Proving her detractors wrong, Srao, who is Chairman & MD of the liquor company, has shown that the liquor industry can be a woman’s playing field too
Roshni Nair | Mumbai | July 6, 2016
Born and raised in the UK, Lisa Srao moved to India in 2003 after her marriage. When she moved to Yelahanka in Bengaluru, Srao realised it was difficult to get international quality products at a reasonable price in India. This realisation led her to look at different aspects of consumer products in India, especially in the liquor industry. Initially, she intended to bring her father’s beer brand, Double Dutch, to India but her research showed that it wouldn’t be practical not only because of the duties involved but also because of the palate.
“The taste in India is very different from that of Europe. Not only that, the taste in Punjab is completely different to that of Karnataka, even the language is different. It is like dealing with two separate countries. So I did full two years of research and found that the mass market premium segment was really under-utilised,” said Srao.
That was how I Brands Beverages was born. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the company launched its India operations in the year 2010. Since then the company has added two whiskeys, a rum and a brandy to its portfolio of products. Today, the company has its presence across 15 Indian states and has started exporting to South East Asian Countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Speaking about the challenges of entering a male-dominated industry such as the liquor industry, Srao, said, “It was very difficult. I faced numerous issues. People wouldn’t believe in me, they wouldn’t stock my products, they wouldn’t talk to me and talk to my male counterparts instead. It was just not right.”
But today Lisa has proved her detractors wrong with many awards and accolades under her belt. Winning Woman Entrepreneur of the year at IndSpirit Awards 2015 was just one of them.
Speaking about the restrictions in place in the country regarding marketing of liquor brands, Srao said, “I think surrogate advertising is absolutely a waste of time. I do it because of the rules and regulations but I think everybody knows a Royal Stag soda and a Royal Stag water is a Royal Stag Whiskey. So I think it makes no sense and nowhere around the world that I know of do they do these surrogate advertising per say.” Srao, instead, believes that if there must be restriction on advertising liquor brands then it should perhaps be restricted to being aired after nine in the night.
Talking about working around the restrictions Srao said, “What I have done in terms of marketing is that we do a lot of retail on-ground promotions, where we can actually promote the whisky and the brandy and the rum as the whisky, brandy and rum. Also, in the stores we give gifts like glasses and do a lot of on-ground retail activity.”
Lisa believes social media and digital platforms have been a dream come true for marketing and advertising her products.
“We do a lot of marketing on the social media because again we can really talk about the product. You know you are reaching out to your consumers, talking to them about what you are doing. I myself reach out to the customers and talk to them about the brand, what we are doing, how I have marketed, what’s happening with the company. The social media aspect, for us, has worked like a dream,” she added.
A perfectionist and a painter herself, Srao has laid great emphasis on packaging and presentation of her products. “When we first introduced Granton Whisky in Uttarakhand, we realised that the brand wasn’t working because not only was the packaging not right but also the blend was too smooth. They wanted something stronger. So we retracted the product and re-launched it again in an award winning canister that won an award for best packaging,” she added.
With the women’s market in the liquor industry expected to grow by 25% in the next five years, Srao believes that advertising shouldn’t be gender biased.
“Now it is very readily accepted that women drink, so that is another fantastic opportunity. Therefore, when I do my marketing I don’t just target men, I target women also. Whatever we do, we do it as a unisex campaign,” she said.
Srao, who a holds a BSc (Hons.) degree in Managerial and Administrative Studies from Aston University in Birmingham, has worked with some of the leading media organisations such as News Corporation, Vivendi Universal and Viacom. About her big switch from the media industry to the liquor industry Srao said, “I did a science degree in management and then I went into marketing. So I was looking at distributing products and working in marketing and I enjoyed it. But when I got married and moved to India, I didn’t think I would be able to do the kind of time I was doing abroad. I actually moved from media thinking I would I have a free life being an entrepreneur but today I am on call 24x7 and am busier than ever.”
A mother of two, Srao believes that she is a mother first and then the Chairman and Managing Director of I Brands Beverages Ltd.
“I am not going to lie, it is tough being a mother and a business woman and balancing both these roles. But if you know what your priorities are then it should be fine. If I get a call from home, I pick it up even if I am in an important meeting. I think you can have a nice mix of both.”
Her message for women entrepreneurs across the world is to dream big.
“Believe in yourself, you can achieve anything, that is my first belief and have passion and drive. You will face pitfalls, ups and downs, but without passion you can’t follow it through.”
Srao believes that knowledge is power and to be a successful entrepreneur, whether man or woman, knowing one’s business is imperative.
“Know your business really well. Make sure you have done your R&D. Make a sound business plan and stick to it. Also make sure that there is some extra buffer in there because you might go wrong. Go slowly, Rome wasn’t built in a day, go step by step and that is why you need patience because patience is the key. As a woman you can have a goal. Women are often fixed with this one immense pressure to have a family but you can have it all. Never give in. You can have a family life and you can have a career,” she added.