Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From iD Fresh Food to Biryani By Kilo: Small town entrepreneurs are weaving big successes

A bold new generation of founders from villages and small towns is weaving entrepreneurial dreams by exorcising the nightmare of fear and rejection

Rajiv Singh
Published: Dec 7, 2023 12:10:04 PM IST
Updated: Dec 7, 2023 12:28:51 PM IST

From iD Fresh Food to Biryani By Kilo: Small town entrepreneurs are weaving big successes 1. PC Musthafa of iD Fresh Food; 2. Chaitanya Ramalingegowda of Wakefit; 3. Tushar Mittal of SKV and Officebanao; 4. Vishal Jindal of Biryani By Kilo; 5. Aloke Bajpai of ixigo; 6. Sibabrata Das of Atomberg; 7. Mohit Dubey of Chalo; 8. Shailesh Kumar of CABT Logistics

A mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale,” JK Rowling made a confession at a commencement speech at Harvard in 2008. “An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,” said the celebrated author of the Harry Potter book series. “The fears that my parents had for me, and that I had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

Back in Bengaluru, PC Musthafa was going through the toughest, and lowest, patch in his life. The IIM-Bangalore grad was into the fourth year of his maiden entrepreneurial venture of selling idli-dosa batter. iD Fresh Food, which Musthafa started with his cousins in 2005, was staring at an uncertain future. The founder had exhausted all savings and capital in his Chennai-foray gambit, which failed miserably; venture capitalists shied away as they couldn’t understand the potential of the market; and after a slew of job stints in Europe, the Middle East and India—including Citibank in Dubai and Intel in Bengaluru—it seemed like Musthafa had failed at an epic scale. There was no money to grow the business, the salaries got delayed by several months, and Musthafa couldn’t pay the tuition fees of his son. “It was tough,” he recalls.

Meanwhile, the journey was getting punishing for Chaitanya Ramalingegowda too. Started by Ankit Garg and Ramalingegowda in March 2016, Wakefit disrupted the Indian mattress market by taking the product direct to the consumers, and selling it online. The duo was greeted with scepticism and mistrust. “Mattress is a touch-and-feel product. From where will you get the buyers?” was the question asked by everybody, including the potential funders who stayed away from taking a bet. “I met 42 investors in close to three years. All declined to invest,” laments Ramalingegowda, who had run two failed ventures before starting Wakefit. The going didn’t look promising for the third one as well. Though not dejected, Ramalingegowda was living the feeling of being rejected umpteen times.

There was somebody else also who faced rejections all his life. Mohit Dubey, in fact, came up with an innovative defence mechanism to deal with rejections. He embraced rejections. “There was no fear of being rejected. There was no fear of failure,” says the co-founder of Chalo, a bus tracking and ticketing platform started in 2014. Dubey indeed had a mortifying track record in terms of rejections since his childhood. From being robbed off from buying things that would bring a smile on the face of the small-town boy due to limited resources of the family, to coping with a broken glass frame in boarding school, to being bullied by the seniors, to finding no takers for is venture after the pandemic, Dubey had learnt to live with a no. “I don’t fear rejections,” he says. Those hailing from small towns, and villages—Dubey’s hometown Harshud eventually got submerged under the Narmada reservoir dam in 2004—have nothing to lose. “That’s why they have nothing to fear,” he adds.

Meanwhile, back at Harvard, Rowling continued with her gritty story. “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,” she underlined.

 In this special issue of Forbes India, you will uncover how a bunch of gritty founders from small towns and villages built and rebuilt their lives on the fearless solid foundation of big dreams and hard work. Small-town mentality, which was once a taunt, a jibe and negative connotation, has now become a badge of honour.

Also read: Car, Samosa, Tractor: Carnot & its ride with Mahindra

Resistance to change and the fear of the unknown—which defined a traditional small-town mentality—are now a thing of the past. The ones coming from such backgrounds are fearless, high-risk takers, and adapt to changes as swiftly as fish take to water. “It’s amazing how the term has flipped 180 degrees and assumed positive vibes,” says Vinay Singh, co-founder and partner at Fireside Ventures, an early-stage VC fund backing consumer brands. “Founders from small towns have typically better insights about the larger ‘India 2 or Bharat’ opportunity,” he adds.

There is something else which is fascinating about such founders. Anil Joshi explains. “There are finger spinners, and then there are wrist spinners,” says the founder of Unicorn India Ventures. Both are equally effective. But there is something magical about wrist spinners. “Founders from small towns and villages are wrist spinners,” says Joshi. “They are special. They are mesmerising.”