Questions & Answers – Part 1

Over the last few years, any one that’s shown any form of economic interest in us or in our business has had one common question: why are you doing this?

Shumu and I are amateur cooks, well me more than him, he’s actually very good. Our grouse over the years has been the lack of quality seafood in Pune, a pain point we shared with a lot of people. This was made doubly worse with the lack of variety and volatile pricing based on season.

A chance meeting on work travel germinated the idea. We’d first named it Fish Wish and were going down the whole ‘Genie-in-the-Lamp’ road. We quickly gave that up as it just seemed a little too pompous. Over drinks one evening with friends, the subject of what to eat came up and Shumu says “mutton shutton khatey hain”. And the eureka moment was upon us. We dropped everything and dashed to the computer to see if we could get the domain name. Chicken Shicken, Machhi Vachhi! Fishvish was born.

At first we hadn’t even thought about doing retail and started out supplying just prawns to the HORECA (HOtels, REstaurants and CAterers) sector in Pune. Friends who were restaurateurs and some who came through references were our early and only customers. We were just testing out the market and the business at that stage. Did we really want to do this for our foreseeable future was our most often & strongly debated subject.

Soon our customers started saying we need to provide more products as they cant buy only prawns from us and all other products from other suppliers. Prawns had the best margins and volumes so the other suppliers had started getting grumpy. So we expanded and got the basics in – squid, cuttlefish, surmai, pomfret and the ubiquitous Basa. Vietnamese Basa was beginning to get a bad reputation (unfairly I will add) so we did little hunting and found someone producing Basa in India. And business was doing okay.

Adding Variety

Family and friends started calling for deliveries. “Your guys are out delivering anyway, so whats the problem? Just send the fish man!” We talked about it for a while, Shumu and I. We put a quick website together and offered online ordering, COD and home delivery across Pune. It was real slow.

So we decided to take our time over this and do a little long term research. Product range, delivery schedules, pricing, sizing, quality, fresh or frozen, home delivery or in store pickup, product information, product knowledge, supply chain, cold chain, marketing… the list goes on.

Our immediate learning was people did not like frozen products. It took a while but we finally figured it out. The early players in the market hadn’t paid attention to this area and neither had their distributors or retailers – Cold Chain & Storage. Frozen seafood technology had come a long way and IQF not only retained the quality of the seafood but also increased shelf life – IF –  and only if you maintained ideal cold chain from processing factory to end user.

Fresh or Frozen?

Consumers were getting frozen product that had lost its quality and freshness due to poor handling and storage conditions, in some cases had defrosted and refrozen! That is a strict no-no. This single handedly destroyed the frozen concept for the consumer, the home buyer. Learning 1.

All these market players had gone the distributor router which meant they were all fighting for shelf space in a crowded super market. The way to stand out was in attractive, innovative and bold packaging. Competitive pricing is being seriously tested at this point. Learning 2.

Where’s my product?

All the super markets not only worked on credit but also want huge margins, in some cases almost as high as 40% to 50%! And you’re effectively priced out of the market! Learning 3.

The abject lack of options on offer was troubling to say the least – the fresh seafood market was obviously seasonal but more often than not had maybe 7-10 varieties at any given time. The frozen brands strangely had even less! Learning 4.

We also noticed that unlike Bombay, Pune didnt not have a widespread culture of the “machiwali” coming home and delivering the fish. Learning 5.

5 areas had been identified that needed to be addressed and each was as important as the other. We also needed to answer 2 questions for ourselves :

  1. Do we really see ourselves doing this 5-8 years from now?
  2. Why are we really doing this?
This took a lot of discussion and a fair amount of time. Read all about it next week.
Bijal Patel, Fishvish Co-founder

Image Credit: Fresh or Frozen?
Image Credit: Where’s my product?

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