Once a school dropout, PC Musthafa went on to study engineering and complete his MBA from IIM-B. Today, he is best known as the founder of iD Fresh.
My first introduction to iD Fresh was in 2015, when I’d first arrived in Bengaluru. My aunt, a capital dosa maker herself, casually pointed out that if I needed homemade idlis and dosas, all I had to do was pick up one of the brand’s green packages. With my enduring love for dosa, and rudimentary skills at making them, the packaged brand has often been my saviour. And I am not the only one.
Behind the natural foods company is PC Musthafa, a first-generation entrepreneur who once sold tidbits during his school vacations to make a living.
Born in Wayanad, Kerala, PC makes no bones about his humble beginnings. His father worked in a plantation, and his mother was a homemaker. Growing up in poverty, PC Musthafa found schooling difficult, even dropping out once in middle school. He went back to class only on the persistence of one of his teachers, and often spent his spare time helping his father.
In fact, he attributes his success to his early years. “My situation contributed to my aims. During my summer holidays, I ran a makeshift shop for two months, selling small items like chocolates and lemon juice. My mother would make some of it at home and I would take them out for sale. At 10 years, it was my first business enterprise.”
An entrepreneurial spirit endured in PC, even as he navigated his career through studying engineering and completing his MBA at IIM-B. He worked for companies like Motorola and Citibank, and spent a few years living in the UK and Dubai. On his return to Bengaluru, the thriving business of unbranded batter in local shops caught his attention.
“My cousin ran a grocery shop, which stocked batter made by a local vendor,” PC recalls. These were unbranded packs of batter, and there was no control over quality, hygiene or service standards. My cousin tried to fix these issues with the vendor directly before we decided to start our own venture. We began in a 50 sq. ft room with a target of selling 100 packs a day. It took us nine months to succeed—we gradually moved to a bigger kitchen and finally managed to get a decent factory in 2008.”
As with any first-generation entrepreneur, PC poured his own savings into the budget and made up for the lack of privileges with hard work. “I had a comfortable life and cushy job,” he says. “I quit and began from scratch.” He compromised on his family’s way of life, and persevered through years of frugal living.
In one decade, iD Fresh has become the go-to brand for packaged dosa and idli batter. Available in six Indian cities, the growth is estimated to be ten-fold every four years.
The brand stands out for its emphasis on freshness and durability. Packaged as it may be, the products are free of preservatives and chemicals. Though it remains a marketing challenge for the company, PC is determined to retain his brand’s homely appeal.
“Packaged food is often unhealthy, but we stay away from it,” he says. “We use no flavours, preservatives or chemicals. We still go by traditional recipes that are hand-processed and authentic.”
In keeping with ‘grandmother’s recipe’ philosophy of the brand, iD follows the same process as homemade recipes, aided by equipment. It is this old-world charm that has helped iD find a place in homes and hearths.
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In fact, PC calls his customers the custodians of the brand. “I believe that if the right product is packaged well and accompanied by good service, people will use and recommend the product to others,” he says. Today, the brand has expanded from Bengaluru to Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mysore and even Dubai.
The company has largely subsisted on its natural USP and word-of-mouth publicity. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that iD rolled out its first outdoor campaign, transforming a wild patch of weeds in Bengaluru’s ITPL area into a small garden complete with the brand hoarding.
The brand achieved a turnover of ₹100 crore in 2015-16. This success has only made PC more determined to grow the business and contribute to progress.
iD Fresh has often been in the news for their policy of hiring employees from rural areas as well as their micro-entrepreneurial tendencies. Estimates suggest that enough batter is produced daily in all the company’s centres to make upto a million idlis.
PC hopes that in another 10 years, his brand will be the most recognised food company for Indian food, made in India. “We are a fresh, natural brand—we will always be so,” he says.
The entrepreneur, who has three sons and is a true blue MS Dhoni fan, hopes to use his brand and personal success to help the community. “I want to help make the world a better place,” he says, citing the example of iD Trust shops, a range of unmanned stores across the country.
“People can pick up anything they like, and drop the payment in the money box,” says PC. “We have 42 shops and they are largely doing well. It’s our way to promote goodwill among people who nowadays find it hard to have faith in each other. If someone leaves without payment, we hope they will remember the brand or come back to and pay another day.”
Eventually, PC hopes to replicate the trust shop model in schools — with different product variants — as an innovative means of instilling values among the future generation.
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In a cluttered marketplace, PC stands out with his brand on the basis of simplicity and the promise of natural, authentic values. Ask the entrepreneur about his secret of success and he says two things — focus and perseverance.
“I get a lot of advice, like how to add enzymes in our products for fluffier idlis. But our conviction goes against it—and we stick to our focus,” he says. “For entrepreneurs, challenges are inevitable and one has to be prepared for it. I have given eight years of my life to this business, and had enough challenges to write a book on the subject. A journey like this is only possible with passion and complete belief in one’s venture.”