PC Musthafa, CEO and co-founder of iD Fresh Food, speaks a language that is fresh, crisp, robust and earthy. Much like his company’s trademark product -- iD idli dosa batter. The transition of Musthafa from a boy who dropped out of school at the age of 10 to work on his father’s farmland, to becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in India, is now folklore. The ‘batter king’, as he is popularly known, however, continues to be as modest as ever. Even as iD continues to expand rapidly, Musthafa hasn’t left his Wayanad roots behind. Though iD is now valued at over Rs 2,000 crore, he is still a farmer’s son at heart, one who believes that hard work, patience and faith always pays off. Excerpts from an interview
Having come from a family of very little means, you went on to study engineering at NIT, did your MBA at IIM-Bengaluru and were in a comfortable corporate job. You dropped all that and invested your savings in starting iD. What convinced you that freshly made idli and dosa batter would be lapped up by the Indian consumer?
I’d say that for any business, there are three factors one needs to consider -- scalability, sustainability and profitability. About scalability or market size, did you know that Bengalureans tuck in 1 crore idlis every day, the weight of 100 Asian elephants? Three to four meals in a week here are made out of batter, such as dosa, idli, uttappam etc. Chennaiites eat idli-dosa three times a day. According to my estimates, the idli dosa batter business is probably the largest business opportunity in any food segment. Whenever my grandfather could afford it, he would buy rice and dal and make dosas or idlis for us. I had idlis for breakfast today. In future, I want my grandson to have idlis. The idli, dosa business is probably one of the most sustainable businesses in the food segment. It has been there for generations and is not going to disappear. Coming to profitability -- two-thirds of the batter is water. What is a better way to ensure profitability? Also from a personal side, I had a dream during my childhood to have three meals in a day. My father was an agricultural coolie and breakfast was a luxury. Today, I am part of a team that serves millions of Indians healthy food every day. My business is not by chance, it is by choice.
Many mom-and-pop stores sell unbranded batter. There are other ready-to-eat food brands available. How did iD become a market disruptor?
My cousins and I started iD with just Rs 50,000. We bought one grinder, one mixer and a second-hand Scooty. It was back-breaking work. While my friends were having corporate lunches and sipping Costa coffee, I was going around with a sweat-soaked shirt. It took us nine months to sell 100 packets. But we didn’t give up. Our product is our hero. Our product comes at a premium, but is the best in the market. Two, we didn’t take the credit away from the homemaker. We sell vada and idli batter, not idlis or vadas. Secondly, we constantly innovate and upgrade to stay ahead. A customer picks up our vada batter pouch, squeezes it to get round, crispy vadas with a hole in it. It is a wow moment since those who never made vadas can now do so. It is soft, crunchy and you feel like having another.
Tell us about your Telangana and Andhra Pradesh markets.
My friends Rajesh Aiytham and Bhanu Valluri started the business in partnership mode in the Hyderabad region eight-nine years ago. Today, Hyderabad is one of our fastest growing markets. Our flagship product idli-dosa batter flies off the shelves. iD Malabar parathas and paneer are also very popular.
What are your plans for expansion here?
We have a factory in Kukatpally now and are setting up another one in Hyderabad’s industrial zone, which will be probably the second largest batter factory in the world. It will be ready in four months.
The dairy segment is already flooded. How are your paneer and curd products doing?
After milk, paneer and curd are the most consumed products in dairy. Our paneer is made with just lemon concentrate and milk, which is why customers love it. In Hyderabad, we are the No. 1 paneer brand. In fact, all our products are free of chemicals and preservatives. We wage a war against chemicals in food.
What advice do you have for those who want to start a business but are worried about quitting their jobs?
I was lucky because in the initial two-three years when we started iD, I was studying and then working and functioned mainly as an investor. My cousins Abdul Nazer, Shamsudeen TK, Jafar TK and Noushad TA managed the show. For those budding entrepreneurs, who are worried about their salary, I’d say identify the right cousins (laughs).
Are you also starting a cookware line? You have put up a video on Linkedin which shows an innovative dosa maker.
I have been in this business for so long and I still don’t know how to make a perfect dosa. Sometimes, my dosas take the shape of Australia, sometimes Sri Lanka and India. So we were looking for a solution. After cracking the vada-making code, my cousin Nazer tried the new dosa tawa and it worked. The product is a dosa maker with a tawa, a lid, spreader and a spoon. It will be available soon at an economical price.
Like all businesses, yours too must have taken a hit in the Covid times.
In fact, it is the other way round. People have started eating healthy now and our business has risen by 60 per cent in the last one-and-a-half years. There has been a 10-time growth in e-commerce. I only hope we don’t go back to pre-Covid levels.
Helion Ventures and PremjiInvest have invested in iD Fresh. How did you convince Wipro chairman Azim Premji to invest? Is there more funding coming in?
I didn’t have to convince Mr Azim Premji. He had consumed some of our products and came forward to invest in 2017. We are going in for our second round of funding in a couple of weeks’ time.
What is your daily schedule like? How do you stay fit?
Before Covid, I used to wake up at 5 am, do my prayers, play football with friends every day, go to office by 9.30 am and be back home with my family by 6 pm. These days, I am unable to play football as many of my friends are scattered in the WFH era. My fitness philosophy is simple, if you eat fresh, you stay fresh. I avoid junk food and am probably the largest consumer of iD brand.