Ramanan Krishnamoorthy’s creative start up, NovelTea began as an AGSM @ UNSW Business School class assignment. Since then, he and fellow AGSM MBA (Class of 2010) graduates James Aylward and Geoff Baker are making a career of their unique commercial product – LongLeaf Tea Vodka.
Q. How did NovelTea get started?
Ramanan: The concept of vodka infusions is an age old one, but we are the first to do this at a commercial level here in Australia. What makes us special is our family story behind it, our all natural ingredients and our small batch dedication to quality.
At the Royal pub in Randwick after a long day of AGSM classes sitting in the beer garden, we decided to come up with a drink that people could enjoy that was very different from the current mundane choices that pubs offer. We thought we were onto something and decided to write a business plan as part of our "International Entrepreneurship" class. It was only two of us at the time so we went around the class and selected two other classmates who we thought would add value to our management team. We got a B in the mid-semester exams. We thought, if we can't even ace a class, then how are we going to start a business? So we decided to take it personally and started getting serious about it. Long story short, we ended up getting an A in the class and also won the Entrepreneurship award at UNSW at the end of the year.
Q. What achievement are you most proud of so far?
Ramanan: An independent valuation performed by an angel network last year valued our company at $1.2m. I thought that was pretty neat.
Q. What have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
Ramanan: Initially everything was a challenge, but the root cause of it remaining a challenge for some time was cash. Once we found some capital then we were able to overcome lot of our challenges. Then resources, man power, everyday life in the form of bills, everything became a challenge as you would find with any start-up. But we persisted and got over them. One of the biggest challenges was finding a reliable manufacturing partner but eventually we found a top notch partner who understood what we were after and gave us a premium quality product that is very competitive in the current market. Cash was the challenge initially, but now cash flow is the challenge. You quickly realise in a start-up there is no challenge that is too small or too big. There is only one option - overcome them.
Q. Where do you see the company in 10 years time?
Ramanan: I don’t want to be selling 10 million cases a year. It will become too big for us to enjoy what we do. In 10 years, I want the company to be in a place where we still feel like it’s our baby and gives us the pleasure and motivation to still be integrally involved in it. Start-ups are very fluid. The sooner you accept this, the better it is. A simple answer would be that I want the company to have grown manageably, to be self sustainable and well-oiled to run smoothly and be known as one of the best companies to work for in Sydney. That's enough work ahead now isn't it?
Q. What do you think makes a good entrepreneur?
Ramanan: Hard work, dedication, motivation, passion, persistence, guts, not taking no for an answer, dreaming about success (whatever success is to you), etc are all traits that an entrepreneur must have as default - she/he doesn't have much of a choice about it. But will these make this person a good entrepreneur? Not necessarily. I think there is only one thing that can come close to defining a good entrepreneur and that is the ability to deal with a lot of pain. Doing things that you know will give you a lot of pain, but you keep doing it over and over again because you are convinced that there is a possibility, not guarantee, of reward at the end of the road. You have no idea how long the road is, and you can only speculate where it will lead to. In essence, a good entrepreneur is crazy enough to take significant risk with absolutely no guarantee of return but only the certainty of pain - they know that this is the case and still act everyday as if she/he is as normal as everyone else!