Bhanu Murthy Gona, 35, likes to be in control. The Managing Director of Hyderabad-based Berrys - a brand of ice cream made from soya, with revenues of Rs 4 crore a year and employing some 600 people - believes in a hands-on approach to every aspect of his business. In fact, even during the photo shoot for this report, he personally inspected the pushcarts and chose the one that was used. He keeps a close watch on distribution, customer relations and the stock, routinely visiting his 32 sale points in and around Hyderabad on his motorcycle.
It was this urge to be in control of everything, including his own life, that led Gona to chuck his Rs 600-a-month job in a battery-making company in Hyderabad 12 years ago. "I realised the job would not lead me anywhere. I resigned in a year and went back home," he says. In 2000, he started a candy-making unit in the "relatively lesscompetitive" - as he put it - Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh with funds raised from friends, and a gold loan. He ran it successfully for two years, then moved to Hyderabad. There, he bought the machinery of a sick ice cream making unit for Rs 1.85 lakh and got down to making ice cream, not from milk but from soya. He began in rented premises, but later moved to a 2,000 sq. yard plot allotted to him by the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation.
Worked in a battery manufacturing company for Rs 600 a month
Owns a soya ice cream brand with revenues of Rs 4 cr a year
But why soya? It was abundantly available in his village Buggapadu in Khammam distict, so he knew he would never be short of raw material. He also wanted a differentiator in the highly competitive ice cream market. Soya seeds are crushed, processed and mixed with ingredients used in regular ice creams to get to an end product that tastes like the usual milk-based ice cream. To promote the product, he emphasised the health benefits of soya. In 2009, he expanded the business by pumping in Rs 70 lakh that he managed to get as a "collateral-free and unsecured bank loan" under the central government's Credit Guarantee Scheme.
Gona realised early on the seasonal nature of the ice cream business: sales dip sharply in winter. This led him to launch Gona Ingredients in 2008, a company that makes and markets spices. In this venture, he was mentored by the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust, an NGO, which also helped arrange an initial bank loan of Rs 3.5 lakh for him. As with his ice cream business, Gona ventured into spices because he was assured of abundant and uninterrupted supply of inputs - chillies and dry coriander seeds from Guntur district, and turmeric from Cuddapah district.
His future plans include rearing emu, the Australian fowl. He is also launching fresh fruit-mixed ice cream. By 2020, he wants his company to have a turnover of Rs 100 crore and 3,000 employees. Eventually he wants to make a mark by not going down any beaten path but by charting a new course. "Like Bill Gates and Dhirubhai Ambani," he says.