Five Questions For … Gaurav Khandelwal, Founder of Houston’s Chai One
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was limited to working 20 hours a week; the minimum wage at the time was $5 an hour. There was no way I could make enough money. I didn’t want to go back to India. I had to run these different businesses. I realized I didn’t have all of the skills, so I ended up recruiting friends. For the catering company, I wasn’t good at cooking, so I’d bring in people as partners that were really good cooks.
There was no Indian restaurant in town, so we said we’ll cook for $10 a plate, and we need to have 20 people minimum. We would cook in the college dorm.
It was really my introduction to entrepreneurship. We got on the front page of the local newspaper, 19-year-old students making Indian food that was awesome and amazing. The dean basically said, “Where is your food permit? Where are you cooking this?” We don’t know about any of this stuff, so we shut it down.
X: If you could go back in time and get five minutes with any major historical figure, who would it be, and what would you want to say to them?
GK: I would go back to John D. Rockefeller, and I would ask, how did you realize you were in the railroad business, not the oil business? He knew he could drill all the oil he wanted but he knew if he couldn’t get it transported he couldn’t sell it. He was thinking massive scale, [not] just, “Let me sell a lot of oil.” It was about transportation and logistics, about the entire supply chain. He was a visionary, building three businesses at the same time. A lot of people have ideas, say, “I think I need to find a vendor, or find a team to do that,” but it’s hard to execute, even on one business. I would ask him, “How do you plan for three and execute all three in harmony?” The real question is, “When did you know you needed to build all three?”
X: How do you define success?
GK: “Happy wife, happy life.” She wears that T-shirt all the time.
To me, success is when you can positively impact or transform someone’s life that didn’t have an opportunity. So I’m involved in a couple of charities that are pulling out slum kids from India, educating kids in India. If you just look at the numbers, $25 or $30 a year pays for a kid’s annual education in India. I don’t think of success as a milestone—you’ve made a lot of money, you’ve reached some point in a career. I think that we need to be successful on a day-to-day basis.