All in the family... and friends

Topics BOOK REVIEW

Movie scriptwriters use a simple tool to sell their stories and screenplays to production houses and film financiers. It is called a “logline”, a clear one-sentence brief of the story. It typically contains elements that pique both interest and imagination. You can treat the title of Kainaz Messman Harchandrai and Tina Messman Wyke’s book as an appropriate “logline” for their book — it summarises the theme for readers in a way that enables them to imagine the story but only enough to make them want to complete the story that they had half-imagined in their head. That’s the thing about the word “dream”.

Don’t go looking for highfalutin brand-building ideas or for that matter Seth Godin’s Purple Cow in Baking a Dream, though. You simply won't find them. There’s no mention of Flynn, Farrell or Brogan; it’s just a story about two sisters and how they built a brand. Okay “The Twelve Things I've Learnt Along The Way” (chapter 24) is in the nature of lessons from mistakes but you can’t call them path-breaking or paradigm-shifting ideas by any stretch of imagination.

Learning how to build a brand can easily take a semester-long MBA course but the authors manage to distil their story over 25 chapters spanning 236 pages, complete with a full low-down of their family and friends and how the two of them got started. In parts the narrative is simplistic and things just seem to fall in place just when they need to but then, it is that “compelling image of an achievable future” — to borrow a line from Stew Friedman of the Wharton School — that makes this book work.

Here’s what I thought the writers were trying to say — that a strong brand isn’t just about the package you put on the shelves or the people who walk into your store; it’s also about who you are, how your people act with customers, and the culture you foster among your employees. The brand in this case is the bakery brand Theobroma (food of the Gods in Greek), which was started by the Messman family in Mumbai's Colaba area and later expanded to Bandra and many other locations in the city and then to the National Capital region. Kainaz is the lead author and she tells the story with much honesty and sincerity. Her childhood dreams and her family and friends seem completely intertwined with the story of her career first as a chef and then as the owner of Theobroma.

Baking A Dream

 
Author: Kainaz Messman Harchandrai with Tina Messman Wykes

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 239 

Price: Rs 599
There are some interesting details about the family’s early struggles and the hassles of starting Theobroma in 2004. One could actually imagine the scene at the opening of their first store where she writes about how the family was behind schedule, about how the girls raced to satisfy the kind of demand their little shop generated on Day One and the little celebration they had after the hectic first day. Going forward, she puts down totally matter-of-factly the problems the brand faced in terms of quality, pricing, packaging on the one hand and staffing and skilling of its employees on the other. She also talks at great length about the problems of financing and expanding the business. What comes across very strongly in all this is that the sisters’ friends and family played a big role in the success of their brand — by pitching in with little things like helping pack deliveries to bigger things like connecting them to financiers when they were mulling expanding beyond their comfort zone.

The hardest part of building a brand is being honest about the scorecard. We love our children even when they’re having a full-blown meltdown in front of a houseful of guests and we’d probably be at a loss when asked to list their weaknesses. But in business that could spell disaster. Chapter 21 titled “We are sorry” is the best thing about “Baking a Dream”. It unabashedly talks about all that is wrong with Theobroma and the owners' failings.

Take this: "As we grew, our service standard fell with each new outlet. We recruited people and put them in front of our guests without adequate product knowledge or training... We tried to put things right but failed spectacularly."

Later in the chapter, she talks about the measures the owners have taken to fix the problems. Of course, it's work in progress... “we swim in an ocean of feedback”....

In hindsight, the story (which reminded me often of my school years’ sketchbook) is told, in part, to express gratitude to guests and friends for making the journey “more beautiful than in the realms of our wildest dreams”. Focusing more on the philosophy of the company and the aspiration of its founders rather than the nuts and bolts of managing a business, the writers manage to make the brand both smart and old-worldly — the latter because Theobroma appears to owe a lot to tradition and family and smart because it manages to shrug off the lows and move on.

PS: If you wish to channel your inner Nadiya Hussain, the section on "Baking at home" is just for you....


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