I must admit I have been a die hard fan of Lord Karan Bilimoria, more than Cobra Beer :). Lord Karan is the Founder and Chief Executive of Cobra Beer. I have been following Cobra Beer’s innovative initiatives, be it the ultra cool Cobra Advertisements, Cobra Vision, Entrepreneur support activities like in TiE.
Through Cobra Vision, Cobra conducts, sponsors competition for producer, director, scriptwriter, AD film maker, etc.
One thing inspires me about this company is their sheer passion to “Be different”. Rediff (Indian online newspaper) has published an excellent interview with Karan. Some insights to how Karan has built Cobra with a decisive passion, commitment and eye for detail.
Wasn’t it crazy of you to venture into business on your own?
My family thought I was mad! They did everything possible to discourage me. It all started when I was once playing polo in India. A polo stick maker said: ‘Look, why don’t you sell our sticks in England?’
I was 27 at the time. I always knew that I wanted to get into business at some point in my life. So I said why not give it a shot? I sold Indian polo sticks to places like Harrods and Giddons, the suppliers to the Royal family’s stables.
It was difficult. The buyer at Harrods was very rude to me. But eventually I managed to see the head buyer and got my foot in the door.
I discovered my core advantage was the fact that I was totally at home in England, and totally at home in India.
I could add value by putting the two countries together. I didn’t make much money. But that first year gave me the experience of importing, sourcing, market research and selling. Invaluable!
Did you have a mentor? Someone to guide you around the pitfalls of the business?
There was an Indian gentleman in London called Keshav Reddy. He introduced us to Mysore Breweries. He was the uncle of my partner at the time, Arjun Reddy. Arjun was a childhood friend who had an entrepreneurial bent: he’d been involved in managing his family farms and business from a very young age. So we teamed up to start Cobra. But he left the company a few years ago.
How did you raise finance?
In every possible way you can imagine! And that’s where being a chartered accountant helped a lot. It was always the biggest single problem I had: how to build a brand with no finances of my own. But one thing I believe in very strongly is the brand and the future of the business. So I’m very, very reluctant to sell my own shares. And that’s difficult because people say to me, your company is going places and I want to buy shares in it. No, sorry. You can’t.