Ajay Nesargi has taken the ice cream industry to a new level with the introduction of all-gelato. Started as a project manager in IBM, USA. Ajay now hopes to see natural flavours overtaking synthetic flavours in the country.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you faced in your career?
AN: During my engineering days, the first challenged that I faced was going to the US. Going to a foreign land, and that too US was a dream for only toppers. Once I got accustomed, a lot of interesting things followed. And then I got into IBM and travelling became an everyday affair.
But now, when I am into this industry and taking into the consideration the current situation of COVID-19, it has become a challenge as to how we can sell ice-creams, sitting at home when everyone thinks that eating anything cold is bad for health.
Q: How did you come to know about gelato in the first case?
AN: Thanks to all the travelling that I did during the initial stage that when I went to Italy, I came across gelato. I had always had the dream to do something on my own and that’s when it stuck my mind. I found out that it is more like a bakery like we have back in India where innovation is the key. And then there was no looking behind.
Q: Whom do you believe are your biggest competitors in this field?
AN: Undoubtedly, customers themselves. Because we have got so used to a routine way of accepting things and believing them in total and it becomes difficult to tell them not to something straight on their face.
Q: How did you come in terms with the fact of bringing this foreign cuisine to India?
AN: During my initial days of making Italian gelato, I used to buy all the items imported from Italy. Then one fine day, I wondered what is it that they do. There’s nothing that they get from heaven or hell. So why can’t I make them in here in India itself.
I, myself, went to talk to a few scientists and food technologists. I had a thorough understanding of the entire process, the machinery involved. Now the question that remained to be answered was can I do it in India and is India ready to accept it? And all these answers were yes. But I never knew as much as I am getting into it today.
So, the idea was ironed out. This is something made in Italy, we’ll have to import the items, end result was is it viable? Is it at par with other ice creams in terms of pricing? Since I received affirmatives in response to these questions, I went ahead with the idea.
Q: If someone wants to follow your path, how is he/she supposed to achieve this?
AN: Basically, what I do is, I nurture everything, become an entrepreneur by supporting you from end to end. Machinery, procurement and all. But no franchise. I will teach you how to do it.
So, I am building entrepreneurs. This is what I aim to do- not to give franchise, but develop entrepreneurs, make you independent. I develop recipes. This is the way I want to go forward.
This will create a network of people taking my help all over India and they are in touch with each other. Because every region in the country is unique, it has its own exceptions and specific demands. Let’s say for West Bengal where litchis are always a hotshot. Similarly, Gujaratis go gaga over kulfi.
Q: How has your family support been?
AN: To be frank, they have no choice but to support me. In the initial days, they (my wife and parents) were opposing the idea of leaving my stable job at the IT for an unsecured business. But I had some support. I won’t say that I was totally rejected.
My wife was scared but she knew that challenges would come along. I told her that I would be in India from now onwards and won’t do much of travelling. But I will manage both my jobs, the IT part and the Gelato business. She was supportive enough and lend me a helping hand without any second thought.
Q: All your outlets have been set up in South Indian states, be it Mysuru, Bengaluru, Mumbai or Pune. Any plans on venturing into other cities across the country?
AN: That is where I am coming in. I want to get entrepreneurs who are interested in getting their own natural ice creams and I will help them in building their business. If someone approaches me, I am open to all. It’s the passion and interest that will take your business ahead.
Q: You seem to be very opposed to the idea of ‘franchise making’. Why is it so?
AN: See, in India franchising has become a money-making adventure. Somebody calls a company and enquires about getting a franchise, then you make a lot of money, but lose the support of the parent company. And I totally against the idea. I will support you, give you all the contacts. This is the best way forward.
Q: In the coming 5-10 years, where do you see yourself and the organisation?
AN: In the long run, I would like to see at least one variety of natural ice cream in every major city of India as an alternative to regular chemical-based ice creams.
Q: Your message for the Indian youth?
AN: The youth today has a lot of energy. But they must learn to say not to the ‘franchising’ affair. It is like telling someone, Aap Mujhe apni answer sheet dikha do, mein use copy karke paas ho jaunga (Show me your answer sheet and I will pass the exams.)
This model needs to change. You need to bring something innovative. Right now what I need now is a good support system from agencies to reach the youth to tell them about an opportunity like this.
Q: The final question. Was there any time when you almost gave up on your passion?
AN: Yes, I had my fair share too. There was when the time when big companies offered me their pay role, and that made me contemplate whether I was doing the right thing. A lot of offers poured in asking me to back out and get back to the routined IT job.
Interview and written by Aishwarya Samanta
Image Source: Google