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Meet eight entrepreneurs who defied all odds and rose to the top

Entrepreneurs featured in this story are from wide-ranging backgrounds and education.

Updated: Oct 27, 2019, 02.26 PM IST
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Some of the stories of entrepreneurs listed here have their roots in the early days of liberalisation in India while others found their feet in the decade of high growth at the beginning of this millennium.
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The ability to persevere in the face of adversity might be what separates the everyman and the great. This Diwali, we are telling you about eight people from different parts of the country who took on adversity and emerged with gold.

Consider a visually impaired boy born to farmer parents, going on to set up his own venture in which eventually Ratan Tata becomes an investor. How does a nine-year-old who used to sell chocolates made by his parents on a bicycle, grow up to lead a Rs 400 crore confectionary company? How did an entrepreneur, neck deep in debt after his first venture failed, bounce back? We scoured the country to find self-made success stories who turned adversity into advantages and ended up with eight tenacious entrepreneurs who had little going for them in the beginning, except their belief in themselves and their mission. Most of them had few advantages by way of family wealth, elite education or clan networks.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. We looked for those who had an interesting track record in growing brick-and-mortar businesses. We felt tech startups receive adequate coverage and therefore did not consider them. We also avoided entrepreneurs who have already been covered widely. You will find in these stories a degree of chutzpah. The story about a milk distributor’s son, who wanted to sell paneer, but didn’t know how to make it, is one such. Street smarts, perseverance and a willingness to pivot or course-correct is a recurring theme.

Some of these stories have their roots in the early days of liberalisation in India while others found their feet in the decade of high growth at the beginning of this millennium. They rode the growth waves. The entrepreneurs featured here are from wide-ranging backgrounds and education. You will love the story of the Air Force man who gave up his entire savings to help war widows, before starting his business.

These are difficult times for business and industry with slowing demand growth and sluggish economic growth. The stories presented here will help remind us that sometimes adversity creates the best opportunities and conviction is all that is needed. Some of these entrepreneurs have been through multiple economic slowdowns and have survived to tell their tale. Happy reading and Happy Diwali.

Deepak Daryani, 44, Founder & managing director, Asha Confectionery (Indore)
By Malini Goyal

At first, you notice Deepak Daryani’s flashy side. At least 11 high-end bicycles made by some of the biggest brands such as Hummer, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are parked outside his spacious but cluttered office in Indore. If that was not enough, he shows off his impressive stable of 11 luxury cars lined up inside his factory. They include a Lamborghini, a Porsche, a BMW Cabriolet, three Mercedes, Audi A3 Cabriolet, Range Rover Evoque and two superbikes — a Harley Davidson and a Suzuki Hayabusa.

But before you make up his mind about him, the 44-year-old takes you to another world — one of great difficulties and struggles he had to go through before he became what he is today.

“I started my business at the age of 9,” says Daryani, the managing director of Asha Confectionery. There were four workers — his two parents, his sister and him. They used to live in a 10ftX14ft Janta flat in Indore, which also doubled up as their factory. From here his mom made 15-20 kg of chocolates every day. It would fall upon a young Daryani to take out his bicycle and pedal all over the city to sell these. “For every 12 km I did daily, my mom would give me Rs 2 as pocket money,” he recalls. Often, he would earn Rs 6 a day. “That Rs 6 is so much more special than the Rs 400 crore turnover we have today.”

Deepak

What was the toughest part of that childhood? “I had no time to play,” he says. All boys his age would play on the road and he could only look at them wistfully. Of course, going to school was out of the question. “My mom would make me understand very sensitively that our situation was difficult and that I had to work to make the ends meet for the family,” he says. That was 1984. Since then, Daryani has evolved into a successful entrepreneur employing over 1,200, has set up a fully automatic confectionery factory spread over 4 lakh sq ft and sells his products all over India as well as exports to over 10 countries.

Daryani, who has no formal education and had no business connections anywhere, encountered many challenges. In 2012, he faced some tough scrutiny by tax officials. “We had grown (organically) without giving much attention to systems and processes, operations and accounting. That episode hurt me and I learnt a lot.”

That was also a big inflecion point. Since then, Daryani has worked hard to bring in systems and processes to his business. He also strengthened his accounts team from three to 13. Around the same time, he launched his brand SR25 and production process at the factory was automated. To improve the hygiene standards of his employees, he has set up a dental clinic and beauty parlour. He also distributes free sanitary napkins to 600-odd women workers. His dream now is to offer quality living conditions to all his workers. “I want to work with Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to offer them quality housing.”

Daryani also has some plans for his three sons — aged 20, 16 and 7 years. Instead of passing on everything to them, they will only get 5% share of the company’s profits. “I can’t give them things on a platter. They have to work hard and earn themselves,” he adds.

Packing a Punch: Ramesh Agarwal, 57 Cofounder, Agarwal Packers & Movers (Delhi)
By Prerna Katiyar

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: Born to a grocer in Haryana, he quit as an airman and started Agarwal Household Courier with his elder brother
STEPPING STONE: When he got an order to move goods of Air Force officers in Hyderabad
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 4,000, borrowed from a friend’s mother
SUCCESS STORY Agarwal Packers & Movers has helped more than 18 lakh households relocate; it operates in 72 countries
TURNOVER: Rs 650 cr in FY2019


One rupee, one ticket, one uniform and one suitcase” was all that Ramesh Agarwal had when he decided to quit as an airman from the Indian Air Force in 1987. He had donated his entire savings of Rs 40,000 then to the war widows’ fund. “It was my way of showing respect to the armed forces,” says Agarwal, who was born to a smalltime grocer in Nalva village, Haryana.

But he did not let that stand in his way and formed Agarwal Household Courier along with his elder brother Rajendra. He started the business of shifting household goods with a modest Rs 4,000 from a friend’s mother. From the first order, they saved Rs 1,200. From then on, there was no looking back.

Today, his company, renamed Agarwal Packers & Movers (APM), is among the largest mover of goods in the country. It clocked Rs 650 crore in revenues in 2018-19. The company is valued at Rs 1,800 crore. He attributes the success to his working style — honesty, discipline and focus on customers’ satisfaction. “Just like people say athithi devo bhava (guests are god), we at AMP like to believe in client devo bhava — clients are our god.”
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But bringing in the culture of honesty across the company was not easy. There were complaints that representatives were making false promises. So in 1994, he asked his 25-odd employees to sign on a stamp paper that they will never lie to customers. “Only one of them signed it,” he recalls. An immediate salary increment of 12% to that staffer inspired others to also sign the papers and commit to Agarwal’s vision.

Today, the company offers “100% safety guarantee” to its customers. He has moved more than 18 lakh homes till date. His corporate clients include MRF, Blue Star, Escorts, Maruti, Bajaj Auto, Hyundai, Godfrey Phillips, Fab India, SBI, the defence forces, the judiciary and the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Pawan Jain, founder and chairman of SafeXpress, a logistics and supply chain company, says Agarwal “is not just keen and passionate about customer’s satisfaction but is continuously innovating to offer better services.”

Out-of-the-box logistics solutions helped the packers and movers grow. Agarwal, for instance, allowed customers to book “trucking cubes” of various sizes, instead of booking a whole truck, thus saving on costs.

One major challenge for the company is that several other packers and movers are fraudulently using the Agarwal brand name. “I can see hundreds of similar sounding companies online. To differentiate our brand, I use my Air Force uniform (on the APM logo),” he says.

Since 2012, APM has also found a mention in Limca Book of Records for being the largest mover of household goods. The company today operates in 72 countries. The privately held business plans to widen its reach in about two years. “Now we want to take the same services to tier-II and tier-III towns to make relocation an absolutely hassle-free movement for people in smaller cities and town.”

The former airman has his gaze fixed at the sky. “My aim is to achieve a turnover of Rs 10,000 crore, have a 9,000-employee company, have 1 lakh trucking cubes and operate in at least 80% of the districts in India.”


Batter King: PC Musthafa, 46 Cofounder & CEO, iD Fresh Food (Bengaluru)
By Indulekha Aravind

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: Dropped out of school in Class VI but he went on to do his engineering and MBA, learning to convert his failures into success
STEPPING STONE: Worked with IT MNCs abroad before returning to India
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 25,000 from his savings to start making idli-dosa batter
SUCCESS STORY: Sells 60,000 kg idli batter, 8.5 lakh parottas and 4 lakh chappatis a day; present in over 35 cities in India & abroad
TURNOVER: Rs 200 crore+

It is one thing to launch idli-dosa batter in Delhi — after all, the south Indian breakfast staples are popular in the Capital. But when a Malayali tells you he has also launched ready-to-cook chappatis and paneer in Delhi, you do a double take. Yet, that is exactly what Pathayakkodan Cheriyammal Musthafa did two months ago, after having firmly established his ready-to-cook foods business in the south and west. “If I can sell idli in Chennai, I should able to sell chappati and paneer in Delhi,” says a chuckling Musthafa, who hails from Chennalode village in Wayanad, Kerala.

Musthafa is the CEO of iD Fresh Food, which he set up with his four cousins in 2005. His confidence stems from how the business has grown since they began operations from a 50 sq ft space in Bengaluru with an investment of Rs 25,000. Mustafa juggled his day job as an engineer with selling the batter to nearby stores by going around on a second-hand two-wheeler.

Currently, iD sells 60,000 kg of batter (enough to make 1.3 million idlis), 8.5 lakh parottas and 4 lakh chappatis every day across 35 cities in India and abroad. Musthafa estimates revenues will cross Rs 250 crore by March 2020. “What I have learnt is that success gives you confidence, which leads to more success,” says the youthful-looking 46-year-old. It has also launched ready-made filter coffee decoction, which is expected to become a Rs 100 crore business by the next financial year. The company is planning to launch several new products in January. Market research firm RedSeer pegs the Indian ready-to-cook market at Rs 2,100 crore, split between frozen (73%) and non-frozen (27%).

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Failure marked a turning point in Musthafa’s life. After failing in Class VI, the son of a daily wage farm worker decided to drop out of school. “But I used to be good in math. When my math teacher didn’t see me in class, he came home and convinced me to return to school.” In Class VII, he became the class topper. Musthafa went on to do engineering at a National Institute of Technology and worked at various multinationals abroad. It would have been easy to continue as a techie, considering his monthly pay cheque was more than what his “father had earned in his lifetime”. But he wanted to study more, be near his family and also help youngsters like him in his village. So Musthafa returned to India and enrolled in IIMBangalore for an MBA, after which he plunged into iD fulltime.

One of his IIM professors, DVR Seshadri, remembers him as a quiet student hungry for knowledge. “He was very thoughtful. In one class he wrote an essay on how he wanted to help humanity by creating opportunities for the impoverished,” says Seshadri, now with ISB-Hyderabad.

In that sense, Musthafa has stayed true to his vision, says the professor. A third of iD’s 1,600 employees are from or near his native village.

But Musthafa now wants to “fire” his best employees. “I want them to go out and start their own company. We will mentor them, give them funding and let them use our branding.” Two have already quit and launched their ventures (a distribution company and a coffee shop).

“My plan is to fire 100 more in the next two years. If we can build 100 more companies like iD, it will create more employment.”

Meal Deal: Sagar Daryani, 32 Cofounder & CEO, Wow! Momo (Kolkata)
By Biswarup Gooptu

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: Bootstrapped venture selling momos from a kiosk at a mall
STEPPING STONE: First venture capital investment in 2015
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 30,000
SUCCESS STORY: Raised Rs 180 cr so far, with a valuation of Rs 860 cr and investors like Indian Angel Network, Lighthouse Funds & Tiger Global
TURNOVER: Rs 180 cr

The journey kicked off at the back of an apparel store in Gariahat, a densely populated locality in south Kolkata, known to be a popular shopping hub in the days before the malls took over.

Sagar Daryani, a self-declared brand-obsessed teen, would sit in his father’s high-street store, Aladdin, a popular readymade garments store, and doodle logos on the back of a notebook. Coming from a business family, Daryani, while still in school, also took every opportunity to cross-sell apparel, particularly old stock, to customers. “That was my real training round, where I learn how to do business and hone my salesman skills. It is an art I learnt to master at a very early age — how to present a product in the right manner and to the right customer,” says Daryani.

That training to persuade people came in handy when Daryani, 32, co-founder Wow! Momo in 2008 with Binod Homagai. The duo were in their final year of graduation but still managed to convince Spencers Mall, the retail venture owned by the RPG-Sanjeev Goenka Group, to give them some space to set up shop. “Spencer’s was initially reluctant to give us space. But I convinced them that every brand requires an opportunity, and if given the opportunity, I’d make it work,” says Daryani.

Wow! Momo today has 300 company-owned and operated stores in 15 cities spread across 10 states. “Food is probably the best category to build a business in and create a brand,” says Daryani, giving a peek into what was his thinking back then.

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Daryani’s conviction was vindicated further last month when Tiger Global Management invested Rs 130 crore in the company at post-money valuation of Rs 860 crore. The investment wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows given Tiger Management’s prolific deal-making pace in India — it has invested $300-$400 million in 12-15 months. But what stood out this time was that the New York-based investment powerhouse, which has a strong track record of investing in ventures underpinned by technology, was investing in a quick service restaurant chain that ran brick-and-mortar stores. It was its first such private investment in not just India, but possibly globally.

The interesting bit, however, is Daryani and Homagai’s decision to create a brand around momos — the ubiquitous Tibetan snack — in Kolkata. No restaurant chain had ever attempted to sell or market it as a completely separate category, leave aside creating branding awareness around it. “I think we have managed to do that — create an altogether new category for consumers. Every mall that comes up are now signing up a Dominos, KFC and a Wow! Momo outlet,” Daryani said.

Earlier this year, it also launched Wow! China, its second flagship brand, with plans of potentially launching a third brand over the next few years. The broader plan is to create an Indian equivalent of US-based Panda Express, which serves American Chinese cuisine, or Wok to Walk.

Daryani has given no reason for early investors to be unhappy. Indian Angel Network, the first investor in Wow! Momo, has already earned Rs 40 crore from its cumulative Rs 14 crore investment in the company. It continues to hold a stake in the company. Sachin Bahrtiya, partner at Lighthouse Funds, an investor in Wow! Momo, says: “For any business to succeed, the concept has to be right. Wow! Momo got it right in terms of saleablity and scaleability. The cofounders have a very disciplined approach toward expansion. Capital is for earning, and not for burning, and investors love that.”

Daryani says: “We feel we have cracked the QSR code in India. We want to become a food-tech company, but not by being an ecommerce company, by building cloud kitchens. Essentially a click-and-mortar model.”

Srikanth Bolla, 28 Founder & CEO, Bollant Industries (Hyderabad)
By CR Sukumar & Suman Layak

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: Born to farmer parents in Machilipatnam; was allowed to study science only after a court battle; was not allowed to sit for entrance exams for Indian engineering courses
STEPPING STONE: Getting through to MIT after not being allowed to appear for IIT and other institutes’ entrance exams
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 65 lakh from Ravi Mantha in 2014
SUCCESS STORY Raising Rs 15 cr from investors such as Ratan Tata and Satish Reddy
TURNOVER: Rs 82 cr

For Srikanth Bolla, the son of poor farmers from Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, challenges in life started at birth. His parents were first cousins, and Bolla wonders aloud if that was why he has a congenital visual impairment. He admits that he learnt nothing at the first school he attended, where he was just made to sit on the last bench.

Things improved when Bolla’s uncle took him to attend the Devnar School for Blind at Secunderabad. But his struggles continued. Bolla wanted to pursue the science stream in higher secondary. But he was told there was no facility for visually challenged students in the science stream. He had to go to court to secure admission. Then he wanted to go to an IIT but did not get the hall ticket to attend any engineering entrance examinations. Around 2009, Bolla realised he couldn’t fight the system but had to look beyond. So he applied to the MIT in US and got into a five-year management science course with a full scholarship.

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After MIT, Bolla got job offers in USA. But he had other plans. “I have always been a leader and I did not want to work for somebody else. I wanted to lead an enterprise and so came back to India,” Bolla tells over phone from London. He is travelling abroad now to raise funds for his 2012 venture Bollant Industries, which makes disposables cups, plates, napkins and also plates using areca palm leaves.

One of the first persons to back Bollant was SP Reddy, an investor and CEO at enGenius Consulting Group. “I was impressed with Srikanth’s passion and zeal. He took over two sick paper mills and turned them around,” says Reddy, who is also director and strategy advisor at Bollant.

T Swarnalatha, his teacher from the blind school, was another pillar for Bolla. Now COO at Bollant, Swarnalatha says it is great to see her mentee employ differently-abled youngsters — the company offers jobs and support to several differently-abled people, most of whom are unskilled and uneducated.

Bollant clocked sales of Rs 82 crore in 2018-19, and is looking to expand operations. Ravi Mantha, angel investor and early investor in Bollant, says: “The most important quality in Bolla is his fearlessness.”

Mahesh Singhi, 53, Founder & MD, Singhi Advisors, (Mumbai)
By Suman Layak

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: Engineer at LML Vespa with a salary of Rs 1,300
STEPPING STONE: Moving to Mumbai to start a consulting business at the age of 23
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 11,111 from own savings and gifts from brother and sister-in-law
SUCCESS STORY Has done 118 M&A deals in last 5 years, totalling $5 bn in deal value
TURNOVER: Rs 40-50 cr (investment banking business

While leaving for Mumbai from Nagpur, 23-year-old Mahesh Singhi had Rs 11,111 in his pocket and the desire to become a consultant.

That was late 1988. Six months before that, the young engineer from Rajasthan’s Sirohi district had quit his job at LML Vespa in Kanpur.

The cash he was carrying comprised of his savings from a monthly salary of Rs 1,300 and some handed to him by his brother and sister-in-law, who ran an electrical goods shop in Nagpur. In Mumbai, Singhi started life in his mill-worker uncle’s home, where he barely had sleeping space.

In January 1989, he opened a shop as a consultant in the garage of a retired professional’s house. Half of what Singhi earned went as office rent. However, by then, he had managed to find a better sleeping arrangement — at the Dockyard Colony in Kanjurmarg. The employees there rented out sleeping space in their unused quarters. The rates were Rs 200 for the floor, Rs 400 for a bed and Rs 600 for a twin-sharing room. Singhi started at the bottom segment — a little space on the floor in front of a toilet.

Mahesh Singhi

What followed is a story of grit and fortitude. His first assignment came in through his landlord — to write a project report for the son of a dairy owner who wanted to set up a plastic factory. This job led to others. By the end of one year, Singhi figured that after paying his costs, he was making Rs 820 a month — still lower than the salary he earned in Kanpur.

Singhi then set off on a journey up the value chain — from a project report writer to someone who would arrange for finance and then on to project appraisal. Within a decade, Singhi was identifying sick units for clients and even helping them buy these plants. This approach led him to investment banking, where he identified non-core businesses within large groups and offered them a way to monetise these. “I developed a hunter’s instinct, always searching for potential businesses for sale, doing all the homework on the businesses and then presenting the case to the owners,” he says.

When he successfully did this for the Aditya Birla Group, bagging a sell mandate for their foundry business, he knew he had arrived. Over the next decade, he helped Dubaibased Jumbo Group divest its businesses, helped the sale of Midday newspaper to the Jagran Prakashan (2011) and sold the extrusion business of Bhoruka Aluminium to Japan’s YKK Group (2013). Thirty years after starting off in a garage, Singhi Advisors today operates out of its own premises in the Bandra-Kurla Complex with 40 odd staffers led by 10 former top executives from diverse industries.

For the first half of 2019, Singhi Advisors was ranked second along with global consultancies Deloitte and KPMG for the volume of deals.

What are the secrets to his success? Singhi says he focused on making a real difference for his clients.

Parag Shah, MD of Mahindra Partners, the PE arm of the Mahindra Group, has known Singhi for 10 years.

He says: “He has the ability to pick up a sector, dissect it and break down the problem. And if the scenario changes, he comes back to talk about it again.”

Sathish Kumar T, 46 Founder & managing director, Milky Mist (Erode, Tamil Nadu)
By Indulekha Aravind

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: He dropped out of school in Class VIII to help his father sell milk
STEPPING STONE: He convinced his father to move from selling milk to paneer after realised the margin was better in this product FIRST CAPITAL: Started with minimal investment; success grew with sales of dairy products
SUCCESS STORY: Sells 35 tonnes of paneer & 1.5 lakh litres of curd a day & 180 tonnes of cheese a month; has customers in south and west India also
TURNOVER: Over Rs 500 cr a year

Around the time finance minister Manmohan Singh was setting in motion the process to liberalise the Indian economy, a family of farmers in Erode in Tamil Nadu was contemplating some tough choices of their own. Their attempt to supplement their income by buying milk from farmers and selling it to distributors was struggling. “My father wanted to close it down,” says Sathish Kumar T, who was then in Class VIII. With the family’s income at stake, he dropped out so that he could give his father a hand.

In a remarkable turn of events, Kumar went on to build a dairy products company, Milky Mist, which clocked a revenue of Rs 438 crore and a profit of Rs 19 crore in 2017-18, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies. Its plant in Erode processes 4.5 lakh litres of milk a day, converting it into 35,000 kg of paneer and 1.5 lakh litres of curd, which, along with other products, are sold to retail store and hotels across south India and abroad. The latest bulk customer to sign up for Milky Mist’s mozzarella cheese is pizza chain Dominos.

Milky Mist is also targeting a top line of Rs 700 crore by the end of FY20, with the recent commissioning of a new, state-of-the-art automated plant set up at an investment of Rs 500 crore .
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Most entrepreneurs talk about an “Aha” moment. For Kumar, , who prefers to keep a low profile, there were a couple. The first came a year into helping his father when he realised selling paneer to wholesale customers in Bengaluru was more profitable. Typically, margins in the dairy sector are 3.5-4.5% while margins for valueadded dairy products are 8-10%. But he first had to figure out how to make paneer. “Those days, there was no Google. It was all trial and error,” says the entrepreneur, at his spanking new plant in Erode. By 1995, Kumar had stopped the milk business and switched over completely to paneer.

The next revelation came nearly 15 years later, when he entered the retail market. Despite advertising, sales remained low. Kumar realised he would have to supply retail stores with coolers to stock his product so that the shelf life can be extended. Having coolers with his company’s name and logo at retail stores would also help improve branding, he realised. But a cooler with just paneer would have looked forlorn. So Milky Mist began rolling out other value-added products like curd from 2010. The gamble paid off.

The dairy sector is set to grow 8-10% and the value-added dairy products segment at 12-13% in 2-3 years, says senior director at CRISIL Ratings Anuj Sethi, who tracks the dairy sector.

Competition is increasing. But Kumar is not bothered by other players. “I think of meat and chicken as my competition,” he adds.

Dheeraj Gupta, 45 Founder, JumboKing Foods (Mumbai)
By Shailesh Menon

HUMBLE START
THE BEGINNING: A venture to sell packaged Indian sweets through FMCG channels which later failed
STEPPING STONE: After winding up the sweets company, he focused on selling only vada pavs
FIRST CAPITAL: Rs 2 lakh
SUCCESS STORY: Sells 40,000-45,000 vada pavs in seven variants daily; runs a zero-debt company
TURNOVER: Over Rs 100 cr a year

After completing a diploma in hotel management and an MBA from a reputed management school, Dheeraj Gupta was all set to get into business. With the help of some family members, he floated Shagun Sweets (Shagun means “a lucky omen” in Hindi) to sell packaged Indian sweets.

The venture was anything but lucky for Gupta. It started bleeding money within a few months. At the end of two years, Gupta was neck-deep in debt — he owed Rs 55 lakh to close relatives — and had to shut it down. But that did not kill his fighting spirit. Five years later, Gupta had cleared all the loans and was also running another business with clear growth potential. All thanks to vada pavs.

In 2001, Gupta started JumboKing to sell vada pavs — the snack Mumbai can’t get enough of. The city consumes over 20 lakh plates a day. It turned the fortunes of this foodpreneur. “Shagun was a bit ahead of its time. We were trying to sell packaged sweets via the FMCG channels. That business would have done well now,” says Gupta. His family was not happy with his new gig: selling sweets was fine but serving the humble vada pav? After all, in the bylanes of Mumbai, you could buy one for as low as Rs 8, and it is often regarded a poor man’s meal or a rich man’s snack. “But they supported me,” says Gupta.

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Between 2001 and 2005, Gupta focused only on getting the formulation right. He had to ensure consistency in taste and customise the kneading machinery and fryers for a standardsized product. He realised that he had to break away from the conventional way of making a vada pav. A JumboKing vada is not round but a flat patty. That apart, the vada is not made in besan, but is coated with bread crumbs. “A round vada requires a lot of manual handling,” says Gupta. “Likewise, we moved to using bread crumbs because it gives a crispy vada. And it is more consistent than a besan vada. In fact, bread crumbs are much more expensive than besan.”

Gupta claims to have logged 60% growth in sales every year since 2016. JumboKing operates through a franchisee model, partnering with people willing to open outlets. It charges a 10% royalty on vada pavs sold from these outlets. “We want our partners to earn well. We ensure our partners get enough RoI to build a sustainable business,” Gupta says.

The company sells 40,000– 45,000 vada pavs a day through 116 outlets. Expansion plans include opening 400 outlets in three–five years across Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bengaluru.

Even the competition appreciates Gupta’s gumption. “JumboKing vada pavs are very tasty,” says Kaustubh Tambe, proprietor of the famous Aram Vada Pav of Mumbai, which was established in 1939. “Vada pav business is not very easy. You have to predict sales every day.” Luck seems to have finally smiled on Gupta. “We have a few HNIs who have invested in our business. They’re happy seeing our growth,” he adds. “We are a zero-debt company now.”

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