Translated excerpts from the interview

Milk Mantra's Founder and CEO, Srikumar Misra has been one of the few young entrepreneurs from the state, who have attained success within a short span of time. The dairy company had an annual turnover of Rs 150 Cr this year. He had left his successful corporate career abroad in 2009 to start Milk Mantra in Odisha.

Special interview by Khetrabasi Nayak from Rabibar Sambad.

Q. You were leading a successful corporate career abroad. Why did you return to Odisha to start your own business?

A. In-spite of leading a successful career, I realized I wasn’t making any significant impact on people's lives. In my various travels across the globe, I observed that there is always a trust deficit among the consumers regarding food quality. While working in foreign the circumstances were very limited to do something new and I was not completely satisfied with it. This attracted me towards the food manufacturing industry in India and I chose to start my venture at my home state, Odisha.

Q. Why did you choose dairy for your business?

A. I observed that people have an inherent trust deficit when it comes to dairy products. People boil the milk several times due to lack of trust. Then I thought of what I could do to develop Odisha while significantly creating a positive impact in people’s lives. I wanted to develop a premium dairy brand. Milk is consumed across all age groups, so its purity and quality should remain intact. My vision was to develop the best premium milk by establishing a robust distribution channel while impacting thousands of farmers.

Q. Before you, the state-cooperative dairy brand ‘Omfed’ had established its business widely. How did you compete with it?

A. Before seven-eight years there was no facility like start-ups to help the budding entrepreneurs. Due to this we had faced a lot of problems at every stage while starting our company. It was a challenge for us as Omfed was an established brand, but gradually few well wishing Government bureaucrats came forward to help us by seeing our work. We aimed to provide premium and Truly Pure products to the consumer while developing our market. Along the time we became successful in it. There were many farmers who were not in Omfed's network. We included those farmers in our Ethical Milk Sourcing network. We progress towards our goal competing by adopting fair and honest means.

Q. It is said that raising funds is very difficult in our state. How did you manage the funding ?

A. This is true. I invested all my savings and purchased a land to begin my work. It took me 20 months to raise my first funding. For this I had to contact 20-22 angel investors from all over the world. Of them two were from my own hometown, Cuttack. After raising the capital funds, I was able to get loan from the bank. We are the 1st venture capital funded agri-business startup.

Q. How long did you have to struggle to taste success ?

A. The struggle is still on but the initial two years were very difficult for us. By that time our factory was established. After that we entered the market. Even year after that,we had to struggle a lot, I remember picking up milk trays along with my fellow employees. during the inaugural ceremony of our Bhubaneswar office and on the day of milk procurement, we had expected at least 100 farmers to come, but only 7 had turned up. At that time I was disappointed for a while. But we moved on with focus and determination. With hard work, we were able win over thousands of farmers. Now, thousands of farmers across Odisha have joined hands with us and this is our biggest success.

Q. If an Odia wants to start his own business, he does not get a loan from the bank. Is this true ?

A. This perception is true to some extent. If we get a loan from bank and do not utilize it rightfully then why will they help us? Odia people are spread across the world, successful in foreign lands and also having their own business, but why are they not successful within Odisha. Earlier, the supportive and nurturing environment was not present, but nowadays there has been some improvement in this direction. The mindset of our people is slowly evolving from getting a job towards starting their own venture. It is important to reduce brain drain in our state. Banks should also do the right valuation and provide loan to the deserving candidate.

Q. Do the dairy farmers face problems in getting loans?

A. We have thousands of farmers in our network and have already facilitated loans to three thousand farmers. Today banks do not have the right connectivity in the rural areas, e. hence are unable to evaluate everyoneand hesitate to provide loan to all. On the other hand, farmers are also unable to repay their loans which is concerning

Q. It is seen that, often dairy farmers pour milk on protesting the unfair payments. What could be the solution?

A. This is a major issue. Milk is produced in huge quantities in the state but it doesn’t reach the market. Even today, milk powder worth Rs 1500 cr comes to Odisha from other states whose amount goes to other farmers instead of our farmers. It is important to process all the milk produced & through this at least Rs 1000 cr could reach the farmers of our state. This calls for a combined effort from the government, policy framers and entrepreneurs. We have already presented this case to the government.

Q. Are your products available outside Odisha?

A. Milky Moo milk is available across Odisha. We have our state of the art plants at Gop in Puri district. Since last three years, we are also operational through the plant at Hatibari, Sambalpur, procuring milk from four districts of Western Odisha. Outside Odisha our brand is present in Kolkata, Ranchi and Raipur. Everyday 1,10,000-1,20,000 litres of milk is procured and this milk is processed and sent to the market. We have plans to expand our business significantly beyond Odisha.

Q. What is the annual turnover of your company?

A. Last year our turnover was Rs 150 crores. This year our target is Rs 200 crores.

Q. Besides manufacturing of milk products do you have interest in any other manufacturing sector?

A. We aim to be good at whatever we do,so instead of diverting ourattention in ten different directions,we rather prefer to have a single minded focus on developing functionally innovative dairy products. Our Dahi, Paneer and other products are of superior quality. Giving utmost priority to nutrition we have also innovated new products like MooShake and Aam Dahi. For summers we have Lassi, Litchi Lassi and Buttermilk for our consumers.

Q. While studying in school did you ever think of becoming a successful entrepreneur one day?

A. I didn’t exactly think of owning a dairy plant but from my early childhood I had a dream to start my own venture.

Q.In your journey of entrepreurship, what has been the most unforgettable moment?

A. In the initial stages we had to go through small retailers for distribution of our milky moo products. I remember standing with a sales manager in front of a small retail outlet wearing our company T-shirts. Two women approached us. They wanted to talk to me knowing that I am the founder of Milk Mantra. As they were consumers, I was very anxious to know their feedback. They said, “Earlier our children did not like drinking milk, or eating Paneer. Since Milky Moo has arrived in the market, our children not only like milk and but also like Paneer. Due to the pure quality we like the products of your company very much. We hope you will maintain this.” I always remember their words and we are keep mooing in that direction.