Inspiring Business Stories


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
Kunwer Sachdev – Revolutionizing The Inverter Industry With Su-Kam

Kunwer Sachdev does not come from a technical background. The man having a degree in law, who started out by making pens and eventually venturing out to the cable TV business, had known little that he will be the one to revolutionize the inverter industry in India.

Currently working as the CEO and founder of Su-Kam Power Systems, he looks after the topmost inverter production company in India.

He says he got into power electronics more by chance rather than by design. We got a chance to interview him. He told us about his life so far, experiences in building a succesful enterprise and shared some advice for budding entrepreneurs.

Mr. Sachdev: As a child I grew up in an entrepreneur's colony which has given rise to the strong entrepreneurial spirit in me. My childhood however was not an easy one as we were not exactly well off.

I went to Hindu college where I studied mathematical statistics. More than the academic learning from the under graduate course I earned my skills for a lifetime. It was a life changing experience for me. I was a very shy person when I joined college and also was not so conversant with English. On a friend's advice I started reading books to improve my language skills. Over the three years at college I learnt how to talk to people, take them along, make groups and organize things.

After completing my graduation in 1984 I joined my brother. I also coined a name for the pen's business – Su Kam. The term did not have any specific meaning except that it sounded like a nice name for the pen's that I had plans to manufacture. I could not work too long with my brother though. I also joined evening classes in law as I had the constant pressure of achieving something in life.

Later I started the cable TV business without any technical understanding of the subject. I realized that if I wanted satisfied customers I have to learn everything about it including actually fixing things myself. I started reading my class ninth and tenth Physics books to gain a greater understanding. By 1996-97 my cable TV business was flourishing and I had a factory with 50 employees.

By now I thought I had found my area of work. However this was not to be. A constant malfunctioning of the inverter actually led me and my team at Su Kam to start working on what was going become an industry trend setter – the first inverter from Su Kam! The rest as they say is history.

Managing Director's Initiative :: About Us :: Su-kam :: Ek nayi soch

To add further: He was a real struggler, there were times when he did not have money to pay for petrol and he just used to push the bike all the way home and not tell anything about it because he thought if he would, then his wife would pay him money from her earnings to pay for the petrol, something that he did not want.

When he started the cable TV business he hired a technician to install it however the technician never turned up, he had to finally install it himself after learning the installation process.


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
Ganesh Ram's - VETA

Ganesh Ram traces back to a time when his family was struggling to make ends meet. Having lost his father when he was just a year old, Ram and his family moved to Chennai when the family lost its wealth due to mismanagement.
My elder brother Rajagopal was a 14-year-old when my father died and he became the breadwinner of the family. My sister and I managed to complete our studies thanks to him," shares Ram, who at present is the founder-managing director, VETA. This is his story of how he established VETA from scratch and has succeeded in taking it to great heights, all while positively impacting societies across India.
The first step
Through the National Service Scheme (NSS), I taught children from slum areas in the evenings and found it to be very challenging, yet satisfying. I had a flair for mathematics and teaching, and this was a great way to combine both.
In 1981, after completing a Bachelors degree in Physics, I was recruited as a management trainee by The Indian Express newspaper for a monthly stipend of Rs. 750. But my interest lay elsewhere. I wanted to be independent, much to my mother's dismay, who strongly opposed the idea. I knew teaching was my vocation. And chance favoured my decision – an astrologer advised my mother to heed my way.
I found an unoccupied bungalow with a thatched roof in Nandanam extension, borrowed money from my mother to pay the advance and spruced up the place. I had three students to begin with. In January 1981, I formally inaugurated Vivekananda Study Circle on Swami Vivekananda's birthday – January 12th. He is also my inspiration – the reason why I named my centre after him. My first three students brought two more each and the flow began.

All under one roof
Mathematics tuitions were popular even back then and soon, students of class eight and 10 also started requesting for classes. I expanded the tuition area and roped in my brother, who was good at English, and my sister, who was good at commerce and economics, to help me with the classes as there was a demand for all these subjects. In less than six months, my tuition centre was offering classes for all subjects.
While it was doing well, I realised that accessing the centre was a hurdle for many students to sign up. I now had savings of around Rs 20,000 – 25,000 and decided to shift to a more approachable place. I found one on Madley Road, T. Nagar, which is still operational.
I realised that many mistook Vivekananda Study Centre to be a library and decided to change it to Vivekananda Tutorial Centre (Vivekananda Kalvi Nilayam). I advertised heavily in print and personally monitored all the content of our advertisements. I also realised that the weak students needed extra help and all my teachers were instructed not to restrict themselves to the timings, but to go the extra mile, thus ensuring all the students passed. In two years, I had 800 students.

The growth curve
I realised that many students were poor in spoken English and so, I asked my brother to hold classes. Our first batch brought in many more students and that was thanks to my brother's teaching methodology; with anecdotes, stories and jokes, he made the class interesting even for those who tended to get bored easily. He believes that we learn our mother tongue even without knowing the rules of grammar. So, why not apply the same to English as well? He does not say 'noun' and 'verb' instead he identifies them as 'naming word', 'action word' etc. which are simpler to remember.
From the number of people signing up for this course, I realised this was a sure winner. I was 24 then, making Rs. 4 lakh a month, with 80 per cent profit margins. This gave me the courage to ask Rajagopal to quit his job and take this up fulltime. He hesitated but agreed eventually. Being the elder one, I thought it was only appropriate that he should be the principal.

As on April 2010, VETA has 250 centres in 140 cities in India in every region. The strategy to grow includes opening 500 three-classroom centres and 2,500 one-classroom centres in two years.

This also enabled me to look at the larger picture and identify growth areas. We increased the number of English classes and I also recorded his classes and created material for distance education. I advertised this in various magazines and got an excellent response, making Vivekananda Kalvi Nilayam a household name. I also organised contact classes.
Next, I aspired to replicate this in Telugu but the traditional method of stencilling and proofing each copy was becoming difficult, so we started printing the material. As the Tamil name made no sense in Andhra Pradesh, we switched names to Vivekananda Institute in 1988.
I did face a problem at this point in time, comprehending income tax. I had no clue about it till I got a notice asking if I was paying taxes. This compelled me to make the institute a private limited company.

New identity
Meanwhile, the demand for classes was increasing exponentially. While all the other subjects were popular, I realised that the spoken English classes were generating more than the tutorial income. This prompted me to close down the tutorial segment in 1988 and we became an English language training company.
We were translating in multiple languages and once in two months, hiring a local school for contact classes. By 1995, the institute had a turnover of Rs 70 – 80 lakh, with just 45 employees.

The franchisee route
In 2000, the number of students signing up was coming down and I wondered if we were making a mistake. No amount of print or television advertisements made any difference. At this time, I came across the concept of franchisees and decided that instead of correspondence, we would opt for more classrooms. We appointed a person to handle this and by 2003, the institute had 60 centres with a turnover of Rs 14 crore and over 100 employees. It also gave rise to duplicates which I could do nothing about. Being the only branded player at the national level in this segment, we did not worry about competition. But many franchisees broke free, not wanting to share royalty. Legal battles followed and growth became sluggish.

In January 2004, I asked advertising agency JWT to handle brand management professionally. The first suggestion they had was to rename the institute as VETA (Vivekananda English Training Academy). I also changed the equation with my franchisees. Till then, they were paying me 20 per cent royalty and were supposed to release local advertisements, but this was not happening. I made them equal partners to make them responsible for the quality, their staff and the rent. VETA would take care of local advertisements, provide free study material as well as undertake brand building.

While franchisees in Karnataka were okay with the change, those in Tamil Nadu were not. We decided to go ahead anyway and spend Rs 4.5 crore on promoting the new brand. I got an injunction against franchisees using the old name and the brand promotion also helped establish that VETA and Vivekananda Institute were the same. So, those who broke away assumed different names.

Back to growing
I could now focus on expansion and we shelved the distance education programme. I hired an auditor, who advised me to seek a loan for expansion – something that I had never done before. We first took a loan of Rs. 4 crore and then Rs. 6 crore in 2004 with the VETA head office as the collateral. The following expansion brought private venture equities into the picture and Gurgaon-based SAIF Partners invested in 2007 for further expansion.
As on April 2010, VETA has 250 centres in 140 cities in India in every region. The strategy to grow includes opening 500 three-classroom centres and 2,500 one-classroom centres in two years. In cities with more than four lakh population, VETA has a strategy of opening three classrooms and in towns with one lakh population, one classroom.
We have a 100 per cent subsidiary in Singapore that caters to the South Asian markets and have opened 20 centres in Sri Lanka and 10 in Malaysia in 2009. Others are being planned in countries like Thailand and China, which have high potential.

SmartCEO - Industries - Education - VETA, Agile and Adaptable


Super Mod
Jul 2, 2010
Country flag
Sarath Babu:
Sarath Babu- the story of a Idli walah MBA

Born and brought up in the slums of the Chennai, his story has been a story of resilience and dedication. India as a country values its family system and in the case of Sarath Babu it is this family system that acted as a great support to him.

It is very surprising to imagine a slum kid first making it to IIM Ahmadabad and more surprising to see that very person leaving plum job offers to sell Idlis. Meet Sarath Babu- the owner of Foodking.

He was raised in the Chennai slums in Madipakkam and his childhood has been a story of struggle. To augment his family needs, at the age of 10, he would sell idlis prepared by his mother. With that income his mother somehow supported him along with his two elder sisters and two younger brothers. Probably not buckling down in the face of adversity was the first lesson that Sarath learned from his mother. In absence of proper conditions to study, he would study under one burning flame.

Later on he joined BITS Pilani to pursue his chemical engineering. Taking admission with the help of a scholarship was the easy part, as he found it difficult to adjust along with the cool and rich kids coming from all over India. Not one to give up, he honed his communication skills and joined Polaris. It was here that he decided to write CAT and take admission in IIM Ahmadabad.

History will be made in the institute. Sarath Babu decided not to take any job offers,but to start his own idli chain. His client list included BITS, Pilani, IIM, Ahmedabad, BITS, Goa, BITS Hyderabad and SRM, Chennai among others. In the words of the director of IIM Ahmadabad, Bakul Dholakia, "In the last four decades, such a thing has never happened in IIM Ahmadabad".

And thus was born Foodking. Foodking has started its operations on May 16th, 2006 by supplying snacks to corporate sectors, banks and software firms. And the ultimate dream of Sarath Babu is to target the top 100 customers in corporate segment pan India, and after that to start a food processing industry.

Chosen as the PEPSI-MTV Youth Icon 2008 (earlier recipients were Mr. Anil Ambani, Rahul Dravid, Shah Rukh Khan, M. S. Dhoni) of the year, his is a career path that inspires. Probably the lack of any comfort early in his life, made him a risk taker and he was happy not to jump into a life of comfort and regular pay
Foodking Catering Services now has a turnover of over Rs. 7 crore.


Super Mod
Mar 24, 2009
Country flag
For me, the greatest is the Gujarati Bhai. Love him or hate him, he is the biggest rags to riches story.


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
For me, the greatest is the Gujarati Bhai. Love him or hate him, he is the biggest rags to riches story.
Oh yes he is the best, everyone knows about him.

This thread is more about those who are not known and talked about in the business market, even if you would have known the company, you wouldn't have known how it started or the struggle the founder / co-founder would have gone through to set up the company.

There are a lot more like the Gujarati bhai, that's my point.


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
Mr. Hanumant Rao Gaikwad - BVG INDIA

He is from Rahimatpur village in Maharashtra's Satara district. His family moved to Pune when he was 12. His mother was a municipal school teacher in Pune. He lost his father when he was 17. He grew up in a 10x10 room along with his younger brother, mother and his grandparents. He went on to get a degree in engineering from VIT (Vishwakarma Institute of Technology) Pune and paid his fees by tutoring diploma students, selling jams and pickles door-to-door and taking up painting contracts.

BVG India's CMD Hanmant R. Gaikwad (sitting) and Vice Chairman Umesh Mane (standing to his right) along with workers from the mechanised cleaning and landscaping department.
Today, Hanmant R. Gaikwad, 37, is Chairman & Managing Director of a Rs 200-crore company. But wait, here's where this rags-to-riches story takes a twist. Gaikwad didn't make his crores by hitting the big-city trail and starting up some cutting edge venture. Rather, he dug his heels into his home turf—and even as he emerged as a messiah for the mass of rural unemployed, Gaikwad discovered a huge virtually untapped catchment area for a manpower-intensive business that neither calls for fancy degrees nor corpulent pay packets.

Gaikwad is the man who founded Bharat Vikas Group (BVG) India, one of the country's largest facilities management companies based out of Chinchwad near Pune. BVG India provides non-core activities such as mechanised housekeeping, landscaping & gardening, and security services to private and government institutions with the help of a 16,000-strong ready-to-move and trained and pan-India workforce.

Rural liberator - Business Today - Business News

WHAT do Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament, the Delhi High Court, ONGC, Shree Sai Baba Sansthan and Accenture have in common? Apart from being high-profile, high-sensitive areas, these establishments are served by youth from a small village in Satara, part of a Pune-based house-keeping and maintenance company.
Established in 1997 with just eight employees, BVG India is today one of the largest among a handful of organised players in the housekeeping industry with a revenue of Rs. 400 Crore in 2010. The company currently employs 25,000 people across India.
The 38-year-old Gaikwad's success has more to it than a good business decision. His childhood in Pune had been a tough one: A chronically ill father had depleted the family savings and, on his father's death, he was left scrounging for his fees in the third year of college. Unable to afford the Re. 1 bus fare to college on most days, he cycled 21 km each way.

Former colleagues remember Gaikwad as a man in a hurry. But until 1997, he — an engineer at the Pune Tata Motors plant for three years by then — had no idea he would get into the business of cleaning. In 1997, a couple of events changed the course of his career.

TiE Pune Presents My Story Session with Hanmant R Gaikwad : CMD Bharat Vikas Group ( BVG) - Pune OpenCoffee Club


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
Suresh Kamath, the managing director of Chennai based Laser Soft Infosystems Ltd is an unusual man. Unlike most other entrepreneurs, he does not aspire to create a business empire; his sole ambition is to provide employment to 10,000 people. He also plans to reserve 40 per cent of the jobs for the disabled.

Suresh started Laser Soft in 1986 with just Rs 200 and five people. Today, the company is a force to reckon with in the banking software arena.

In recognition of his commitment to the disabled, President of India A P J Abdul Kalam [ Images ] felicitated Suresh with the Best Employer award in December 2005. He also won the Best Employer award from the Tamil Nadu government. He has been awarded the NCPEDP shell Helen Keller Award for giving equal rights and gainful employment to persons with disabilities.

Read on for the inspiring story of Suresh Kamath

Ambition as a child

I come from a poor family. We lived in a one-room-kitchen house in Mysore. Though my father struggled very hard, he did not let his penury affect the lives of his children. Unemployment, depravation, hardship pained me and right from my school days my ambition was to create employment in this country. As a child I was motivated by Mr Laxman Rao - one of my teachers at school who always advised me to do something for the country.

I heard tales of poverty and struggle from my father and grandmother. How my father could study only up to the 10th standard, as he did not have money for further education. My mother too did her schooling only till the 8th standard. But all this hardship did not stop them from encouraging us to continue with our studies. I was the eldest among my siblings and took up the mantle of setting an example. Encouraged by my performance - I was always a rank holder - my younger siblings too did very well in studies.

As far as my career was concerned, my father gave me full freedom and I decided to study engineering. I joined the National Institute of Engineering in Mysore in 1975 in electronics and then did my M Tech in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

Life after graduation

I was keen to start my own company immediately after my post graduation. But since I did not have any job experience I was advised against any such move. So, I joined Tata Consultancy Services and worked for a year. I noticed that all the major Indian software companies were into services; they were not into creating products and it disappointed me. I was convinced that India could create excellent products thanks to the huge talent pool available here.

While at TCS I found that most of my colleagues aspired to go abroad to further their career. But I was not interested in overseas assignments.

Even at IIT, I was the only student in our batch of 20 who did not go abroad after studies. On hearing of my ambition, many of my friends ridiculed me and even called me a 'fool'! I took their scorn in my stride. However, my parents were very supportive. They encouraged me not to pay heed to what others were saying and encouraged me to strive to give shape to my ambition.

After TCS, I joined another company that was into hardware because I wanted some related experience. I worked there for three years.

Starting Laser Soft

When I was 28, my father told me to get married. I decided to marry the girl of his choice. By then I had decided to quit my job and start my own company. I told my fiancee of my plans and asked her if she still wanted to marry me. She said, 'Yes. I have faith in you.'

On May 1, 1986 I launched my company. I intentionally chose May Day as it is also labours' day.

With initial capital of Rs 200 and five technical people from NIIT the company was launched. I told them, 'I will give you whatever I can afford but all of us will draw the same salary.' I did not even try to hire any engineers, as I was convinced that they won't work for a small company like mine. Also, I strongly believe that you don't need engineers for programming. What you need is logic. I also wanted a team that would be the foundation of the company, who would remain with the company.

Why Laser Soft? Because the word laser - meaning accuracy and precision - appealed to me, and soft is of course from software. Our office was a room in my house, and our first job was to get visiting cards and letterheads printed.

First client

We decided to focus on banking and healthcare. Banking because it was a gargantuan sector and had huge potential. At that time automation of the banking system was a faraway dream. We approached the State Bank of India and Apollo Hospitals and told how our products could facilitate their work. SBI admitted that they had a six-month backlog in the DD purchase for Madras Fertiliser Ltd. Since we did not have computers, we requested SBI to allow us to work in the bank in the evening. They agreed.

First product

Our product for SBI was out in two weeks' time and the backlog was cleared within a month. Our first product was thus a big success. Both SBI and MFL were very happy and we were paid a remuneration of Rs 5,000.

Sensing that we could help them in various quarters, SBI sent us to their overseas branch -- which incidentally was their largest branch in the South doing business of over Rs 5000 crores. Everything was done manually. On any given day the branch could take only 25 bills from the exporters. Our product, readied in a week's time, was exclusively for handling export bills.

From 25 bills, they were able to handle 200 bills a day and the profit of the branch zoomed to Rs 55 crores (Rs 550 million).

End of first year

By the end of the first year, our turnover was Rs 128,000, and our staff strength had doubled to 10. With Rs 1000 as monthly salary, we could manage. After the success of the export bills, SBI assigned more work to us. As our work pressure increased, we hired more people and by the end of the second year we were 25 people and our profit stood at a handsome Rs 600,000. In five years' time, we computerised 70 SBI branches all over India.


Then one morning in 1987 Parthasarathy - we call him Partha - came to meet me. He was disabled and was not an engineer but had undergone a computer course that the government had offered in an institute. I told Partha, "I like to employ people like you."

And it was not a wrong decision. Partha had an amazing zeal and his disability did not stop him from being mobile. I thought it was the right model for any industry to follow.

I was not doing any charity by employing him because my company benefited more from Partha than vice-versa. I have noticed that physically challenged people are more committed than others but unfortunately we pay scant attention to them. Business houses talk about attrition. I tell them, 'Look at these people, they will never leave you.'

Disabled-friendly office

At that time our office was in the first floor and Partah had difficulty tackling the stairs. Seeing him struggle, I decided to make the entire office disabled-friendly. Our ground floor is now exclusively for the disabled people, and we have ramps in our office and there are special toilets for them too. We have also built houses for them near the office so that they can avoid long travelling hours.

After meeting Partha, I decided to hire more disabled people. We waited six months to get a disabled person who could be our receptionist.


I don't look at employing disabled people as charity. I look at this as my responsibility. This country has spent money to educate me and I feel it is my duty to do something for the less privileged.

It had been a great experience working with them. Seeing them work, get married, settle in life and have children is a wonderful experience.

We have 550 employees now, and 15 per cent of them are disabled. We go to engineering colleges looking for disabled people but find only one or two in each college. Parents don't send them out. The biggest challenge for the physically handicapped is the attitude of their parents. We, at LaserSoft, hire them even if they are not engineers.

Other than the physically challenged, we have people suffering from cerebral palsy too working for us. We find them good in graphics. Many of our employees are deaf and dumb.

Best employer award

I was elated when I won the award but with all humility, let me say I am doing very little. I am very disappointed to see that I was chosen when there are so many business giants in India. Seven per cent of India's population is disabled but all of us turn a blind eye to them. I realised that if I could get an award by doing so little, it means that others are not doing even this much.

I was honoured to meet Dr Abdul Kalam. He is a wonderful person, a real motivator. He asked me, 'What exactly do the disabled people do in the company? Do they do software or menial job?' I told him barring two all are involved with technology.


My ambition is to create 10,000 jobs, and I want to reserve 40 per cent of that for the disabled. We also have a light top model as far as salaries are concerned. We don't give huge salaries to those who occupy the top positions but distribute the money to all the employees.

Reservation row

Reservation based on caste is going to divide us further. Reservation should be based on economic criteria alone. We should learn to forget our past and start looking at the future. What have today's children got to do with what some people did in the past?

What difference does it make if you are a brahmin or a non-brahmin when you are poor? How many IITs and IIMs do we have? How many good medical colleges and engineering colleges do we have? We have such a vast population but not enough resources. Instead of starting more colleges, and there should be special colleges for the disabled, the government is talking about more and more reservation.

The inspiring story of Suresh Kamath


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011

Let us begin with the genesis of REVA. What were the earlier days like, what were the challenges?
When I was in college at the University of Michigan I had a chance to work on solar electric cars. We raced across the US in a competition, from Florida to Michigan, and stood first. General Motors then sponsored us later that year to race across Australia and we came third in the world. We used to meet a lot of major OEMs, and to me, as a student, what stuck out was the fact that, if you could cross a continent only on sun energy then the future of this electric vehicle and solar electric vehicle would be great. To me, a lot of inspiration came from such participation that opened my eyes to what the possibilities of such technologies could do in the future. I worked through companies in the US doing work on electric vehicles and in one such company that I was working with started the idea of REVA back in 1994. It was at a time when this technology still had a lot of issues; oil prices were comparatively very low, pollution was not being viewed as an issue, and electrics was not really being seen as a potential for being even niche or mainstream product. There was a lot of skepticism in the marketplace. As we started such developments this was slowly overcome, because in the mid-1990s everyone was coming out with electric vehicles. The issue that we saw was the fact that electric cars, even though being made by a lot of people, were very expensive, and had issues on technology. We needed to do something different to overcome all this, and one was that we looked at how could one resolve issues of battery management, and so we got several patents in that area. We also looked at getting the cost correct, and in this area we looked at trying to design the product differently, and different manufacturing processes, methodologies of integration of electronics; which I think was fairly unique.

Challenges were that we were a small team, trying to build a company that is very innovative, which we had to start from a clean slate and that allowed us to look at lot of innovations and ideas, which I think were very instrumental in getting the product out.

What does it take to design an electric car?
Well, today in our R&D, we have around 75 people that are focusing on new model developments. To develop the first generation of electric car, we started in 1994 and we rolled it out in 2001; so the first time it took us some 7 years. That's because we had to develop a lot of core patents, core technologies, which did not exist, to make such vehicles viable and cost-effective. We worked out new processes in manufacturing. I think that the first time took a long time. Today, I would say that if we need to release new models, it would be in two years' time frame because the core technologies have been developed and we have even adapted to them. A lot of the core technologies in many ways are in open architecture, so you can change the software and re-configure the applications further. That is how long it takes and the kind of money we spend to get an electric car out there.

What were the hurdles that you faced in India?
The hurdles have been numerous. Initially, there were hurdles in fund raising, like convincing banks to fund such projects. Government policies were another hurdle. For example, before we started the project, we had a subsidy of over a lac of rupees per car, and the excise duty used to be at 8%. Right before launching, the subsidy disappeared and excise duty doubled to 16%, while excise on regular cars came down. So we have had these shocks that continuously come from the government perspective. We actually expected that with environment friendly products being made in India, we would get more support and the support won't go away overnight.

Another initial challenge was convincing the marketplace. Being the only player in the space was also very difficult. If you had ten people who were selling electric vehicles, they would all create a market space for a new product. If you are the only one then you are doing a lot more work on convincing, because the person walking in has no clue about how it works. So he is not coming to buy, he just wants to know more about it. To me, in India, more than in the area of technology, there were hurdles in the areas of finances, government, marketing and HR and these continue to be a challenge. When you are in a niche space, getting a team that has the capabilities and the potential for growth is especially challenging.

How has the experience been?
In hindsight, I would say, "Oh my God! If this is what I am going to do, I would never get into it." (Laughs) At different points of time, the challenges were different. Initially the challenges were related to technology. How do you develop technologies that would work? Moving on to finances, how do you convince financial institutions and people to put money in something like this? How do you develop teams and capabilities? It is not as simple as saying, "Hey, I want to make electric cars, can you come and join me?" We had to do electronics, electricals, software, mechanical engineering, automotive, batteries"¦ it is not as simple as in a regular automobile company. You have marketing challenges even today in do you convince customers about the value proposition? I think that there has been a host of challenges right through and there has been several times where there were lows and highs. But we strongly believe in it and I believe that, once you start to swim, you have just got to swim harder when it gets more difficult; otherwise you are going to sink. We have been swimming harder.

In today's world of multistoreyed apartments and congested roads, what is the fix for recharging?
I can give you our experiences. We have over 250 customers who live in multistoreyed apartments. In Bangalore, since most of buildings are newer, they either have basement parking or they have parking inside the building complex. As a part of the cost of delivering the car, we offer a service where we actually provide a connection from basement to your parking spot plug point, which you would then use to charge. That's included as part of the entire cost of the car and we do it a couple of days before the car is delivered to you. So in markets like in Bangalore or newer apartments in most of the cities, this is not a problem.

I do foresee a little bit of an issue in areas like in Mumbai, where you have much older apartments. In London where we have sold a fair number of cars, there have been issues too. However, it has been resolved because the government has been very proactive and has put electric charging facilities in all the parking lots. So people who park their car can just plug their car immediately and get it charged. I think that over time you will see infrastructure being built up, but right now most of our customers who are buying the car have access to a plug point, drive it all around and come home in the evening and plug it in like their mobile phones and take off the next day.

Chetan Maini, REVA Electric Car


Nov 16, 2009
Country flag
A rags to riches story of a roadside fruit vendor

Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam maybe a mouthful for anyone outside Tamil Nadu but after you read about this company's trajectory from roadside vendor of fruits to regional retail king, the name just may stick around in your imagination.

The name means 'Orchard of Fruits' and is the first branded retail chain purely for fresh fruits and vegetables in the country.

While other chains such as Reliance and More have posted large losses (Rs 44 crore or Rs 440 million for Reliance, Rs 423 crore or Rs 4.23 billion for Aditya Birla's More), Kovai says that it posted Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million) profit on revenues of Rs 150 crore or Rs 1.5 billion in 2011-2012.

This is a world away from the 25 paise per day that founder Natarajan decided to save, along with his three brothers, for a rosier future in 1953.

Natarajan was 10 at the time, his father had died, and education was jettisoned so they could scrape together a living and survive.

Natarajan and his elder brother Chinnaswamy had recently joined a road side fruit shop, while his younger brother Kandaswamy worked at a petrol station.

"Those were really tough days, without any proper food and shelter," recalls Natarajan, who started his career as a cleaner in the fruit shop.

Twelve years later, in 1965, armed with in-depth knowledge about fruits, "especially procurement" says Natarajan, and fortified by the modest savings that the band of brothers had diligently squirrelled away, Natarajan and his brothers decided to open their own shop -- a 400-square foot establishment in Coimbatore.

We didn't want to be road side vendors and wanted to do something unique. We wanted to be known as a brand. We knew it was a big risk but we decided to take the plunge," says Natarajan.

Kovai was born.

Being a retail chain that specialises in only fruits or vegetables has its own challenges which are roughly the same today as it was back in the '60s.

One has to compete with carts that come right to your doorstep and sell you products that are invariably cheaper. Indians like to bargain, and Kovai's model back then (and now) was to sell fruits in kilograms (versus in dozens) and that too at a fixed price.

However, Kovai's large volumes and direct sourcing today actually help keep prices around 10-20 per cent lower than those of hypermarkets and street vendors and where most such chains falter in quality of product, Kovai's is regarded as excellent.)

In this sort of retail model, success hinges on the daily collection -- if the day's business matches the monthly rental, you're in the black.

The brothers, however, were paying Rs 100 as rent, but couldn't make more than Rs 30-35 in sales, which led to further hardship.

"We hardly earned any money and we couldn't support our mother or our younger brother's education, so we decided to join a mill on a shift basis."

Natarajan and his brothers finally realised that their only hope for success was in doing something back then that companies like Airtel have been feverishly pursuing today: Generating 'value added services.'

Besides fruits, the brothers started selling fresh fruit juices as well as sliced fruit in their outlet which allowed them to milk more revenue per kilogram of fruit rather than selling it whole.

The slices and juices were able to garner them a 150 per cent margin.

This proved to be a life-saving strategy and allowed them to slowly consolidate their operations and expand.

Today, Kovai has expanded to 34 outlets, of which 24 are owned and run by Natarajan, while rest are owned and run by his three brothers.

Natarajan has also expanded into vegetables which forms 60 per cent of his business. Saloni Nangia, senior vice president & head, retail & consumer products, Technopak Advisors feels that regional brands like Kovai's are successful because they understand their customer's needs better.

"Also, the needs often change, which regional brands can adapt to faster," he adds.

Kunal Bhaktha, partner, Lastaki Advisors Pvt Ltd, an investment banking company says that another reason for their outsized success is because "the promoters have come from farming community, they know the pulse of the farmers and understand them."

Along the way, Natarajan has also managed to fulfil the quintessential Indian fairy tale -- to educate his son Senthil to the extent that he eventually ended up at Microsoft as a product developer, which he quit six years ago to join the family business.

Now, Senthil is hoping to continue his family's remarkable journey by bringing a little bit of Microsoft to Kovai.
Technology to manage the business's supply chain is one such thing.

His other initiatives: Importing fruits like Apples, strawberries, and oranges from eight countries including the US, Australia, South Africa, Egypt and New Zealand, making them one of the largest fruit importers in retail; converting vegetable and fruit waste into manure or raw material for farmers in Kerala; launching a chain of juice bars (called Season's, with revenues of Rs 15 crore or Rs 150 million) and foraying into textiles (revenues of Rs 3 crore or Rs 30 million).

Senthil was also the brain behind the expansion of the business, adding 21 stores over a period of six years.

Now we are planning to add another 50 by 2015 with an investment of Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million).

While the major focus will be in Tamil Nadu, we will also look at Bengaluru, Cochin and Hyderabad," he said.

He is in the process of raising Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) of private equity funding for this purpose.

Still, staying a regional king is one thing and expanding onto the national stage something else entirely.

Becoming a national chain requires deep pockets, a branding exercise with a catchy name (that people can pronounce across the country) and a vast distribution, supply chain and cold chain network.

Not having all the pieces in place could spell disaster as now-extinct retail chain Subhiksha found out and something that the heir to this empire will have to internalise if he wants to continue the magical journey charted by his father.

A rags to riches story of a roadside fruit vendor - Business


Oct 8, 2009
After Rags to Riches turnaround in Jalgaon, Zafar Shaikh Excels in Paris

Jalgaon: His is the rags to riches story on everyone's lips in Jalgaon since last few years. The miraculous turnaround this Jalgaon star has undergone in his life would always be there as a glittering example for incumbent industrialists. That the same local star would shine at an International Forum in Paris has taken him as well as others by a pleasant surprise.

Zafar Shaikh, the young and ambitious Managing Director of Pinch Bottling Company is flying high ever since he received the World Quality Commitment INTERNATIONAL STAR AWARD-PARIS 2008. "I had been informed in September 2008 that my company had been chosen for the World Quality Commitment International Star Award for the year 2008 and the organizers had requested me to present there in Paris to receive the same", a beaming Zafar told

Zafar has gone a long way before achieving the milestone after taking over Star Bottling Company, a sick unit that was closed in 1990 and then establishing his own dream venture Pinch Bottling Company in Jalgaon under a very challenging condition. Zafar who began his career at Star Bottling Co. as a petty labourer soon went on to become Quality Control Manager. With the closure of the unit his dream run came to a halt. However he brilliantly managed to reenergize himself and soon became a pioneer in food and beverages with a vast line of products in soft drinks ranging from Mecca Cola, Mecca Orange, Mecca Lemon, Mecca Leechi, Zeera Masala, Cocktail No. 1 and a wide range of quality Juices, Jam and Jelly.

Because of the illness and the holy month of Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims world over, Zafar could not go to Paris in September and it is only couple of weeks back that he received the award and the certificate by post. The others in the country besides him who received the prestigious award in recognition of commitment to Quality, Leadership, Technology and Innovation are Reliance Industries, Indian Oil and Tata Elxsi Ltd.

Interestingly along with others who fought Zafar for the prestigious award at Paris, were the popular soft drink brands with deep roots and major market shares in India and the world. "For years these Multi National Companies (MNCs), instead of fighting me in quality and price indulged in negative marketing tactics", Zafar recalled adding, "I still remember how they used to destroy my products after procuring them from my stockiest just to make it sure that they don't reach to the end customers."

The International award has surely given a timely boost to the young industrialist and he is now recuperating for an expansion plan throughout the country. "I am not doing the business just for myself. I am trying to support the young generations through my expansion plan and are inviting them to join me in starting the manufacturing units in different parts of the country", said Zafar.


Oct 8, 2009
From early-life struggles to prominent Dalit millionaires - The National

Ashok Khade
Devjibhai Makwana
Dr Sushant Meshram
Milind Kamble

Chief executive of Das Offshore Engineering, Mumbai

Annual turnover: 5.5 billion rupees (Dh448 million)

Ashok Khade's father made a modest living as a cobbler in Ped, a village in the western state of Maharashtra. He worked on the docks by day and studied for a diploma in mechanical engineering by night. For prolonged periods, he slept under staircases because his family could not afford to pay rent. Today, he presides over a flourishing company that does construction work on offshore rigs and builds pedestrian bridges.

Chief executive of Suraj Filaments, Bhavnagar

Annual turnover: 3bn rupees

Two decades ago, few people knew of Devjibhai Makwana. He struggled to get a bank loan to set up a manufacturing unit for multi-filament yarn used in fishing nets. But since the business took off in 1997, the company has captured a sizeable share of the domestic market and has become an exporter. Now bankers are lining up to lend him money, he says.

Multi-speciality hospital in Nagpur

Annual turnover: 400m rupees

Sushant Meshram was born into a poor Dalit family living in a segregated part of Nagpur town in northern Maharashtra. His father was an ordinary worker in an ordnance factory. At school, he could not participate in drama, music and sports because he was Dalit. But through hard work he went on to become a specialist in chest medicine. He became a fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US. He is currently building a multi-speciality state-of-the-art hospital in Nagpur - which will not deny treatment to Dalits.

Chairman and managing director of Fortune Construction, Pune

Annual turnover: 1.01bn rupees

Milind Kamble is the eldest son of a schoolteacher from Shirur Tajband, a small village in the state of Maharashtra. He set up Fortune Construction more than 25 years ago. Mr Kamble aims one day to appear on Fortune magazine's list of dollar billionaires.

Source: Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Outlook, a newsweekly in India

* compiled by Anuj Chopra


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
The Billionaire "Barber"

Ramesh Babu has a barber shop and a booming car rental business in Bengaluru, but still prefers to cut hair so that he never forgets his humble beginnings, writes A Ganesh Nadar.

Fancy getting your hair styled for only Rs 65 by someone who goes to work at his barber shop in a Rs 3-crore Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost?

Yes, this is the amazing rags-to-riches story of 41-year-old Ramesh Babu who made it big in this cut-throat world all on the dint of his honesty, hard work, humility and some foresight.

Life wasn't always hunky dory for this man. He was only 7 years old when his father, P Gopal, a barber in Bengaluru, died. All he left behind was a barber shop: little did he know that his son would become a billionaire even before he turned 40.

With her husband no more, Ramesh Babu's mother had to work as a cook to help feed her children, get them a semblance of an education and help them have a shot at life.

Since she couldn't run the barber shop, she rented it out for Rs 5 a day.

"We grew up on one meal a day," says Ramesh Babu, in between giving instructions to his staff and answering his mobile phone.

As he grew older, his sense of responsibility tugged at him and he couldn't quite decide if he should study further or start working to support his mother and the family income.

However, upon his mother's insistence, he resolved study up to the pre-university level and then obtained a diploma in electronics. All this while, his father's shop was still being rented out for meagre amounts. He then decided to run it himself and in 1989, he began working at the salon that had first been established by his grandfather.

His barber shop -- Inner Space -- did well enough for him to be able to not just look after his family's needs, but also to save some money.

By 1994, Ramesh had saved enough to buy a Maruti Omni. He bought it for personal use, but it "used to lie idle most of the time" so he decided to put it out on rent.

And that was the seed that later bore fruit and turned into his new company Ramesh Tours and Travels.

Between 1994 and 2004, he bought seven more cars and rented them out too. He ensured that his drivers were well behaved and his clientele happy. Sampath was his first driver and he still works for Ramesh.

Ramesh had a small office till then. In 2004, he decided to enter the luxury car segment. He bought a Mercedes Benz for a cost of Rs 42 lakh (Rs 4.2 million).

He took a loan from the bank for this. "It ran very well because other travel agencies with the same car used old cars. We were the only ones who used a brand new car." From then on, it was a one-way street to success for Ramesh.

He now owns 90 cars in all, most Toyota Innovas. His fleet of cars also includes 27 luxury vehicles: from Mercedes to BMWs to a white Rolls-Royce Ghost. He actually needed a paper and pencil to count the number of cars he owns.

Today, all his cars had gone out on rent. The lowest rent for a car he lets out is Rs 1,000 a day and the most expensive is Rs 50,000 a day (for the Rolls-Royce, of course). You can now roughly calculate his daily income.

His first car -- the Maruti Omni -- is still with him, but it has been 'retired'. He does not rent it out any more.

He has 60 drivers working for him, but you can also rent a car from him and drive it yourself.

At Inner Space, his salon, there are five more people working with him.

From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. he works at his salon, cutting hair. "Today I had three customers," he says happily.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., he works at his car rental office. At 4 p.m., he goes back to his saloon and works there till 7 p.m. Thereafter, he comes back to the rental agency and stays there till 8.30 p.m.

He is happily married and has three kids, all in school. The elder two are girls, the youngest is a son. "I will teach my kids to work in both my businesses," he says.

The man is a shining example of dignity of labour. He is not a member of any club because he "does not have the time".

On Sundays, he works the whole day at the salon as it is the 'rush hour' there. That effectively means he does not have a single weekly holiday.

He still remembers the days when his mom worked as a cook. He still cuts and styles hair so that he never forgets his humble beginnings. He says he never disappoints his customers.

He cuts men's hair for Rs 65 and ladies' hair for Rs 150.

Some of the costs that he incurs in his business include fines. Every month, they visit the traffic police and pay all the fines. The fine is taken out from the concerned driver's salary. He does not like authorities stopping his car anywhere and troubling his customers.

And all this happened just because he could not bear to see his Omni lying idle.

His formula for success is simple, "Hard work and honesty," he says, grinning.

His humility is endearing. Success sits easily on his young shoulders even as he good-naturedly cribs about his drivers giving him all sorts of problems.

He has travelled to Germany as a tourist. He has also been to Singapore to learn how to cut women's hair. He works hard and says being honest is essential for success.

The rags-to-riches story of a billionaire BARBER! - Business


Senior Member
Dec 24, 2011
Have any of the Bengaluru members visited his salon?

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