Saqib's Startup Success: Envisioning Kashmir's food and beverage brand

Saqib's Startup Success: Envisioning Kashmir's food and beverage brand

In June 2015, he started manufacturing and the first year proved a good business year with encouraging sales. This became motivation for expansion.

It is no ordinary feat to achieve at the age of 30. Reaching Rs 6-crore annual turnover in just 6 years of business career with almost zero investment is an extra ordinary achievement, which is only possible due to intense hardwork and passion. To become a successful entrepreneur within the shortest span of time, despite facing hardships and without any financial backing is rarely possible. But Mir Saqib has done all this.

Saqib, who presently owns a water bottling plant at Khonmoh Industrial Area and is co-packaging and manufacturing more than 23 products, including bottled water, juices, tea, sauces etc under the banner of Kolahai Beverages Pvt Ltd with annual turnover of more than Rs 6 crore, says it was not possible for him to manage the Rs 75,000 first year fee to be paid at SSM College, when he got admission in BE Computer Sciences there.

“Our only income was family pension of Rs 6,000 that my mother would receive after death of my father in a road accident in 2004, when I was studying in Class 12. With this money, we had to manage all affairs of our family and when I got selected for the BE in SSM, I did not had the money for the fee,” says Saqib.“We sold a peace of land, which my farther had bought during his heydays, to pay my fee. Meanwhile my elder brother completed his education in Pune and got a job there, which eased out things for us and I completed my engineering.”

The day he left the college, Saqib started working as a quality inspection engineer in Ericson, which was network solution provider to Aircel for its 3G customers. Though, he was satisfied with his job at Ericson, but all the time his colleagues would tell him that they are worried what will they do if they are asked to leave the company. “Everyday, we will hear that this number of employees was laid off in Jaipur or some other place and some day a pink slip could be handed over to us as well. This uncertainty of job made me think that I should do something on my own,” says Saqib.

But he had neither money nor an idea what to do. So the idea remained an idea only, with little inclination to do anything about it until he bumped into an old friend in Karan Nagar market. “My friend who was into mobile phone wholesale business, told me that there is a distributionship of Micromax (mobile handset manufacturer) available and if I want to get it. Without thinking of how to arrange the finance for that, I said yes. Those days, in 2011, Micromax was not considered a good brand so my friend instead of dealing with the company wanted to give it to someone else. And I willingly took the offer without even knowing what the distributionship means,” says Saqib, adding it became turning point of his life.

As it was sheer luck that an insurance policy of Saqib’s father got settled at that time and he received a portion of it, as his father’s nominated dependent. With the money, Saqib bought first consignment of not so popular Micromax stock.

For the first one year, though, Saqib did not earn much money and sales were not that good but he learned marketing techniques and business nuances.

Suddenly, there was boom in Micromax sales, as its low cast feature phones and then smartphones with launch of Canvas became very popular, and Saqib cashed into that.

“Micromax’s Canvas 2 become very popular here and I earned huge money from the distributionship of its phones,” says Saqib, with a smile in his face.

This became a biggest confidence booster for Saqib, and he thought of diversifying his business and opening a factory. As he believes consumer goods have huge potential in Kashmir, so food and beverages came to his mind first. He zeroed in on opening a water bottling plant as his first own venture.

While planning for opening the factory, Saqib received an offer of distributionship of Sahara Q-Shop, which has bottled water as one of its products, and it provided him good experience of marketing and selling with fair idea of market pattern, demand and consumption behavior and helped him once he was ready to put his own product in the market.  

“From acquiring land to managing finances to installing the plant with most sophisticated machinery available in the market, I completed everything within a year, and my plant was ready for manufacturing in December 2014,” says Saqib. “But then I needed to get licence from Bureau of Indian Standards, which not only took me lot of time but also taught me how I have to deal with getting licence and complying to quality standards, where there is no compromise.”

In June 2015, he started manufacturing and the first year proved a good business year with encouraging sales. This became motivation for expansion.

“Then I decided to introduce juice. As I was told it would take lot of time to start a plant, it was decided to go for co-packaging and in collaboration with a factory in Jammu, started manufacturing mango juice. It witnessed good sales in 2016, when outside factories were reluctant to send to Kashmir due to untoward situation here,” says Saqib.

“The main thing is to create a brand and then you can hire a factory for producing your products. This is what I did, and produced many more products within no time. They manufacture it for us and we market it. Juice picked up quickly and I thought of introducing other products. Next was packaging of tea and then manufacturing of sauces in a Jammu unit.”

Saqib considers a job of a manufacturer very exciting and dynamic. “No job is as good as a manufacturer’s to show his talent and ability. This is a dream job in which your vision and ability is transformed in to a product,” he says.

Example of Saqib’s innovation and eye on market is recent introduction of 1200 ml bottle, as 1 litre bottle would not suffice for 4 people in a wazwan trami. “Introduction of 1200 ml bottle with the price of 1 litre is win-win situation for both consumer and manufacturer. Similarly 750 ml at same rate as 500 ml is bonus for customer and our sales prospect, likewise 200 ml bottle at Rs 5 is focused at canteens and school tuck-shop. This is giving huge push to our sales and brand value, as never ever has been extra water given to customer in packaged water industry,” says Saqib.

For Saqib, manufacturing, packaging and marketing is not enough, he wants to create a brand. A brand of Kashmir’s own. He rues that Kashmir has not been able to create a brand like Rashid Mir created once in the form of CIE. He envisions his Kolahai as a future brand of Kashmir in food and beverages.

Now his focus lies on creating a complete market channel and develop Kolahai as an authentic brand of Kashmir with foothold in Punjab and Haryana as well. Some of his products are already selling in Jammu and Punjab. 

“Our key focus is not manufacturing now, rather creating a brand with a value that makes mark in every household and should be first choice of any mid range consumer market. There are many people in Kashmir, who manufacture very good things but don’t have brand value and they cannot sell their products in large scale,” says Saqib.

As he has reached to the breakeven point and would be completely debt free until December for all his present ventures, Saqib’s next plan is to open a brand store (a company outlet) at Sanat Nagar.  

“We are planning to bring a number of products under Kolahai brand in this store with some local manufactures by co-packaging, besides our own range, that will provide a platform to local manufacturers and a wide range of quality products to our customers,” says Saqib.  

“I want to create a benchmark of Kashmir based brand that new generation will look upto as an inspiration and start cycle of growth and industrialisation.”

When asked about the confidence and appetite for the risk he has got, Saqib says it is due to support from his family, particularly his mother.

“Whatever, I did, I was appreciated for doing that. And second thing was I had nothing to lose, I started from zero therefore, it became the big confidence point for me. Except for my degree, I had nothing at hand, means nothing at stake. So fear of loss was never in my mind,” says Saqib.

“When I want to the J&K Bank with my proposal of bottling plant for loan, it was approved for Rs 72 lakhs. Here I want to tell you that, earlier when I was doing job, I went to the same bank branch requesting for a credit card but they refused at that time. But now they were ready to provide me 72 lakhs loan as they had seen my business success.”

Capping it off Saqib says, “Presently I have a vision and that dream of mine seems a fantasy to others, when I discuss it with them. But the growth I have been witnessing, I believe dreaming to launch an IPO of my company will come true some day, no matter what. I am optimistic and will make my fantasy a reality.”