Chennai: You don’t need a unique business idea or copyrighted algorithms to become an entrepreneur: starting a campus juice stall will do. To be successful, however, you do need the creativity to name it Thirst-E to appeal to young fans of the filmWall-E as well as create an association with those yearning for a drink in the hot south Indian sun as soon as they see the word “thirst”.
That’s what students from the Entrepreneurs Club at Coimbatore’s PSG College of Technology have done. Focusing on establishing the juice stall they started—strategically located between a playground and a girls’ hostel— for the past two-and-a-half years, they are now hoping to expand it rapidly and monopolize the juice business across campuses in the city.
“The girls have a 7pm curfew. On working days, they don’t have the time to go out for a drink after class. What could be better than a juice stall on their way to the hostel?” says Karthigeyan (who uses one name), a pre-final year mechanical engineering student and the secretary-elect of the Entrepreneurs Club, explaining the logic of the stall’s location.
“Moreover, there’s a playground nearby,” says Karthigeyan. “After an exhausting game, players flock here for a drink. It helps that the players are mostly boys and the girls’ hostel is also nearby.”
Selling an assortment of fruit juices in 250ml paper cups at the standard rate of Rs 25 a cup, along with Amul ice-creams, Thirst-E makes Rs 5,000 a month with a profit of Rs 1,000.
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The business was started in September 2008 by three of Karthigeyan’s seniors—Arun Kumar C., Arun Sharma S. and Nandakumar R. The three are now employed by corporate houses in various cities, but stay in touch with the Entrepreneurs Club.
Riyaz Ahmed A.K., another club member, explains how they got the idea to start Thirst-E.
“We would always walk over to the other side of the road, where the PSG Institute of Medical Sciences is, to have a juice or an ice-cream because, for some reason, that’s where those stalls are. Even our club discussions used to happen there,” he says. “So, when we were discussing one day about what would be the most relevant requirement for the campus, we hit on a juice store.”
After the founders moved on, Karthigeyan and other members of the club took over.
New batch, new ideas
Karthigeyan’s classmate Logeswaran S., for instance, takes care of daily operations at the stall, like purchasing milk and sugar and accounting.
“We have to pay a rent of Rs 1,500 per month for this space,” he says. “With electricity, water and other expenses, it works out to a total of Rs 3,000 per month.”
Buying milk, sugar and other ingredients costs another Rs 1,000 per month.
The club has asked the hostel mess in-charge to order for extra milk and sugar, which it then buys from him. “This way we get those goods at a concession bulk rate,” Logeswaran says. “Our consumption of 100kg of sugar per month and 10-15 litres of milk per week wouldn’t have given us that advantage independently.”
For fruits, Logeswaran simply makes a call to a local grocer, and the sacks and boxes arrive in an autorickshaw by the end of the day or the next day.
“Initially, we would take turns going to the market early in the morning and picking out the fruits ourselves, but soon we learnt that that’s not how you do it when you are running a business where you are not the direct subject-expert,” says Ajith T.E., a final year student of electronics and communications engineering and the secretary of the club. “Now, we are assured of quality because our supplier knows that we will simply go to a different grocer’s if he starts sending us less than standard produce. The quality is even better than the fruits we used to hand pick during the initial days of Thirst-E.”
Thirst-E has evolved gradually because of the flexibility it had in operating outside the competitive market. For instance, the students initially engaged a professional juice stall owner to run their stall, sharing 30% of their profit with him. But that didn’t make them feel like the owners, so they got more involved. Now, they just employ a worker to make juices and pay him a monthly salary.
“Our mentor has always told us that it is not sufficient to have a club and invite entrepreneurs to give motivational talks and hold workshops. We should get into the field and get our hands dirty,” says Nivedha Krishnamoorthy, a final year computer science student and joint secretary of the club.
She is referring to Suresh Kumar, the manager of PSG Science and Technology Entrepreneurial Park, or STEP, of which the Entrepreneurs Club is an offshoot.
Suresh Kumar proudly talks about the entrepreneurial instincts he has inculcated in his students. “See, here’s a mail from Arun Kumar (one of the Thirst-E founders),” he says. “It says that in four months of corporate employment, he has learnt that he will never be able to work long term in any organization except his own.”
Another founder, Nandakumar, has come up with a business idea for ‘call auto-rickshaws’ in Chennai.
“When he comes up with even so simple an idea, he clearly details the value proposition, market size etc. That’s part of the learning that happens in this club,” Suresh Kumar says. “Call it jargonizing if you will, but defining such parameters systematically and working along them is a habit that they develop unconsciously and that helps when they become professionals.”
Krishnamoorthy has offers to attend MS programmes from four US universities. She says she will pursue one of them, but also has a business idea for a mobile software. “I’m not even considering applying for a job. I will start up my own company soon after the MS,” she says.
Ajith is placed at a software company, but plans to do an MBA and then start his own company. “I’m confident we will stick to this path, given the kind of networking and exposure we have had in the past two years,” he says.
Thirst-E’s success continues to be a source of joy for all of them.
“Even with the famous fruits and juice chain Pazhamudir Solai’s store right outside our campus, we have managed to garner almost all of the market within campus, perhaps because of a small difference in price between their juice and ours,” says Ajith. “Thirst-E will be run on a rolling basis by each junior batch as they come along.”
“Since it’s club run, the profits don’t really matter,” says Logeswaran.
The club opened a Thirst-E outlet in February at the Institute of Medical Sciences campus, while work is under way to open a branch at the PSG College canteen as well.
“When the first stall was opened, we got the initial investment of about Rs 60,000 funded by alumni,” Karthigeyan says. “This included the donation of an ice-box, wooden rack, a mixer and a refrigerator. Now, for our new stores, we can invest in those ourselves. That’s a source of pride for us.”
Ajith says the club has convinced the college’s principal that it should be the only juice seller on campus. “That’s how we got the canteen contract. Coimbatore being a city of college campuses, many of them run by the PSG Group, we can expand our business to most of them, which are located in and around ours.”
COMPANY NAME: Thirst-E
A juice stall catering to college students; the name is a play on the 2008 film ‘Wall-E’.
FOUNDERS: Arun Kumar C., Arun Sharma S. and Nandakumar R.—members of the Entrepreneurs Club at Coimbatore’s PSG College of Technology
TYPE OF COMPANY: Services
FOUNDED: September 2008
INVESTMENT: Initial Rs 60,000 funded by college alumni; now self-sustaining
FUTURE PLAN: Aims to be the largest juice seller across campuses in Coimbatore