Money is incredibly interesting — it comes, it goes, it grows and it talks. I spent a lot of my life not letting it dictate what I do, the decisions I make, and overall taking calculated gambles with my earnings. As an entrepreneur and a fifth-generation plantation owner, I’ve focused on bootstrapping the growth of our business and brand, rather than bringing in external investment and funding. This sense of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness has been core to our business model.
I was brought up between Bangalore and our coffee plantation in Chikmagalur, with a value system centred around fending for yourself — my parents encouraged my brother and I to get part-time jobs as soon as we moved to Sydney for university and turned 18. In the five years I spent Down Under, I worked fourteen jobs. I won’t bore you with the whole list, but I worked as a football referee, a bartender, a removalist (a lovely Aussie word for a packer-and-mover), a manager of a student accommodation and even a handyman, to name a few.
A lot of them, admittedly, were roles I grew into — by paying attention to my bosses and colleagues, managing expectations and then eventually exceeding them.
Many memorable experiences, short circuits, mojitos, yellow cards and packed boxes later, I decided to move back to India and give something new a shot. I got back in May 2017 and had the daunting and rather typical thought any 23-year-old would: “So what now?”
I converted all my Australian dollars and went on a couple of soul-searching solo trips, and returned home to Kerehaklu in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, with renewed clarity. All I saw around me was opportunity, not untapped by any means, but perhaps with greater potential. Our sixty-something-year-old family plantation had a plethora of produce growing in harmony with the local biodiversity, but with broken supply chains. The focus needed to come back to the produce’s origin, with us making the lion’s share of the profits after all the work that we put in.
There’s an old saying in golf: “Pressure is when you play for five dollars a hole with only two in your pocket.” I knew that I had to take calculated financial gambles, seeing that these were agricultural and economic niches that Kerehaklu could carve out and grow.
This was a chance to not just build something, but the chance to build on something. Like a house built on stilts, it already accommodated for the rise in sea levels.
At first, it required more specificity rather than huge amounts of investment, and a practical understanding of the tasks at hand. I dipped into my own savings — those converted dollars came handy for packaging, daily workers’ wages and transport. We DIY’ed many things — picking poles for careful harvesting, hand-delivering avocados (or ‘butter fruit’ as we call them here in the south) — and made several mistakes along the way.
I’ll never forget the loss I made on my first round of home deliveries. I miscalculated the cost of petrol that I had to fill in my mum’s car, and in hindsight, undercharged for the avocados themselves. But I do think everyone who I delivered to took notice that I was doing this on my own and out of passion — lacking not just sleep but also change for their ₹500s.
It made me ever so quickly realise that keeping tabs on your finances is the most important yet easily overlooked step. I also learnt the importance of making the right connections — there will always be a market, but trust trumps all, especially when you’re dealing with something edible.
Fast forward five and a half years, I have to pinch myself at the thought that the amazing team I now oversee, and I, have harvested over six tonnes of avocados, exported peppercorns to Ghana, worked with coffee roasters that once were a distant daydream, and continue to put Kerehaklu on the global map.
It just goes to show that what we were told as kids was wrong. Money does, in fact, grow on trees.
Pranoy Thipaiah is a 28-year-old producer in Chikmagalur, Karnataka who is focusing on shortening supply chains so that the farm is always at the forefront.