Sam Kothari


Co Founder of Pokéd


by Tim Carroll

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture?

I started my first business straight out of high school and have been working on something ever since. I find solving complex problems and building value in a business incredibly satisfying. The inspiration for Pokéd came while I working as a consultant at A. T. Kearney. Buying lunch or dinner on a regular basis proved to be surprisingly challenging; I struggled to find a tasty, filling, value-formoney offering that I could eat without feeling guilty. We like to think Pokéd meets those characteristics.


How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

My business partner, Justin and I had already started a business venture in the hospitality sector (Scroll Ice Cream), and we were on the lookout for something with a bigger total addressable market. The rapid growth of US based poke stores and concepts helped us realise that the time was right to bring this Hawaiian staple to Australia shores.

How did you choose your company name and why?

We decided to launch our poke venture in mid-June 2016 and had our first store constructed and trading by July 2016, so we didn’t have a lot of time to think of a name. A friend came up with the name during one of our taste testing sessions. We liked the name as it was easy to explain, and allowed us to have some fun with ‘poked’ puns.

Where did your organisation’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?

Justin and I were aggressive savers when we were consultants because we always knew that we’d deploy capital in a business venture at some point. That allowed us to self-fund the first two Pokéd stores. To continue our growth, we brought some hospitality veterans onto our team. They provided us with the capital, skills and experience required to build a successful QSR brand.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

We spend very little on big marketing campaigns; our focus is always on creating a product and experience for our customers that surpasses their expectations. That often means listening to painful (but useful) feedback. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked for professional services organisations that have helped us actively promote our brand in the Melbourne and Sydney CBD's. We’ve seen plenty of orders come from our old offices!

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The independence of managing my own time. It’s a lot of fun to think about how to allocate my time in the business; what drives most value, what should I be working on, what’s a priority and what can be left until later? If you add working with a great team on top of that, you end up with a fun and action-packed day-to-day life.

How do you conquer those moments of doubt that so often stifle or trip or stop so many entrepreneurs with great ideas...what pushes you through?

I am a conservative person by nature. My business partner, Justin, is the opposite, he’s optimistic and able to identify opportunities from a mile away. Moments of doubt are frequent; one bad review from a customer can send you in a spiral. As former consultants, we like falling back on rigorous analysis to assess how we’re going and whether we should persist. We check-in almost every quarter to assess our opportunity costs and decide whether it makes sense for us to continue in the business. Taking the emotion (both positive and negative) out of those moments of doubt helps immensely.

Excluding yours, what business or organisation do you admire the most?

I’m cheating a little and picking two: 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway. Both are well run businesses led by incredibly intelligent individuals. There are many reasons to admire them, but here are a few that have stuck with me: their sustained success over many years, the simplicity of their business models, the level of trust they place in their teams, and the ethical way in which they operate in highly competitive industries.

Besides money, what are your favourite ways to compensate people?

3G Capital outlined their people strategy very clearly, and it’s something we have tried to adopt: build businesses that give your team a BHAG (big hairy, audacious goal). We take this to mean that we should provide our team with opportunities for ownership and ensure that they are consistently being challenged. One of our key differentiators in the QSR space has been our training program. Our restaurant managers receive basic consulting skills training, including a comprehensive Excel course. We reckon they can probably hold their own in an Excel-off against a top tier management consultant.

If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read (a lot). We could have avoided a lot of mistakes if we had absorbed and implemented some key lessons from other successful business people. The E-Myth is probably my most recommended book for people starting out in business; it helps provide a framework to distinguish between what it means to be a manager, an entrepreneur and a technician.

Where you see yourself and your business in 3 to 5 Years?

I’d love to see Pokéd continue to grow sustainably, both nationally and internationally. There are still a lot of growth opportunities within the QSR space. Justin and I would love to make Poked the go-to QSR brand for busy office workers.

In one word, characterise your life as an entrepreneur?