a good starting point. But I remember I was traveling once and I think I was visiting family in India. And then I’d seen like some of these more upscale concepts that has started popping up in India. Obviously, Chai was a big part of the culture here even for my life from since I was a kid. And then I had spent some time in New York as well. And during my time there, I’d seen a lot of these specialty cafes in your gentrified areas like Brooklyn, have these Chai, Chai popping up as a specific product, and a lot of people going towards it. So just putting together like east and west, I saw that there was change happening in India itself, where you have your chaiwala is already and then you have a trend starting in the US where people are going towards Chai, even if they call a chai tea or chai tea latte, it’s picking up. So it made sense in terms of an opportunity in terms of what we saw as a gap in the market here. There are different Chai brands over here. But there was something missing. And that’s what we kind of figured out during the trip in India, like what could we set ourselves apart with?

Dhiren 12:45
Thank you. And that’s a really interesting point that I want to maybe pointed to in terms of this gap that you guys saw, because I know over the last few years, there’s many different Chai concepts that have launched in the UAE, what was that that you saw was missing when it came to tea.

Ahmed 13:02
I mean, that’s a very interesting one, because that’s our entire proposition, right. And we want an upscale tea concept that is not a cafeteria and is accessible to a certain category of people that would shy away from these cafeterias, especially women. So a big demographic of our customers is actually a woman because they can sit very comfortably in a cafe spot like ours, and putting in under one brand and really focusing on the chaiwalla themselves rather than just the brand. So it’s very experience oriented. supposed to put a smile on your face from the experience, you get and drink the best product of China you can get. That’s what we set out to do. We noticed there’s not much people focusing on it. They do cafeterias and they do upscale is

Dhiren 13:48
they were upscale. And then they were Chai concept, nothing in the middle, right?

Ahmed 13:52
Yeah, exactly. Under a solidified brand. And what we want you to do is like urbanize, that childhood experience that you get from South Asia and bring it to a city like Dubai, which has almost 100 nationalities, because that can be an excellent case study for us to see if it works in device in a work anywhere in the West. So our goal is to give you we are from Dubai, this is home for us. So we want to take this and take it abroad rather than get concept from abroad and bring it to Dubai.

Dhiren 14:20
Absolutely. Now I want to jump into a little bit about the name. Where did you guys get this name idea from Justin.

Justin 14:27
So I mean, chaiwala for people who don’t know is the person who sells the other side of the street. It’s like your Brewster, we wanted to make the chaiwala the center of the whole experience. When we were in India when we were going from chaiwala chaiwala. We noticed that the one thing that SAP experience apart from having a DJI a couple of challenges out of the street, and what you would have in a cafe was that you have that person you interact with who’s more than just someone who just gives you a cup of Chai, the whole experience and the drama and the theatrical of the Chai being Mandarin front of you, really adds to the experience. So we wanted to bring that in and capture that. So all our stores, they have the center focus is always the chaiwala, or the drywalling. So we said, okay, chaiwala is a great name to have, but then we want to modernize it, have it something that we can take to Europe or Berlin and place it there and people would be drawn to it. So I think it’s taking also from the fact that we were in consulting and everything that we ever did had a project in front of it. All engagements always have a project this project that so we kind of just went with it. But I do remember, we had a lot of deliberation over this one, we had a bunch of names that we went back and forth on and you know, obviously as people’s opinion, but that didn’t help much, because everyone has their own kind of way to go with names. Eventually, we settled on Project Chaiwala. And I’m glad we did because everything formed around the name eventually. And it helped us anchor and stay put on what our differentiator was. I love

Dhiren 16:00
it. And I want to ask you, so you guys started in 2017. I remember seeing you guys all over Dubai, in all of these pop up concepts. Is that how you started off? Or was it maybe a different look and feel to project a lot before I saw you guys in 2017.

Justin 16:14
So when we first started was just about myself. And we had managed to recruit two travelers. But we had some basic branding done through Freelancer and we had a container that was part of the food festival that was given. And up until the early hours of the morning before the event started. We were still putting stuff around the container to make it really unique. But it has evolved a lot. Even our logo has evolved a lot since day zero.

Dhiren 16:43
I got a question for me. So you guys started with these proper concepts. When did it actually morph into an actual store?

Ahmed 16:50
September 2018. That’s when we opened our first flagship in cinema to which is in alserkal Avenue. And it’s the first arthouse cinema in the GCC. So we tested the concept for almost a year in a house trying to tackle that perception and then cinema Keo, you know we’re familiar with the owner, and they were looking for a space that was in the same time. So we just put our hands together and work to make it happen. And we thankfully did it because it is a very unique spot over here because it really takes you back in the days, whoever is from Dubai, will understand this because they should sell China’s most on these cinemas back in the days, I was actually nice to retrieve some of the seats from the old gold cinema. And it’s the same seats that have been there for 3040 years ago. So it’s a pretty nostalgic, and I guess cool experience right now.

Dhiren 17:40
So I want to ask Justin, before you guys started with cinema cam, you said you guys were on running a few pop ups. What was that like? So you’ve got this beautiful idea. You’ve got a startup running, you’ve got a couple travelers and travel is on board? Was it easy running? Like? Was it just open a pop up and go to town? Or was there a challenge that you remember in your early years?

Justin 18:00
There are many challenges. Yeah, because we aren’t from an SMB background, we don’t have direct experience in operations. So every day was a new challenge. But that was the whole idea of the pop ups was to really test out the concept to see what people like to test out the products, see what they don’t like maybe, and then learn about how to gauge them as well, and all our pop ups. And then I will present talking to customers really getting feedback, because the whole idea for us was to take an iterative approach, as opposed to just thinking that this is the way forward and opening a massive flagship store hoping people walk in, we try to cater it and really tailor it and tweak it along the way. because not everything we did would be correct. But we kept fixing it whenever we got good feedback. I mean, there are tons of challenges in the first pop up. I think in day three or day four, we just ran out of all our D comes from India. And we ran out and we didn’t know how we’d have tea for the next couple of days. And we kind of made it happen. We like got really think expedited ship on a plane from Kolkata. We did SOS calls, like to find out who’s coming in from India and got the ship to them. And they got it was it was really impressed me that people were having. And that’s a big component of our concept.

Ahmed 19:18
Yeah, one of the uncles right, yeah, he got some packs of tea and in his suitcase.

Dhiren 19:24
That’s amazing. I could just imagine your uncle walking with two bags and say, here’s a tea here, you got to smuggle some tea and for you. I got a question for Ahmed. And I’m asking this question, because startups are incredibly hard. I’ve run multiple startups. And I know the first few years, the foundational years are hard. And there are times in moments when we all think, I don’t know why I’m doing this right. Was there a moment sort of bought this into question to say, this is not really worth or should I actually really continue? Why am I doing this?

Ahmed 19:52
Not really. I never thought that, oh, why am I doing this? It’s not for me? No, I think it was always exciting and it’s always challenging. That’s what it is. Do you want to build a brand, that’s the price you pay for it is excitement. It’s not like a negative challenge. I think it’s a very positive challenge. You do get stressed, but it is positive stress, I think it’s perspective, the way you look at it as well, this is a very healthy thing that we have is that we don’t put ourselves down. And if I’m down, like somehow, they’ll push me up and vice versa, because that’s the importance of having a co founder, because it does really help especially in tough times. You need someone it to kind of discuss ideas with or how to get out of it. Because times do get challenging. And this is more up to date, four years down the line, it does get challenging, and you’re trying to navigate through a tough time, especially if you ask anybody I’m sure you’re going to ask that later on. But COVID You know, there was huge learning points for us. And I really have somebody to talk to, because it is challenging doing it yourself. 100%.

Dhiren 20:52
I absolutely agree. And I know COVID obviously a game changer in many ways for many businesses. But like you were saying it does get stressful and having a co founder to help you bounce back, discuss ideas, brainstorm makes a huge difference. And I want to ask you, you mentioned you also hired some Java was in Java, what did that look like? Did you know who you were looking for right in the beginning.

Ahmed 21:16
I mean, they’re still here, thankfully. So we had a big hiccup, actually. So the ones we actually recruited, couldn’t make it to the eat. So we actually put them directly in India, a few weeks before the actual event. That’s our first event that basically the child has built. So we had to improvise and find childcare. So we managed to find two child hoarders, and one of them is actually our head chaiwala. As of today, he’s the famous guy. But he is our head chaiwala. He’s actually also progressed,

Dhiren 21:46
apart from the child has Was there anybody else that you guys hired back then?

Ahmed 21:50
Back then just freelancing marketing executives, but nobody called time, the full time roses happened later on.

Dhiren 21:56
So let’s go to that point of time. So I want to ask Justin, so you open now your first door in Project Akil, you’ve got a few chaiwala, you’ve tested the concept, the concept is running. What happened from there on who was the next person that came on the team.

Justin 22:09
We stuck with freelancers for some time, we worked with a small agency, but that was around the time of the second store for the first store, it was gonna all in house, between Amazon myself, we kind of manage that, which went from me controlling like operations with the staff wonder him, and then meet Ron, do whatever I could with marketing, managing social, and you know, the other events that we were doing, because events was a big part, even after we started the first store. And it was really important for us to keep doing them to get the word out. So all in all, I think it was just us too, for up until the very recent few months. Wow.

Dhiren 22:48
And so in that particular time, were you guys still at Deloitte would you had already exited Deloitte and you guys were doing this full time.

Justin 22:55
So I was still around for I don’t know when exactly which they. But Ahmed’s was the first one. But Ahmed was the first one to leave and go full time. And I think I stuck around for like urine change until I transitioned as well. But initially, when we were doing the pop ups, we were still in the loi. You know, that was good, because you can do both things. And we can manage both things at the same time. But when it got to a point where we couldn’t like Ahmed took the call, like go for that.

Dhiren 23:25
Was that tough for you, Justin to manage both Deloitte and project Shyvana Hightower, your hours split between the two?

Justin 23:32
For sure. I mean, this is a common complaint I get from my wife as well, because I had to basically double down on my time, weekends were non existent, and have been for a while, but working there. And then right after work, kind of working on planning for events or planning and doing anything that’s required for work. We just have to use our time efficiently. But you have 24 hours in a day. So we try to use whatever we could, there were some instances where we had to throw events and kind of split our time by going right off to work to the event and spending his events but then late at night, and then showing up to work again. But yeah, it’s fine. If you have the energy, just about doing it.

Dhiren 24:12
Yeah, and if it’s your baby, if it’s your concept, and of course you’re gonna have to find the energy you find the energy that comes from within you somehow.

Justin 24:19
Yeah, absolutely. And also, like you said, like, if you have a clear vision, then you have more motivation to put in the extra time because you know, one of them is temporary.

Dhiren 24:27
Absolutely. I have a question for Ahmed. So,Ahmed, you’ve got your first store running, it’s 2018. When did the idea for the second store come about?

Ahmed 24:37
expansion was always the plan. So we didn’t just create a concept because again, we’re not experienced or we’re not, we’re not even chefs. But it was always a back of our heads to expand the brand and to have presence within the UAE as fast as we could and take it further from there. So our plan was to expand, thinking one step at a time but expand as much as we could wherever our brand says.

Dhiren 25:01
And I wanted to ask you, Ahmed, both Justin and you don’t come from an f&b background, you’ve mentioned that as well. That was something that you guys had to overcome. How did you guys overcome that challenge? and not having any experience in f&b and then launching such a successful brand?

Ahmed 25:15
I wish I had the answer to it. But I mean, I guess our foundation our discipline is right. So we get the basics, right. That’s how we match to be where we are today. So wherever we notice there’s the gap, which set it in by either a role or consultant or freelancer, etc. And whatever we could do in house, we do that we’re very system oriented. So that really helps. Because we just didn’t jump into it blindfolded, we actually planned where everything was planned, nothing was random, this area opening stories, don’t just say, oh, let’s just open this store in cinema. It’s a criteria based system, we try to remove all biases from these things, because obviously, we’re human, everybody has bias, and everybody has an opinion. But we’re trying to be as objective as we could. As long as the values and the foundations are right, you can get far ahead with this

Dhiren 26:02
100%. And anything can be learned, right? Nothing is rocket science. If you put your mind to something, you can always pick it up. I have a question for Justin. So when was the second store and where did it open?

Justin 26:12
So our second store was in 2018. It was in Dubai Media City. And that was towards the end of 2018. So that one was again, it was a result of going through that criteria that I mentioned to see like which location would suit us best for our first standalone, full time permanent store. That’s why the why Media City a path checked all the boxes. Also, we were working on a limited budget because up until then we were bootstrapping. So obviously there were a lot of variables but we selected the by Media City. And with cinema, Kiehl’s being our first store, I was still being associated with the cinema, as opposed to this project. So we did need to like branch out create our own thing, and have our own presence and location that. But it was fairly simple for us in terms of why there because it’s the right target market that we wanted to capture. You know, it has the right mix of nationalities, from your media agencies to your corporate system, head offices like MasterCard and the banks. It has its captive audience around them. Also, in terms of coverage for delivery, which would later on become a very important part of our business, especially in the last year or a year and a half. It made sense to be in that location. And the right part of that gave us enough coverage.

Dhiren 27:41
And this the right hindsight is always 2020. And there’s always a good reason. When you look back at it in time you say that was a good decision for a good reason. Absolutely. Someone asked me the question about, obviously, you’ve grown to six locations. And it’s always fun to add new location. Where is the sixth location? By the way,

Ahmed 27:58
Chili’s by project travel, it’s the one time out market.

Dhiren 28:01
That’s right. That’s the one. I guess the question is, if there was one thing that you could go back in time and do it again, what would that be?

Ahmed 28:12
You know, nothing pops into my head back straightaway, frankly speaking, I guess COVID help accelerate our e commerce plans. And I was always there. Maybe if I would think of it, I would do that earlier, if any. Because it was always in the plans. I mean, the COVID obviously accelerated that. Because we are a hybrid model. We’re not only brick and mortar, we’re very tech savvy when it comes to the brand. And we want to be that so he had a mix of offline online and diversifying revenue streams. That happened earlier, it’s way better for everything when it comes to the brand. Awesome. And Justin, anything on your mind,

Justin 28:48
I was gonna say the exact same thing. I think, in hindsight, I would probably have expedited what we’re launching very soon, was getting into the digital space, launching our own kind of line of the CPG products, the consumer packaged goods would eventually have kind of elevated the brand as a whole. And like you guys said COVID, expedited all of this plans prior to COVID. This is for you, Justin, what was the strategy like was it to expand physically or double down and get into online? So prior to COVID, it was definitely a more brick and mortar and offline strategy is, you know, expand stores, expand our retail footprint, really double down on the success we were seeing. Clearly there is enough demand, and we just need to pick strategically where we wanted to be. And like you said, we had the plans of going digital focusing a lot on our infrastructure, digitally that would enable us to scale but also going online. And I think COVID didn’t expedite it. It just made us get off our butts and do it quicker. I mean many businesses, I don’t think have tried Like you hear about digital transformation a lot, but it’s just the buzzword right now. We always had it in our plans, or we should have probably started earlier anyways. But COVID gave us more time to like put things in perspective in what is important and how much value it will actually add.

Dhiren 30:17
This episode of the elevated entrepreneur podcast is brought to you by the cloudscape care package. This care package is designed specifically for retail and restaurant business owners. If you’ve got a retail or restaurant business or considering open one, and talk to us@cloudscape.ey, or drop us a line at Hello at cloudscape dot A, and we’ll show you how the care package and all of its features, including training, implementation, and support can help you set up for success. Yeah, on that topic, I have a question for me, because what you’re talking about is basically looking at what you’ve got, and then making a decision and following one strategy. So I want to ask, how do you guys choose? What do you guys go after? Like, how do you prioritize? Is there a method to the madness?

Ahmed 31:05
As long as you have a very level headed co founder, I think keeping the business as a priority, not our vices or anybody else’s biases, that is key for us thinking, you know what, I’m a thing. So it by adjusting things, it’s more about how can we make Project chaiwala successful as a business and build value? So value is always associated with our brand? How do we build value and whether it’s for people or for us as well? Right. So that was from day one, our top priority, ie, I’ll give you an example. We never thought like we’re going to make some money by selling to three stores and just cash out. So it’s more around building that chain of network in that hybrid business, that we can actually scale and take abroad and change people’s lives. Right. I mean, even serving them t outing some people and sourcing from conscious suppliers in India helping women in rural areas, that is part of the entire chain. And that’s what we set out to do. And it’s very difficult to have a big impact. If you just do it on short term goals. It’s always long term. That’s what we strive for. and reiterate, again, it’s very important to have an objective level headed person on the other side of the table, whether it’s multiple co founders or not, but emotions can really drag your business down. And you know, we actually close for two months straight and COVID. Two months, nothing, no income, so and marches actually was discounted. So you can say three months as well. We went through tough times and challenging times. But then again, you know, when the business is our top priority, you navigate through that and you strategize according to that. So another example is when it got challenging, and in store footfall was we our priority was to make the business successful, right. So we focus on delivery, instead of any of us having his vices on insisting on in store footfall. So it’s just putting yourself in that situation, what can you do, and being agile, that’s extremely key, according to the circumstances, might not always end up the way you want them to be. But you need to be agile enough to prioritize your business. That is extremely key, in my opinion.

Dhiren 33:10
Absolutely agreed. I think you said really good things in there. One was decisiveness. And second was agility to so make a decision and make it quick. And I think that’s something that every entrepreneur learns at some point in time, because you’re never going to be able to predict the future, you have to have the ability to take a decision and stick with it right or wrong, just in anything that you want to add to that point that Ahmedjust made?

Justin 33:31
No, I think you mentioned everything, the key point definitely is having some kind of a system in place. So we obviously over the last few years have developed a good understanding of each other and how we come to a decision, there is science behind the decision. So it is using some kind of principles that guide how we will approach any problem. And that’s just the human nature, right, you usually tend to like push for things that you care about. But at the end of the day, it’s about setting that aside and keep recalibrating yourself. So I think it’s very key that you have to have a system in place to guide your decision making. But also, we have been very open minded and listening to advice from people who have done this before. We don’t have like a roster of mentors, but we do have certain people who we would reach out to when we need some guidance, but it’s also having the maturity and the confidence to know when someone’s opinion is coming into play. Because even mentors have things that they are saying from their perspective, and it’s about sifting through the information. You need to be open minded, you need to hear everyone’s point of view because between both of us we still might miss something which others might have experienced through their business life before. So we do try to always reach out and look out for people who could add value. We’ve been lucky enough that a lot of people we engage with more senior more accomplished businessman people who are now helping There are startups like us, who guide us along the way. But again, at the end of the day, the decisions are the bank. It’s how we use that information,

Dhiren 35:08
or 100%. And you said something so interesting mentors and having someone other than the two of you to depend on and get world experience is so important. as entrepreneurs, I think we should all consider what kind of sources we have to help elevate us as entrepreneurs, and also then help us elevate our own businesses, because like you said, real world experience is so much more important than getting that from someone can really help you make a decision, maybe that you’re struggling with having someone other than the two of you, I think, is a very important,

Justin 35:36
it’s almost like a support group, right? Absolutely.

Dhiren 35:40
I would ask me, and I’ll ask both of you this question. Did you think Project chaiwala may not have happened and Justin wasn’t your co founder?

Ahmed 35:48
He probably did something different but not shy? I can tell by probably not because I mean, that’s how it takes two to tango. I hate.

Dhiren 35:57
And Justin, what did you think? Did you think you’d get into project if it wasn’t in the picture?

Justin 36:02
I mean, absolutely not. chaiwala is a direct result of both of us coming together and having an idea when we sat down, and we want to like, what the potential value of this business could be how much what the size could be, because we didn’t get into it, like Ahmed said, to just open two or three outlets and like, call it a day. It was to build something, build a brand. And that’s what got us excited. But yeah, I don’t see how it would have happened if it was just me.

Dhiren 36:31
And it’s amazing to see two co founders on such similar wavelength, because it’s not often times you see that happen. I want to ask Ahmed, the question about team members. So you mentioned you guys were using freelancers for the longest time, who was the next full time employee that joined the project chaiwala team apart from us he was

Ahmed 36:48
it has to do with marketing. And because we are building as a brand, we have very great ideas when it comes to what we want to do. But we needed like a subject matter expert, if you may. So it had to be a marketing head. So we hired someone that can lead that. And second, it was head of digital as well. So as we said, digital was always something we planned for. So we had to hire both those candidates. And obviously, when it comes to operations, I think it goes without saying that we have a full time operations team running our stores and in operations, area managers and regional managers, but marketing and digital were our first hires going forward, it seems like would be how’s it gonna be like within our head office? Or the admin can be outsourced one way or another just to save on a p&l?

Dhiren 37:32
Absolutely. I think over again, a lot of business owners figure that out as well, right? If there’s nothing that you don’t need to keep in the business, outsource it freelancer, there’s so many other ways these days, you can get that work done. I have a question for Justin. So, Justin, you’ve got six doors, the latest one being in timeout, what is the future look like?

Justin 37:52
So I mean, the future is very bright, obviously the world is going through challenges COVID. But we’re tending to think like not in the next few months, but like, what’s our next five years then look like? What’s the next 10 years look like? We’re not necessarily perfect, but we did we strategize as we mentioned during COVID, to start focusing a lot on that piece of business that surpasses borders and helps us scale digitally. So we will continue to expand our retail outlets, but they will be core to building the brand. So they will be strategic locations that help us build awareness, get customer engagement at the store, help them like understand what kind of brand we are once then the so called funnel, then you know we can start extending the product line whether it be packets, these valid bts when they’re sitting at home to order through delivery, and building that brand experience, we always consider ourselves. And this was clear that we wanted to create a very lifestyle centric brand. The key opportunity for us is that t is always been either your low cost item, which you get for a couple of bucks, or it’s your super premium. But there was nothing that really there for the millennials coffee has done that. And we believe that’s where we are coming in. And that’s the space we’re going to take over is really a youth focused brand that makes the call again. So whether it be through stores, whether it be through events, whether it be through our ecommerce store, that’s our future.

Dhiren 39:23
I love it. And you’ve mentioned this before as well, both of you that you guys are obviously very system driven. You’re very process driven. You guys are young and you’ve worked in Deloitte, I would ask Ahmed, Ahmed what role has technology played in the business before COVID during COVID and after COVID.

Ahmed 39:40
As part of it as of where we stand today, you know, we’re using a lot of tools that probably would not be accessible to I guess your any traditional SMB, or anybody in today’s world, right? So we’re trying to think two steps ahead when it comes to these things, medication use slack project management, we use Asana, so everything is there and everything is cleared out. As Judy has assigned people on it, you can cross collaborate to different functions. Even our POS system we have a data engineer that we’ve freelanced with, and he helps us find hacks that actually streamline our inventory ordering process with internal and external parties for a fraction of the price. So it really helps us sway away to new traditional fnb operating systems and operations and have a step ahead of everybody else in the region to start with. And then hopefully, again, abroad, a few successful brands have done it abroad. And eventually, they have their own abs, data collection, etc. We have our own loyalty program as well. There’s an E card, and you can order Chai and a few menu items from there. We’re very digital focused on what comes to that to build a strong infrastructure to really help us once we scale. We’re actually launching our e commerce today.

Dhiren 40:55
Nice regulations.

Ahmed 40:57
Thank you. So that is supposed to really enable us for the next steps.

Dhiren 41:03
I just want to make sure that we get this on tape, we’re recording on the fifth of may 2021. And we’re expected to see the Project Chaiwala website and e commerce packaging lower life today. So

Justin 41:14
it was supposed to go live at 4pm. So it might be just about now.

Dhiren 41:19
While we’re talking through it. This is amazing. Well, listen, guys, I hope this is going to be an amazing success. Now I want to ask you guys a question that I think a lot of f&b business owners, even retail business owners struggle with, right? You said you’re getting into stores, you’re getting online, you’re doing CPG, you’re doing delivery, I want to I want to maybe talk us through and talk about how are you collecting your customer information across all of these channels. It’s not easy, I bet.

Ahmed 41:45
That inside so that’s why what we realized is that we’re not subject matter experts when it comes to these things. So you know, we have a broad idea what we want to do and how we want to capture data. But we needed somebody in house that can really do that, that hence we hire the right team to do that. The idea is that every touchpoint, you’re collecting customer data, obviously, it’s extremely private and exclusive to us to help enhance their experience rather than just get their own data and target them. But we always want to get better with data, whether it’s pricing, whether it’s offering, whether it’s on Beyonds it, cetera, et cetera, and how do we satisfy the customer, they know the customer is always our priority. And on the other hand, what’s also priority for us is our own people. So we’ve utilized some of the tools that we have today to hear them out, instead of having a one off feedback session, right? We have it on a regular basis, and they just fill in the form. And everybody in the team gets it and it gets notified of their concerns or suggestions. So it’s very important that our employees are heard. And we have a system in place that enables that. It’s kind of capturing data from customers and from our employees to really get better by the day.

Dhiren 42:51
I love what you said, it’s not just about customer data, it’s also about employee data and hearing them because they’re the front liners can give you so much more insight that you may not be getting, because you’re not probably at the frontline as much as there. So that’s very true. I’m keeping an eye on the time. And I know we said we’d keep this short and quick. But I want to ask you guys a few final questions. I’ll ask Justin to tell me, Justin, because you’re on the elevated entrepreneur podcast for you. What does it mean to be an elevated entrepreneur?

Justin 43:20
For me, for sure, is definitely having that kind of student mindset to continuously be learning and being able to adapt as you go along. Entrepreneurship, like you said, is figuring things out. There’s a lot of ages that people say it’s like entrepreneurs jump off a cliff and then figure out how to fly and things like that. But the reality is that unless you’re building a SpaceX and a rocket that lands back, and most things can be figured out, and we have all the resources to do it. It’s about purely having perseverance. It’s about being determined, and having a clear vision. And then the ability to learn and adapt and never gonna be efficient. agility is definitely key.

Dhiren 44:00
I love it. I want to point the mic to MLM and what is your thoughts? What is elevated entrepreneur mean to you? And how does one become an elevated entrepreneur?

Ahmed 44:12
That’s the thing being objective, and agile is extremely key. And that’s where we align I think was extremely important for us up to date, learning along the way, and not being fixated in our own thoughts. We tried to learn from not only our reach, but even beyond that. The excellent example would be Ray Dalio has the principles book. And he has a lot of examples that we’ve used and tried to implement wherever possible in our business to really become better to one step at a time. And it’s small iterations, you make mistakes, and that’s fine. That winner learned mentality and that’s extremely key for us.

Dhiren 44:46
And you almost prompted me for my next question, a book that you recommend one book that every entrepreneur should read on their journey.

Ahmed 44:55
I mean, principles I have read

Dhiren 44:56
or a podcast, they should listen to

Ahmed 44:59
me goes without saying, right? elevated

Dhiren 45:02
dad ever did entrepreneur. Thank you.

Ahmed 45:04
Yeah, I always listen to the pitch. So it’s very similar to Shark Tank but more real time. So less entertainment more challenging a VC investors. So I always didn’t when I walk really helps grab a thing or two. And that’s what you need as an entrepreneur, you don’t need to pick up everything they say. But it’s one other thing or two that can help you in terms of books, obviously, principles is like our own Bible. And actually, Justin is using it here in the office as his monitor, thinking Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill was excellent.

Dhiren 45:35
A great, that’s one of my favorite books, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Justin, what are your thoughts? What’s a book and podcast that you’d recommend? Apart from the elevated entrepreneur podcast,

Justin 45:45
we are very similar libraries, because we keep sharing recommendations in terms of the pitch of the same recommendation. But there’s also how it started. And Amazon introduced me to that is about startups, again, conversations with entrepreneurs with really big startups became famous. And then there’s another one called the impact podcast, which is by Tom bilyeu, who also brings people from different walks of life. And it’s more focused on mindset, and not always business. But it has very good insights in terms of things to learn from, in terms of a book. I mean, other than the two that he mentioned, this had a pretty big impact in my perspective of the world was sapiens, it just opens up your mind to just a view of the world differently, and give you a more objective view of the world. I would highly recommend that.

Dhiren 46:33
Yeah, it’s a phenomenal book. It’s just an amazing book about how we progressed as a creed as humanity has moved on. I love that book. So thank you for sharing. That’s a good one too.

Dhiren 46:42
Last question for both of you. What firstly with you, apart from finding you sitting at projects, where else can people connect with you?

Ahmed 46:51
LinkedIn, definitely. And obviously, my email address, which is HDI project, Got it.

Dhiren 46:59
And Justin, where can people find you?

Justin 47:00
Yeah, the same LinkedIn, obviously, email, and then I’m on Instagram, but not as active as other people. But you can put out a message for sure. handles just pre buy. And that’s much our alias.

Dhiren 47:14
Fantastic. Guys, before we go, anything you guys want to comment or say, before we wrap up, Imma let you go first.

Ahmed 47:21
Just like a pleasure. Like, I’m glad you found that. So one way or another. But we’re on this journey. And hopefully this turns out to be a successful one. With the years to come and dado. I had these guests on my podcast a few years back. And it’s a pleasure being here with you.

Dhiren 47:35
Thank you, I don’t find that you guys are already very successful. So it’s an honor to have you guys both. Thank you. Justin, what about you anything that you’d like to add? Before we wrap up?

Justin 47:44
Thank you so much for having us. And this is one people who have good child and wheelchair and wheelchairs, Project chaiwala. So hopefully you and everyone who listens to you comes with us.

Dhiren 47:55
Absolutely. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It’s been an honor.

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