Ravi is managing director and co-owner of DrinkSupermarket.com. A successful purveyor of a diverse range of alcoholic and soft drinks, as well as additional beverage accoutrements such as glassware and creative gift options, this particular businessman knows more than his quality Bourbons. “The key to having a good business” he told us, “is having a solid model. For me, that really means having an aptitude for problem-solving.” Before he rose to an executive position, Ravi was a computer programmer who would put in long and disciplined hours in the city, working to make sense of hard numbers and data, and knows well what he is telling us about. And this is not the end. As he also pointed out, “I don’t think I ever needed formal training in commerce because that natural desire to adapt and learn has always been in my blood”. Indeed, taking the business to another level when he joined co-partners, Vik and Sanjay in 2011, Ravi helped call some incisively instinctive shots, steering what was budding- yet fragile- through the financial storm of the recession: “big-name supermarket brands were actually copying our campaigns” he went on to tell us, “that’s how we knew we were ahead of the game”. Ravi then not only demonstrates the innovation required for commercial success, but shows it as the product of his firm and fighting individuality. Staying true to his drive as a person, he has forged the foundation for an empire.
What are some of the ways you have developed your online business?
Well obviously we have our website, and the strategy is all in there: it’s about driving consumers towards our website. That might be through social networks or the use of search engines. There’s also digitalmarketing and offline advertising, such as print and radio. It’s really just intelligent marketing that emphasises our good quality service. In that vein, we have garnered launch partnerships with the likes of Amazon, PhotoBox, Moonpig and Very.co.uk.
What makes your service particularly unique would you say?
Ironically, that we don’t specialise. Our stock is actually very generalised; we have everything from general beers to Coca-Cola, to different types of water. We also cater to more refined tastes as well as say catering to a younger customer-base. A lot of business strategists would push you to specialise but our strength has been expansion. It’s the fact that we don’t limit ourselves: for example we also sell cocktail mixers and syrups for coffees. By noticing and reacting to what customers want, we’ve stayed ahead of the competition. By now we have acquired between 200 and 300 types of vodka, and 700 types of whiskey. No other retailer can offer or even catch up to that range: it’s in the breadth and not the depth.
Tell me more about your specialist contribution from a technological background?
Yes, I did move from being a software engineer into a consultancy role. I was able to create a more stable and prolific platform. We changed the look and feel of the system by introducing new, customer-friendly features, and that’s what it’s all about- making it easier to connect to them. It was a simple but stable system. However it is also about the marriage of the two sectors of technology and business. When I was working in the city, it was for a smaller company, and I gained a lot of valuable managerial insight. Usually, you are just given one job to do in the corporate world, but it is about gaining a variety of experience which you only learn by understanding all the different departments of the company. I always encourage my team to explore and experiment. And whatever we do right we keep. You learn by taking a chance.
Have you always been interested in starting your own company?
Business is definitely in the bloodline. My father owned a sort of mini supermarket and survived hardships in both the seventies and the nineties. Before that, my family were part of the mass exodus from Uganda where they had just lost everything so he really showed me what it was to bounce back. I worked in the business too when I was a teenager. I’d get paid in sweets, and realised early on that doing a good job meant getting ample reward! I was scraping chewing gum off the ground and helping my mum in the butcher’s section. I then gained some more grass-roots experience for problem-solving and learning what it was to make decisions from which you learn from, with my degree in engineering from City University.
Has there been an inspiration in your life?
My family, and business partners have given me so much support, but most of all I have to say my wife Nima. She is an accountant and is incredibly smart. If I have an issue with my figures, I can just run it past her!
Finally, as we are coming up to the holidays, do you have a particular drink recommend?
A good Bourbon is good for the colder nights. Also perhaps a nice red wine- mulled is always good for this time of year. Put in a dash of cinnamon and orange. But I have to say, make sure to drink responsibly. I’m a strong advocate of that.