My first unit was at IIM, Ahmedabad. When we started our second unit in October 2006, I thought now I would start making money. But I made losses of around Rs 2000 a day. A first generation entrepreneur cannot afford such a loss. But I worked really hard, working till 3 a.m. in the morning. What reduced my losses were the birthday party offers.
I started the third unit again in Ahmedabad but it also made losses. All my units were cafeteria and I understood then that the small cafeterias do not work; I needed huge volumes to work.
My friends who were extremely supportive in the first year when things were difficult for me. I had taken loans from my IIM-A friends. They were earning very well.
In December 2006, an IIM Ahmedabad alumni event took place in Mumbai and I decided to go there mainly to get a contract. I was hopeful of getting it. I also knew that if I got the huge contract, I would come out of all the losses I had been incurring.
I booked my train ticket from Ahmedabad to Mumbai for Rs 300 and I had Rs 200 in my hand. As the meet went on till late at night, I could reach the station only at midnight. I missed the train. I decided to sit on the platform till the morning and travel by the next train in the morning. I didn't have the money to check into a hotel. I didn't want to disturb any of my friends so late at night.
It was an unforgettable night as I was even shoved off by policemen from the platform. It was quite insulting and embarrassing. After two hours, people started moving in, I also went in.
A man who sat next to me on the platform gave me a newspaper so that I could sleep. I spread the newspaper and slept on the platform! I sleep well. I got my ticket refund in the morning and went back to Ahmedabad. And, luck did not favour me, I didn't get the contract.
In March 2007, I got an offer to start a unit at BITS, Pilani (Sarathbabu was an alumnus of BITS, Pilani). That was the first medium break for me. For the first time, I started making profits there though the other units continued to make losses. The reason for our success at BITS, Pilani was the volume; there were more students and there was a need for a unit like ours while in Ahmedabad, they have at least a hundred options.
If I made Rs 5000 a day at Ahmedabad in two shifts, here I made Rs 15,000 a day.
BITS, Pilani unit gave me the confidence to move on. Unless you make money, you can't be confident in business.
Image: E Sarathbabu with his mother infront of his house | Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj
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