Coolie's Son Built a ₹100 Crore Company

Let’s dive into the story of this 42-year-old man. He is the son of a coolie from a remote village in Wayanad, Kerela. And yes! his mother never went to school. This is the story of a man who failed in standard 6th but went on to dream of a ₹1000 crore company. This is the story of a man who aims at creating jobs for rural people in India. He is already giving bread to 1100 people through his company.

He studied on charity, had food on charity and lived on charity. Today, P.C.Mustafa’s venture ID Fresh serves fresh Idli and Dosa batter to households in Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mangaluru and even Dubai.

The Childhood Memories

He grew up in a small village Chennalode near Kalpatta in Wayanad, Kerela. The village was so remote that it had only a single primary school. Hats off to our government. It had no electricity and few roads. He had to walk 4 kilometers to go to high school so most of the kids dropped out after primary school.

His father dropped out of studies after class 4 and started working as a coolie in a coffee plantation. His mother Fathima never went to school. He was the eldest of the four children having three younger sisters.

Not being interested in studies, he preferred helping his father, a daily wage worker, instead of doing homework or studying. There was no question of opening the books at night as there was no electricity at home, only kerosene lamps.

Failing in class 6 diverted his mind off studies. Though he failed at other subjects, Mathematics attracted him. His father asked him to join his hands as a daily wage worker.

His maths teacher, Mr. Mathew didn’t like him dropping out of school. And he spoke to Mustafa’s father and convinced him to give him another shot of education. Mr. Mathew asked a simple question to Mustafa, ‘Do you want to be a coolie or a teacher?’ Mustafa looked at Mathew Sir, and answered, ‘I want to be a teacher like you.’ He answered so because he was able to see the difference in the quality of lives between his father and his teacher.

When he went back to school he had to sit with his juniors. As he dropped out, all his friends were promoted into higher classes. The humiliation that you face in these cases is awful. And the humiliation made him attentive in his class. This was the changing moment in his life. However, he was very weak in English and Hindi as well. All thanks to his teacher who helped him a lot with these languages.

From Zero to Zenith

All the hard work paid off. He stood first in class 7, surprising everyone including his teachers, friends, and parents. There was no looking back after that. He stood first in the school in class 10. In those days, Mustafa had only one ambition; to be like Mathew sir. He was his only role model.

Till he completed his class 10, he never stepped out of Wayanad. For college, he planned to go to Kozhikode (Calicut). His father didn’t have an issue except running out of money. The family didn’t have enough money to fund his education further.

However, he was admitted in Farooq College in Kozhikode, where his father’s friend, who suggested him to study further, arranged for a free meal scheme in the college charity hostel. He was one of the 15 students who was offered free food and stay, as they could not afford to pay.

There were four hostels in the college and they had to go to different hostels for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as they were on charity.

And naturally, few students looked at him with disdain. As if he was eating someone else’s food. That was not at all pleasant for him. Some students made fun of the charity boys. However, he swallowed all the humiliation like a glass fruit juice for the sake of his education.

There were people around who helped him a lot. He is still thankful to his college and thinks that the institution has done a great job by providing free food and stay to the lower class of society. A good friend of him also helped him by translating all the lectures from English to what Mustafa can understand.

Engineering at NIT Calicut

After his college, he cleared off the engineering entrance examination and ranked 63 in the state. He got admission in Regional Engineering College (now the National Institute of Technology).

He had no dreams of becoming an entrepreneur then. He just wanted to be a well-known engineer. He worked hard and did well in academics. After his graduation in 1995, he was offered a job at Manhattan Associates, an Indian startup based in the United States.

If we look at his life, we believe that there were three factors that helped him succeed.

Firstly, he had the potential as he was good at Maths, and he was a hard worker. Lastly, the most important factor, as Mustafa believes, was that God was with him. He finds himself very lucky to secure a good rank and get a chance to study what he really liked – computer science.

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Life was quite satisfactory at REC. He took a student loan for his studies. He didn’t have to pay any tuition fees and only had to take care of the hostel fees. Unlike other students, he had to be very careful with spending money. But all that was OK for him.

The First Flight

After a few days of working at a startup in Bangalore, he got an offer from Motorola. It was a dream offer for a person from a remote village in Wayanad. After working for a short while in Bangalore, he was sent to Ireland.

“As a young boy, I stepped out of Wayanad for the first time to study in a college. Now, for the first time in my life, I boarded a flight and went out of the country. The flight took off at 6.30 pm. I looked down and saw Bangalore. I will never be able to forget the image: The aerial view of Bangalore,” says Mustafa.

Though he loved Ireland and Irish people, he missed India and us a lot. He missed Indian food too, as there were no Indian restaurants in Ireland. He was used to praying five times a day, which he found quite difficult to stick to in Ireland.

After three months he got a very good offer from Citibank. He jumped at it and moved to Dubai. In 1996, he was drawing a salary in lakhs and that was quite something at that time. The first thing he did after paying off his loans was to send ₹1 Lakh to his father. Mustafa’s father cried seeing so much cash in a bag sent by his son.

His father paid off his debts and started planning his sister’s wedding. One of his sisters had dropped out of school, but others went to college. In 2010, Mustafa too got married.

Soon, he built a house for his parents in the village. The people in his village, who had seen him as a small child, could not believe the change in his life. Many kids from the village now look up to Mustafa. They also dream of achieving something big in life.

Dubai to India – The Journey

In 2003, after having lived in Dubai for so long, he decided to return back to India. There were three main reasons for the decision.

Firstly, he wanted to come back and spend time with his father and family.

Secondly, he wanted to study further. Though securing good marks in GATE, he was unable to study after engineering due to financial constraints. After working for a few years, he decided to pursue some course in busines administration.

And the third reason was that he wanted to give something back to the society.

There are many smart youngsters in his village who are not getting good mentorship and opportunities. He wanted to give them that break so that they too could come up in life. And the best way, to achieve this, he thought, was by providing jobs to them. And in order to do that, he had to be an entrepreneur.

Quitting His Salary & Job

That was one of the toughest decisions made by P.C.Mustafa. And this comes to be true for everyone. Even, I had a tough time quitting my earlier work. And I believe that many entrepreneurs had been through this tough time. Mustafa’s father was horrified by this decision.

However, Nasser, Mustafa’s cousin always supported his decisions. And so did his wife. Mustafa is very close to his maternal cousins. They grew up together. They also belong to very poor families just like Mustafa. They didn’t go for higher studies.

Nasser ran away from home to Bangalore where he started a small Kirana store. He gave Mustafa the courage to listen to his heart. He said, ‘If it does not work out, you can go back to work anytime. Quitting the job was the end of the world. But you shouldn’t feel that you didn’t try to do what you wanted to.’

There is an absurd. And it is that Mustafa, by now, was crystal clear that he has to do something on his own. But he did not know what. He came back to India with a savings of ₹15 lakhs (1.5 Million INR).

The Idli Dosa Combo

He met his first objective by visiting his parents in the village every weekend. Instead of studying technology further, he decided to do MBA as he found management more interesting. He cleared the CAT exam and got admitted in IIM Bangalore. Even while studying management at IIM-B he always discussed business plans with his cousins.

Shamsuddin, one of his cousins, had seen dosa batter being sold in plastic bags tied with a rubber band in nearby stores and suggested they make and supply dosa batter. That was an Aha! moment. Mustafa decided to invest ₹25,000 and start a company immediately.

Four of Mustafa’s cousins – Nasser, Shamsu, Jaffer, Naushad and he himself – decided to join hands. The partnership was such that Mustafa holds 50 per cent share while the other 50 percent distributed among the remaining four partners. They found a small place of around 550 square feet and started with two grinders, a mixer, and a sealing machine.

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They were discussing the name when one of the cousins suggested ID for Idli Dosa. They named the venture ID Fresh as they were to supply fresh idli and dosa batter.

The initial target was to sell in 20 neighborhood stores. Mustafa thought that if he would be able to sell 100 packets a day, he would invest another round of money into the venture.

They didn’t employ anyone – his cousin was in charge. They started with very less, 10 packets, everyday sales. Initially, the shopkeepers were not willing to keep a new brand. He came up with the solution by providing special offer – cash after sales.

When the customers started asking for ID repeatedly, other stores asked for the products and wanted to stock the batter. They stuck to the first 20 stores and waited for the 100 packets a day target to be achieved. By the end of the ninth month, they were able to sell 100 packets every day on an average.

The best part of the venture was that they were making profits from day one. None of the partners took salary initially. After paying the rent of ₹500 and crossing off the expenditure of buying rice, dal, etc, the profit was ₹400 in the first month.

After reaching the target, he decided to invest another ₹6 Lakhs and move to a bigger kitchen of 800 sq ft with 2,000 kg capacity, which is 2,000 packets with 15 wet grinders. Nasser was handling the kitchen alone so they decided to hire another 5 people for the same. And all of them were relatives.

Completing His MBA

In 2007, he completed his MBA as joined officially as the CEO in the venture. He was looking after marketing and finance. Till then, he was only remotely participating in the venture.

In two years, the capacity of ID Fresh increased to 3,500 kg a day. The number of stores they partnered with increased to 400. They had 30 employees working with them now. However, they were operating their kitchen in a residential area.

As the demand kept increasing, he decided to shift the manufacturing to a proper industrial area. And remember, they were making a good 10-12 percent profit every month.

In 2008, he invested another ₹40 Lakhs and bought a 2,500 sq ft shed in the Hoskote Industrial Area. Mustafa imported five large wet grinders from America and customized them to fit the requirements. They also added parathas in their list of products.

Scaling & Expansion

In 2012, they expanded to cities like Chennai, Mangaluru, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad. His friends and relatives joined him at his venture to take ID Fresh to a whole new level. They follow a partnership model in other cities, with a local manufacturing plant in each city. Each partner becomes a shareholder in the parent company.

In 2013, they started their operations in Dubai. And they witnessed the maximum demand for dosa batter in Dubai and were unable to meet the demand. Expanding in other cities was bit tough, as they were not locally present there. They are not looking for any international market for now.

Mustafa believes that India is still unexplored and is a huge market.

Today, they produce around 50,000 kg every day in their plant. The total investments by Mustafa in the company were ₹4 crore (40 Million INR) and the revenue is recorded ₹100 crore (1 Billion INR).

When they became a ₹100 crore company in October 2015, Mustafa celebrated it with his partners on a grand scale. And he should. After all his hard work has grown ID Fresh from producing 10 packets a day in 2005, with just his cousin managing the kitchen, to 50,000 packets a day with 1,100 employees in 10 years.

When he recruits someone he makes sure that he is from the rural area. He has to be smart, honest and dedicated. Those who works in the plant makes a decent ₹40,000 every month. The biggest challenge any startup face is the right team.

Future Plans and Advice

His plans are to make ID Fresh the most popular and trusted brand in the fresh food segment and make it ₹1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) company in the next five to six years. By then, he is sure to create employment opportunities for at least 5000 people.

If you have the passion for starting something, do it immediately. Don’t wait for tomorrow. He had the passion for being an entrepreneur, but it took him a few years make that decision. He still regrets the delay. He wishes he had started five years earlier.

The three things that worked for them were that they were in the right city with the right product at the right time.