The Story of Indian Paradox popups
Popups were always one of the key marketing strategies in the Indian Paradox (IP) business plan. I have been very excited and looking forward to doing these popups in fun wine bars and restaurants in the San Francisco, bay area.
But, just like everything else, planning for something 'on paper' versus the actual implementation is totally different.
The first popup opportunity for Indian Paradox presented itself sometime in the end of 2013 through my contact with Gwendolyn Wright - whom I met through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. That is how the first Indian Paradox popup came about happening at the Impact HUB in San Francisco. And I have written about that in one my earlier blogs.
While the popup at the HUB was immensely rewarding with a ton of useful real time feedback...the whole event was organized such that, I arrived prepared to serve about 30 HUB members with the Indian street food and wine pairings during their monthly Monday lunch get together. The Impact HUB does this every month to encourage local food and beverage enthusiasts.
This was a great venue to test out the food quality, spice level, plating and wine pairings. But, from a financial standpoint the food and wines were served to all the HUB members at no cost for them.
One of the key reasons to organize the IP popups was to validate the main products of the concept – namely, the street food menu and its wine pairings. But, also equally important was to evaluate if this concept can be monetized and will be profitable.
For this, Indian Paradox needed an actual space (preferably with good amount of walk in traffic) that included a health inspector approved kitchen and valid alcohol license.
These constraints definitely threw a wrench in implementing the popups.
It took 3 months of consistent networking and constant negotiations with several wine bars/restaurants owners, other popup organizers and so on. The popups are a great opening for several reasons, like, testing out any idea (including but not limited to food, booze, and retail businesses) without any actual long term investments.
Imagine this, if the only means to test out the IP idea was if I leased/rented an actual location, applied for an alcohol license and invested a couple of hundred grand in startup costs…that would be a pretty scary bet!
On the other hand, the caveat with hosting a popup is to find that arrangement which worked for both the popup organizers and owner of the space – such as, the space may only be available on slower nights of the week for outside businesses. Because, this way restaurants and bars are profitable more than usual even on slow days/nights and popups obtain a legal venue to test out.
So, finally in the month of June there was a breakthrough! After some preliminary research I found that the La Movida Wine Bar & Community Kitchen had a model in place to host guest chefs to ‘popup’ at their location. Bingo! I contacted them and after a couple of meetings an arrangement was agreed upon.
A midst that, wines were tasted and wine pairings finalized for the IP street food menu for popup number 1.
But the biggest beef in all this was, how the heck should I drive traffic in to the popup?
As the first step, I spread the word on FaceBook and Twitter and a couple of other groups that I am a member of. Obviously, friends and family responded first. I realized that it is going to be a slow and organic process to get the word out to the larger target audience.
The first IP popup was scheduled for August 3rd, 2014 – a Sunday.
As expected, the turnout was mostly friends and family, with some new customers. The first popup was great from food/wine concept testing perspective. It gave an idea for how food ingredients must be scaled, priced, labor costs and COGS (cost of goods sold) must be accounted for and so on.
The second IP popup was scheduled at the same location 2 weeks from then on August 17th, 2014. There were a couple of repeat customers from the first popup (Yay!) and unexpectedly, there was a ton of walk in traffic that Sunday!
This worked out perfectly because, this time we actually got to test our idea with brand new customers! However, the open question still lingered on….while these new customers walked in unexpectedly, there was still marketing work to be done; in order to intentionally bring customers just for the Indian Paradox experience.
I have to admit, the first 2 weeks of August was a crraazzy load of work to prep all the ingredients, scale the menu for 40-50 people and figure out plating, assembly and serving food and wine single handedly. But, I would not exchange that adrenaline rush for anything!
Another organization that I had contacted in the last few months of my popup location hunt was 18 Reasons. And they got back to me and scheduled a community dinner to serve the IP street food menu with wine pairings at their location.
This was another deal that worked out very well for both sides. In fact it worked out more than well – it was spectacular because we sold out for this event!
Thanks to the 18 Reasons’ marketing and their amazing reach with the community they have built in the last 6 years since being open, IP food and wine sold like hot masala vadas :)
All in all, it was a great month of popups. Most importantly, Indian Paradox was profitable (YES!) in each of these popups which is a good sign. There will be more popups coming up for the rest of the year with new and improved menu items and wine pairings based on all the wonderful feedback received so far.
For future events checkout our FaceBook page at: www.facebook.com/indianparadox