How a trip abroad helped 5 entrepreneurs start popular Indian brands
New environments, cultures, and lifestyles can spark creativity and lead to unique business ideas. Here are five multi-crore Indian brands that were inspired by international trips to the US, France, Italy, Japan, etc.
Travelling the world and exploring diverse cultures and traditions can open our eyes to different ways of solving a problem or addressing a gap.
And many Indian entrepreneurs have been inspired to come up with successful business ideas while they were on international trips, immersing themselves in unfamiliar environments and observing different lifestyles.
SMBStory lists the stories of five entrepreneurs whose trips abroad inspired multi-crore business ideas.
Vikram Agarwal worked in his family business Globe Capacitors for 20 years. Started by his father, it was into manufacturing and exporting film capacitors. Vikram joined the family business after completing his studies in 1991.
In June 2008, he took a business trip to the US, not knowing that it would change his life forever. During the trip, he tasted tortilla chips, a snack made by cutting corn flatbread into triangles and then frying or baking it.
Vikram fell in love with these chips and decided to create a brand that offered Mexican flavours with an Indian twist.
In 2009, he established Greendot Health Foods in Faridabad, and began making nacho crisps under the brand Cornitos. Vikram set up a fully-automated manufacturing plant in Roorkee, obtaining the technical know-how from a California-based equipment maker.
The brand’s USP lies in the fact that the nachos are gluten-free, cooked in corn oil, and manufactured by a Mexican lime treatment process of making traditional masa (maize dough) using stone-ground, non-GMO corn.
Over the next 10 years, Cornitos grew into India’s biggest nachos brand by market share, capturing 60 percent of India’s nachos market. Today, it also exports to the US, Australia, China, Singapore, the UAE, and more. At present, its product portfolio includes nacho crisps, taco shells, chunky salsa dips, cheesy dips, roasted premium nuts, etc.
In the early 1960s, businessman Kanwal Grover was importing French machinery and tools for India’s defence and space programmes. But, each time he visited France, which is known for its wineries, Kanwal’s passion for fine wines grew.
It took a long time for Kanwal to convert his passion into a profession. Eventually, in 1989, Kanwal and his business partner George Vesselle started their first vineyard at the foot of Nandi Hills, near Bengaluru. The vineyard, named after Grover, produced its first batch of vintage wine in 1992.
Today, Grover is India’s leading producer and exporter of fine wine, and Kanwal is referred to as the ‘Father of Indian viticulture’ (wine-growing).
In 2012, Grover merged with Nashik-based Vallée de Vin, and was rebranded as Grover Zampa. The name Zampa was taken from Vallée de Vin’s Zampa range of wines.
Grover Zampa is also a family business, led by Kapil Grover, Kanwal’s son, and Karishma Grover, Kanwal’s granddaughter. Ravi Viswanathan, a renowned wine investor, is the Chairman while Vivek Chandramohan is the CEO.
At present, Grover Zampa is India’s second-largest overall winemaker after Sula Vineyards, say industry sources. In 2018, the company recorded a revenue of Rs 57.77 crore.
When Ajay Arora and his brother Sanjay joined their family’s apparel textile business, little did they know that they’d discover a market opportunity worth thousands of crores. During the 90s, the Mumbai-based brothers were manufacturing and selling fabrics for women’s wear and making affordable imitation silk in polyester.
Soon Ajay, scouting for new opportunities, realised that fabrics and designs were selling well. At the time, the demand for fabrics in the home furnishing industry was swelling, especially in international markets, and not many players were meeting the demand.
“In 1997, I went to Heimtextil, Europe’s largest textile fair, in Frankfurt. From there, I went to Como, Italy, to meet some design houses. I learned the tricks of the trade in the home furnishings industry over several months. Then, my brother Sanjay and I quit our family business to start manufacturing our own home furnishing fabrics,” he says.
The duo launched D’Decor. In 1999, it was a modest fabrics manufacturing unit in Mumbai. The brothers’ focus on delivering European quality products at Indian prices worked wonders, and took the business to unprecedented heights.
Today, D’Decor is the largest maker of woven upholstery and curtain fabrics in the world. The Rs 1,500 crore turnover business has five manufacturing plants in Tarapur, India, producing over 1,20,000 square meters of high-quality fabrics every day.
While working with Honda Motorcycles and Scooters as an Operations Head, Jeetender Sharma visited the Okinawa Islands in Japan. Residents of the islands are known to have very long life spans in the world. The archipelago also boasts of the highest number of centenarians.
Jeetender, who is a mechanical engineer and has a diploma in International Business, felt the islands’ zero-pollution environment played a major role in boosting the health of its people.
“This experience inspired me to start a venture to contribute to an eco-friendly environment in India. I decided to set up an electric vehicle (EV) company to replace the use of conventional fossil fuels with clean energy, thereby reducing pollution,” Jeetender says.
Having worked for almost 25 years in the automobile production and quality assurance departments, Jeetender put his domain expertise to use and started an electric two-wheeler business in Gurugram in 2015. Paying tribute to the archipelago that inspired him, he named his company Okinawa Scooters.
“We spent the first two years in research and development. In 2017, we launched our first product — Okinawa Ridge. Since then, we have launched seven different electric two-wheelers, and have captured the highest market share in high-speed electric two-wheelers in India. We have over 60,000 of our two-wheelers on the road right now,” he says.
During his visit to Germany in the 1960s, the late PC Mathew studied the application of rubberised coir in car seats. Impressed by its high durability and cushioning properties, the industrial chemistry engineer toyed with the idea of using rubberised coir to make mattresses.
At the time, Mathew ran a small mattress manufacturing business along a quiet canal in Alleppey, Kerala. The business, named Duroflex, was started by him in 1963 with an initial investment of Rs 3 lakh.
While coir held promise, it would be new to the Indian market, and Mathew was not sure if it would be accepted. But, taking a leap of faith, he began importing coir mattress manufacturing machines from Austria.
“Due to import restrictions, he decided to import a few of the bigger components of the machinery, and based on what he saw in Germany, he reengineered the machines locally. The machinery and components were brought in through cargo boats through the canals of Alleppey,” says Mathew George, a third-generation entrepreneur who is now Director, Operations and New Product Development at Duroflex.
In the early 70s, the government of India gave Duroflex a big order for hospital beds, battle tank seats, and railway coaches, which helped the Kerala brand gain acceptance across the country.
What began as a modest mattress factory along a canal is now a leading enterprise in the sleep products category. Today, Duroflex is a Rs 500 crore revenue company headquartered in Bengaluru, and has over 500 employees.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)