Varad Deshpande likes to dream big. The HEC Paris MBA student was only 19 years old when he co-founded his business, after realizing the potential in an egg seller’s cart parked across from his undergraduate business school.
“Even though they served only two or three different egg dishes, it was really popular,” Varad explains. “I went there with my best friend, and we waited over a 1/2-hour to be served. The customers were mostly men around 18-25 years old. For instance, my friend’s girlfriend wouldn’t go there – women didn’t feel it was the cleanest place to eat. That’s when I sensed a need. Why not create an egg specialty restaurant that caters to everyone?”
Two partners and seven years later, Varad’s restaurant Yolkshire has grown into a three-location franchise in India. Though someone else has taken over as CEO during his studies, Varad still reviews the weekly sales figures. From his dorm room on the HEC Paris MBA campus, he remains ultimately responsible for the breaking and cooking of an estimated 2,400 eggs every week.
“Everything that we prepare is exclusive; our recipes aren’t the type of egg dishes you would cook at home,” he said. “That’s the concept. Our menu features egg recipes from all over the world—Lebanon, Mexico, France.”
But even as Yolkshire’s popularity grows in India, Varad is thinking bigger. He envisions a multinational chain, on par with McDonalds. “Why not?” the 26-year-old says. “The food we serve is better. I think having one in every city would be a realistic dream.”
To reach that goal, Varad enrolled in the HEC Paris MBA last September.
“I can try something new in my company today, and if it doesn’t work, I can always go back to what we were doing before,” he says. “That’s very easy. But I want to expand – imagine that I’m running a thousand outlets. I can’t take risks in the same way I’ve been doing – I have to look at marketing; I have to look at strategy and all the other things that come with it. That is perspective which I will gain only by coming to a school like HEC Paris.”
Despite his current passion for business, Varad didn’t always dream of making it big as a restaurateur. As a child, another idea consumed him: becoming a top-ranked tennis player. “I saw Sampras, Federer, Nadal; they inspired me,” he says. “As a nine-year-old, I started playing with the goal of being number one.”
Growing up, sports took priority over school for Varad. At his peak, he ranked 43rd in all of India, and was playing in international tournaments.
But at 17 years old, the realization struck that he, most likely, wasn’t good enough to be the next Federer. “I had to make a decision,” he says. “I don’t have the build of a typical tennis player, and I didn’t want to be a coach. So I stopped playing tennis and enrolled in the local business school in Pune.”
And the rest is business history. But now that he’s made the decision to do his MBA, is it possible that his dream might change once again?
Varad says that anything is possible. For the moment though, he remains dedicated to improving his restaurant acumen. He tries one new Parisian restaurant every week, and revels in having the time to reflect on what he’s already accomplished.
“All my professional life has been about getting up at 6 am and doing things,” he says. “It was not about taking things in, or learning something new that day. Running a business takes a lot of energy, but it doesn’t actually help you to grow as a person, to reflect on what you have achieved. That is something I am doing at the HEC Paris MBA. In one year here, I think you grow more than you otherwise would in three or four years. It’s about being here with the other students, and the discussions that you have with them.”
“Being a part a team, interacting and persuading each other—that is the most important part of what I am learning here at HEC. Leading people who have an opinion—maybe a different opinion that is as valid as yours—that is where I’m being challenged today.”
After graduation from the HEC Paris MBA, Varad would like to experience working in the restaurant industry in Europe before expanding his operation in India. After that, he says to watch for a Yolkshire restaurant coming to a town near you.