Meat startup Licious turns unicorn after $52-million funding – The Economic Times (indiatimes.com)

Hello all, it’s a momentous occasion for me personally but I believe also for the entire consumer brands-focused entrepreneur community and I wanted to share my journey with Vivek (Gupta) and Abhay (Hanjura) over these past exciting 6 years.

As some of you may know, Vivek and I worked together at Helion for 10 years. In late 2014, Vivek came to me and said, “Boss, Abhay and I are planning to launch a direct-to-home, fresh meat business.” When I asked him if Abhay was in the foods business, he said, “No, he’s in the insurance business, but he’s a foodie and a great guy!” 😀 And that’s how the journey started. I had my usual questions about broken supply chain, the complexity of building a city-by-city business, short shelf life, etc. and every time Vivek and Abhay would respond, “No worries, we will figure it out. This is a big problem and needs to be solved.”

In early 2015, Vivek came to me and said, “We are going ahead, and I have written ‘x’ amount from you as an investor.” Meanwhile, I had decided to step out of Helion and was putting together my own family office, so Licious became my very first investment post Helion.

The early days were a lot of fun, there was lots of discussion around the business: How to deliver within 90 minutes, quality and hygiene issues, hub-and-spoke models, the cluster approach, and lots of very delicious food tasting! What impressed me most was the focus on taste and quality and obsession with customer delight.

The next interesting anecdote happened when Abhay asked, “Boss, do you think we will be able to raise money from institutional investors because neither of us are MBAs?” I remember my response, “If VCs have any sense and they see your passion for the business, the size of the opportunity, and how you are executing, then they should be lining up at the door.” And how true that has been.

At the same time, I had a brain freeze. When the company was raising their Series B round, Vivek pushed me hard to invest from Fireside. And I had all the usual hesitations – the valuation was already way beyond our sweet spot; our ownership would be miniscule; we had just started, so didn’t want our investors to think we were going off-strategy, etc. Suffice to say, this was a big lesson learnt and Licious will stay an anti-portfolio company for Fireside. On the brighter side, we learned from this experience, and invested in boAt, but that’s another story 😀.

As the company kept building the business and strengthening its execution, I came across an amazing insight from a friend who’s a regular customer and a HUGE fan of Licious. She said, “Ever since I started buying Licious, I don’t keep fresh or frozen meat in the refrigerator; I just order a couple of hours before I want to cook the meal and it arrives fresh in time for me.” While I was so delighted to hear this, I also cautioned Vivek and Abhay that now they owe their consumers – who have changed their cooking habits because of Licious – the added responsibility of never letting them down.

And suddenly, the pandemic hit the world last year. Immediately, two things happened: Demand went through the roof. People were confined to their homes, and cooking became more than just good food. It was therapeutic, it was entertainment, and it was family bonding. But it also put immense pressure on the system for managing the supply chain and living up to the customer promise. I myself know of cases where the team members have gone in their own cars to deliver urgent orders, or where they’ve collated orders from apartment complexes so they could be delivered efficiently. It showed amazing resilience and strong operations management which to me is the foundation for growth of any business.

Fast forward to today, and what a story….. An amazing brand, built on the right foundation of customer delight. Very strong execution. A great team coming together. And the tag of the first D2C brand to become a Unicorn. While it’s a huge milestone for the company, it’s just the start of the journey and my belief and wish for Licious is to become the world’s largest and most loved meat brand 🙏🏽.

Congratulations Vivek, Abhay, and Team Licious….it’s been a privilege and pleasure to be a part of your journey. Look forward to continue to watch you go from strength to strength!

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