Raja has a chain of businesses – commodity broking (Adventures India), instant coffee export, a chain of coffee pubs (Goodmorning Café), logistics (LRG Logistics), real estate (GD Shelters), jewellery retail (GD Gold Garden) and a play school (GD Public School).
Ask him whether he became an entrepreneur by accident or was forced upon him, he says, “No, no. It’s purely by choice.” His father, who runs a transport business in Chennai, wanted to see him as a top-level executive in a big corporate house. Despite his father’s persuasion, he chose not to take part in any campus interviews when he was doing his MBA at Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Tiruchi. “Because, I was very stubborn that I should start something on my own,” says Raja, founder CEO of the GD Group of companies.
In 2003, after he completed his MBA, he ventured into a business as planned, with an initial investment of Rs 3 lakh, which he “borrowed” from his father. He took distributorship of food products from various manufacturers.
He stocked and distributed many products from packaged atta, maida to asafoetida to provision stores from a small portion of a building in Chennai. There was an 8-10 per cent margin. As most of the products were sold on credit, and the shop owners did not pay on time, it often landed him in financial problems. “During such a crisis, my friend, Rajam, who studied with me at BIM, used to bail me out by lending money from her salary.” But, that did not go on for a long time. At one point, the situation worsened and he could not even pay the rent for the portion he had taken on lease. He quit the distribution business.
And that is when the idea of having his own brand struck him, and they (Raja and Rajam) finally narrowed down on instant coffee. It was in early 2004, when Sunrise and Bru were the dominant players in the market. When approached, Consolidated Coffee Ltd at Hyderabad readily agreed to manufacture for him. ‘Goodmorning Cafe’ was born. He positioned it as a B2B product and sold it to commercial establishments, “as this segment was not very brand conscious”.
The first month sales were Rs 8,000 but in three years, the annual turnover went up to Rs 4 crore. CCL could not meet his demand, as it had to meet its own export orders. In a tight spot again, he decided to set up his own manufacturing facility. Though many banks rejected the project because of his age and lack of collateral, thankfully, State Bank of Hyderabad agreed to extend the loan. “That was the breakthrough for us,” says Raja. In late 2011, when he was 31, he set up his instant coffee manufacturing facility at Andimadam in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu, with a 200-tonne-a-month capacity. After that there was no looking back.
As there were a lot of enquiries from overseas, he started exporting too. Now the unit is converted into a 100 per cent export-oriented-unit. The unit is now being expanded to manufacture 750 tonnes a month.
He extended his coffee export business by foraying into ‘coffee pubs’, under the brand Goodmorning Café. It’s a chain of five outlets, now only in Chennai.
In between, in late 2004, as he had “a lot of free time in the evenings”, he started a commodity broking firm, Adventures India. The peak business time for the Commodity Exchange is towards the evening (to coincide with the New York exchange). “I learnt that commodity market has a higher potential than the stock market, and took membership from MCX,” he explains.
He positioned his broking firm as an ‘exclusive commodity broking firm’. Due to lack of awareness, he had a tough time bringing in investors. His perseverance paid. Now Adventures India carries out transactions worth Rs 600 crore a day. “We are South India’s leading commodity broking firm with more than 200 branches across the country,” says Raja.
His logistics business too has an interesting story behind. He invited P.R. Ramasubrahmaneya Rajha, Chairman of the Ramco group, as the chief guest to inaugurate an Adventures India outlet in Rajapalayam. During their conversation, Rajha asked him to start a transport business, with a promise to award Ramco’s contracts in that region. LR Logistics was started with 30 trucks. And, now it runs 54 trucks, exclusively for Ramco.
Now his group employs a little over 300 people. “My dream is to expand the business and employ at least 1,000 people by 2015,” says Raja.