Co-founder of Potluck, Asklaila and Bhoole bisre geet and Zopnow founder talks about the joys of serial entrepreneurship. He also talks about the lessons he learnt along the way.
Bal Krishna Birla, who hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, came to Bangalore in 1995 after passing out from IIT- Kanpur. He worked in various joined Infosys as a software engineer and worked for around nine years.
Later, after couple of other stints he started his first entrepreneurial venture and co-founded Potluck Restaurant in BTM in July 2006. He was also the co-founder of famous ‘AskLaila’- a local information online service in October 2006.
His interest in old hindi songs paved the way for another venture”Bhoole Bisre Geet” where interested community assembles and sings. Continuing his reputation a serial entrepreneur he also co-founded, ZopNow, an online grocery store with Mukesh Singh, ex -IIT Kanpur which, today he is focussed on. Unfortunately he has to close down Potluck as he risked running parallely three ventures.
He stays in Bannerghatta road behind N S palya for the last 12 years. He got married in 1998 to Bhuwaneshwari Vishwanathan, a tamilian born and brought up in Bihar. He has two kids Srashti and Srajan.
Excerpts of the interview
You were doing well as a software engineer. Why entrepreneurship in the first place?
It took me long time to figure out what entrepreneurship means and one thing I realised that it is primarily about the joy of creating something new. Be it restauranting or asklaila or Bhoole Bisre geet, I have created something new.
How is it to be a serial entrepreneur?
With all the ventures it has been satisfying and I have enjoyed throughout. It also has some risk associated with it but if you can balance your enthusiasm and fresh ideas it works out well.The basic construct is that you try to create a product or a service which exposes you to different skills. Here unlike other jobs you don’t have a defined role, for example, I manage finances, looks operations and some day if my waiter is missing I will be a waiter one day. In owning a business all those boundaries go, we pretty much do what is required. That's the whole fun of entrepreneurship.
How conducive is Bangalore’s ecosystem for entrepreneurs?
I think it’s great when compared to other cities, it helps in multiple ways. First level is inspiration and we have many entrepreneurs in Bangalore to inspire. I am part of IIT mentorship program in Bangalore. We mentor IITians who want to start up a business. Bangalore also provides a platform comprising many events connecting young, aspiring and budding entrepreneurs. In asklaila we used to mentor young starts up more like a consultancy. So I can infer that Bangalore has a culture of providing a conducive environment for entrepreneurs.
What was the reason to start ZopNow?
The daily shopping need is pain for everybody in my opinion. There is so much traffic and chaos that I get orders from people who are right next departmental stores and grocery stores like total mall, spencer', reliance’ etc. People avoid crossing the road as it involves a some amount of amount of risk. This has made online shopping more dominant and thus a scope for ZopNow.
How did you conceive the idea of the event ‘Bhoole Bisre Geet’?
This happened around two years ago. I used to listen music for at least 15 mins a day without bothering about anything. I liked listening to old hindi music songs. So the next thing I did was to introduce the songs to my friends on twitter and facebook. I realised lot of people liked it as they have forgotten these songs and this paved the way for a community page on facebook.Then in April 2011, I took a stride forward and took this virtual set up to physical event. We got people in single room and created an interesting participative format letting all of us to sing. We have already done the event in 12-13 cities.
How is the response like in Bangalore?
Bangalore is multicultural city which has owned a cosmopolitan status. I was amazed to see some people who don’t understand hindi but sing hindi songs. So far the response is very good. We need three things; a place, some snacks and good sound system and we create Mehfil anywhere including Bangalore.
Which restaurant inspires you to own one like them?
Tasty bites in JP Nagar is my favorite restaurant which eventually also inspired me to start ‘ ‘Potluck’. I also love sinful dosas of Vidhyarthi Bhavan and if any guests arrive at my place I make it a point to visit here with them.
Tell us about your stress buster.
Songs, songs and songs. Listening to old movie songs just soothes me and keeps me going. Talat Mahmood, a singer from Lucknow is my all time favorite. Very different and non - orthodox voice. His song “Hain sabse madhur wo geet jinhe hum dard ke sur mein gaate hain” is one of my favorite song, taken from a poem of PB Shelley.
Any other interests?
I love cooking and I also teach cooking. I have tried my hands at my friend’s venture where I taught kids. I don’t pursue teaching but yes, if it comes I take it. I also write poetry and blogs. Writing books is next on my agenda. I would like to write on cooking.
Any special place in Bangalore.
I like Lalbagh, its beautiful scenery , lakes and the aura entices me.
Last but not the least, any advice to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be romantic about entrepreneurship. It takes hard labour, dedication and commitment to turn it into success.⊕
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