You are in a wrong business : The Samosa Vendor

One more story of the UNSUNG….

At bombay…It was my regular train journey home from work.
I boarded the 18:50pm train from Church Gate.
When the train was about to leave Marinelines,
A samosa vendor with an empty basket got on and took
the seat next to me.
As the compartment was sparsely occupied and my
destination was still far away,
I got into a conversation with him.

Incredible India! Mumbai meri Jaan..//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Me: “Seems like you’ve sold all your samosas today.”
Vendor (smiling): “Yes. By Almighty’s grace, full sales today.”

Me: “I really feel sorry for you people. Don’t you get tired doing
This tiresome job the whole day?”

Vendor: “What to do, sir? Only by selling samosas like this every day do
We get a commission of 1 rupee for each samosa that we sell.”

Me: “Oh, is that so ? How many samosas do you sell on an average each day?”
Vendor: “On peak week days, we sell 4,000 to 5,000 samosas per day.
On an average, we sell about 3,000 samosas a day.”

I was speechless…..for a few seconds.
The guy says he sells 3,000 samosas a day; at  1 rupee each,
He makes about 3,000 rupees daily, or 90,000 rupees a month.
That’s Rs. 90,000 a month. OMG.
I intensified my questioning and this time it was not for time pass.
Me: “Do you make the samosas yourself?”
Vendor: “No Sir. we gets the samosas through a samosa manufacturer
And we just sell them. After selling we give him the money
And gives us 1 rupee for each samosa that we sell.”

I was unable to speak a single word more but the vendor continued…
“But one thing…most of our earnings are spent on living expenses here at Bombay.
Only with the remaining money are we able to take care of other business.”

Me: “Other business? What is that?”

Vendor: “It is a land business. In 2007 I bought 1.5 acres in
Palghar for 10 lakh rupees and I sold it a few months back for 80 lakhs.
Now I have bought land in umroli for 40 lakh rupees.”

Me: “What did you do with the remaining amount?

Vendor: “Of the remaining amount,
I have set aside 20 lakhs for my daughter’s wedding.
I have deposited the other 20 lakhs in the bank, post office, mutual funds, gold and bought cash back insurance.”

Me: “How much schooling have you had?”

Vendor: “I studied up to third standard;
I stopped my studies when I was in the 4th standard.
But I know how to read and write.
Sir, there are many people like yourself,
Who dress well, wear a tie and suit, wear shoes,
Speak English fluently and work in air-conditioned rooms.
But I don’t think you guys earn as much
As we do wearing dirty clothes and selling samosas.”

At this point, what could I reply. After all, I was talking to a
True Indian Millionaire! The train chugged into khar station
And the samosa vendor got up from his seat.

Vendor: “Sir, this is my station…have a good day.”
Me: “Take care.”

Welcome to the real India !!! 👍😃

Believe. Strive. Achieve.

Unsung Hero : Dinesh, the golgappawala inspires students of IT-BHU

I was once again in the city of Varanasi to address the youth of IT BHU, and as is my wont, I was going around the ‘Galis’ imbuing the smell and absorbing the visual milieu while looking for the silks the city is known for. As it was already late evening, I came across closed shops. Thankfully, one of the rickshawalas advised me to go to the traditional ‘kapda-market’ (cloth) where the lalas (traditional cloth merchants) still keep the shops open till late evenings. I managed to walk through the packed gallis of the old city’s wholesale markets one after the other – vessels, cosmetic and items of ladies interest, plastic and packaging material… and finally arrived at the kapda market (cloth) only to find just a few shops still open. Though I did not find what I was looking for, but there were items that grabbed my attention and I ended up buying a few pieces.

I finished my shopping and was back into the gallis this time finding my way out of the market place, towards the hotel where I was put up. Like any Indian city, especially in the old city, you will come across small traditional eateries. While rushing to the cloth market, though I was tempted to stop by many of these eateries, each serving some delicacy or other, I told myself that first I will buy the silk cloth pieces, then will stop at an eatery. Now that I was done with shopping, my eyes fell on thellawalas (push cart) selling tikki and golgappas, devised interestingly unique to the city.

I parked myself by these thellas and asked them to serve their delicacies, first was the tikki (fried potato dumpling) with a few chatnies (spicy liquids). A different look and taste from the usual Delhi one I realized. The tikki is not that fried and when they serve. It is beaten and becomes just a gooey dal like with tangy and spicy chatnies. It’s different.

Then I asked the neighboring thellawala to serve the golgappas. To my surprise, the treatment of the golgappas too was different. He served with curd, tangy Chatney, spicy chili slices and sliced onions. Wah, what a taste!

Unsung hero, Dinesh, the golgappawala at Naisadak, Varanasi

After having a fill, I was a little curious, as usual, to really understand their business model and profitability. I was surprised when the golgappawala shared that he comes to this favorite corner of Naisadak in Varanasi at 5pm and finishes his wares by 10pm. During the course of these five hours, 7000 golgappas made by the family in the morning gets sold. With every plate served has 6 golgappas, for which he charges Rs. 10/-, the thellawala makes a cool 7k if not 10k every day! That amounts to almost 2 Lakhs a month!

I was addressing the young graduates at IT BHU, one of the most premier institutions of India, this morning, I shared this story along with the stories of Gyanendra pandey of Husk-power systems and Nirmal’s G-Auto. The audience were stunned to silence. I could see the awe on some faces while I could see shame on some. One commented that after four years and five years of studies in the prestigious institution, they end up with offers of 3-4 Lakhs that they take pride in. And these stories shook them, woke them from slumber.

Following this, there was a short exercise of written ability test, wherein I had asked them to write about – what I can be of value to your institution / company? As all of them are either seeking a placement or thinking of belling the CAT and getting into ions of the IIMs. They were expecting a topic of currency and were taken aback at this topic. The next 20min ended up being an exercise in introspection, for the most.

Finally, as the session was meandering to its end, I threw a question – “what is the one thing you are carrying home from this session?”..

The responses were interesting

1. We have to really think about our future
2. Pursue what you are passionate about

Later I was delighted to interview a couple of candidates who are very focused and have charted their career priorities too.

Unsung Heroes : Sahooji, Pohewale – Raipur, Chattisgarh

Unsung hero Sahooji, Raipur

Unsung hero Sahooji, Raipur

On my travel through chattisgarh, I reached Raipur from Bhilai, one early morning, after my day long workshop with about two hundred young b-school aspirants in Bhilai. My workshops usually end with my favourite session on entrepreneurship. And I am always on lookout for new stories all the time to add to the session.

When I stepped out of the bus, it was early morning 7am, the roads were deserted in Raipur. In a while, school children started emerging on the streets to take their school buses. Since I had reached earlier than scheduled, I started capturing the children with my camera. I still had about an hour to spend before the CL office opened for the day. I thought of walking along the road further.

As I moved, about a couple of hundred feet, I noticed a huge crowd around a ‘thela’ (a hand cart’). Also I saw that cars of various sizes and shapes were parked. I could just see the roof of the thela. This cart was parked in front of a large shopping mall, which was closed since it was too early in the day. I reached the place and started observing. The crowd was mostly a mix of youngsters – college students and, rich and wealthy who are on their way from their morning walks and workouts. The gentleman manning the thela, along with a young support staff, was too busy serving pipe hot ‘poha’.

I was observing the action, while clicking a few photos too, from the vantage point of the mall. A group of youngsters, whom I could identify by their discussions as engineering college students, who live in nearby paying guest accommodations, finished their breakfast, packed a few more plates of poha and vanished. Crowd kept coming. Just then a group of four gentlemen, In their track suits, Got down from a car, ordered for their breakfast and started stretching and relaxing. I approached them to ask a few questions.

Are you all coming from your morning workouts ? Yes, we go for a walk at Gandhi Udyan, which is a couple of kilometers from here.

Do you go by this way every day?The way back from our work outs, we come here for our breakfast every day.

Since how long have you been coming? We have been regular here for the last four years.

What makes you come here? After our walks we tend to continue our chat. What a better way than to do it over hot, tasty and healthy breakfast. And Sahuji’s poha is the best.

Meanwhile Sahuji delivers hot poha for them to relish. And I moved on to the thela.

The crowd still coming. I accosted another gentleman who was eating his third plate of poha and started asking him about why and what of his choice of having breakfast here. He owns a Chevrolet showroom and has been a regular for the last two and half years. Here is the video.

While Sahu ji was still busy, I tried to elicit some information about his business. Though I shared with him that all data I need is for motivating youngsters, Sahooji was very reluctant to reveal any numbers. He was willing to share a l other worldly knowledge, very comfortably. While interacting with me, he refilled the hot pan with the next tranche of poha from the stock.


I pieced the heard and unheard, observed and sensed information :

1. His day starts at 4am, when he starts making poha
2. By 6:30am He reaches the business location, with his thela well equipped
3. His wares get exhausted by 10am
4. Then he spends an hour shopping for the next day
5. By 12pm, he is free for the day

Numbers

1. Twenty Kilograms of poha made every day
2. Every plate of poha is about 50gms
3. So every kilogram yields 20 plates;
4. And twenty kgs yield 400 plates
5. Each plate, sold at rs. 20/-, yields about rs. 8000/- per day
6. His costs do not exceed 1500/- a day

On a conservative estimate he makes about Rs. 2 Lakhs a month

When I went for the motivation session in a college later in the day in Raipur, I started my session with this example. All of them immediately shared that the Pohawala is Sahooji and he is popular by the name Sahooji pohewale!

What would happen if a young MBA grad goes and sits with Sahooji and, helps him think big. With his popularity, I am sure we can launch ‘many theles’, mentored and facilitated by him. Each of these theles can be branded ‘Sahuji pohewale’ working on standards and consistency in taste and experience.

How many of us, well qualified B-school grads, are willing to take Such a challenge?

UNSUNG HEROES 3 – Ponnuchammy, Madurai : thriving soup business

My travel itinerary crisscrosses across the country to motivate youngsters to get into the best of the institutions like IIMs, IITs, NLS etc and then excel in life. I make it a point that on every visit to a city, I look for a few exciting personalities, amazing characters, yet unknown and unsung. They are heroes in their own right.

While on the streets, the most omnipresent business is street food. What would the streets be bereft of these hunger quenching souls? Most of the times, you and I do not take notice of or acknowledge. Many of them remain nameless and we do not bother to know about. I am sure most self-professed management gurus would take umbrage to calling these unsung as entrepreneurs.

A few of these unsung are young and rearing, while quite of few are wizened and have been doing business for decades but have not bothered to create a brand of their own nor scaled up. Yes, many of them are brands, unbeknown to themselves and they have not cashed in.

When I interact with these unsung, I find them either happy and self-contended with what they are doing, or find themselves ill-equipped to take their business to next level. Most are looking for a young, dynamic youngster with a vision, well-equipped to facilitate their business to the next level. This is where I wonder what a young entrepreneurial-spirited MBA can do? Unfortunately every MBA is seeking a job, and almost every B-school is a glorified placement agency! Can we challenge the young to create success stories.

In the next part of my series, Unsung heroes, I am covering yet another inspiring gentleman, this time from Madurai, who is serving the hungry – you and me.

Ponnuchammy, The Madurai soupman
Ponnuchammy, The Madurai soupman

Ponnuchamy, Madurai

I took a night state transport bus from Kochi to Madurai this march. It took me eight hours and I disembarked in Madurai at 5am. Jayant and Guhan, two of my CL friends, picked me from the bus stand in Madurai and took me to a ‘modest’ hotel. For me it was a luxury. Since my day was choc-o-block from 10:30, I wanted to visit the city, especially Minakshi temple and the old city before the day begins.

At 7am we left for the temple. What a creation it is, a 3500 year old edifice, though renovated twice extensively since then. We finished our photo-perambulations around the temple complex and exited for the hotel. I shall blog it in my travelogues, as that is a different story. For those keen photo enthusiasts, check out the photostream on FLICKR for Madurai Minakshi temple and the photostory

Guhan asked me whether I would like to have a juice to start the day. I volunteered! On the way he stopped by the roadside, in front of a soup vendor and asked ‘how about a soup?’ This was a roadside make shift soup vendor, who had a couple of tables with three large steel drums and a few serving tools. I noticed a flex with photos of green leafy vegetables with labels. There was this thirty- some young man, ponnuchammy, dishing out soup to his clients. I was taken in by the concept and as is my want asked ponnuchammy about the idea. He shared that he was earlier into some other small business and as someone in the family was not well stumbled upon this concept. More research on ayurveda yielded new ideas and thus business emerged.

Ponnuchammy showed the flex board behind him and went on to share the medicinal and health values of the herbs in the pictures. They were in all about 12 Soup ideas that he generated. He shared that he keeps three of these soups every day, and the soups change every day of the week. Asking a few questions about my health, he suggested that I have a particular soup. And I did.

I was a little curious to know more about the business. Ponnuchammy starts his day early at 2:30am with cleaning, gleaning and boiling the herbs and creating the soup concoctions that get ready by 6am. He transports them to the road-side shop of his by 7am and he exhausts all of his stock by 10am.

The financials of the business.

Three cans of 165, 100 and, 100 Litres respective of three soups
Each glass of 100ml costs Rs. 10/-
so his revenue per day is 365 * 10 * 10 = Rs. 36,500/-
Monthly he makes 4.4 lakhs and annually about 50 Lakhs

Costs are bare minimal. He may end up with a margin of 80%. A 40-lakh profit business for a young man at the street corner is no mean achievement. An MBA will take ages to reach such a handsome earnings in his career.

Here is the great irony. Business schools have Become glorified placement agencies and MBA, aspirants think, passport for a job. Passion and perseverance brings the rewards. None better than being an entrepreneur. If Ponnuchammy can make it, can you and I, with an MBA can take a similar business to a multi-million dollar multi-country business for sure. Study closely how Haldirams, Bikanerwala, Saravanabhavan and many from this ilk have transcended now. If Yoga can happen, any business can. Take charge of your every day and your life!

Unsung Heroes : Raju, The Rickshawalla of Benaras

forwarded by a friend to Rama Ananth who posted it on Facebook. I stumbled upon it and found fascinating, hence posted here. Thanks Rama, thanks to her friend..
It is a great inspirational interaction and shows how not to go by looks or by the work one is engaged in. There is a great deal of learning in engaging and interacting with every individual.  It is like my series on unsung heroes, with whom my interactions have been yielding immense insights.
Enjoy reading this…
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There were two rickshaw-walas vying for our business when we wanted to go to Sankat-Mochan temple in Benaras. I agreed to go with the one who was about 20, seemed like a regular young rickshaw-wala, but I found something interesting about this fellow in his eyes. I was not proved wrong.

He wanted Rs 50, we said Rs 30. We settled for 40.

Here are the highlights of the conversation that ensued while he rode the rickshaw:

“aap kahan se aaye hain”

“Delhi”

“bijness ya kaam karte hain?”

“naukri karte hain”

“kismein”

“internet mein”

“humara bhi kuch wahin kaam lagwa do”

I just chuckled

“main try kar raha hoon engineering padhne kee. achchi naukri lag jaayegi tab”

“achcha?” I asked a little interested

“haan, delhi mein Guru Gobind Singh Indraprashta University mein engineering ke liye apply kara hai. achchi hai woh university”

“haan, achchi hai”, I agreed.

“haan, kal hee maine JEE bhi diya”

“JEE matlab, IIT ka?”

“haan, Joint Entrance Examination” he pronounced it perfectly just to make it clear to me what JEE stood for. “mushkil hota hai exam”

“haan, 2 saal toh log padhte hee hain uske liye, asaan nahin hai” I carried on the conversation

“Delhi mein Akaash coaching institute hain na?”

“haan, hai”

“aapne kya padhai kari?”

“main engineer hoon, aur phir mba bhi kiya”

“kahan se engineer?”

“IIT delhi se”

He swung back, surprised, a little delighted, and smiled. “Ok, aapke liye Rs 30”

Swati and I laughed

Swati asked “padhai kab karte they IIT ke liye”

“bas, rickshaw chalaane ke baad raat mein”. Then he added “kismein engineering kari aapne?”

“Chemical”

“toh aapki chemistry toh badi strong hogi”

“nahin, aisa nahin hai”

He continued “yeh bataiye….jab Mendeleev ne Periodic Table banaya tha tab kitne elements they usmein?”

Now it was my turn to get surprised. He was quizzing me. I said “shayad 70-80”

“no, 63” he said sharply. “kaunse element kee electronegativity highest hai?”

Swati was laughing, and I didnt try too hard and said “pata nahin”

“Flourine”, he said confidently. Without a break he asked,”kaunse element kee electron affinity highest hoti hai?”

Now I was laughing too and said “nahin pata”

“Chlorine. toh aapka kaunsa subject strong tha?” clearly having proven that my chemistry wasnt a strong point

“Physics”, I said

“achha, Newton’s second law of motion kya hai”

I knew this one I thought, “F=ma” I said

“Physics is not about formula, it is understanding concept!”  he reprimanded me in near perfect english. “Tell me in statement”

I was shocked. Swati continued to laugh.

I said “ok, Newtons second law, er….was….”

” ‘was’ nahin, ‘is’!Second law abhi bhi hai!” he snapped at my use of ‘was’

Surely, my physics wasnt impressing him either. “yaad nahin, I said”

“Force on an object is directly proportional to the mass of the object and the acceleration of the object”, he said it in near perfect english. “aapne mtech nahin kiya?”

“nahin, mba kiya”

“mba waale toh sirf paisa kamana chahte hain, kaam nahin karte”

“nahin, aisa nahin hai, paisa kamaane ke liye kaam karna padta hai”

He said “arrey, rehene do”  or some words to that effect. He didnt think too highly of me apparently anymore.

In a minute we reached our destination. We got off and I told him that he must and should definitely study more, and that I think he is sharp as hell. He took only Rs 30, smiled and began to leave. I got my camera out and said “Raju, ek photo leta hoon tumhari”. He waved me off, dismissed the idea and rode off before I could say anything more….leaving me feeling high and dry like a spurned lover.

Damn, what a ride that was! India is changing, and changing fast.

The smart Rickshaw wala. This picture, I found in the website: Impressions of India. I really liked this picture for it suited the main character in the story.

Unsung Heroes – Jainarayan Nag – Swati Paan Bhandar – A TWO Crore enterprise

Swati Paan Bhandaar - Jainarayan Nag, Ahmedabad / Mumbai While traveling around the country interacting with youngsters, many who are studying in best of the institutions like IITs and other prestigious colleges, and who claim and want to get into institutions like IIMs, but do not have any purpose or goals defined. They say they want to do MBA, but do not know anything beyond saying ‘Good job’, ‘good salary’, ‘enhancing ones skills’ and so on. When I ask them what did they learn in the current course they are pursuing, they are either blank or retort saying that ‘I learnt nothing here, hence I want to do MBA’.

Unsung Heroes is a series featuring men and women who are omnipresent in the street corners or on occasions, who people hardly take notice of or talk about; But they are the ones who believe in ones own dream, chase their calling in life and have realized their dream.
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My friend Ajesh, an erudite edupreneur and a CL family member in Ahmedabad, asked me whether I would be interested in having typical Gujarati snacks at a much sought after restaurant SWATI Thali in Ahmedabad in the month September, 2010. I jumped at his offer. I realized how popular the restaurant is by the waiting numbers outside the restaurant. We too took our seats in the queue to be ushered in.

While waiting, I noticed an elderly gentleman in his dhoti, kurta and a typical Gandhi cap briskly making paan, while a couple of youngsters are catering to the cutomers by reaching out the paan they were seeking from ice-boxes that already have stacks of paan.

As is my wont, I was keen on talking to the elderly gentleman, but he was so busy that I was observing the way the production of paan was carried out, the customer service, friendly smile and quick comment being passed on. I could go no further as our turn came to get into the restaurant.

The snacks that we had in the restaurant were out of this world. The story about ‘Swati Thali’ is another one. I shall retrict myself to the elderly gentleman caterging paan now. When we emerged out of the restaurant, still he was as busy. I had a quick word with him, appreciating the way he was conducting the business, with a promise to catch up with very soon when I visit next.

On the eve of Republic Day, 2010, I was once again in Ahmedabad and I grabbed Ajesh’s offer to get to Swati. This time, fortunately, it was not a weekend and the crowd at the paan shop was not as thick. I went up to the elderly gentleman after a while, when he took a break from packing paans, and sought time to interact with him.

He took me aside. We sat and began to interact and he gave insights into his journey…

  • Mr Jainarayan Nag came to Mumbai in 1965 from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh looking for better opportunities. Quickly realized that his forte of Paan making is the one he can rely upon to earn his livelihood.
  • He proudly shared that industrial stalwarts – singhanias, Bajajs, Ruias – film stars Kapoors, Kumars who have been his clients for five decades. He fondly recalled the interactions he had with Ramakrishna Bajaj, Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar..
  • His eyes twinkled when he spoke in his inimitable style how he was compelled to travel around the world for his paan business by his ‘fans’. He threw names of five star hotels in Hongkong, Bangkok, Dubai, London etc. where he has catered paan to many a marriage from business families at their special invitation.
  • He mistook me to a journalist, and went on to share that Business newspapers and television channels have interviewed him; And he figures in many a story on the internet, which he only heard of from his clients!!
  • I was a little inquisitive about what his children must be doing. He shared that he has only son and he takes care of the paan outlet at Ahmedabad’s number 1 club. He also caters paan at the second biggest club at Ahmedabad. I went on to gather that he now has two outlets in Mumbai and three in Ahmedabad.
  • I humbly asked a question “Jainarayan ji, on an average how many paans do you sell in a day at Swati thali paan bandaar”. He immediately told me that “Nahi Nahi, Yeh sawaal nahin poocha jatha hai, na hi jawaab diya jatha”. I apologized for asking that question, as I was just curious to write about this story to inspire youngsters to really think big and commit themselves for their passion.

My observations on his business and his interactions –

  • Both times when I have been to “Swati Thali” and sat in the queue waiting for our turn to come, I noticed that at Swati Paan Bhandar –
  1. Most popular paan versions are ready in the ice packs ready to serve
  2. Jainarayan ji is busy in only creating the ‘paan bank’ and not preparing it when the customer asks for it..
  3. He has a wide variety of accompaniments that go along with the likes of a paan connoisseur
  4. At no point of time one can find numbers any less than ten to twelve customers
  • One of the old customers (they spoke as if their families know each other) while interacting was asking
  1. “Aapka naya flat kitna bada hai” – 3000 sq ft.
  2. “Aapka theen shops jahan par hai, who ilakaa badhi theji se badh rahi hai” – “Haan, wahan multiplex agaya hai, do malls bhi aa rahi hain”

My observations and a quick back of the envelope calculations yields-

  • Jainarayan ji, starts his ‘Swati paan bhandar’ at 11am and closes it at midnight.
  1. While waiting and watching him for an hour during the busy part of the day, he must have sold about 200-300 paans in an hour. If I consider six hours of his day are busiest and the other seven hours the demand is only half of the busy hour, even then the sales estimation for that particular bhandaar is about 2000 paans per day.
  2. Across the five outlets (three in Ahmedabad, and two in Mumbai), the modest estimates could be nothing less than 10000 paans a day.
  3. That amounts to almost Rs 1.5Lacs topline every day from his five outlets, not to talk of any of the events.
  4. What is the annual turnover???? if not a 6-7 crore bizz, at least a 2 crore one at the bare minimum!! , not considering Jainarayan ji’s parties and shaadis in India and Abroad at the invitation of the Industrialist friends!!
Naturally “Yin cheejon ke bhare mein baat nahin karte” – We do not talk about these things !!

I asked Jainarayan Nag, why he has not ventured into the internet space with his website. I told them it is possible that he may get orders from abroad too for his paan. He responded saying that “many people going abroad, order for a few hundred paans and get it packed”, and he is open to creating the website if I could find a couple of youngsters who can create one. Next day while talking to a couple of hundred youngsters at Ahmedabad at NIRMA university, i threw this idea to them. If only any youngster could create a website for Jainarayan Nag’s “Swati Paan Bhandaar” and asks for 10% of the profits generated through the web!!

Sreeni@iwsb.in

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