Brewing up a storm
In my Experience
Bharat Singhal, Founder and CEO, Bili Hu Coffee
Excerpts from an interview with Shrehya Agarwal in which Bharat Singhal speaks about his journey into researching and launching a successful luxury coffee brand based out of India.
Bharat Singhal developed an interest in coffee after being part of a project that revolved around beans.
High costs and other factors deterred him from actively pursuing it and he stuck to environmental designing, which he studied.
He started Bili Hu in 2017 so that people could taste some of the best coffees and also the farmers could benefit as well.
The name comes from the Kannada word for coffee blossom, which signifies the origin of coffee.
His product has a trusted customer base thanks to the clients he targets. His strategy being luxury by association has helped the brand become a known name in the luxury market.
His brand is the first to launch coffee trollies in various luxury hotels.
Be passionate and persistent, he advises budding entrepreneurs.
An essential part of almost everyone’s morning routine is a piping hot cup of coffee. Even though more than a billion Indians drink coffee, the country faces a peculiar problem. Most of the beans are exported while they are left with the gleanings, despite the country being home to so many varieties of it.
Bharat Singhal had this in mind when he decided to start a coffee brand that brings these coffees to people’s doorsteps. Started in 2017, Bili Hu Coffee now is a part of luxurious hotels and restaurants across the world. In this interview, he tells us his journey, the importance of ‘me’ time and how persistence can actually lead to good things.
Q: From an environment designer to a coffee enthusiast, can you tell us a little bit about your journey so far leading to Bili Hu?
A: I studied retail and exhibition design in 2011. That is when I came across a project in coffee. I learnt that coffees are more than just cappuccinos. It was a six-week project that went on for six months because I was so interested in it. In 2011, I was interested in coffee but I was also very intimidated because the process is extremely scientific and the
investment needed was huge. I felt like I was way out of my depth so I continued with designing. In 2016, I left my job and I was working on a lot of hospitality projects. Whenever a project would kick off I felt my product should also be part of it. This thought kept tugging at me. Once I completed them, I procrastinated for about eight months. I had my presentation ready but I spent a lot of ‘me’ time before taking the plunge. That was when I got a project to provide coffee as gifts for a wedding in Coorg. Two months later I started working on the different costs and I got myself a machine. I sent out pitches with samples to various restaurants. Soon, a restaurant in Jaipur reached out to me and we discussed everything. The owner really liked the coffee. I made sure that that client got the best service. Then I went to other hotels and other restaurants. Today, we serve some of the best establishments across the world.
Q: The brand name is intriguing. What was the reason for choosing that?
A: The name comes from the Kannada word for white flower, which is the coffee blossom. The flower wilts and the bud becomes a fruit which eventually becomes the coffee bean. The flower blooms from February to April and the harvesting begins at year-end. At the beginning of the year, the farmer sees if there are enough flowers on the stem, else he chops it off. The flowers, which are extremely important to the farmer, signify the origin.
Q: The brand originated understanding coffee’s rare availability in the market. What is your Brand Purpose?
A: India has a lot of agricultural wealth but most of the coffee beans are unavailable for Indians as it is mostly exported. We end up with substandard leftovers. We wanted to highlight these farms and the processes that take place before the coffee reaches the customer, which is extremely important today. In a nutshell, we wanted Indians to get some of the best coffees and highlight the story behind them.
Q: How do you plan on building your brand in the niche premium segment?
A: Since the start, I wanted my brand to be in those places where I would meet the clients I was targeting. When you experience Bili Hu as part of a luxurious experience, it is also perceived as a luxurious product. The investment required to reach the luxury status would be ridiculous so I
stuck to the existing market and the people who are part of it, and leveraged that. Luxury to me is all about service.
For the first time in India, we got coffee trollies and consoles across hotels such as the Oberoi Udai Vilas and the Raffles Hotel. When you’re getting a cup of coffee from us you also get that service as well.
Q: What are the three things that you wish you’d known when you were starting up?
A: Taxes, for sure. Second, my pricing wasn’t right because there were so many factors such as commissions that I wish I knew about. When I started I did not look into anything. I just wanted to test myself, the product and everything. There are so many things I’m learning now. Another thing I wish I had known was stories had to be altered for different people.
Q: What one thing would you give as a piece of advice to an entrepreneur wanting to get into the Luxury world today?
A: You just have to be persistent and passionate about what you’re doing. No product is good or bad, they’re all just different. Be passionate about something so you’ll never see anything in a negative light. Be persistent and be calm without fretting about things that are not in your control.
Despite the odds and the many twists and turns in his journey, Bharat Singhal has created a brand that will inspire future entrepreneurs. In conclusion, keep at it, come hell or high water.
To watch the whole interview please click here.