Shruti Panjabi is a brand and marketing professional turned entrepreneur who sells people nostalgia served on a stick and dunked in chocolate-y joy. “Before Pop Hop, I’d dabbled in cakes and cupcakes back in 2011. The dessert space is something I feel really good about because it’s a happy space; no one’s ever critiquing a cake and it’s almost therapeutic. But the cake venture suffered from a lack of scalability because of the requirement of very skilled personnel.”
The main motivation that drove Shruti to form Pop Hop was to create interesting and unique flavours that were not yet available in India. “While travelling across North America, we had some amazing ice cream flavours which we absolutely had to take back home. What we eat in India is very, very different from that.” That led to a year of market research, trial and error, purchasing equipment and finally everything came together. “My main forte is putting work in the product. What you use is what you get. I learnt on the job and got the best materials.”
The choice of popsicle was inspired by another experience that Shruti’s father had at a confectioner’s in Canada. “Also, popsicles evoke some nostalgia. Some people might not agree with this, but all of us have had popsicles at one point of time in our lives. Also, popsicles are ergonomically sized products.” If one passes a popsicle kiosk or place in a mall, people always look back, Shruti believes. In fact, visuals play a huge role in her marketing strategy. The shop layout and colours have been designed very carefully so as to give a very inviting appeal.
Pop Hop was such a hit that instead of Shruti pitching to them for leasing space, malls started approaching her for her to open outlets there. By 2020 they already had three outlets, and Shruti was on the verge of striking an agreement with 3 more malls by May 2020. “Post that we moved to a different model. One of my mentors from my former employers, Future Groups, advised me to exit all malls, and that was perhaps the best nugget of advice I’ve ever received. So we did exactly that, and now my retail model is shut. Instead, we’ve innovated to a direct-to-customer model, and have replaced the single helping with a box of 10 popsicles.” The model so far has shown favourable results, and the model is picking up and Pop Hop’s website is under construction, which will augment their visibility further.
While Shruti has yet to see tangible results from the Growtherator programme, it has definitely altered her mindset regarding her business. From understanding the basics of finance and business to being connected with a brilliant, assorted cohort of women, the experience has been utterly enriching in every sense of the word. “I wish I had done the CFO Bridge session earlier while we were opening, it would’ve been very useful. At a higher level, it has helped me reconnect with the business by introspecting about why I’m in the business in the first place while on ground I’m much more business-oriented now and focussing more on the bottom line as well. I would never look at numbers earlier but that has changed a lot.”
Other than just serving dollops of sumptuous desserts, Pop Hop has been a very environmentally conscious business, making sure that the outlets were 100% plastic-free. Since the pandemic, they have had to rely on plastics for proper packaging of their products, but they are on the lookout for alternatives.
Shruti learnt the business on the job. It was trial and error for her, and because of that she had had her truck with both the ups and downs of the business. Drawing on her experience, she advises bussing entrepreneurs to do the same. “Dive head first into it. Sometimes things will take off pretty easily, while at others you’ll regret quitting your job. But what matters at the end of the day is your integrity. If you’re in it for the money, you’d never be able to handle the pressure. To build a legacy though, that sustains a business through rough times.”