Prasoon Gupta is a dynamic young individual from IIT-Roorkee who followed the lesser traversed path of entrepreneurship right from the beginning. He is a man who has worn many hats, starting with publishing a paper on entrepreneurial traits in students of IIT-R, which he presented in London. A workshop he attended hosted by an IIM-Ahmedabad professor turned his life around and he knew he was meant to be an entrepreneur.
He started a tech company called TechBuddy which he describes as ‘Coursera for India’. After a lucrative exit from the company, he turned to the food industry and Sattviko was born. He also headed a venture called Meravote.in, which was awarded the most innovative non-profit business idea. He was voted as 40 under 40 by Business World and featured in The Economic Times as a Pioneer of Tomorrow.
Dabbling in so many different spheres, what is certain is that Prasoon has a flair for all things entrepreneurial. His insights are sharp and it is clear that he has learnt and imbued a lot through his journey.
In the last semester of college, Prasoon and his three friends who were equally bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, took the courageous decision of not applying for any jobs. They were certain that they wanted to be businessmen and they did not want the ambiguity that came with the possibility of jobs.
“We had no idea of the opportunity cost. We were just students.”
As students, Prasoon and his friends knew what was wrong in the education system and they had an idea to make it better. TechBuddy was born with the idea of creating a learning experience on the internet. It was India’s first online education platform. It was meant to prepare engineering and business students for what awaited them once they graduated. They roped in experts and seasoned professionals from all across the world to create content for the purpose.
Although Prasoon exited the company after a strategic buyout in 2012, he describes it as an exciting journey – one that taught him a lot.
The first learning he had was that even though market opportunity may have existed, they were probably early in the market. “This was in 2009-10 when we didn’t have 4G and the internet on mobiles was really bad. It was really difficult to reach out to that entire market. What we realized was that ecosystems also have to exist or develop simultaneously.”
Prasoon’s second learning was on the importance of the team. Having been 4 co-founders in TechBuddy, not everyone wanted to try their hand at a new venture. That posed as a challenge but one of the founders took an interest and joined hands with Prasoon for their next venture. He thinks that the team is what is most important in a startup.
“You start with the team, not an idea.”
Thirdly, he stresses the importance of building networks. Many of the investors at Sattviko had seen and invested in TechBuddy and placed trust in Prasoon and his co-founder.
Going from education and technology to food
“When I start something, I look at the purpose.”
Prasoon started TechBuddy because he felt something lacking in the education system in India, something he had observed closely in his 4 years at IIT. Similarly, while starting Sattviko, he observed a leaning towards all things Indian and decided to adopt that.
“The product we are selling is food, but the idea is something much bigger.”
Prasoon astutely states that Indians like consuming things that they can emotionally relate to. He cites the examples of Good Earth, Fab India, Bira etc which have a strong Indian influence. These brands have all branded themselves around Indian-ness and are modernizing it for consumers. Prasoon saw an opportunity in the segment and after his first learning on existing ecosystems, he wanted it to be something ‘touch and feel’. The intention was to use technology as the spine to make it more efficient and scalable.
“We chose food because I love cooking.”
On the people behind Sattviko
Going from managing teams of technicians, Prasoon also deals with nutritionists and food specialists now. “In the business of food, food assumes paramount importance. So we do have many people who look into the taste and wholesomeness.”
However, that is only one part as his company continues to have a strong focus on technology. Sattviko uses a lot of data to keep up to date with customer preferences and behaviours. “Because of this we have been able to bring about innovation in products faster than any other brand in the market. At the back end, this team of nutritionists and food scientists cater to this demand.”
On Sattviko 1.0
It is a little-known fact that Sattviko started out as a dine-in restaurant and was awarded India’s best debutante restaurant. The idea of modernizing the traditional food of India started with the concept of fresh food. They had expanded to about 10 restaurants across 3 cities at one point of time. Although business per outlet grew, Prasoon realized that real estate comes with challenges of its own. For instance, one was geographically limited to catering only to some customers. There was also the added cost of real estate that did not necessarily provide great returns on investment.
They started introducing packaged food as an addition into the restaurants. However, they pivoted into that market completely soon enough and Sattviko as we know it today, was born.