When 28-year-old Karan Bilimoria first drafted his business plan for selling a "less gassy" beer on the kitchen table of his friend's house in Fulham, little did he know the impact Cobra Beer would have on the UK beer market.
As chairman of a company that now sells its products across the globe, and also a peer in the House of Lords, the Indian-born British entrepreneur has been working on not only exploiting the Cobra brand in the growing Indian market, but improving trade and business relations between the UK and India.
In an exclusive three-part video interview with IBTimes UK, Lord Bilimoria talks about first coming to Britain, starting his business, and his hopes for future UK-India trade and business relations.
The Cobra journey begins
Born and raised in India, Bilimoria spent his childhood travelling around the country as his father was a member of the Indian army. He moved to the UK before becoming qualified as a chartered accountant in the city of London with Ernst and Young.
"I started my company within a few months of finishing my education," he notes, adding that he was inspired to start the venture after becoming dissatisfied with the beers that were available on the market.
"A lot of business ideas are very simple. They often come from as a consumer being passionate about something on the one hand and hating something on the other hand. In my case I've always loved beer," he says.
"I hated the fizzy lagers in the UK, particularly with food, and an English friend of mine introduced me to ale, which I loved. But I found the ale very difficult to drink with food, so I then came up with the idea of having a beer with the refreshing qualities of a lager and the smoothness of an ale combined."
Bringing the Cobra business back from the brink
Launched during a time when curry houses and gastropubs were become increasingly popular with the British public, the business experienced phenomenal growth and by 2007 had revenues of around £30m. But the journey for Bilimoria has been paved with difficulties. The peer admits: "Four years ago I nearly lost everything. In fact on three occasions in my journey I've nearly lost the business" .
Coinciding with the global financial crisis, the brewer collapsed into administration in 2010 owing an estimated £70m to creditors. The company was saved through a joint venture deal with Molson Coors, one of the world's largest brewers, whereby Bilimoria retains a 49.9% stake in the company. Whilst acknowledging that it has been a challenging period for Cobra, Bilimoria is confident that the partnership is just what the business needs to reach out to an increasingly global market.
"Having Molson Coors as a partner has worked incredibly well because we have a combination of a giant global brewer, in fact the largest family brewers in the world, with an entrepreneurial company like Cobra merged together. The two go very well together so it is the best of both worlds."
Championing India and life as a Lord
Bilimoria received a CBE in 2004 for his services to business and entrepreneurship, before in June 2006 being appointed an independent crossbench peer in the House of Lords. As the founding chairman of the UK India business council, he has actively worked with the government to seek business opportunities for the UK in India.
"We've increased trade and business in goods and services between the UK and India by over three times in the last decade, but we're still scratching the surface. We could be doing and should be doing so much more" he says.
"I still despair when I give talks to business audiences around the country, and I'll be speaking to 300 people and ask how many do business with India, and only a few hands go up. I wish our small and medium-size enterprises would just get on a plane and go out there and see the opportunities for themselves, because the opportunity is huge."
Watch the full three-part interview here