Designation: Co-founder of Best Foods (ID Special food products, http://www.idspecial.com/)
PGSEM Batch: 2004 - 2007
Role Before Joining PGSEM: Program Manager at Intel
Role After Completing PGSEM: Entrepreneur
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I did my B.E. in Computer Science from NIT Calicut in 1995. During my IT career, I worked with Motorola India, Citibank Dubai, Intel India, Misys and Fair Isaac. After finishing my PGSEM, I quit my job at Fair Isaac to fully focus on my venture, Best Foods.
I come from an extremely poor family in Wayanad, Kerela. My father, being uneducated himself, was extremely committed toward ensuring that I get good education. I was lucky enough to get a chance to study. When I graduated, I was the only graduate of my village. Today, I am married with three lovely kids.
During my free time, I play cricket with my kids and watch TV. I don’t like reading books.
Q. Tell us something about your journey-How did it all begin?
I always had an entrepreneurial inclination. In my childhood, I used to sell sweets during my summer vacations. After finishing my engineering, I got busy with my job. During my marketing project under Late Prof Thiru, I gained some knowledge of the food processing industry. I then also realized that there was perhaps some business opportunity present in the ready-made batter business. In 2005, I started operation with a 50 sqft room and 2 small conventional grinders in partnership with my cousin brother. I entrusted the day to day operations to my cousin while I was working in IT field. We started doing test marketing to check if our idea really had potential.
Another, turning point came when I joined the VEIL (old name for the REIL course taken by Prof DVR) course. As a part of this course we were supposed to write a reflection paper. It was then I realized that even though as Project Manager, I was ensuring the execution of a project as per a plan, but surprisingly I did not have a plan for my life. I took the reflection paper very seriously and used this to get answers for two things, a) what was the purpose of my life? b) what was the plan for my life? This was the only paper where I scored the perfect 4.0 GPA and the reflection paper brought about a lot of clarity in my mind. At the end of 2007, I left the IT industry and immersed myself into my enterprise.
Q. Please describe the nature of your business?
Best foods Enterprises manufactures and markets the ID Special food products. We started with making batter for Idli and Dosa. Now we make and market several other products like Kerala Parota, Wheat Parota, Achappam (Rose cookies), Pettiappam (diamond chips) and Aappam under the ID Special Brand name.
Q. Describe the evolution of your company?
During the test marketing days in 10 stores, we were able to sell about 2 – 2.5 Kgs of batter per day per store. This gave us the confidence that this business could be scaled up. Using 15 lakhs of my savings from my professional life, we setup a 700 – 800 sqft factory in Kagadaspura in 2006. We soon started selling 3000 kg of batter every day and we hit our production capacity.
We realized that it was time to expand further and with the help of Karnataka State Small Industries Development Corporation (KSSIDC), we setup a factory at Hoskote in 2008 end. This factory is about 8,000 sqft and it produces about 20,000 – 25,000 Kgs of batter every day. Today we have a turnover of about Rs 20 crores and have already got several offers from bigger players and venture capitalists which we have already declined. We also had a multi-crore buy-out offer from MTR which we have declined.
Q. How is your company structured today?
Our company employs about 250 people currently. Out of these about 99% is unskilled labour from remote villages of South India. Apart from manufacturing, the other major activity that we have is Sales and Distribution. Here again we hire from villages and train the people.
Q. Describe the company goals and mission.
We have set ourself a target of making Best Foods a Rs 300 crore enterprise in the next 5 years.
We have not set any formal mission defined for the company. However, I have seen a lot of poverty in my early days and believe that I was lucky enough to get some opportunities to reach where I am today. A number of youth from villages, though extremely bright, do not get an opportunity in their lives.
I am hence a firm believer of generating employment for the poor youth of villages. I believe, providing employment is much useful than helping someone by donations. I am happy to see the little contribution that I have been able to make in the lives of my workers. After two years of training and hard work, our Sales guys can give Business School students a run for their money. These guys who were perhaps earning Rs 3,000 per month are now able to make around Rs 35,000 per month. The transformation in their life styles gives me lot of satisfaction.
Q. What are your future growth plans?
We have distribution tie ups with Nilgiris. Our major presence has been in Bangalore. Very recently, we have started distribution in Chennai, Mangalore, Dubai and Hyderabad. We plan to do the same at Mumbai and Pune through a distribution tie up with Nestle.
Once, our sales reach a critical mass in these cities, we also have plans to set up factories in these cities.
We are also helping some people who want to expand ID special or use our idea in setting up businesses at new places. In fact, I would be happy to help a fellow PGSEMer who wants to take this idea to different locations.
Q. In this highly competitive space requiring comparatively simple skill-set, what gives your company the edge to do well?
I believe even though the opportunity for ready-made batter was there in Bangalore, there were no organized players. This was when we started operations and made a mark for ourselves. Now that we have established ourselves up to a certain extent, we are relatively less worried about new players entering the market. New entrants will bring in more customer awareness about availability of such products in the market which will help boost our sales.
We give utmost importance to quality and service. Our products are manufactured in a super hygienic environment. We do not add any preservatives/flavors so that homely taste is not compromised. Fresh products reach the stores early morning so that customers experience the convenience of a natural food. Customers have outsourced their daily hassles to us J.
Q. How did PGSEM help transform your career?
Firstly, the reflection paper that I wrote helped me in deciding the purpose and project plan for my life.
Secondly, before PGSEM I used to be more of a tactical guy. I believe PGSEM taught me to think more strategically keeping long term view in mind.
Q. What were the few challenges that you faced in your entrepreneurial career?
My first challenge was that when I started, I had no clue about food processing industry. I had to spend a lot of effort learning things.
The other major challenge was convincing my family to allow me to leave my high paying software job and take the plunge in business. In fact, I told all this to my father just about 1 year ago.
Then there were some other challenges that several businesses face sometime. For example, our competitors tried to spread rumors that a rat was found in one of our products. There was also a case of product tampering by local competitors by purposefully inserting needles in the batter pouch.
Q. Whom do you consider as your Role Model and Why?
This is a spiritual question and I would like to answer it spiritually. I am a religious person and I consider the Prophet Muhammed as my role model. I am a firm believer in His teachings and try to follow them in my business as well.
We pay all our taxes and do not have debt in the business. In fact, once we turned down an annual order of Rs 50 lakh from a leading hotel chain because they wanted to use one of our products as a bar snack.
Q. What is your Mantra for work life balance?
During my corporate life, I at least used to get Saturdays and Sundays with my family. However, now it has become difficult to spend even weekends with them. I try to spend at least 15 mins daily with my 3 kids. However, I don’t think I am able to maintain a proper work life balance and I am not sure if such a thing is even possible for a startup entrepreneur J.
Q. How is your association with IIMB and PGSEM now?
I am still a frequent visitor at IIMB. I teach as a guest faculty in the REIL (Reinventing through Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Leadership) course.
Q. Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
- First of all you should do a thorough research to understand the potential market for the product.
- If the product appears to have enough potential, see if there are gaps in the market. For example there may be a situation where there is demand but no proper supply in the market.
- Look at the competition in the market. If there is a huge competition from organized players already in the market, it is extremely difficult for a start-up to establish itself. When we entered, there was hardly anyone in Bangalore market.
- If possible, through your enterprise try to generate employment for unskilled labour from villages.
Q. Your message to students at IIMB-PGSEM today?
During my IIMB days, several of my batch mates in PGSEM, used to crib about their IT careers. However, most of them did not have the guts to do anything about it and are still continuing with the same. I am sure many of the present PGSEMers would also be in a similar situation. Even though I was lucky enough to have a cousin to look after the test marketing of my business, it was difficult for me to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Hence my message to current PGSEMers is:-
If you are passionate about something, go ahead and at least try it out for at least few months with the help of full-time well-wishers like your cousins. If things work out, switch off completely from your old work and focus into your passion. If you don’t try, you will only talk about it till your last breath but would never make it happen. All the best!