Selling tea across India: How an MBA dropout built his business empire with a tea stall

Praful Billore
Praful Billore | Photo: Screengrab Josh Talks

When the Madhya Pradesh-based 21-year-old Praful Billore boarded a train to Ahmedabad, his dream was to study at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. But when he could not pass the exams despite several attempts, only a relatively unknown MBA college was the only option left. That is when Praful decided that selling tea was a better alternative than join a college like that. And then he went on to built a Rs 3 crore empire.

While doing his graduation in commerce, he would earn over Rs 25k a month as an Amway salesman. Despite being a proactive salesman and bringing new members on board, Praful quit the job a year after when he realised it held no prospects. That is when an acquaintance told him about MBA and CAT (Common Admission Test) exams, and he decided to give it a shot.

The generous packages offered to MBA graduates was what attracted him, which prompted him to shift to Indore to prepare for CAT. Praful also did a six-month spoken English course in Dhar. But his marks were not enough for him to get admission to any of the prestigious colleges.

He tried again and in 2017, secured 82% which still was not enough prompting him to let go of his MBA dreams. When his family kept pressurizing him to join a college, he decided to explore the country and came to Ahmedabad for the first time in May 2017. Coincidentally he got a PG room just outside IIM Ahmedabad, the institution where he aspired to do his MBA. Gujarat, he felt was the perfect place to do any business.

He explored Ahmedabad on a bike and loved the vibes of the city and the people. Soon, he found a job at McDonald’s where he cleaned utensils and put fresh foil papers on plates. He earned around Rs 300 daily working for 10-12 hours.

Praful started reading a lot of motivational books and realised that big business honchos across the globe have done similar jobs in food chains like McDonald’s. The job taught him humility, courtesy, and etiquette besides learning the tricks of the trade. And three months later he decided to start something on his own. He went around to look for a place to start a cafe’ but the minimum investment needed was Rs 15,00,000.

Initially, he planned to open a full-fledged restaurant by borrowing around Rs 10-12 lakh from his father. But then he recognised the risks involved in such a venture and opted for something small as he believed in the concept of ‘Dream Big, Start Small, and Act Now’. That is when he hit upon the idea of starting a tea stall and borrowed about Rs 8,000 from his father to launch his business. He admits having spent a month to wrap his head around the idea of starting the tea stall. His father in fact gave him the money thinking that Praful will do a professional course on export and import.

Since he did not rent a shop, the investment was low - just Rs 8,000 to buy a few utensils and some tea packets and milk. On 25 July 2017, he started his business. Initially, it was open only in the evenings between 7 pm to 10 pm. He worked at McDonald’s in the mornings, between 9 and 4.

Since it was a roadside stall, Praful knew he had to do things differently and that is when he hit upon the idea of serving tea in earthen pots, along with a toast and tissue paper, and priced the combo at Rs 30. He also aggressively marketed it by approaching people sitting in their cars and requesting them to try his special tea.

It helped that he spoke fluent English which suitably impressed the people enough to buy it from him. He sold five cups on the first day and made Rs 150, which was not bad as there were no rent or other overheads.

On the second day, he sold around 20 cups making Rs 600. Within a month he was selling 10,000-11,000 cups daily. Soon, his family came to know about his business after a YouTuber made a video on him. Initially, his family reacted negatively but later came around. He had also quit the McDonald’s job by then and began to focus on his business full-time.

For the young man, it was the Indian population’s appetite for tea that inspired such an enterprise. Having said that like every startup this was no easy cakewalk. Initially, there were attempts to intimidate the young lad by the tea vendors in the area who hired goons and forced him to shift his tea stall. They even sought the help of cops for this. He went to a hospital owner and asked him to rent his space to him for putting up a tea-stall. He happily rented it out for Rs 10,000. And, Praful had set up a proper outlet which also had a big verandah. The area had a lot of colleges and offices.

He offered snacks, shakes, coffees, and a few varieties of tea and made his tea stall into a networking platform for young people and offered them space to post their ads regarding jobs and other information. He also organised entrepreneurship programs and musical nights among other small events.

He opened a full-fledged restaurant called Chaiwallah in a 300 sq ft area in 2019 and began to set up tea stalls at political rallies tying up with the parties and naming the tea after popular programs of respective parties. Prafull has delivered numerous lectures at different colleges, including one at IIM Ahmedabad. His private limited company, which employs around 20 people now, registered a turnover of Rs 3 crore in 2019-20.

Praful’s business model grabbed the attention of the media and soon he was invited to address the students at IIM Ahmedabad to talk about his startup, where he had dreamt of studying once. Today the young entrepreneur dreams of selling his tea all over India.   

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