Pooja Dhingra is the founder of the Le15 chain of patisseries and cafes, which she founded in 2010. She is a graduate of hospitality from Cesar Ritz Colleges, Switzerland and trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, for a Patisserie Diploma. Featured on the Forbes ’30 under 30′ list both in India and Asia, Pooja has won acclaim from critics, the press, and her customers not just for her extraordinary skills as a pâtissier but also for her incredible entrepreneurial journey. She is an INK Fellow and hosts an extremely popular podcast called #NoSugarCoat. Pooja has published three books. The Big Book of Treats was her first and won second place at the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Her other books are The Wholesome Kitchen and Can’t Believe It’s Eggless. Pooja lives and works in Mumbai.
As an entrepreneur, I wear many hats. I’ve been running my own business – Le15 Patisserie for over 11 years now. When I started my business, at the age of 23 and just out of college, I didn’t know how to do a lot of business-related things or understand how they worked. I could create a 7 tier wedding cake in a jiffy but understanding how technology could help me grow my business – definitely didn’t come easy to me.
Before Uber came to India, I vividly remember my Canadian friend telling me about Uber and how it worked. In my head, the operations of such a business seemed impossible! I just couldn’t comprehend what the technology was and how it functioned. When I finally started using Uber, I told myself that I would never write anything off because I didn’t understand it. Since then, it’s been an interesting journey.
Running a food business has several different aspects. For many years I focused so much on just recipes and production that I was overwhelmed with the other functions of the business when we started Le 15. In recent years, a lot has changed for us. Most importantly, the pandemic pushed us towards adopting more tech.
A big area of concern in the food industry is purchasing raw ingredients and material management. Last year, we started working with a company called Barometer that helps us with our backend operations and material management. Ankit Kasera, the Co-founder of Barometer believes that creating systems inside the organization makes a company more data reliant, ensuring there’s no material losses or any unaccounted losses. They’ve also made the technology easy and ensure we can use it efficiently (for the most part!). It’s easy to implement and most importantly helped us track data and get insights which helped us reduce our costs, have complete transparency in the supply chain, and also helped us become more profitable.
I’ve always been the kind of person that loved shopping in person and shunned shopping online. I always needed to see, feel, and touch what I was going to buy. The last 18 months changed my behaviour significantly. Now, I shop online for everything. This allows me to view my business and our online store differently. Nine months ago, we launched our Shopify store and started pan India shipping of all our packaged products. I was amazed to see the response to our website and see the reach it had. I started working with TYS – a performance marketing company where Arjun, the Founder, helped us see the value of money spent in an online space vs the offline space. With Shopify, we can actually calculate our exact cost to conversion and everything is extremely trackable which makes it more effective.
Technology enables us to change the look of our store depending on our consumer insights. Setting physical stores is time-consuming and capital intensive; however, online it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to make changes to a store and your business plan too. Technology also enables you to reach the right customer a lot faster. With data trackability on Shopify, we can check where our customers are coming from, how long they’re staying on pages, and what they’re buying amongst other things.
Another company we worked closely with, over the last few months, is Equinox Labs. The CEO, Ashwin Bhadri, helps several food businesses scale with the help of food-tech – process-based technology – which helps food companies innovate better, increase their shelf life, reduce additives, change textures and more. For food entrepreneurs, an added benefit of using technology is that it helps us get faster and provide better insights that help to form progressive processes. This in turn helps with a healthier bottom line.
Suchita Salwan, Co-Founder of LBB, an online marketplace, believes that technology has made it easier for consumers to discover brands that would normally be difficult to find. LBB uses machine learning and customer data to understand what the millennial consumer wants and helps give them personalized experiences. With the help of technology, LBB makes brands – that don’t have a larger digital footprint – visible to a whole new database of consumers. Their Mithai shop was a great example of taking local stores online for the very first time, integrating it with delivery partners, thus making it accessible and convenient for their customers. The snack sampling boxes help people get an offline experience – of being in a supermarket – from the comfort of their own homes.
Delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato contribute to nearly 80% of Le15’s Mumbai revenue. Services like Dunzo and Wefast have also helped small food businesses with logistics.
The last 18 months have been a time of unlearning and learning for me. As a pastry chef and business owner, I’ve discovered new avenues of doing business. I’ve also realised that it’s important to identify what your problems are and then find a tech solution that can help close those gaps.
I’m excited for the future of food and technology and can’t wait to see how it’ll evolve over the next couple of years. I will continue to be a student and learn new things every day and adapt my business to fit the situation the world finds itself in!