Arun George, Mukesh Tolani and Sibi Venkataraju | Outlook Business
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Vishal Koul

Best Buddies 2017

Arun George, Mukesh Tolani and Sibi Venkataraju
For Toit co-founders work has always been fun and having beer on tap certainly helps

Bhavik Nair

High on life: (clockwise from top) Sibi Venkataraju, Arun George and Mukesh Tolani, co-founders, Toit

Sibi Venkataraju, Mukesh Tolani and Arun George have been friends since their school days in Bengaluru. But eventually, George and Venkataraju moved to Singapore for higher studies and work. In 2008, it was while having a beer after work in Singapore that they decided the world deserved better beer than the one they were having at a local microbrewery. Venkataraju always had his heart set on running a restaurant. So when George suggested they start a micro-brewery back home in Bengaluru, he jumped at the idea. Luckily for them, Tolani was already running a successful restaurant with his partner Glen Williams. When they pitched the idea to Tolani and Williams, both were only too glad to join the purposeful cause. After successfully tackling the various hurdles of getting clearances and licences, Toit was launched in 2010. The co-founders, who have taken an interesting pledge to make this world a happier and boozier place, have even learnt to brew beer. The school friends have complementary skill-sets that ensure the business is balanced. Venkataraju is the focused and disciplined one at work ensuring everything goes on time, George is the chilled one who calms frayed nerves, while Tolani manages the ka-ching! For these three musketeers, work has always been fun and yes, having beer on tap certainly helps.

How did the three of you meet?

Venkataraju: Mukesh and I studied at the same school for many years, but we only met at an orientation party when we were in the 11th grade. 

George: I met both of them when I moved to their school in 1996.

What was your first impression of each other?

Venkataraju: Mukesh came with a reputation of being a bully because he was huge. Arun had a bike which was a big deal back then.

Tolani: Sibi was a paavam (innocent) guy, very small built. This whole thing of me being a bully is exaggerated. Arun, on the other hand, was this stud — with his piercing and coloured hair. He was one of those cool dudes.

George: Sibi was an innocent guy and was very nerdy in school. Mukesh was much fatter then. Now, he has lost a lot of weight. I remember him borrowing money from everybody and never returning it.

How would you describe each other?

Venkataraju: Mukesh comes from a family that has always been in business. He is a very safe, reliable person. Arun is still the wild child! He is probably one of the most easy-going people you can meet. 

Tolani: Sibi has two sides to himself. One, is he is very focussed and strict at work. Out of work, he is a totally different person and a lot of fun — something you don’t see at work. Arun is one of the coolest and calmest guys around — be it work or otherwise.

George: Sibi has changed a lot from what I remember him in school. He was a late bloomer in terms of going out and having a drink. Mukesh handles the finances at work. He does that job very well because he comes from a business background.

How is it working with school friends?

Venkataraju: Since we were in the same school, there is a lot of humour from those days that only the three of us are privy to. So, even when we are stuck in a boring meeting there are these inside jokes that we carry on with each other, which only we understand. Overall, work is a lot of fun.

Do you have a favourite sport or game that all the three of you watch together?

Venkataraju: We all follow cricket. We went for Sachin Tendulkar’s last game together. 

Tolani: Cricket is what we watch together, but, of late, we are into virtual reality games as well. Yes, we also like football.

What’s the one thing you folks haven’t stopped pulling each other’s leg about?

Venkataraju: They remind me of my embarrassing crushes.

Tolani: I was fat when I was in school, so I looked much older than my age. There was this incident when I walked into a class on the first day of my 11th grade and half the class stood up thinking that I was a lecturer. They don’t let me forget that. And they keep saying that I kept on borrowing money, which is not true!

Venkataraju: Arun was a serial dater. He dated five girls from the same class!

What’s the one thing he talks about for hours on end?

Venkataraju: Arun can go on about the ladies and Mukesh can talk about
partying and nightlife.

Tolani: I think both Sibi and Arun can talk about women for hours on end.

Can you recall some of your worst conflicts or arguments? How did you resolve them? 

Venkataraju: With Mukesh, we disagreed on something at work once. We didn’t talk to each other for a week. It just felt horrible, so we decided to move on. With Arun, nothing has gone on for too long. We never had fights; we just had disagreements. 

Tolani: Professionally, it was just that one fight with Sibi. Personally, one incident that I remember was when Sibi was in Singapore and had come down for holidays during Holi. This guy had an eye problem and he used to never play Holi. We tricked him out of his house and messed him completely. He was livid.  He thought he almost lost his eye. With Arun, I don’t think I have had a fight.

George: With Mukesh, I haven’t really had a serious disagreement. We had some tough times when we started. So, all of our tempers were a little bit on the edge. I think Sibi and I had a few disagreements. But then we agreed to disagree on a few points and that worked.

What are the things that you disagree on while running the business?

Venkataraju: I think risk-taking is where we tend to disagree — Mukesh plays safe while Arun takes most of the risks.

George: I tend to take bigger risks. The way I got into this business was by borrowing a lot of money. At that point of time, I had put all the eggs in one basket. Now, I am a little bit more risk-averse. We don’t take a decision unless all of us are comfortable with it.

How do you know the other person is extremely upset, angry and how do you react?

Tolani: Of the two, Sibi is the angry young man. I think he was much calmer earlier. When he is angry, I let him go through his emotions. Once the office is a little clearer, I talk to him and try and understand what we can do. Arun is the calm man around. 

George: When Sibi is angry, the restaurant goes very quiet. Keeping quiet is the way to deal with it. 

What is that one skill you learnt from the other?

Venkataraju: Arun taught me how to be a little more social. Mukesh is great in being diplomatic. 

Tolani: I have learnt to be calm. 

George: Sibi’s attention to detail and professionalism — that’s what I learnt from him. Mukesh brings the calming influence into the work place.

What’s the one thing you’d want to change about him?

Venkataraju: Mukesh could be more punctual and avoid procrastination. With Arun, it’s the opposite — don’t hurry, procrastinate a little bit.

Tolani: Sibi is on the run all the time. I think he needs to go slow. Arun needs to hold back a little bit.

If you could steal one thing from each other, what would it be and why?

Venkataraju: I will steal Mukesh’s son — his son is the cutest character ever. I will steal Arun’s smooth ways with women.

Tolani: Sibi’s pool table and Arun’s hoverboard.

George: Sibi’s pool table and Mukesh’s camera.

Is there something that they have introduced you to and that’s a constant in your life?

Venkataraju: Arun introduced me to whiskey. Mukesh introduced the art of negotiation.

Tolani: Arun plays a lot of basketball; I have picked that up from him. These guys introduced me to beer.

George: Some books I have read or music I listen to or food I tried is definitely a result of hearing about them from either Sibi or Mukesh.  

What nicknames do you address each other with?

Venkataraju: I sometimes call Mukesh, Mugesh. 

Tolani: I call him Mr Venkataraju. I call Arun, Rooney.

George: We keep calling Sibi, Venkataraju. We sometimes call Mukesh, Muku.

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