Poverty is a great education in itself. Arokiaswamy Velumani, 59, knows great deal about this. Born to a landless farmer, Velumani spent half of his life in complete penury. But today all his poverty stricken stories have become part of the inspirational entrepreneurial stories that are trying to offer much needed direction to India’s gen next entrepreneurs.
Today Velumani, after all, is at the helm of a thyroid testing company – Thyrocare Technologies – that is worth Rs 3,600 crore. His miraculous entrepreneurial journey has earned him a title ‘maverick entrepreneur.’ Someone who believes in unconventional wisdom and not tested & standard ideas.
Through this article, we are bringing some of the important anecdotes from the life of this maverick entrepreneur. Tracing his journey from poverty stricken life in a small village in Tamil Nadu to circumstances that inspired him to build a multi-billion dollar company.
Poverty taught him to be a chronic optimist
The one important lesson that poverty taught Velumani early on was the importance of having a stubborn positive attitude. As a small boy, who could barely pay his school fees, he knew that only his dogged positive attitude could rescue his family from endless humiliation of poverty. With the help of this resolute attitude, he somehow managed to complete his graduation in Chemistry from a local college in Coimbatore.
The college degree was his hope to get a decent paying job and bring a sense of dignity for his family. He did manage to find a job as a chemist in a tablet manufacturing company in 1978. But his pay was measly Rs 150 per month, which in those days was still not good enough to feed a large poor family.
Velumani’s hopes to find a good paying job were continuously dashed by his lack of experience. Worse, the company he worked for soon closed down, leaving him once again jobless. But his chronic attitude to always see a glass as half-full ensured that he kept looking for better opportunities.
His perseverance eventually paid off as he secured a post of scientific assistant at Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai. In 1980’s to have a government job with a decently monthly pay of Rs 880 was nothing short of a dream. After seizing this once elusive dream, Velumani was finally able to lift his family from lap of poverty.
Velumani’s urge to come out of his cozy job
Feeling suffocated and trapped in your own comfort zone is probably the first step towards entrepreneurial journey. Velumani was well into his job at BARC for more than a decade, when guilt feeling of living an uninspired life started getting better off him. By the time these feelings became too evident, he had completed his post-graduation and also doctorate in thyroid biochemistry through a collaborative program between BARC and Mumbai University. The knowledge and exposure about thyroid that he got through this program was eventually going to help him in building a highly successful company.
But well before that Velumani was caught in a dilemma over whether he should take a leap of faith or remained caught in an uninspiring job forever. He finally did take a leap of faith in 1995, quitting his 15 year old good paying job at BARC.
Back then, virtually no one except for his wife, supported his decision to venture into gritty path of entrepreneurship. Today Velumani rightfully describe his wife as ‘apple of his life.’
Backed with a supportive wife, Velumani started Thyrocare Technologies from small capital Rs 1 lakh from a 200 sq ft rented garage at Byculla, Mumbai. He had sourced most of his capital from his hard earned provident fund.
So the monumental struggle to build Thyrocare begins
As is well-known, entrepreneurial journey is always laced with sacrifice and unimaginable hardship. But Velumani had endured enough poverty in his life to get deterred by unforeseeable hardship that his entrepreneurial journey was going to entail for him.
The first sacrifice that he and his wife made was cutting down on their monthly expenses. They became extremely frugal and saved as much as they could to save for their new business.
But real sacrifices are made when an entrepreneur toils hard to build his business from scratch. For Velumani, litmus test of his sacrificing skills started from the very first month as he was the lone warrior for his company. He used to personally visit from labs to hospitals to collect samples. There were even times when he walked almost 10 to 12 kms only to collect samples. Covering such long distances effortlessly was something that he had learnt when once his life was languishing in the lap of poverty.
In the initial days, Thyrocare did testing of only 300 samples every day. Those were days when hospitals and labs charged expensively for thyroid testing, but their quality of testing was very poor. Velumani poured all his expertise knowledge about thyroid biochemistry in his pursuit to raise the quality of Thyroid testing.
The great thing was that he succeeded in this pursuit while charging highly affordable fees from his clients. Offering quality at highly affordable price always proves winning proposition for any business and this is what helped Thyrocare to overcome to all the seeming & unseeing challenges in the initial years.
By 1998, i.e. within three years, Thyrocare achieved turnover of Rs 1 crore and increased its employee strength by manifold. By this time it was also operating 50 franchises across different parts of the country.
With business growing at a berserk pace, Thyrocare obviously felt the need for a better and advanced laboratory. Hence the company soon shifted its main laboratory to Navi Mumbai, which today acts as its headquarter and also central processing laboratory. This laboratory with its state-of-the-art facilities has today undeniably become a huge boon for the company. It boasts several advanced facilities and instruments that are not widely available across the country.
But today Velumani’s company doesn’t deal only with thyroid testing. Today the company has successfully transformed into diagnostic laboratory company, covering more than 200 tests and 50-odd profiles under its brand name Aarogyam. However, despite venturing into different diagnostic space, thyroid testing still remains Thyrocare’s core business. Thyroid testing continues to account for substantial part of company’s profit & revenue.
Thyrocare’s IPO moment in 2016
When Velumani launched Thyrocare in a small garage room in Byculla, little did he knew then that one day his company would become huge enough to launch an successful IPO. That unexpected momentous occasion came in 2016, when Thyrocare became India’s only second diagnostic company to be listed in India’s stock market.
Thyrocare’s IPO was oversubscribed more than 73 times. Investor’s stupendous faith reflected company’s strong fundamentals and phenomenal success achieved over the years. Today the company is valued approximately Rs 3,600 crore, with Velumani owing majority 60% stake in the company. This makes Velumani, who once walked to school barefoot, one of India’s proud self-made billionaires.
Velumani’s unconventional business wisdom
While most companies understandably gives huge importance to experience while recruiting employees, Velumani chose to defy this conventional wisdom. Hence even today Thyrocare’s 95% employees are fresher while only 3 – 4% employees are experienced.
Velumani claims that company’s heavy tilt towards fresher employees is not merely driven by economic factor. He argues fresher employees bring along with them youthful exuberance and dynamic energy that can turn fortunes of any company.