Then and Now

Then and Now

Most of us nurture a dream – to be our own boss, to identify a need-gap in society and provide a solution or to bring to life, a passion. And some of us persevere to turn that dream to reality. Just like the founders of these ten startups – they took an idea and turned it into a business that is brimming with potential. Since we last profiled these startups, they have come into their own, be it in terms of furthering their reach, building scale or sustaining growth. We have decided to show you why we think these ten enterprises are the pick of the season ahead.

The idea – where it begins

For a startup to catch the attention of one and all, the idea must be truly out of the ordinary. Take the case of Chennai-based Amelio Child Care Pvt. Ltd. (Amelio), India’s first onsite daycare facility, established in 2009. The founders, Sridevi Raghavan and Raghavan Jawahar, addressed a dilemma that working women in India faced and did so with great clarity. While a working mother’s schedule is not disrupted, by having her child close to her, she can function in a peaceful state of mind.

Following its flagship stand-alone daycare at Shollinganallur on Chennai’s outskirts, the company set up a daycare at Mahindra & Mahindra, Mahindra World City in Chennai. Amelio’s attention to detail, be it in their understanding of their clientele, in creating suitable syllabi or maintaining favourable toddler-teacher ratios has helped it create a niche of its own. A month ago, Amelio established another daycare at Estancia, an integrated township built by Arun Excello Group. “We are also looking at acquiring two to three more clients where we will set up onsite daycare facilities,” says Raghavan, who is currently the chief-executive. Amelio is also evaluating the prospects of newer markets through extensive research.

“We maintain that we are on track to breaking even in five years since commencing operations,” she adds. Raghavan is also looking to strengthen the core team with additions on the advisory board. “Scalability will be possible only when there is a strong team and backend is in place and we are working towards that,” she says. While the idea itself was born from an alert identification of a need-gap, the execution seems equally well thought out, giving Amelio the ideal platform to go national.

Another startup where the idea is king is discount retailer, The Loot India Pvt. Ltd. (The Loot), which was established in 2004. There is nothing Indians love more than a good bargain and founder-director Jay Gupta cashed in on the idea of bringing bargains to brands. Over the last five years, the Mumbai-based company has achieved a growth rate of about 55 per cent, by consistently offering its customers a year round discount ranging from 25 to 60 per cent discount. With the focus being on apparel and accessories, The Loot has brought mainstream international brands to several households across the country. “We have recently introduced various brands like Levis, Blackberry, Lerros and more giving our customers a better variety to choose from,” says Gupta. Adding to their impressive tally of 145 outlets across 82 Indian cities, The Loot has opened 13 more outlets across Tier-II and Tier-III cities in the last six months. “We look to open about 50 more outlets in the near future,” adds Gupta.

The Loot’s strength lies in its business model which is based on opportunity buying, basically, purchasing excess production from retail brands. Additionally, the presence of a strong supply chain management system allows it to get better pricing from manufactures. By maintaining its business strategy, The Loot is geared up for another good year, keeping with its current growth rate.

The technology – banking on innovation

While it is an indisputable fact that every business must begin with a good idea, some are built on the basis of sound technology. In the case of Rourkee-based Attero Recycling (Attero) that recycles electronic waste, importing the technology and setting it up in India posed a significant challenge. Even more challenging is the ongoing process of changing the Indian mindset towards e-waste disposal. However, through its sustained efforts, Attero has helped India Inc. realise its social responsibility towards e-waste disposal and built its corporate clientele across various industries. Attero’s technology is based on the separation of each metal from the e-waste which it then resells on the commodity market.

Attero was successful in receiving a series of funding from venture firms NEA-IndoUS Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson to the tune of U.S. $6.3 million. In August this year, Attero won series-B funding worth U.S. $3.3 million led by Granite Hill India Opportunities Fund with participation from existing investors. “We are using this money to improve our infrastructure and strengthen our research and development facilities,” says co-founder and current chief operating officer, Rohan Gupta. He also says that Attero is working on generating further awareness on e-waste disposal, especially amongst individuals. “We are working on the modalities, for instance, the collection mechanism, but, we would like to get individuals involved,” he says. From when it started out in 2007, Attero has taken small, but, sure strides to ensure that India gets cleaner by the day.

Chennai-based Perfint Healthcare (Perfint) works on bettering technology used in the healthcare industry. The company was founded by four healthcare professionals, S. Nandakumar, K. Guruswamy, K. Puhazhendi and V. Gnanasekar in 2005 with the objective to mitigate the impact of cancer. Its first product, PIGA CT, took three years to build and is an intelligent device to support minimally invasive clinical procedures in interventional oncology. As PIGA CT allows fairly less-experienced radiologists to perform a diagnosis, it has been a great addition to district hospitals which were previously restricted by the lack of skilled radiologists. “At the moment, PIGA CT works with a CT Scanner. Going forward, plans are to make it work with an Ultrasound scanner which is more common in emerging markets,” says Nandakumar, chief executive officer. As for its second product, Perfint will focus on therapy for interventional oncology which will support diagnosis and therapy for other organs.

Funding came by Perfint’s way with a first round to the tune of U.S.$ 3.5 million from venture capitalist firms IDG Ventures India and Erasmic Venture Fund. In July 2010, Perfint won a series-B round of funding worth U.S. $7.2 million. The round was led by Norwest Venture Partners with participation from the company’s existing investors.

Looking to the future, Perfint has aggressive expansion plans that include Europe and the U.S. markets. As Nandakumar puts it, the company will continue to strive to rid the world of cancer through a continuous process of innovation, execution and implementation.

The adaptation – same idea, different plan

With every business idea, there lies a good chance that somebody has done this before. The key is executing the same idea, better, or to take that very same idea and adapt it to a different context and still make it work. Just like founder Saloni Malhotra did when she founded DesiCrew in 2007. For the longest time, running a business process outsourcing (BPO) unit was considered very urban. Realising that rural India was home to several educated individuals who were equally capable of working at BPOs, DesiCrew established its first unit at Maanikapuram, Tamil Nadu. Soon, the company had five units to its tally within the state that service the information technology, finance and insurance sectors. DesiCrew imparts training to its employees thereby making them “job ready” and this process helps to give back to rural India. As current chief-executive Malhotra says, “We have launched a new training program called DTouch and covered over 100 villages to train 300+ resources at our various facilities in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.” Through an effective hiring policy and a well etched out business model, DesiCrew has managed to keep the business cost-effective.

From its base in Tamil Nadu, DesiCrew has moved to other states too. “We have just started a new 100 seat facility in Karnataka near Udupi and have upgraded our facility near Erode,” says Malhotra. Even as DesiCrew strives to increase rural India’s ‘employability’, it is on the lookout for financial support.

While DesiCrew is doing its bit to bridge the urban-rural divide, founders Vinod Thimmaya and Vivek Madappa brought to India the concept of service apartments for business travelers through HummingBird Suites Pvt Ltd. (HummingBird). Established in 2005, the company has boutique residential suites that meet the short and long-term stay requirements of its corporate clients. The clear advantage that the company offers its clients is one of price. HummingBird categorises its suites into Club Class and Economy with the former being priced between Rs. 3,000 and 3,500 per room, while the latter is priced at Rs. 2, 000 per room.  And the prices are constant year-round. With a business model that helps its clients save millions on accommodation, the company which was started on a seed capital of Rs. 3 lakh, broke even in its first year, showing operating profits of Rs. 1.5 crore.

Today, Hummingbird has over 750 clients in seven cities in India. “In the recent times, we have ventured to the Tier-II cities of Ahmedabad and Madurai,” says Thimmaya.

The journey is not without its challenges, like the lack of awareness about service apartments or the lack of branded presence across the industry. However, Thimmaya is optimistic about the growth of this industry. “I foresee that the service apartment industry will grow faster than the hotels and the occupancy levels will be higher than hotels. This trend is already happening in the South Asian countries,” he says. And as the country’s largest corporate stay solutions company, HummingBird is sure to make the most of its lead.

The insight – people knowledge

For a business to realise its potential, it needs the support of people. And the best way to gain this support is to research and understand the wants of these very people. By giving the people what they need and more significantly, what they want, acceptance is nearly assured. A startup that works to help make the lives of farmers in India easier is Star Agriwarehousing & Collateral Management Limited (Star Agri). In a sector that is as unorganised as agriculture, there is a certain need for corporates to step in, manage produce and eliminate additional costs. Jaipur-based Star Agri was set up in 2006 and deals with broad-based post harvest management operations of agricultural commodities which range from procurement of commodities to grading, packing and handling logistics. The four promoter-directors – Suresh Goyal, Amit Khandelwal, Amit Mundawala and Amith Agarwal – each has varied experience of over three decades in the agricultural field that they put to use to help positively impact the lives of those involved in farming.

Star Agri encourages the practice of professional warehousing and currently leases over 600 warehouses across the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. “By the next monsoon, we are looking at reaching the southern states and Uttar Pradesh,” says Mundawala. The company has also begun work on constructing its own warehousing facility with a capacity of 1,50,000 tonnes at Rajasthan. “We are also working on acquiring a land bank in Rajasthan to the capacity of four to five lakh tones,” he adds. In addition to building warehouses, the company has been working at improving its lab infrastructure across different locations. This aggressive approach seems to have paid off. “The biggest difference has been to our top line. Our year-on-year revenue has jumped from Rs. 4.5 crore last year to Rs. 17 crore for this financial,” says Mundawala.

Much like Star Agri, Patna-based Husk Power Systems (HPS) saw that people were waiting for something to change their lives. HPS owns and operates 35 kW -100 kW mini power-plants using discarded rice husks to deliver electricity to off-grid villages in central India. Co-founders Gyanesh Pandey and Ratnesh Yadav had identified energy management as the area to operate in by 2002, but, it took them until 2007 to win a management competition and use the proceeds to found HPS with help from consultants, Manoj Sinha and Charles W. Ransler. Today, the company has added to its technology with a remote-monitoring system and introduced pre-paid power meters. What is most impressive is its constant addition to the number of plants established – from one plant in 2007, to two in 2008, 17 in 2009 and 30 more by June 2010. “We plan on setting up 2014 plants by 2014,” says Pandey, who currently functions as the chief-executive.

Begun with an investment of Rs. 50 lakh, HPS has been successful in finding funding to the tune of U.S. $ 2 million from a consortium of investors. “We are currently looking for debt financing,” says Pandey.  Unlike other businesses that invest in high-end technology, HPS has proven that at times, keeping it simple works best. And with the right financial backing, it could truly bring significant change where others have tried and failed.

The change – doing things differently

Keeping with the subject of change, what India reads, hears, sees and experiences today has changed dramatically, courtesy the media explosion of this decade. And one media company that has changed its offering with the times is Gurgaon-based Miditech Pvt. Ltd. Founders, Niret and Nikhil Alva, established Miditech and from producing documentaries for national television; it has progressed to combining information and entertainment for today’s audiences. The transition to mainstream content came its way as people recognised the difference in quality of Miditech’s programmes. In a period of 10 years, Miditech set up its second base in Mumbai and has since, has produced programmes such as Indian Idol, Fame Gurukul, MTV Roadies, Deal or No Deal and more.

With advancement in content, Miditech also found financial partners as ICICI Ventures bought a 25 per cent stake in the company in 2005 which later changed hands to Turner International, a unit of Time Warner Inc. Between April and May, 2010, the founding company has bought out Time Warner and now holds a 100 per cent controlling stake. “We made this decision for it gave us complete creative control and the flexibility to opt for multiple strategic partnerships, as opposed to being tied down to just one,” says Nikhil Alva, who currently functions as the chief-executive.

The company is in a rapid expansion phase, with its focus spreading to the south and east as well. “We set up an office in Chennai earlier this year and look to set up offices in Hyderabad and Kolkata by the end of this calendar year,” says Alva. It is also slated to produce a slew of new programmes for channels such as MTV India, Channel (V), Colors, amongst others. Alva expresses excitement on the progress Miditech’s sister concern, Real Lifestyle Broadcasting, is making. “Our sister concern is all set to bring forth a bouquet of premium lifestyle channels and this will fuel our content too,” says Alva. He also states that with its new found independence, Miditech will see robust growth across all spheres.

As Miditech has proved, media companies constantly reinvent themselves to keep pace with the movement of markets. As for communicating via media, there has been steady progression from print to radio to television to the digital medium- the Internet. One company that has sought to own the digital space is Pinstorm. Established in 2004, by founder and chief-executive, Mahesh Murthy, Pinstorm redefined accountable advertising when it introduced a pay-for-performance business model.

The most significant development for Pinstorm has come by way of a change in attitude and approach towards the digital media, all thanks to the growing popularity of social media as a marketing medium. “What is interesting to see is that mainstream marketing managers are getting in the scheme of things. Today, it is all about getting on Facebook, Orkut or keeping in sync with Twitter,” says Murthy.

At the start, Pinstorm was focused on building technology that optimised sear engine marketing, but, now, the focus has shifted towards creating analytical tools that help measure advertising efficiency on social media. Murthy prides himself on being able to offer clients complete social media response management. And this has helped add to Pinstorm’s clientele. From financial institutions to telecommunication giants, everybody wants to be seen on social media.

While these chosen ten belong to varied industries, there remains certain commonality between each of them – that of passion, perseverance and progression which presents itself across geographical boundaries and class divides. And the more of this entrepreneurial spirit India sees, the better it will be for the nation as a whole.

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