Meet Up Mustafa

“An Evening filled with Fresh Food for Thought!”

Meet up with the Fresh Food industry king, P C Mustafa

It was a busy Wednesday afternoon, in Whitefield, Bangalore. Around 40 entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts waited impatiently in the bright and hustling breakout area of ‘The Hive’ co-working space.  They didn’t have to wait much; just around the scheduled time 3 pm, comes walking energetically, the ID Co-founder & CEO, P C Mustafa. 

We hardly realized , that the man we were eagerly waiting for, just marched in with a wide grin and a friendly gesture. He was just another ordinary man, there was no ‘successful business man’ badge or entourage around him, he was just as simple as us.

The group quickly settled down grabbing hot cups of beverages, as Mustafa kept reminding us “it’s just a casual meet up , grab something guys and let’s huddle”. 

He then started sharing some personal stories and answering some of the top questions he received from the 200 odd applicants (for the meetup) from which the 40 were cherry picked. 

Here are some invaluable lessons on entrepreneurship that I picked up from the 3 hours spent with Mustafa. I thought its worth sharing with all the budding entrepreneurs, through a blog.

  1. The power of Innovation

Mustafa speaks passionately about his new product, the ID filter coffee.  A strong decoction coffee is a morning ritual in many south Indian homes. “When we use a coffee powder instead of the liquid decoction, we are making a compromise.” He says.

The ultimate challenge for the ID team was to beat the shelf life of the decoction which is roughly 8 hours. They found their breakthrough in a cutting-edge packaging technology which gave the decoction a shelf life of 8 months. 

8 hours to 8 months , that’s the power of innovation!

Sometimes it’s not just the product you need to innovate on but , the other factors like packaging, distribution etc. “Innovation doesn’t always come from cutting edge technologies, it often comes from something very simple, yet uncommon: Commonsense.” He quipped. It is the same common sense that helped ID put a hole in the vada, and crack the zero-wastage distribution, supply & inventory channel.

  1. Positioning your Product/Service

Mustafa talks about product positioning with a story; a powerful metaphor; ‘The story of why the chutney failed!’ 

The tomato and coriander chutney were the yummiest of their products, it had the best packaging the team had done till date and was priced at an affordable 20 rupees per packet. Yet it failed! So how is it, that an excellent product, with the most appealing packaging and competitive price, fail in the market?! The ID team decided to dig deeper to find out. The answers they found were intriguing!

Indians are so used to getting sambhars and chutney’s free with their idlys/dosas/vadas; that they simply don’t see the value of a chutney packet. Buying a chutney  (whatever the price maybe) was a huge financial waste for an average Indian! The market psychology plays a very important part in positioning of your product. This, unfortunately, is the most overlooked part of business!

  1. Brand Focus

Building a successful brand is not about trying and doing everything that’s possible and making it lucrative. It’s about being clear of what your brand will do and what it will not.

Mustafa narrates yet another example to make this point. ID could have started selling readymade Idlis instead of the batter. However, they stood by their philosophy of ‘Do not replace your customer, just enable & empower them.’

“We want to give credit to the homemaker preparing the idly/dosa, for making sumptuous breakfast for the family! If something goes wrong, ID shall take the blame.” He adds. The brand has a definite ‘Brand Core’ which identifies what they would do and what they would not ,as a responsible firm. 90% of new product ideas gets filtered out because they do not fit the Brand Core.

Now that’s a very radical step in business!

  1. Uncompromised Values, Beliefs & Ethics

ID is built on the strong principles that its founding members live by. I could clearly see the determination of a young village boy in Mustafa’s eyes as he spoke about the values and  beliefs he upholds. He shared at least 4 stories with us in this context, each of which reflected a different value & principle, very deeply rooted in him and his cousins. 

There was a story of how he rejected a lucrative offer from a leading hotel chain to supply ID snacks for their BAR. “I just couldn’t imagine my products lined up in a bar and aiding alcoholism in any form.”

This incident caused ID to revoke its snacks product and concentrate only on fresh foods.

Another story he shared reflected the ideology of ‘Being Transparent with Customers.’ 

“At ID we have a very senior resource who attends to customer complaints. He meticulously goes through each and every customer complaint email and replies to them personally. At times, he even calls them and sends them an ID goody bag, as a token of apology. Ah, by the way he also handles the role of the CEO of ID! Yes, it’s me. I take customer complaints very seriously.” He remarks.

Then there was a story of how ID had to close down the Chennai manufacturing plant because they weren’t profitable there. ID said no to many tempting offers from biomedical industries manufacturing natural enzymes. Adding these enzymes would naturally increase the shelf life and make fluffier and softer idlis. This would easily bring down the cost and thus help them run their batter business in Chennai at a better margin. ID’s brand core said, ‘we bring food to you as your mothers/grandmothers would make it’, would they add enzymes?! The NO was easy and emphatic!

It’s around 5.30 pm, the scheduled time has passed. Mustafa, however, doesn’t look like he is in a hurry. He keeps checking his watch though. It’s time for his prayers. He takes permission for a quick 15 minutes prayer and heads out. He comes back after 15 minutes and continues. ”I pray 5 times in a day; without fail. This gives me strength, motivation & refreshment to carry on my tasks.”

What do we do for strength, motivation & refreshment? I wonder for a while. My thoughts are interrupted by a sudden movement in the group. Next thing I see is Mustafa near the blackboard with a chalk in his hand . He explains business success with a triangle .

“Your product is your hero. Make sure you get it right.” He says as he climbs down from the stage to sit amongst us again and share one last story , his personal story of many failures and successes. 

“Embrace the failures they are more valuable than any degree you hold.” 

The sun is almost setting and twilight spreads through the room from the half open window. The group gets up to take selfies with Mustafa. We get our ID goody bag with a Filter coffee sample. The days ends with a group pic, learnings & lessons still lingering about in the room!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *