Rampant violence for generations, a political abyss which only appears unsolvable, and what not; nothing seems possible in a landscape strife-torn with conflicts. Its few state-run industries, which were once functional, have gone defunct, and the dilapidated structures today remain the testimony to a bleak future. The place is the Indian state of Manipur. And an entrepreneurial success story coming from such a place is unprecedented. The success story is SuiGeneris, ‘unique’ or “one of its kind” in Latin, established by Ragesh Keisham. It all started, Keisham explains, with an idea of giving Manipur its proper place under the sun. Keisham claims that the legwork started way back in 2007, but only in 2011 he was able to establish the company. He attributes the inspiration to his grandfather, who he describes a ‘flamboyant businessman of his time’, but went bankrupt.
His learning years as freelance business consultant enabled him to set sight on his dream of doing something of his own. The first full-fledged venture he initiated was BPO. “It was a data digitization BPO contract I got from a friend in the UK. The venture, however, failed to take off because of unfavorable social conditions in Manipur, and erratic power supply being the major factor which plagued the venture.”
Farming, a dominant occupation in the state, caught his attention, and thus the seed for SuiGeneris Inc was sown. “My tryst with agriculture started in 2005 when I started researching and brainstorming with many experts in the field about one product which could be turned into a bigger venture,” tells Keisham.
A discussion, he recalls, with a senior scientist introduced him to numerous therapeutic benefits of cymbopogon citratus, also known as lemongrass. Though some varieties of lemongrass grow in the wild, he imported 10,000 saplings of ‘superior quality’ from Indonesia in 2007. After he had figured out that lemongrass could be used to make oil, it was with a detailed project report he approached State Bank of India for loan. The assurance for the loan was given, but the money didn’t come. The wait for the loan went on for six months, by then the plants started flowering, meaning that it couldn’t be used. Anguished, he cut and burned the plants. It took him another six months to realize that the loan was never ever going to come.
Meanwhile, he tried to use the grass as fodder, as thatching material, but none worked. His intensive research led to a finding that lemongrass was being used in Brazil to cure fever, thus it had earned the name ‘fever grass’. The idea was about using the grass as a beverage. “I boiled the leaf and it was the most beautiful green I had ever seen, but when I drank, it had the most horrible taste. It was literally undrinkable. So I knew I had to find a process of drying it. So after lot of trials, I found the process of drying it.”
Soon the product, CC Tea, was ready, but to launch anything in the Manipur market was and still is an uphill task. “We started road shows and street promotions to promote the brand and the product in the earlier stage. We concentrated on direct selling, word-of-mouth advertising rather than print media and television advertisements. It definitely was a slow process but the result is quite evident,” he explains. “We are going to introduce vending machines at gyms, spas, beauty parlors, yoga centers, health clinics across the country.”
The company has been pursuing a pan-India market expansion strategy; it has tied up with Gold’s Gym corporate branches, IBCC, Om enterprises in Bangalore, Haobijam Technologies in Mumbai, a team in Pune and Phoenix Outreach in Delhi-NCR region. When asked what made him so sure about his product, Keisham explains that CC Tea is caffeine-free, 100 percent organic, made from the finest lemongrass, and a proprietary seven-step process is being in drying and grinding the tea.
From a small 200 sq. ft. space to a factory spreading over 5 acres, SuiGeneris has come a long way. It has a production capacity of about 30,000 units of CC Tea, and recently had a turnover of Rs 3.5 crores. The company claims that it now employs 2,000 women in its farms and factory, and has a team of 1,007 executives.
“What other see as problem, I take it as opportunity and that has really worked things in my favour. The prevailing un-conducive business ecosystem in the region has left us with no potential competitor and that definitely is a plus point,” explains the Chairman-cum-MD. He also claims that his company is planning to come up with detergent powder, toothpaste, beauty soap, face wash and shampoo in the near future.