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Kiran Nadkarni

Founder & CEO | 06 Jan 2010

International brands having the fire power are going with high decibel advertising – largely product or promo centric. We view the competition’s communication as an effort that will grow the market in India for the Quick Service Restaurant category.

Kiran Nadkarni has been a pioneering figure in the Indian venture capital industry. He started the venture capital business of ICICI and managed it during the first eight years. Later, he was a partner at Draper International, a venture firm based in San Francisco, which invested in India and the US.

Prior to starting the Kaati Zone venture, he was a co-founder of Jumpstartup, a venture firm that invested in technology businesses both in India and the US. During his career, Nadkarni helped several entrepreneurial businesses by providing start-up and early-stage capital and brought the initial successes of venture capital industry to public markets. Nadkarni is a chemical engineer from IIT Kanpur and holds a post-graduate diploma in management from University of Mumbai.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tuhina Anand, Nadkarni speaks at length about the growth of brand Kaati Zone and the growth plans in India.

Q. How and why was the brand Kaati Zone born? Tell us about the journey since?

This dates back to early 2000, when I was in the Bay Area as a venture capitalist. The number of options for an Indian Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) was non-existent, on the other hand, there was ethnic quick service restaurants originating from Mexico and other places, which were doing roaring business. There were no Indian quick service restaurants, even though Indian cuisine is very popular and many Indians live in the valley. In India, there were many quick service concepts, but were regional and none came with a globally acceptable convenience, quality, consistency or reliability.

An idea took root for coming up with an Indian Quick Service Restaurant chain to reach out to guests both within India and globally. After much deliberation and trials – the ‘tandoori’ style of cooking and cuisine in the form of Kaati Rolls was finalised as the theme of the quick service restaurant as it rendered itself to convenience, appealed to a larger number of customers globally and would allow customisation of the food by the guest. Thus, was born Kaati Zone with a single outlet in Church Street on September 7, 2004.

Pioneering the Indian QSR concept didn’t come easy – we struggled initially with the lack of an ecosystem for an Indian QSR. We had to set up the required infrastructure ourselves, which meant that we couldn’t grow at the pace we would have preferred.

Q. How do you position the brand in the QSR segment and what is Kaati Zone’s differentiating factor?

Kaati Zone is positioned as an Indian contemporary brand. Kaati Zone is pioneering the Indian QSR concept by providing Indian food in an international ambiance and service standards. Kaati Zone will keep pushing the taste boundaries by introducing new, innovative and fusion products regularly. Kaati Zone satisfies the hunger and thirst needs of people on-the-move, at-home and at-office through its convenient non-messy packaging, guests can customise their rolls, meals or combos, and Kaati Zone provides healthy food options with rolls below 200 calories for the health-conscious guests.

Q. What are your growth plans in the near future?

We have plans to be in 100 locations across five cities in southern and western India in the next couple of years. We will enter cities with company-owned stores and will get into franchising after providing proof of concept and building a brand following.

Q. What is your strategy on advertising the brand?

Advertising will be largely product and promo led, with periodic branding initiatives. Kaati Zone will largely depend on below-the-line local store marketing efforts with periodic support from online, outdoor, print and radio. Eventually, with a pan-India presence, we will be looking at television advertising.

Q. Recently, Kaati Zone revamped its logo, can you share the reason behind it and how it will help in the long run?

There was nothing wrong with the previous logo – except that we wanted to update it to be in sync with the new offering of the brand. In the new logo, we have just got rid of the constraining outlines to make it look more open and outward looking. We have replaced the illustration of the our main product category – the roll – with a more modern contemporary-looking mnemonic, which is an intersection view of a sliced roll, which is in a bright orange. We have retained the font and predominant red colour from the previous logo. Overall, this has been more of a contemporary updation of the logo to match the new in-store ambiance, packaging and other brand elements.

Q. What kind of marketing initiatives do you plan to take in another 3-6 months’ time to promote the brand?

We are looking at taking a two-pronged strategy to promote the brand, where we will keep bringing in something new in our menu, like new flavour of the month and food festivals from different regions of India. This will be an on-going activity to keep the interest levels high by providing variety to guests, thereby bringing them back to the store again and again. The other activity we will be doing is promotions like raffles with tie-ups with other brands across categories, which are a win-win for both participating brands as well as for Kaati Zone.

Q. How do you see the communication in this category by your competition?

International brands having the fire power are going with high decibel advertising – largely product or promo centric. We view the competition’s communication as an effort that will grow the market in India for the QSR category.

Q. Do you feel that the brand has followed the track you had envisaged when you started out? If yes, please elaborate.

Yes. We have been putting in place the building blocks of the brand so far – we have figured out the tastes and preferences of the guests, we have put the backend in terms of commissary and supply chain in place, and now we are at an inflection point from where we can grow rapidly, therefore, our plans for 100 outlets in five cities over the next two years. This is true for any brand, the initial phase will be slow while the company figures out what works best for it, once that phase is over, they will be slated for unprecedented growth.

Q. Please share your views on the brand journey of Kaati Zone from where it is today to where it will be tomorrow.

We plan to be a pan-Indian brand with international presence, to which Indians will turn en-mass to satisfy their hunger and thirst needs while on-the-move, at-office or at-home. From the product brand of today, Kaati Zone will become an emotional cornerstone for meeting the hunger and thirst needs of people on-the-move, at-home or at-office.

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