Some begged, others left home: meet 7 entrepreneurs who overcame hardships to build enterprises
There are exemplary people out there who have toiled and burned the midnight oil to overcome adversities and build a bright future, not just for themselves but for the world around them too.
At SMBStory, we take pride in covering small businesses. In this article, we list seven inspiring stories where entrepreneurs started poor, but turned their small businesses into big enterprises.
Losing a parent at any age is a devastating experience. A tragedy of this magnitude can leave anyone hopeless and vulnerable. However, few people grow stronger despite their unfortunate circumstances.
N. Ranga Rao was only eight years old when he lost his father. Coming from a family of teachers and purohits (priests), Ranga Rao was burdened with responsibilities at a very young age. He started doing odd jobs, switching from one to the other, to earn a livelihood. Years passed by, and in his teenage years, he moved to Coonoor to work as a store supervisor.
“My grandfather (Ranga Rao) always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He hit upon the idea to move to Mysuru and start an agarbathi (incense sticks) business, keeping intact the family’s traditional values and doing something to serve religion,” says Arjun Ranga, the third-generation entrepreneur and Managing Director, NR Group.
In 1940s, Ranga Rao started the agarbathi business from his home with the help of his grandmother. He named the company Mysuru Products and General Trading Company, which was later changed to NR Group.
He used to visit the market every day to get the raw materials, make the product the next day, sell it, and get money for the following day’s production. The rest of the income went towards day-to-day expenses.
“My grandfather made great sacrifices and took bold steps. He soon realised that to have a successful business in India, one needs to create a brand. Hence, he launched ‘Cycle Agarbathies’ with an aim to take the business to a new level,” Arjun adds.
Today, NR Group clocks a turnover of Rs 1,700 crore (for FY20) and has a strong presence in over 75 countries. It has sold more than 12 billion agarbathies last year worth Rs 1,000 crore.
Raksha Bandhan celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. As part of the festival, sisters tie rakhis on their brothers’ wrists, and pray for their happiness.
Since 1962, Shree Rakhi has been fulfilling the demand for this festival. Today, it has become one of the largest manufacturers of rakhis across India. But, the journey hasn’t been an easy one.
The story of Shree Rakhi dates back to when Murli Dharji Mohta was working as a clerk in an accounting firm in Kolkata. The times were hard, job opportunities were scarce, and he did not even have enough money to meet daily expenses, let alone start a business.
Seeing the family circumstances, his wife, Pushi Devi Mohta, decided to make simple rakhis at home. Though the investment required to start making rakhis at home was little, a creative sense was crucial to turning a simple thread into a beautiful piece.
“My nani (grandmother) started making rakhis at home to help my grandfather but suddenly, after two years, she passed away and the business also got shut. But my grandfather didn’t give up and so he began the work again,” Kamal Kishore Soni, Director of Shree Rakhi tells SMBStory.
Shree Rakhi is now a registered MSME that serves 700 districts across the country. Kamal says the company follows a distribution model with a network of 500 wholesalers and 2,000 retailers across India.
Dharambir Food Processing
Dharambir Kamboj was in his early teens in the 1970s when the financial hardships of the family forced him to stop studying.
Hailing from village Damla in Yamunanagar, Haryana, Dharambir then looked after his family’s farm and herbal plantations. But that wasn’t helping him earn enough to support the family needs as well as fund medical treatments of his ailing mother and sister.
“My mother succumbed to her illness. My sister needed treatment to survive but we had no money. My daughter was also born at the same time and I was in dire need of money to even make ends meet,” says Dharambir in an interaction with SMBStory.
Dharamir moved to Delhi in the early 80s to find a job. But without a degree his efforts were in vain, and he took up odd jobs to feed himself.
“When I could not find anything, I started ferrying people in a rickshaw in Khari Bawli area of Delhi,” he says.
Eventually, Dharambir noticed that some of the passengers he used to ferry were paying hefty amounts of money for buying processed fruit products from Delhi’s local markets.
“That surprised me,” says Dharabmir, adding that in his villages these fruits were grown in large amounts and were sold at throwaway prices. He also discovered fruit-based products such as jams.
After a few years, he returned to his village and began a number of experiments related to organic farming, and later on set up a small farming laboratory on his land.
In 2002, he met a bank manager who educated him about the machinery required for processing food products, but quoted Rs 5 lakh for the machine.
“The pricing was exorbitant but I didn’t give up and thought of developing the machine in-house. After an investment of Rs 25,000 and an effort of over eight months, my first prototype of the Multipurpose Processing Machine was out,” Dharambir says.
There was no looking back after that.
Today, Dharambir is selling his patented machines to 15 countries and making an annual revenue of Rs 67 lakh.
It is said the enormity of your problems is nothing when compared to your ability to solve them.
Narayan T Poojari’s story tells us how grit, determination, and hard work can make take you places.
Narayan belongs to a small village, Gujjadi, in Udupi district of Karnataka, and comes from a poor family. He came to Mumbai at the age of 13 to make a living. He did several odd jobs, from working in canteens and hotels during the day, and then attended night school.
The 1980s and 1990s was a time when food items such as idlis, pav bhaji, and dosas were gaining popularity. Narayan saw that there were not many players catering to this segment.
He did some research and felt that the idea of venturing into the business had merit. This is when he decided to launch an eatery. Narayan had no money, but found a partner who was ready to invest.
In 1990, at the age of 23, Narayan started Shiv Sagar with an investment of Rs 40 lakh in Mumbai’s Churchgate area. The partner exited the business the following year. Narayan, through his hard work, gradually climbed the ladder of success; from the manager of Shiv Sagar, he became a partner and soon owner.
Shiv Sagar soon became one of the most popular eating joints in Mumbai. Today, the business clocks a turnover of Rs 75 crore annually.
In 2007, eleven-year-old Sid Naidu from Bengaluru lost his father. To support his family, he started distributing newspapers before going to school. He earned Rs 250 per month. However, the financial situation at home remained grim.
Naidu’s dream of entering the fashion industry and becoming a model seemed even more far-fetched at this point. He wasn't sure if he would go to college. But what could he do? After completing Class 10, Naidu started working as an office boy, earning a meagre Rs 3,000 per month.
He was dealt a bad hand, but his passion for the fashion industry still remained. As he moved from job to job, Naidu found himself building a network of stakeholders in the fashion industry.
After ten years, in 2017, he decided to leverage his network and become an entrepreneur. He launched Sid Productions, a venture which dabbles in fashion shoots, model grooming, art direction, print ads, TV commercials and more. In just a year, Naidu's business boomed and recorded a turnover of around Rs 1.3 crore (in FY19). Sid Naidu is now targeting a turnover of Rs 3 crore.
Chinu Kala was 15 years old when she fled her home in Mumbai due to issues in the family.
"When I left my house, I didn’t know what lay ahead for me. I could earn only Rs 20 a day selling knives and coasters door-to-door, and people used to slam the door in my face, refusing to buy the products. But I had the determination and I knew there is no substitute for hard work,” Chinu (37) tells SMBStory.
Struggling hard to make it on her own, Chinu had to survive on one meal a day. But the teen had big dreams in her head and stars in her eyes. This propelled her to never give up even when things seemed hopeless.
Chinu then explored a variety of jobs for over eight years to ensure she could manage on her own. In 2004, she got married in Bengaluru, and after a lot of push from her friends, she participated in Gladrags Mrs India Pageant, 2008, where she reached the finals. She then entered the modelling industry, following which she began her entrepreneurial journey with Fonte Corporate Solutions, which specialised in corporate merchandising.
Chinu was exposed to practical lessons of running a business by meeting consumer demands with products and services that best match their needs, and it was then that she realised that there is a huge gap in the Indian jewellery industry.
Despite the Indian jewellery market being vast, Chinu felt that there were no unique designs to meet the demands of the consumers. Hence, she decided to close Fonte Corporate Solutions and founded Rubans Accessories in 2014 , combining her love for fashion and experience of corporate merchandising.
Rubans Accessories was started with a bootstrapped capital of Rs 3 lakh in a 70 sqft kiosk in Phoenix Mall, Bengaluru. In 2019, within a span of five years, the company recorded a turnover of Rs 7.5 crore.
Renuka Aradhya was born in poverty and would beg alongside his father. But for a long time, Renuka wanted to build his own travel/transport company. After working a score of different jobs over the years, he managed to buy a few cars.
A company called Indian City Taxi was on distress sale, but he did not have any knowledge of merger and acquisition. He bought that company in 2006 with Rs 6.5 lakh and operated it under the name 'Pravasi Cabs'.
"I had to sell all the cars that I had by then to get this money," he says.
After several years of work, Renuka's business grew exponentially and escaped from being impacted by ride-sharing giants such as Ola and Uber because he had around 700 cabs attached to the business. Renuka also landed his first client, Amazon India, when it was setting up its Chennai office. He also landed Walmart, Akamai, General Motors, and more.
His company today has a turnover of Rs 30 crore (as of 2018) and employs more than 150 people.