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How family businesses are getting new-age makeovers; From Sakshi Vij to Devita Saraf, 5 young guns to watch

Traditional family businesses are being given new-age makeovers by the next generation of start-up entrepreneurs.

By: | Published: September 18, 2016 6:04 AM
In business, if you don’t have a creative side and are just doing what the others are, you are going nowhere. (Representative Image: Reuters) In business, if you don’t have a creative side and are just doing what the others are, you are going nowhere. (Representative Image: Reuters)

Nalin Saluja & Mohit Goel, Co-founders, Supplified, an online marketplace for construction materials

Family business: Omaxe, SPR Buildtech

BOTH Nalin Saluja and Mohit Goel come from business families that have been associated with the real estate sector for several years now. While Saluja’s family is behind real estate venture SPR Buildtech, Goel’s family owns Omaxe, the realty leader with projects across residential, commercial and integrated townships in 27 cities and eight states across India.

Before starting Supplified, a B2B-focused online marketplace for construction supplies, 29-year-old Saluja and 26-year-old Goel worked with their respective family businesses and gained extensive hands-on experience. The idea for Supplified came when Goel, while working with the purchase department of his family firm, realised that there was a massive opportunity to optimise the system not just for his own company, but for the whole industry. “The opportunity lay in making the process more technology-dependent and driven rather than relying on human intervention,” says Goel, who joined his father’s business after his first job at Grant Thornton as a consultant in 2008.

The idea took definite shape when Goel and Saluja met at a workshop at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, in 2011 and decided to partner. Supplified was launched in 2015. “We connect small- and medium-sized contractors and builders directly with the various brands of construction material,” says Saluja, who pursued his electrical engineering degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (2004-08) and later worked at Goldman Sachs in New York for about a year before moving back to India in 2010 to join his family business.

Supplified recorded sales of R5 lakh in November last year, growing to R10 lakh in December and R19.50 lakh in January this year. “So far, we have been consistently beating our own growth projections… we made sales of more than R30 lakh in the first week of March itself,” says Saluja.

Having come from a real estate background, Goel feels it has helped both of them understand not only the pain points of market players, but also the various pitfalls. “Another advantage is that we now have excellent relationships with all the major vendors of construction materials in India. Given the quantum of purchasing that our real estate companies have been doing for the past many years, we also know the lowest prices of all materials. This gives us in-depth understanding of the entire supply chain, creating opportunities for us to optimise,” he adds. Goel feels the e-commerce and start-up culture has greatly increased customer focus in India. “This has created challenges for several legacy businesses that are not agile any more to reinvent themselves or go the extra mile to retain customers. Having said that, it’s probably too soon to call the death knell for family businesses. Overall, family businesses are probably here to stay, but will have to be more nimble to keep up with rising consumer expectations,” he says.

Sakshi Vij, Founder, Myles, a self-driving car rental services provider

Family business: Carzonrent

WHEN SAKSHI Vij—daughter of Rajiv Kumar Vij, the founder of ‘urban mobility solutions’ provider Carzonrent that runs EasyCabs, among others—started Myles in November 2013, she saw a new opportunity in the transportation industry. “This opportunity was much larger than the existing one in the taxi industry that was being disrupted by multiple players across the world. This was an opportunity to disrupt the personal car ownership market,” says the IIM-Ahmedabad alumna, who kickstarted her professional journey with New Delhi-based investment banking firm FiNoble Advisors before joining her father’s business in 2007. “As per a survey conducted by Capgemini in 2014, it was observed that 59% Indians looking to buy a car were open to the idea of an alternative mode of ownership. This was primarily because of the need of greater flexibility, convenience and lower financial burden. The average use of a car in a year is less than 150 days. For over 200 days a year, a car sits in one’s garage, depreciating in value and appreciating in cost,” the 31-year-old explains.

Myles, a self-driving car rental services provider, is changing the way young urban Indians are buying cars, says Vij. “We provide a simple car sharing/self-driving solution that connects a car to a user. The mobile app becomes the navigation and key to your car once it has been booked. These cars can be booked for as little as two hours to as long as three months at a time, depending on your need. The user can choose a location convenient to them to pick the car or have it delivered to them,” adds Vij. Currently, Myles offers over 1,200 cars—39 different models—across 21 cities (at over 250 locations) to its users. A car on Myles costs as low as R50 for an hour to R6,500 for 24 hours (for a brand such as Mercedes-Benz) with unlimited kilometres to drive. Myles is recording 30-40% growth month-on-month, says Vij. In the next five years, it plans to expand its fleet to 50,000 cars in 50 cities spread across 5,000 locations.

Mithun Sacheti, CEO & founder, Caratlane, an online jewellery portal

Family business: Jaipur Gems

CHENNAI-BASED Mithun Sacheti belongs to a family of five generations of jewellers and the passion was inherited. So when the scion of Jaipur Gems returned to India in 2000 after acquiring his certification as a gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), California, the natural progression was to expand his family business. He went on to set up Jaipur Gems’ first store in south India—in Chennai—in 2000 (he opened the second one in Coimbatore seven years later), but soon realised that he had to keep up with the times.

“I discovered that jewellery as a sector had no online presence back then and consumers didn’t necessarily have a lot of choice when it comes to access to beautiful jewellery. This was the period when gold prices had been continuously rising,” says the IIM-Bangalore alumnus. Sacheti’s target customers—young, successful and financially independent women—were breaking stereotypes to forge new identities. “These women based their decisions on knowledge and access to information. I wanted to leverage this and decided to change the process of discovery by building a jewellery business that was online, effectively disrupting the existing jewellery retail business model,” the 37-year-old explains.

Thus was born Caratlane, an online jewellery portal, in 2008. “Whenever I would mention the idea of Caratlane, my co-founder (Srinivasa Gopalan) would hear me out patiently, but I don’t think he had the conviction then that it would work. But when he finally witnessed a customer at a Jaipur Gems store purchasing a diamond worth $30,000 without seeing it and only based on the specifications available, he was convinced that an online jewellery store might actually work. That’s when we started Caratlane,” he says.

Today, Caratlane has grown from being one of India’s first online jewellery stores to being an omni-channel player. It has expanded to 12 offline stores, with plans to have 20 stores across India soon. Their app, which is available on Android and Apple stores, has about one lakh downloads and counting.

In July this year, Tata group firm Titan acquired a 62% stake in Caratlane for R357.24 crore. The announcement, which was first made in May this year without details of the transaction being shared by the group, values Caratlane at R575 crore. Within a few days of signing the share purchase agreement, Caratlane announced that it has elevated two of its seniormost employees, Avinash Anand and Gurukeerthi G, to co-founders. While Sacheti will remain the CEO of Caratlane, he will also hold the position of founder. “Now, we can scale up on a higher level thanks to the back-end that’s available with Titan. We have been planning an omni-channel strategy for a long time… we want to leverage that. We will provide digital capabilities for Tanishq,” Sacheti was quoted as saying by a media report after the announcement.

Talking about family businesses, Sacheti says Jaipur Gems definitely helped him make the right choice. “I don’t think family businesses are dying. If anything, with the next generation, the businesses are thriving in different forms. Particularly in this industry, there is room for all types of businesses because of the varied needs of a customer,” he says.

Devita Saraf, CEO & founder, VU Technologies, a brand of affordable luxury TVs

Family business: Zenith Computers

IN JANUARY, some major national newspapers carried a full-page advertisement for Vu Technologies announcing the launch of its TVs with a Netflix button on the remote. It was timely, considering Netflix—the world’s largest online video streaming service—had debuted in India just a week earlier. There was nothing unusual about the ad, except for the fact that the young model pictured in it was Vu’s founder-CEO Devita Saraf herself.

That ‘brave’ move apart, Mumbai-based Saraf is also credited with single-handedly launching Vu Technologies, a brand of luxury televisions, in 2006, when she was just 24 years old. Vu is disrupting the long-untouched television market with its range of affordable smart televisions in India. As per Saraf, the company grew to R275 crore last fiscal from R96 crore in the year-ago period, and is targeting a significant growth of 80% to reach R500 crore in revenue in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.

Saraf joined her family business at the age of 21 years when she became the director of marketing at Zenith Computers—an erstwhile homegrown PC-maker, led by her father Rajkumar Saraf. The young Saraf was a breath of fresh air at Zenith, setting about her tasks with alacrity. However, not satisfied with inheriting an IT giant from her father, Saraf followed every marketer’s dream—to design something from scratch to create a high-end brand. So she went from being the head of marketing to CEO. “We wanted to go from PCs to high-end PCs and, within that, we realised that the demand for displays was going to be really big. So from just integrating large-size LCD monitors with PCs and making high-end PCs, we went on to make basic TVs,” says Saraf, a University of Southern California and Harvard Business School alumna.

Thus was born Vu Technologies in 2006. That same year, she featured in a list of ‘25 Most Powerful Women in India’. Today, her business revolves around several verticals such as LED televisions, ultra-HD TVs, super TVs, corporate displays and video walls, digital signages and touchscreen/interactive displays, among others. Having a family background in IT helped build the business from scratch, she says. “At the end of the day, basic electronics for products such as mobiles, laptops, TVs, etc, is the same. In that sense, my father definitely helped me in my entrepreneurial journey,” says Saraf, who is busy preparing for her next ‘Exclusive Vu Store’ launch in Coimbatore. At the moment, the company has 15 Exclusive Vu Stores across cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru. Besides traditional distribution channels, it also has tie-ups with online retailers such as Flipkart and Amazon India.

When a normally busy Saraf is not talking about digital TVs with dealers or distributors, she can be found indulging in a bit of golf or maybe dance, theatre or music. “In my free time, I like to go to art events, etc, or learn new skills that could add to my business. In business, if you don’t have a creative side and are just doing what the others are, you are going nowhere,” she says.

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