Kuldip Singh Sahota runs a business called Mr Singh’s, a family business in the food industry and best known for a single product, Mr Singh’s Hot Punjabi Chilli Sauce. Created by the eponymous Mr Singh and enjoyed by thousands across the world, here, Kuldip tells AWM how he is going to conquer the rest of the world, one bottle at a time.
Put simply, the Mr Singh’s business makes and sells sauces. Having gone through various experiences, including appearing on a BBC TV show, High Street Dreams, Kuldip and his family soon learned the importance of having a clear purpose for their business and a clear set of values. Based on their experiences as a fragmented family, the purpose became clear and remains very simple: bring people together.
The family established a clear set of values relevant to them, and what they wanted the business to stand for: quality, positivity, fun and focus. Based on these values, and a clear purpose, Kuldip’s family can find guidance when making complex decisions for their business. It also means the business is not limited to making sauce, and leaves open the opportunity to expand into any type of business they think is relevant.
What’s your background and how did you come up with this business idea?
I have always wanted to run my own business, but did not know it, did not know how, or even what business was. I am a late bloomer with a lot to learn, yet with boundless energy to execute my dreams.
I studied art at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design (a renowned art college who produced the likes of Alexander McQueen, Stella McCarthy and John Galliano). At the time I had no idea this was such a good school – I got accepted with an unconditional offer without really trying and believed I was great. Big mistake! Everyone at the school was ultra talented and it was here I learned one of the biggest lessons of my life, to succeed and stand out you have to use your talents and work harder than the competition – no one is going to give you success.
I studied Fashion Promotions and started a degree as I was genuinely interested in the subject. However, I quickly grew bored as the course was too easy for me and I found fashion too fake an industry to be involved with. I then took on various roles, with various success! I worked as a sales associate for Burberry, for a furnishing company, and as an estate agent.
After getting married I joined with my best friend in a London stock broking firm. I wanted to live a better life and be in charge of how much I earned. I did well in finance and moved around different roles including corporate finance, however when an opportunity came knocking to be involved with Indian real estate, I could not resist and joined a start-up dealing with property in India.
After a few years, my best friend, another friend and I decided to buy land in Gujarat and start our own property development company. At the same time, I accidently started Mr Singh’s! I had seen my father struggle for years to be an entrepreneur and to try and create a business. He had already bottled his original sauce, and was trying to sell it – unfortunately with not much luck.
He came home one day and was soaked from the pouring rain. I asked him what he had been doing; he replied he was trying to sell the sauce. A few days later I saw an advert for the BBC Good Food Show in London and for some reason decided to book it. Maybe it was fate.
I came home and told my family what I had done. I told them we had to make and sell 1000 bottles to make my money back and make some profit. Within 10 days my family came together, we learnt to make the sauce and at the show we sold out within three days, it was like magic for us. This was how Mr. Singh’s was born.
How long has the business been operational?
The business has been up and running for three years now. The first two years were part time and incredibly hard work as I was still involved with the Indian property company, so I was working all the time, including all weekends. In the first few years I think we only had a handful of weekends off, including over the Christmas period.
What steps have you put in place to grow the business?
There are three fundamental decisions and actions we have took towards the end of 2011 to grow our business:
- No more food exhibitions, only focusing purely on selling our sauces to retailers
- Gained an investor so we are financially secure and not reliant on bank funding to grow
- Launching at least two more products to our range including a extra hot sauce and chilli mayonnaise
By sticking to the three points mentioned, we are leaner, more efficient and focused on our goal of becoming the top selling chilli brand in the UK.
The past three years have been spent honing our product, brand and business to be ready for 2012. This is our make or break year to achieve our goal and build a great British brand for generations to come.
What would help you the most to move your business to the next level?
The past few years have seen us learn a lot about the business we are in and we have had a lot of ups and downs along the way.
The biggest element that could help us grow is consistency and stability. We hope to now have a manufacturer who can make our product for us to a standard we are happy with. If they can consistently make the product for us, at the same quality levels we demand, it will mean we can constantly supply our customers with a product without any gaps in the supply chain.
In the past we have made the sauce at home, part outsourced it, fully outsourced it and it has caused problems due to lack of stability. Moving forward, we hope this element will improve dramatically and we can get on with selling our products worldwide.
Previously, we could only afford to make small batches which in itself caused pricing and supply issues. To remedy this, we have now secured an investor in the business. This will mean we no longer have to worry about how to fund the business and its growth.
Self-funding a business, especially starting a brand, which is what we are doing, is hard unless you (or your parents) have deep pockets to start with. With an investor who can add money and value, it gives you the confidence to dream bigger and think as professional outfit rather than worrying about getting a certain invoice paid from a customer so you can use the same money to pay a supplier! It also means you have greater buying power, therefore your costs lower and profits higher.
What currently frustrates you in your game plan?
The biggest element of frustration I have is we have not yet fulfilled the potential I know my brand and business has, both financially and conceptually. For the first year, Mr Singh’s was a random activity my family and I took part in. We booked a food exhibition, made sauce, bottled it and sold it. It was fun and hard work, but ultimately enjoyable because we were spending time together as a loving family.
Then, after we were approached by the BBC and appeared on High Street Dreams it became a real business and brand. It became a real opportunity to change the fortunes of my life and the life of my family. We all wanted to capitalise on this as quick as possible, however no one knew how! Being the CEO of the business it fell on my shoulders to guide the direction in which we went.
For the following year and a half we worked harder than ever to try and make this dream come true and every time we thought we had succeeded another challenge came along or another set-back. Of course there were times when I momentarily doubted what we were doing because we were struggling, but then I realised we had a golden opportunity and there was no way I was going to let it go without a fight.
Now, in 2012, it is like I am about to start all over again. The difference this time is that I have learnt the business, what works and what does not work. I have money to do what I need to and a range of superior quality products I know people will love because we have made them with love and passion.
Is this frustrating? Yes, to an extent. I see starting again (well almost) like an opportunity to win a game with insider knowledge of how the opposition work and play. I know how to win now and I have the team to do it.
What does success in five years time look like to you?
Success in five years is Mr Singh’s being the number one selling chilli brand in the UK – hands down, no one can come close. I want Mr. Singh’s to be a nationally recognised brand. In a few years we would have broken into the US market and be making huge strides to conquer it. We will also be consistently selling to various overseas territories such as the Middle East, South Africa, China and Europe.
By far, the biggest triumph I can foresee, and if I can achieve this it will be one of the proudest and happiest achievements of my life, will be to have all original seven members of the Singh family working (if they choose to) with Mr Singh’s on a full time basis. This has always been my father’s dream and I think it is slowly becoming my dream too. I am a strong believer in good coming to good people and my family deserves to be happy and to have financial freedom.
On a lighter note, if after all this I end up living in a mansion, with a nice car in the drive and holiday in St. Tropez on a yacht, then it will be a great bonus. I read a (quite brutal) quote once and it goes like this:
“Anything worth having in this life can only be had with blood or love. Whatever can be bought with money is not worth having”. As a family we have certainly bled for this business, we certainly love it and love each other. Therefore to me it means it is worth having and the next five years will be the time in which our dreams start to come true.
In the long term where would you like to see your business?
My goal is to build a brand which will last for generations. I am working hard and creating not for me, but for the next generation. Why do you think Americans are so patriotic? It is because they have the Declaration of Independence, an ideal that people live by. In the same way (not as dramatically) we have created a clear set of values and purpose in our business to guide us moving forward. This way the business is not reliant on a charismatic leader or innovative product, but by an ideal or way of life instilled in everyone.
By having this in place, I hope we have created a business which will be profitable, healthy and giving to those involved with it.
I once read a book called Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry L Porras. It opened my eyes to understanding why I am doing what I am doing, and it showed me there is benefit in playing the long game. I used to be a short-term thinker, but now, it is about the long-term and what can be achieved.
Of course you need to consider the short- and mid-term too, however with a longer-term vision; you never lose focus and will be successful.
If in 25 years I can hand over the business to someone else (be it a family member or someone nurtured from within the business) and they have the same gusto I have today to drive the business forward, then I would have done OK.