Piper Podcast: Shamil Thakrar, Co-founder of Dishoom


In this first episode of series six of our long running podcast series, How I Grew My Brand, Mary Nightingale speaks to Shamil Thakrar, founder of Dishoom, the Indian restaurant brand that has changed the way the UK thinks about curry houses.

As always, Mary discusses with founders the growth challenges they’ve experienced as they have grown through the 7,7,70 inflection points. You can read an in-depth explanation of our thinking around 7,17,70 in our last newsletter. Shamil relates to the need to shift as the brand grows, ‘We’ve had to pause, articulate our culture, make sure the processes are right, and we’ve kept doing that.’

For us, 7,17,70 is closely linked to getting the pace of growth right. The same is true for Shamil and Dishoom, ‘One thing we really care about all the time is making sure that growth doesn’t harm what we do. We’re so obsessed with that idea, that it feels like the pain is more linear and I can’t distribute the pain into particular pivots.’

This is represented physically on Shamil’s desk by a ‘fluffy toy goose,’ an idea taken from Stephen R. Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, ‘Just look after the goose, the eggs will follow.’ In more literal terms, ‘You’ve got to nurture the thing that is producing for you.’

Through the interview, he reveals the origins of Dishoom, the Irani cafes that inspired the brand, the desire to create a place that represented the India he knew rather than ‘the perception of India from Britain… either Bollywood, or Cricket, or days of the Raj, or Maharajas and palaces, and Curry House.’ He’s brought elements of that into every part of Dishoom, from the name of their management system to the Bollywood roots of the word Dishoom.

You will hear Shamil talk at length about how the business is driven by purpose and quality rather than just numbers, even if he does have the analytical side of him, ‘Being all analytic, I was programmed with that piece of software that says a business revenue, cost, profit, capital return… but it’s not what you should be doing as an entrepreneur, you should have a different model… what you should think about is awesome food and drink, awesome service, a happy team, control the costs, and the revenue and the profits are the applause that follow.’

Customer obsessiveness is central to staying relevant and keeping the quality high. Shamil sees this as core to his role, ‘I read all the bad feedback and I know where we get it wrong. I think you have to be passionate about a couple of things. You have to face into the bad feedback and then you have to be quite forensic about why that happened.’

This focus on feedback is something that Shamil has had to train himself to appreciate as he grew as a founder and a business leader, ‘I don’t think I was much good at listening, I’m better now and I’ve done a lot of work on that bit… I think one of the really underrated skills for people who lead is listening, you just have to really listen. Not only listen, but accept that your perspective is just a perspective, there’s a bit of humility in that.’

It is all these elements and so much more that Shamil believes helped him create the brand legend, marked by still having queues down the street 15 years later. Enjoy the listen. We loved recording it.