Unsung Heroes

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.

I have covered quite a few of the ‘Unsung heroes’ in my regular posting. I am now collecting all under this page. I shall collate them soon..

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UNSUNG HEROES 3 – Ponnuchammy, Madurai : thriving soup business

My travel itinerary crisscrosses me across the country and as I share usually, every visit to a city brings me across 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 entrepreneurially-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 gentlemen from Madurai who is the 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 disembarked 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 from 10:30 was choc-o-block, 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. I shall blog it in my travelogues, as that is a different story. We finished our photoperambulations around the temple complex and exited to the hotel.

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 of them. He shared that he keeps three soups every day, and the soups change very 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 pet 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%

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. If Yoga can happen, any business can. Take
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Unsung Heroes – Jainarayan Nag – Swati Paan Bhandar – A TWO Crore enterprise

Swati Paan Bhandaar - Jainarayan Nag, Ahmedabad / Mumbai

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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