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In conversation with the brains behind Estate Monkeys

05/10/2019

Estate Monkeys LLP was started by 4 partners Rajwant R Shankar, Sahana Mukunda, Rishi R Nandan and Ritwik R Shankar 2 years back. Rishi quit recently and currently it is just 3 of them and an investor Mr Rahul Hari.

What motivated you four to start manufacturing unit of coffee powder and black pepper under the name of Estate Monkeys?

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Rajwant:- Estate Monkeys LLP does not own a Coffee Manufacturing unit but has partnered with 2 of the family manufacturing units. The reason to start off with Coffee and Pepper is because that was something we could go back to our roots to and along this we would like to increase our product line into multiple other FMCG products movinxg further. We currently are focussed on Coffee as the prominent product of Estate Monkeys and followed by Pepper. Pepper is mostly to United States market and Indian market for pepper has been a tough competition for us. We can deliver one of the finest peppers and been packaging it for other brand name in the United States and to some vendors in India. We aim at promoting Kodagu’s finest coffee to the consumers and at affordable prices. We would want coffee lovers to know about coffee and then opt for their choices instead of compromising on the limited options available in market and henceforth Estate Monkeys offers custom blends as per the consumer’s requirements.

There is immense competition in the coffee and black pepper market how does Estate Monkeys beat the competition?

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Rajwant:- Honestly speaking we are not at a point to consider any specific manufacturer/brand as a competition as we are trying to create a uniqueness in what we offer. Our greatest battle now is within ourselves and to change the India’s/Indians’ understanding of Coffee. Mostly over the last few decades the terms such as Chicory, Aroma, Strong, Light, Blend are wrongly misinterpreted. The purest/pure coffee blend that we call BARGALLY is supposed to be a strong coffee which goes well as Black coffee. But in the Indian market study, we had consumers finding this as the lightest blend and not strong enough. We had to reiterate why this was an issue – it was all because of Chicory which gave a thicker decoction and consumers find products with most chicory content as a strong coffee. A true coffee with most Caffeine and No chicory was not valued as the strong coffee.

This is a long process and a long road ahead for us to educate the consumers about coffee and bring the Indian consumers understanding to what is globally accepted. Outside India, our Pure Blend coffee – BARGALLY is highly appreciated by consumers and true coffee lovers. So, we have taken up the challenge of educating the customers and trying to break the myth.

It’s been less than 2 years Estate Monkeys is in the market, how is the market response and how does the company plan to expand?

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Rajwant:- Yes, it is been 2 years since we incorporated Estate Monkeys, but the first year went by learning the market and looking into our long-term plans. We launched our products – Retail variants only in Jan 2019. So roughly been 9 months. We are currently targeting the social media platforms to promote our brand name and selling on few E-commerce sites. Amazon India was the first platform on which we launched followed by our website.

The market response has been okay so far, we have a lot to learn too, we need to change a bit in our system of approach but just not ready to accept the CREDIT based system of operation. Estate Monkeys has stood by its principle not to let CREDIT intervene its operations. We may have lost a lot of business with not encouraging credit, but we are happy and well satisfied with the customers we have gained over the period who have always come back to us for our quality products and services.

Our expansion plan is under progress,

i. We currently plan on launching about 10-15 variants of retail packs of filter coffee powder to address the different sectors of consumers on their liking. We want to cater to every sector and price point which is crucial. Our philosophy/I may say (Rajwant) is to PROVIDE A PREMIUM PRODUCT AT ECONOMICAL PRICING – “Our packaging says it all”. We have products ranging from Rs 75 to Rs 150 now and plan to launch products ranging up to Rs 600.

ii. We are also working on our franchise model for Café/Coffee shop that could be affordable to all. We really don’t see a point in a consumer spending more than Rs 100 for a cup of coffee and a snack. Walking into a coffee shop shouldn’t be a luxury affair unlike what has been in the recent times in India.

iii. Other FMCG products – we are in talks to have more products like turmeric, pepper powder – black/white, millets and other produce to be ventured into but it is a long road ahead.

iv. Apart from this our dream project is to Design a Sustainable Estate and look into possible options of Cabin Rentals.

What innovation does Estate Monkeys bring in the world of coffee? How is it different or better than others?

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Rajwant:- There is not much innovation that I can talk about but can assure that a lot of care and love that has gone into every product at every stage of it. I would also say what most other competitors may say, that it is a quality product, transparency in the matter of price and quality details, not pricey, service assurance but there are times when you mean it and customer/consumer is smart enough to know this well whenever it is meant.

Looking at innovation – we are working on Blockchain for Coffee & Pepper – we are not just building up information which is currently recorded but have a hold of some historical data of complete plantation. For the matter of fact there are very few planters and plantation that have complete records. We will be a step further in blockchain with data of last 20-30 years of plantation.

Let me divert a bit to some statistics, over the years almost 75% the best produce of India is Exported, or the number might be higher too and we at Estate Monkeys are trying our best to procure the best graded beans. We would like to introduce some premium graded beans in the coming days and to mention – we will be a bit pricey on them but cheaper than the competitors.

Our innovation or selling point for Estate Monkeys is that,

i. We use 65-70% Arabica beans in our retail coffee powder blends. Arabica has more value than Robusta while Robusta plants can be grown in wild with not much care, but Arabica plants requires 365 days monitoring.

ii. Prices are competitive and economical for consumers from all sectors. This is because we have eliminated the middlemen/what you call as stockists, superstockists, wholesalers, distributors etc. We welcome discounted prices from a low order quantity so multiple members could enrol into our loyalty program. No targets!!!

iii. Customization – we cater the way you like. ‘KNOW YOUR DRINK’ is our Motto. There are many different blends, plenty of taste needs, which we cannot serve them all but surely be able to cater some of it based on the customer/consumer needs.

iv. Private labelling – We at Estate Monkeys also cater to Café and other clients who require their own branding and packaging. We provide that under one roof with all possible options of customization at affordable prices. Our MOQ (minimum order quantity) on this is just 500 units including designing, packaging and labelling. So, each one has a brand of their own for their blend.

Rajwant and Ritwik, you both are from a family of coffee growers. How does that help you to enhance and promote Estate Monkeys?

Rajwant:- Honestly, Ritwik is more aware of coffee and its cultivation methods than me. I did not know much about coffee until 2018 but was always aware of the liking of consumers for ‘our coffee’. During my stay i.e. education followed with some work experience in the United States for a shot, I started selling our own Estate Coffee to friends and colleagues. To my surprise most of them loved it and asked me whether they could pay and order more. That is when the idea of a HOBBY struck to me to make extra bucks, eventually after moving to India I made it my occupation – Selling coffee……… Now coming to your question, being part of a coffee plantation community I was not much inclined towards it neither now I guess but was more curious to know what next after harvesting coffee – Is there something else as a business or some changes to the methods followed over the years in the cultivation of it, or is there something else apart from being called a Coffee Planter that could associate you with? Why not start a business and explore – I have been exploring still but not as a business but learning. Am not a businessman yet but will be One – One Fine Day But…. A good businessman.

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Ritwik:- Yes, but our father was not involved much into coffee estate and the plantation. He focused on education and worked in the city. The only time we would visit the coffee estates were during the holidays. We had exposure of the city and learnt means of commencing a business, that is giving people something what we have that they need, but for a price. So, with slight knowledge I had about coffee and the coffee plantation, and creative background I discovered in myself recently, I put it together and yes, that’s how I am enhancing and promoting Estate Monkeys.

Please tell us how do you three manage to run a brand which manufactures as well as supplies coffee and black pepper at so many places in such less time?

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Rajwant:- Sahana manages all the paperwork and legal matters pertaining towards the company – she is like the final member to call the shots and guide us through. At times she will be thinking 10 steps ahead unlike me or Ritwik who are focussed at that point/instance. Guess that’s in her genes as her father is an advocate.

Ritwik, is the social media, campaign manager, brand image and profile – we need young member to guide us on how the young generation looks at a brand and makes a status quo which is important for us not at the moment but in future when the current generation thinking is the same. We will need to cater the premium appeal whether the product is economical or premium – this is something Indian market will transit in coming days. Build brands now for the future – Just my thought but never know. Things change….. Execution and Planning, we are now catering to E-commerce sites for the moment and be available in USA at the earliest as we are collaborating with another brand but that is gonna be cool – Cannot be able to reveal much – COMING SOON.

Supply Chain – Our supply chain model is simple but had a tough time learning it but now have a hold on it. We have long strides to make but will be a challenge once we have our products distribution open. As there is a demand for our products distribution, we are yet to accept any offers or tie up with distributors.

Ms Sahana, you come from a family who does advanced farming and you have been involved in that business. Please tell us about the essentials and climatic conditions required for the perfect coffee to grow?

Sahana:-We have concentrated only on distribution and marketing of coffee produce. And not tried our ways at farming yet. We have been able to carry out the operations with the guidance of few family members who have been coffee planters for more than 50 years.

As the CMO of the company, how do you make sure that your customers love your brand and marketing of Estate Monkeys is better than other brands?

Ritwik:- The first thing we wanted to make sure is that package looks attractive and eye catchy. That we nailed it, and most of them have appreciated the logo and the packaging. About marketing, we haven’t yet got into marketing like you see with other brands. We had the “Blogger’s Campaign” for 60 days. It was just like Shout-out about our products. We did do well but not like we expected. Now we are just promoting it on social media. We are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google My Business, Pinterest, Snapchat. We keep having interactions on all social media vastly used.

As the COO of the company, how do you make sure that the operations in the company don’t stop due to unwanted reasons? How do you promote teamwork?

Sahana:- At Estate Monkeys, we have chosen the concept of ‘Made to Order’ and never stock up in excess, rather we believe in promising the customer our fresh products.

In this competitive world, we have upgraded our knowledge and facilities to run the business in a smooth order by giving more prominence to technology. The main task we opted was to create an awareness on the E-commerce platform and encourage others to upgrade themselves from the traditional ways. Though we three partners have divided the roles, we work as a team by setting up weekly schedules and regular team meetings to ensure speedy work. ‘Team Communication’ being our strong foundation, we work in synchronization and never fail at completing urgent or any bulk orders and always aim at on-time completion of the undertaken projects.

Estate Monkeys is very cool name please tell us how did you come up with such a cool name?

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Rajwant:- Estate Monkeys was not something we had in mind initially, it was to be called “4 MONKEYS” started by 4 members Rajwant, Ritwik, Rishi and Sahana but eventually we kind of thought Estate would be a better term and had to vote for it. As I remember, Sahana was never for Estate Monkeys but it was we 3 guys I would say who voted for it. Eventually all friends and family loved it and address us as Estate Monkeys. Rishi isn’t currently part of Estate Monkeys but will always be part of it as founding partner.

Estate Monkeys name and our logo defines – Young Generation of Coffee Planters/Estate Owners who are eager to change, redefine, learn, curious which the logo says it all. We are still backward in the way things happen or carried out in Estate management – need a change and be competitive but we still need the basics right. I would surely like to see a more competitive spirit seen in the Estate Community which quite honestly lacks for the moment. Hope we youngsters can at least contribute in that regard – need advancements in rural sectors – It is time we bridge the gap of technology, methods and whatsoever you call it to meet the metropolitan standards.

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