Friday, April 18, 2014

An Entrepreneurial Debut

We have been regular visitors to the monthly organic bazaar at Saptaparini. Ayaan loves to come along with me and potters around spending his meagre stockpile of money on stuff like organic millet laddoos, jowar crisps and oddly shaped tomatoes. In addition to vegetables and staples, they also have stalls of homemade goodies. When we were at the February bazaar, Ayaan suddenly perked up and asked whether he could have his own lemonade stall at the market. I answered in the affirmative. Since we were travelling on the date of the March bazaar, we decided we would aim for the April bazaar. Over the next couple of months, the plan evolved to include bakes goodies.

Ayaan was pretty determined to sell only organic stuff, in line with the philosophy of the bazaar. So, we had to look for recipes that could be made with the organic ingredients available in Hyderabad. This ruled out two of his favourite recipes - brownies and chocochip cookies - since we could not find organic cocoa and chocolate. After much debate, we narrowed it down to 4 recipes to test and of those, chose two to make for the final day: Wholewheat Banana Muffins and Peanut Butter Cookies.

The day before the market, we went to the Saturday organic market to close the deal with the organisers. They blocked a stall for us and kindly agreed to charge us a deeply discounted rate of Rs. 250 instead of the standard Rs. 750 (they finally waived even this nominal amount). We also used the opportunity to pick up some last-minute ingredients (read 50 limes) and note down the prices of all our ingredients for costing purposes.

We sat and made cost sheets for each of the things that he was planning to make and sell. Even though I did not plan it as such, it became a sneaky teaching opportunity. Not only did he have to practice his multiplication and division, we also ended up discussing concepts like the relationship between price and demand, overheads and profitability. The final sheets looked something like this:

We first got started on the lemonade. After googling a bit, I figured that making sugar syrup would be less labour intensive than stirring the sugar into the water. So, Ayaan measured out the necessary proportions of water and sugar and patiently stirred it over the gas till all the sugar dissolved. For the lemons themselves, Tarana was recruited and was super excited because she was allowed to cut some lemons into half (with a knife!) and assist with the squeezing. (It's no surprise then that she was least impressed by the classroom lemonade making activity the next week where the kids watched rather than made). 

For the baked goods, Ayaan did most of the measuring and mixing, while I manned the oven. Once everything was done, we packed the cookies and cupcakes into boxes, poured the lemonade into a large dispenser, picked up the remaining supplies and headed over to the market. Oh, and we made this simple poster on PowerPoint. (We had grand plans of making it by hand but we ran out of time and I got realistic about our art skills):

The organisers (Dharti Organics) were nice enough to give us a stall right near the entrance and we got started with setting it up. Tarana hung around and pretended to be helpful for a while but then my friend arrived with her son, who is also Tarana's classmate, and we barely saw her after that.

Business was slow to start with. But then as people started arriving and the mercury began to rise, the lemonade started calling out to people. About an hour into the bazaar, our lemonade container had run dry. Then Ayaan had a brainwave and went over to one of the vegetable stalls and managed to unearth and buy some more lemons. We sent Jai home for supplies and then made lemonade on the fly so that we could keep selling it.

The baked goods were slower to sell. But then they started going too and eventually we were all sold out on everything. We were helped along by some supportive friends who showed up and bought in multiples. 

Ayaan totally exceeded my expectations. Despite the fact that temperatures were virtually at melting point, he was bursting with boundless energy and optimism throughout. When sales were slow to start with, my heart was breaking a little for him but his spirits never sagged. At one point, he took one of the box lids, arranged a selection of his goodies on it and walked up to potential customers and asked them to buy. That is something that I am not comfortable doing even as an adult but he had no qualms, even when many people politely said no. I think I was more upset about the people who said no than he was! He was also extremely sharp and business-minded. He resolutely refused to give discounts to friends and family and promptly asked Jai to cough up cash for the lemonade and cookie that Tarana consumed!

In the end, we sold about 35 glasses of lemonade, 28 cupcakes and 32 cookies. We came home and did the math. I decided not to make him pay for the overheads this time, so he just had to pay me for the ingredients. He also offered to pay Jai and me a salary for our help. I told him that I wanted my salary in kind - three days of being nice to his sister. His response: "Mama! Can't I just give you money?!" Sigh. I guess you can't win them all...

Like the calculation above says, he made just over a thousand rupees out of the whole exercise and is feeling very rich. The money has been carefully put in a pouch and deposited into our safe. He also wants to look into opening a bank account in his own name.

To be honest, my instant reaction to his request to run a stall was to say no - it seemed like too much work (and it was!). But I am so glad that I managed to bite it back and say yes instead. I think he got so much more out of it than either of us put into it. In addition to the money and the experience, he got a lot of compliments and positive strokes from everyone he interacted with and he was on cloud nine for days after. Overall, it was an experience that fostered learning, confidence and joy in equal measure. And if he does go on to fulfil his current ambition to be a chef, I guess this counts as his first  bit of work experience.