While selling vegetables in Bihar streets under the winter sun, the scraggy-haired, five feet four inches tall, bespectacled and slightly perspiring Kaushalendra Kumar may resemble the stereotyped Bihar youth, who probably has no alternative employment.
But, appearance can be misleading. And this 27-year-old man perhaps personifies this maxim.
Kaushalendra is a graduate from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad- a degree that is considered the magic key to prosperity.
But, despite the educational loan that Kaushalendra had taken to complete him IIM degree, he preferred not to attend the placement drive when multinationals queued to recruit the crème de la crème of the business school.
And believe it or not, Kaushalendra opted not to go for those astounding pay packages because he wanted to sell vegetables.
Selling vegetables in Bihar- where the commodity is known to be usually sold across congested streets by street-fighters and where a middleman exists for every second vendor- might seem like a thankless job.
“But, often the worst of times is the best of time to start a fresh venture. That’s because then the growth potentials are just too much,” he said.
Kaushalendra attributes his seemingly quirky decision of selling vegetables to his “inner voice” that also had an equally good business sense.
“My dream is to make Bihar the vegetable hub of the country. All we need is some good marketing strategy,” he said.
But, bucking convention isn’t easy. Ideas that break with the status quo aren’t always met with open arms, more so in a closed society like the one exists in Bihar’s backwater, Kaushalendra concedes. “But, its true everywhere, virtually every institution is organised in a way to stifle out-of-the-box thinking,” he said.
No wonder, the IIM graduate faced and surmounted all kinds of obstacles, with making people see reasons and believe in trading vegetables with him arguably being the most difficult one.
Kaushalendra, however, remained undeterred largely because he had done his “SWOT” (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis before he reached Patna after finishing his MBA in 2007.
The young man from Nalanda began by founding a farmers’ cooperative, Samriddhi, which sells vegetables brought from the Ganga diara (riverine) and the Nalanda fields in ice-cooled pushcarts.
The fibre-frame cart, which has ice-pods to keep vegetables fresh and cool and a digital weighing machine assuring of correct calculation, made heads turn in Patna. But, that was surely not enough.
Nevertheless, a beginning was made. The business kept growing in tiny steps. Soon collection centres came up for vegetables transported from backwaters, while as many as 300 farmers agreed to associate themselves with Samriddhi.
The private-public partnership venture, with assistance from Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) now has for 50 more carts. ATMA is also teaching these farmers about crop protection and other scientific nuances of farming.
With an eye on winning friends, Kaushalendra sells his vegetables with display tags that mention names of their areas of cultivation and the farmers who have grown them.
Kaushalendra also knows the importance of walking the extra mile in business. So, he makes free home deliveries of vegetables, a cash memo which no other vegetable seller does, and also offers one kg potato free with every purchase of 2.5 kg.
Cleanliness of vegetables is another critical area, as Kaushalendra knows that housewives not only want to buy fresh vegetables but are increasingly getting aware about healthy eating. “We are doing everything to ensure it,’ he said.
On the supply side, Kaushalendra has avoided middlemen by directly taking vegetables from chosen farmers and sharing profit with him. Today, he keeps visiting farmers across Bihar to train them in methods of farming and branding vegetables.
Every week, he holds farmer’s meetings at some nondescript village and returns home with new business partners.
No wonder, today he is considered the smartest sabjiwala around. “The next move is to begin commercial production of organic cultivation, and use our expertise in marketing to reach the markets. In two years, we target to penetrate the vegetable markets across the country,” Kaushalendra says.
“Vegetables grown with methods of organic farming would be distinct from those sold in the local markets, besides having special prices. All we need is to consolidate our business structure before reaching out to outside world,” he said.
Kaushalendra’s initial education was in a rural government school before he moved to Navodaya Vidyalaya to complete his high school. Then, he cleared CAT to enter IIM, Ahmedabad, after passing intermediate from Patna Science College.
“I am into this business to earn money, generate employment and ensure quality prices to farmers and quality product to buyers,” he said.
In the beginning, Kaushalendra’s family was shocked at his decision but with times opinions have also changed. Within a year after plunging into this hitherto unorganised and disorganised sector, Kaushalendra has succeeded inspiring that much confidence that his elder brother, Dhirendra left his laboratory technician’s job to join him.
Now, Kaushalendra is using the lessons learned and capabilities built from the IIM’s marketing classes to institutionalise his vegetable business’s core doctrine, while fine-tuning logistics and partnership policies.
At present, his cooperative is generating Rs 3 lakh revenue every month. This leaves him with enough money to pay Rs 5700 as monthly installment against the education loan he had taken for his MBA at Ahmedabad.
Although it is too early to declare Kaushalendra successful, he is happy to have rejected convention and careerism and to make decisions that have carried him closer toward — rather than farther from — the person he always wanted to be.