Meet the SHEROES - Lisa Srao
Lisa Srao, the woman behind I Brands Beverages Ltd. tells us her story today. Her liquor start-up business has grown exponentially since its inception. What inspired Lisa to set up a venture in the liquor industry in India and how did she go about it? Let’s read on to get to know more.
Tell us a little about yourself and your venture.
I was born and raised in UK and lived in Richmond, London. I met my husband and moved to India following my marriage in 2003 and started a family here. I took some time off and was raising my two lovely children, Isabella and Marcus. It was when I could find some free time away from them that I decided to set up a business of my own.
When I first moved to India, I noticed that products in the price sensitive bracket, at that point of time, were of very low quality standard and good quality products were extremely expensive. In the liquor industry, I found a very specific gap in the market. The premium liquor segment in India’s mass market was completely under-utilized. This is when I envisioned building a liquor business in this country that provided the market with value for money products. I wanted to start a company that propagates a culture, which is steeped in delivering higher than customer expectations with a great focus on the people involved in achieving it.
I Brands Beverages Ltd. started operations in August 2010. My job as the Chairman and Managing Director is to steer the company towards sustainability. We have seen a sharp growth curve in an industry where new entrants are known for shutting shop within six months of operation. It is my mission to far exceed the expectations of the end consumer. I want to make products of international standard quality in terms of blend, design, and look and feel and make it affordable to our consumers. It is what sets us apart.
I can recall when I was growing up my family always treated me as the son of the family as we were only two daughters. I would be given responsibility for getting things done; be it household errands or important documentation or achieving in my career. It shaped the way I am. Owing to strengthened leadership and management fundamentals, I am a motivational leader today and bring out the best in my team.
As a kid I wanted to become a marine biologist, and was obsessed with sharks. But since I wasn’t inclined towards Biology as a subject, I chose a different path and moved into the media industry, working with the top media companies in U.K including Viacom, Vivendi Universal, News Corporation etc.
I have a B. Sc. (Hons.) degree in Managerial & Administrative Studies from the prestigious Aston University in Birmingham, with specialization in International Marketing and Consumer Behaviour.
I always had a knack for creating new things… and so I grew into a fantasy artist. I love to develop things and painting to me is always a form of meditation.
How did the inspiration to start I Brand Beverages come about?
I have long been inspired by this industry being exposed to Double Dutch, a beer brand that my father launched in the UK, 15 years ago. However, as a creative person, I was also drawn to the media industry, because of the creativity it involved, and that is why I chose as a career.
As I told you before, when I moved to India, I felt the distinct lack of International quality products both in terms of accessibility and variety. Even to get a packet of biscuits was a chore for me, as they were either soggy or lacked variety. After the birth of my son Marcus in 2008, I dreamt of a ship bringing in products from abroad to Indian shores. During this time, I also noticed the scope in India’s billion dollar liquor industry and the under-utilized mass market premium segment. With the thought of bridging this gap with international quality products catering to the value segment flanked by my entrepreneurial spirit, I launched I Brands Beverages.
After extensive R & D over 2 years, we commenced India operations in August 2010 with the launch of Granton Whisky, our flagship product. Today I Brands Beverages is an award winning company and one of the fastest growing liquor startup companies in India. We have 4 fantastic products in our portfolio - a premium whisky brand - Three Royals (MRP: INR 350 – 735 for 750 ml), a deluxe whisky brand – Granton (MRP: 285 – 565 for 750 ml), which has recently been awarded for its packaging at the INDSpirit 2014 Awards, Jamaican flavored dark rum - Rum 99 (MRP: 210 -330 for 750 ml) as well as a rare French brandy – Granton XO Brandy (MRP: 280 for 750 ml). We are operating in 14 states in India, launching two more in the next month. We have also completed our first export orders to the South East Asia.
Having entered a very male dominated, monopolistic and cut throat industry; I believe I was born to be in this business. I love the challenge of being the only woman having created a spirits business from scratch. Even though this industry was something that I had not always intended to get into, it is something I feel I thrive in today.
What were the initial challenges you faced when setting up and how did you overcome them?
We faced a lot of challenges initially. The biggest challenge was perhaps that the liquor industry was a financial intensive industry, and at the point I didn’t have the kind of funds to play with, that is the norm of the industry. Many people are discouraged to enter the liquor industry because it is capital intensive and dominated by few big players.
Being an unknown company, we had a hard time getting distributors to work with us. Regulations in each state is also very different from the other in terms of excise duties, licenses required etc., which makes this business incredibly challenging. And being a woman in a male dominated industry like this, most thought it was impossible and told me that. When I approached the trade they would tell me I wouldn’t be able to make it here. Nobody took me seriously. During meetings with distributors, they would address my manager and talk to him only because he was a guy. I am glad that is changing now. The industry is getting more organized and in a few years, it will shift to being FMCG and retail driven, which is a tremendous thing.
We worked with these challenges and found a way to work around them. We took a slow and steady approach, following a semi urban – village route in distribution developing a solid base foundation in the states that we are present in, before opening up other states. We also perfected the blend of products along the way.
Now, we see a phenomenal response to I Brands’ products across the country, and it is the popularity and quality of the products that have allowed the company to not only sustain itself up against some massive players, but has also double its turnover in just 4 years of operation, surpassing the million dollar mark!
What is an average work-day like for you?
I proactively partake in strategizing and development of all business functions, be it manufacturing, sales, branding, marketing, product design and packaging. In-fact during the introductory phases, I had personally hand sketched the initial product designs.
Typically my day is as follows:
I wish I was an early riser, but I am not :) So, I start my day at 7. First thing, I have an espresso; I cannot function without it. I read the papers next to keep ahead of what’s happening in the world. I help the children get ready for school and by 8.45 am get ready and leave for office.
I am in office by 9 am. I begin the day with reviewing the Management records which is our Sales & Collection reports. Post this, I have daily morning calls with my senior management team based at our Regional Sales Offices – the operations is primarily in North India, so most of the team is based there.
By 11.30 am, I have a coffee break and attend to personal calls.
At 11.45 am, I then have a quick update meeting with my Finance and Marketing team. I am very involved in every department and oversee all aspects, be it advertising, PR, packaging etc. And since we are still a growing company, I think it is still possible.
We then break for lunch.
I like my meetings in the afternoon. Since we are expanding, we tend to have meetings with Distributors, Event agencies and various other Partners for most of the afternoon. They are in our office or in town and my schedule depends on that. I have a weekly meeting with my investor, who is an HNI in Bangalore for an update.
I generally leave office by 6 pm and reach home in another 15 minutes. I make time to run, or do yoga or, exercise till 7 pm.
I then dedicate time to my kids, helping my daughter Isabella, who is 10 and son Marcus, 7, with their homework. I help Marcus with his dinner. And put them to bed by 9 pm.
My husband comes home by 8 pm and freshens up and I generally spend time with him, watching TV or catching up and go to sleep between 10.30 - 11 pm.
In this industry, what are the top 3 qualities an entrepreneur must imbibe?
What I find absolutely important are:
- Great determination & Drive
But apart from this, simple things like paying attention to detail, setting clear vision and goals and believing in oneself will help any woman achieve what she wants. Dream big, always!
I once read an Albert Einstein quote, “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has been before” and through the years, I feel that this has been etched in me to move ahead in life.
Do you have any other plans to start a new business in the future? Or would you consider expanding / adding more products and services under the I Brand initiative.
For now, my life is dedicated to I Brands Beverages. To achieve such success in a relatively short period of time is a constant drive for me to take it further. We have plans of taking I Brands pan India and as I am a brand builder, I have numerous brands that I have developed for launch. The drive is to take I Brands to the top 5 position in terms of liquor companies in this country and due to my fabulous team with the best strategists, marketing, sales and production guys, I am confident we will achieve it!
What top 3 thoughts would you share with other women in business?
As a twenty first century woman your choices are limitless in how you can make a difference in yourself and the world around you.
Maintaining a work-life balance is very important - Working during the day and putting in the extra hours early in the morning gives me some quality time with my family in the evenings. The key is to organize and prioritize tasks. I think women can have it all, a successful career and a wonderful family. As long as you have a supporting network. We can do whatever we want to if we put our heart into it. In this day and age, you have unlimited choices and you always figure a way out.
Blaze new paths and don’t allow yourself to be restricted by outdated traditions (like how I was said that ‘alcohol industry is not a place for women’). Pay attention to details in your business and know your strengths. I take on challenges and look to learn constantly and I have great motivational spirit and drive. Live your life with passion and boldness and don’t take a job for the sake of it. Love what you do!
I have always been inspired by Steve Jobs. Something he said has almost become my mantra in my career. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”.