When 27-year old Sarathbabu graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, he created quite a stir by refusing a job that offered him a huge salary. He preferred to start his own enterprise — Foodking Catering Service — in Ahmedabad.
Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy lit the traditional lamp and inaugurated Sarathbabu’s enterprise.
Sarathbabu travels a lonf way from a Chennai slum to the nation’s premier management institute to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Childhood in a slum
I was born and brought up in a slum in Madipakkam in Chennai. I have two elder sisters and two younger brothers and my mother was the sole breadwinner of the family. It was really tough for her to bring up five kids on her meagre salary.
She did three different jobs to bring us up and educate us. She sold idlis in the mornings. She would then work for the mid-day meal at the school during daytime. In the evenings, she taught at the adult education programme of the Indian government.I was determined that her hard work should not go in vain. I was a topper throughout my school days.
My mother was not aware of institutions like the BITS- Pilani, or IIT, She only wanted to educate us so that we got a good job.
When you constantly worry about the next square meal, you do not dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time The only thing that was on my mind was to get a good job.
I got very good marks in the 10th standard exam. Till the 10th, there was no special fee but for the 11th and the 12th, the fees were Rs 2,000-3,000.
I did book-binding work during the summer vacation and accumulated money for my school fees. When I got plenty of work, I employed 20 other children and all of us did the work together. That was my first real job as an entrepreneur.
Life at BITS, Pilani
A classmate of mine told me about BITS, Pilani. He was confident that I would get admission, as I was the topper. He also told me that on completion (of studies at Pilani), I will definitely get a job.
The fees alone were around Rs 28,000, and I had to get around Rs 42,000. It was huge money for us. And there was no one to help us. Just my mother and sisters. One of my sisters pawned her jewellery and that’s how I paid for the first semester.
I applied for the Indian government scholarship and I was successful. So, after the first semester, it was the scholarship that helped me through.
Inspiration to be an entrepreneur
It was while preparing for the Common Admission Test that I read in the papers that 30 per cent of India’s population does not get two meals a day. I know how it feels to be hungry. What should be done to help them, I wondered.
I also read about Infosys and Narayana Murthy, Reliance and Ambani. Reliance employed 20,000-25,000 people at that time, and Infosys, around 15,000. When a single entrepreneur employed 25,000 people, he was supporting the whole family, and thus taking care of 100,000 people indirectly. I felt I, too, should become an entrepreneur.
But, my mother was waiting for her engineer son to get a job. I got a job with Polaris.I worked for 30 months at Polaris But I decided to pursue my dream. When I took CAT for the third time, I cleared it and got calls from all the six IIMs. I got admission at IIM, Ahmedabad.
I was more confident at IIM. I took up a lot of responsibilities in the college. I was in the mess committee in the first year and in the second year; I was elected the mess secretary.
Becoming an entrepreneur
By the end of the second year, there were many lucrative job offers coming our way, but in my mind I was determined to start something on my own. But It was a difficult decision to say ‘no’ to offers that gave you Rs 800,000 a year.
Nobody at my institute discouraged me. In fact, at least 30-40 students at the IIM wanted to be entrepreneurs.
Foodking Catering Services Pvt Ltd
My mother is my first inspiration to start a food business. I started my life selling idlis in my slum. Then of course, my experience as the mess secretary at IIM-A was the second inspiration.I also felt there is a good opportunity in the food business.
My friends helped me with registering the company with a capital of Rs 100,000.
I set up an office and employed three persons. The first order was from a software company in Ahmedabad. They wanted us to supply tea, coffee and snacks. We transported the items in an auto.
than I got the order from IIM, Ahmedabad, I took a loan of Rs 11 lakhs (Rs 1.1 million) and started a kitchen. So, my initial capital was Rs 11.75 lakhs (Rs 1.17 million).
Three months have passed, and now we have forty employees and four clients — IIM Ahmedabad, Darpana Academy, Gujarat Energy Research Management Institute and System Plus.
In the first month of our operation, we earned around Rs 35,000. Now, the turnover is around Rs 250,000. The Chennai operations will start in another three months’ time.
I want to employ as many people as I can, and improve their quality of life. I have seen people from all walks of life — from the slums to the elite in the country. That is why luxuries like a car or a bungalow do not matter to me. Even money doesn’t matter to me. I feel bad if I have to have food in a five star hotel. I feel guilty.
The best compliments I received were from Narayana Murthy and my director at IIM, Ahmedabad. When I told him (IIM-A director) about my decision to start a company, he hugged me and wished me luck. They have seen life, they have seen thousands and thousands of students and if they say it is a good decision, I am sure it is a good decision.