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The Dreamer!

By Shobha Warrier
Last updated on: October 09, 2015 18:14 IST
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"Because of the humiliation we were subjected to, both me and my younger brother Vishnu, wanted to do something that would make the relatives respect us. It was a tough life for us as kids. Unlike the other children of our age, we were deprived of many things."

"When we were young, our mother did all the work from morning till evening for the entire household, for the joint family. She washed the clothes, cleaned the house, washed utensils, and cooked food. She did not have a single moment of freedom then. I wanted to give her that freedom; to do whatever she wants. But she is into spirituality now. Nothing materialistic appeals to her. So what? She can do whatever she wants now. What she wants from us is, be good human beings," Udhaya Krishna tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com.

The inspiring story of B Udhaya Krishna and his friends is the story of today's aspirational India, the India that encourages entrepreneurial spirit. Hurdles like poverty, discouragement and insults are just temporary hindrances in front of them to work hard to achieve their dreams.

28-year-old Udhaya Krishna and his schoolmates dreamt of becoming entrepreneurs when they were in school. The dreams became big when they were in college. It got bigger and bigger as they established their companies, making them successful, diversifying and also helping other friends too to realise their dreams.

Udhaya (extreme right) with his Paal co-founders

Unlike some young men who preferred to agitate for opportunities, Udhaya Krishna and his friends created opportunities to succeed.

Coimbatore based Udhaya Krishna's story is that of a young hardworking dreamer who believes that if you work hard, nothing is impossible to achieve.

Childhood amidst poverty and humiliation

Udhaya Krishna had a difficult childhood after having lost his father at the age of 8.

His mother stitched clothes to get her two boys educated, with some help from her mother.

The boys were subjected to a life of humiliation, insult and neglect in the joint family where they lived with no father to provide any financial support.

"Because of the humiliation we were subjected to, both me and my younger brother Vishnu, wanted to do something that would make the relatives respect us. It was a tough life for us as kids. Unlike the other children of our age, we were deprived of many things; we never had any toys or video games to play with, we never had any chocolates to munch. At that time, our dream was to have lots of toys and chocolates like other children," Udhaya Krishna remembered his childhood.

The boys felt if they had to succeed in life, they had to be businessmen. "So when I was in the standard IV, I decided to be an entrepreneur. When teachers asked me what I wanted to be, I always used to say, a businessman."

His dream was to have a dairy farm when he grew up as he loved animals, mainly cows. "That was because my mother's sister had cows at home. I loved going to her house and whenever I went there, I would spend time in the cowshed milking cows and feeding them. I was never scared of milking the cows though I was subjected to a few kicks from the cows in the beginning but soon they became my friends. At that time, I thought I would start a business of selling milk."

Gets a cow from his aunt

As his aunt was getting old, and finding it difficult to look after her cows, she gave Durga, one of the cows to Udhaya Krishna. The family sold its milk and the money was a big help in continuing his education. But the other family members did not like having a cow in the premises and they were forced to sell Durga. "That day, my mother, brother and I cried a lot. The money we got selling Durga was used for standard XI and XII education of my brother."

(Finally, his brother Vishnu Vardhana did his Masters in Computer Science and worked in a software company in Hyderabad. He is in the process of starting his own firm from Coimbatore).

After school, a diploma course in Computer Science

Though Udhaya wanted to study a diploma course in technology after his standard X and had got admission in a prestigious college in Coimbatore, and his grandmother was willing to help him with the fess, some of his relatives intervened and prevented him from joining. Finally, he had to study a diploma course in a government college in Computer Science.

"I was in a hurry to get a job and that was why I joined the diploma course after class X. But my mother and her sister forced me to join an engineering college as a lateral entry after the diploma. My mother wanted to see me as an engineer. I also had this desire to study engineering as my school friends Anil and Santhosh were also there."

First initiative as college students

The first opportunity that came the way of Udhaya Krishna and his friends was in organising events for various schools and colleges under Rotaract of the Rotary Club. "Till then, nobody could make any profit out of these events and many dissuaded us when we took it upon ourselves to organise events. But we managed to make them profitable. It was well appreciated by the members of Rotary Club. That was how we got our first job even before we passed out though it was recession time and jobs were not available for fresh graduates."

Soon after passing out in 2009, though he and his friends joined a small company in Coimbatore, which filed IT returns for the employees of various companies, their minds were not there. "One good thing was, in the three months we were with the company, we were all the time travelling to Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. It was a great learning experience watching how big companies work."

Becoming an entrepreneur

Udhaya with mypromovideos team

The idea to start an enterprise of their own came not over a cup of coffee, but while sitting on a bench near a bakery and ruminating over their future. It was Santhosh's idea to start an animation company, which the others -- Udhaya Krishna, Anil Kumar and Mahesh Babu found appealing. Though Mahesh Babu could not join them due to his commitment to his family, the others resigned from their jobs and moved to a room in Santhosh's house with their computers and started their journey as entrepreneurs. Santhosh's brother Gopalakrishnan also joined the team.

That was how mypromovideos was started; on the September 9, 2009.

"Anil was good in animation, I loved designing websites and Santhosh was good at marketing. We designed and uploaded a promo video first. And you won't believe, the video was so impressive that from day one, we started getting orders. The first order was for $5," Udhaya Krishna recalled their first success.

By the end of the first month, they could make Rs 16,000 (Rs 4,000 each). By the end of first year, the company was making $3000 every month.

Moving to 'explainer videos' and tasting success

By mid-2010, they moved to a proper office. That was when they decided to expand into making movies and animation films. "Our research found that there is a huge market for 'explainer videos' that explain about the products for companies through videos. Our first video for a start-up in Chennai which is still quite popular and brought us many customers that include Flipkart, HCL, Aditya Birla Money, HDFC, etc."

With the success of 'explainer videos', revenue of mypromovideos started going up. From Rs 70 lakh in 2012, it has gone up to Rs 1.6 crore in 2014. In the next couple of years, they hope to touch Rs 20 crore.

With Santhosh and his brother Gopalakrishna starting their own firms, now mypromovideos, a private limited company has only Udhaya Krishna and Anil Kumar as partners with 15 people working for them.

Starting a dairy farm

Though animals were his love and starting a dairy farm was his dream, it remained a dream till his schoolmate Ramnath wanted to start something on his own. Ramnath's parents wanted him to go to Dubai and make money but he and his friends felt there were plenty of opportunities in India. Anil gave the idea of starting a dairy farm to Ramnath.

Anil Kumar and Udhaya Krishna decided to fund the project, and Ramnath became the working partner. That was how paal.co (paal is the Tamil word for milk) came into existence on the January 26, 2015.

Anil and Udhaya pooled in Rs 2 lakh each and bought 1.5 acres of land near Coimbatore on lease from Udhya Krishna's uncle. They bought 4 cows and 4 calves to start with and today they have 10 cows and 10 calves.

Though the cows have sheds now, eventually, their plan is to let the cows graze on the land itself and also use a part of the land for coconut cultivation.

When they started paal.co, they were sure about one thing; that they were going to sell milk online. Till it happened, they sold milk to the co-operative societies. It took them 4-5 months to supply directly to customers. "Now, we market and sell the product online. We realise that if customers come to you, there is more value to your product."

Udhaya Krishna created a website, a Facebook page and a logo for paal.co. They decided to supply milk in a bottle and not in plastic covers. "That's how we used to get milk in the old days. So, we wanted to give people the same feeling. It's also a non-polluting way. Our vision is to give good milk to people, that's why we want to have desi cows alone. What we give is not pasteurised milk; just pure milk from the cows. Again, we are recreating the same experience we have had in our village where we used to get fresh milk from the cows."

They chose the most elite area in Coimbatore to first supply milk and all the enquiries came through their Facebook page. Today, they have 55 customers and sell around 80-90 litres of milk everyday. "We know it will take some time for us to make profits but we know this will be a life long business. As long as human beings are there, milk will be in demand! We are developing a mobile app for the customers to track and use milk as per their needs."

To scale up the project, they went in search of investors and got an investment of Rs 25 lakh which they plan to use in a phased manner.

Changes in life

To make up for all the things he had missed in life as a child, Udhaya Krishna bought a car and a house first. "I wanted my mother to live in our own house. I wanted to have these materialistic things in life so that my relatives respect me. They treated us badly because we were poor. But now, they talk about us proudly, recognise us, and visit us. I am amazed by the change in the attitude of people when you have money."

Udhaya Krishna understood that by acquiring materialistic things, he was just realising his childhood dreams. "I feel good having these things. I even used to buy chocolates and eat till my heart felt good. I wanted to feel that I was in a position to buy whatever I yearned for as a child."

But what he gifted to his mother was freedom from drudgery. "When we were young, she did all the work from morning till evening for the entire household, for the joint family. She washed the clothes, cleaned the house, washed utensils, and cooked food. She did not have a single moment of freedom then. I wanted to give her that freedom; to do whatever she wants. But she is into spirituality now. Nothing materialistic appeals to her. So what? She can do whatever she wants now. What she wants from us is, be good human beings."

Reason for the success

Udhaya Krishna attributes his success only to hard work, thirst for knowledge and nothing else as he doesn't believe in the word luck. "You have to work really hard and I make it a point to learn something everyday. I don't believe in luck as I don't think I am a lucky person as I have to learn everything in life through sheer hard work. I haven't got anything easily. Even today, I work from 9 in the morning till 8 at night. I think only about work all the time. Now I am trying to find some personal time so that I will be more productive."

Dreams as an entrepreneur

As a diploma student, he had attended a seminar in which one of the speakers told the audience that there were no brands from India which were internationally acclaimed. From that day, it is his dream to create a brand that is recognised all over the world. "I still carry with me that dream for mypromovideos. I want this to be the Pixar of India.

We want to make an animated film from Coimbatore, from our own studio."

Lessons learnt

"The biggest lesson I learnt is, we have to have a clear idea of what we need to do and go ahead with the idea. Perseverance is what an entrepreneur needs the most. There would be moments when you would feel like leaving everything but we should never do that. One has to stick to the vision one had.

Then, there has to be a good team for an entrepreneur to be successful. The trust Anil and I have for each other is immense and that is what makes us succeed as a team.

Of course, without hard work, no entrepreneur will succeed.

Right time for entrepreneurs

This is the right time for an entrepreneur to be in India especially when the government is giving a lot of support to start-ups. So, I will tell those who want to be entrepreneurs; start as early as possible -- when you are really young and have no commitments in life. You fail as much as possible in the early stages so that you learn from the mistakes and succeed as you go ahead.

Photographs: Courtesy, Udhaya Krishna

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Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com