Entrepreneurs who dared

Written by Diksha Dutta | Diksha Dutta | Updated: Oct 3 2011, 06:10am hrs
The fears of a slowdown might be back in the $60 billion IT-ITES industry, but the start-up survivors of previous recession today stand rock solid. At a time when large mid-sized companies are still struggling for decent growth rates as bigger tech giants want to grab them and there is news about customers withdrawing big contracts from the top companiesthere is still a segment which is shining in the tech sector. The small-sized product companies in the software industry are budding with innovative ideas and enthusiasm. Today, small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) contribute just 10% revenues to the overall Indian IT industry, but are growing at high double digit rates. Approximately 300 software product companies have been added in the last two years in the SMB segment, while the whole SMB sector comprising product or services is odd 4,000 companies. Sangeeta Gupta, vice-president of IT industry forum Nasscom says, Small product companies are growing at a very fast rate in India. The growth drivers are clearthe emergence of cloud computing which has given rise to many business ideas, the use of technology by small businesses as well and the angel community supporting start ups.

We pick up five product companies that came up with an idea during the recessionary period of 2008 -2009, survived and today are looking at further expansion:

Capillary Technologies

Recession or no recession, we had to start our company then. The situation was like- now or never, recalls 26-year-old Aneesh Reddy, who along with his IIT Kharagpur batch mate Krishna started Capillary in 2008. After serving two years at ITC as a project engineer, Reddy understood the business of retail. On similar lines, Krishna brought two years of IT industry experience after working at Microsoft. The combination was perfect. We wanted to do something in mobile, cloud and retail together, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) was picking up then, he says.

The IIT boys came up with a product In Touch for retail stores and soon signed big retailer stores like Raymond, Future Group outlets, Levis, Benetton, among others. Reddy says that retailers were bleeding two years back when Capillary came into the market. The retail sector needed support to survive and increase their sales in every possible way. Our software product helps in understanding customer behaviour through analytics and then helps in suggesting the right shopping coupons to various customers who shop at a retail store, he notes.

The coupons suggested by In Touch have been redeemed upto 30% at all the retail stores who are Capillarys customers. It is true to an extent that retailers are now open to using technology to boost their sales, as they have seen tough times previously. Moreover, a service provided in the cloud is much economical than having an in house IT setup. At present, as the retail sector is back on growth and even small retailers are opening up more stores, Reddy is excited. We have even come up with another product True Touch for small retail stores four months back and already have 120 stores using it. We made a $1 million in revenues last year and expect to grow six to seven times this year. We started with two people and today employ 150 people in our company. We are all set to expand our customer base to small retail stores as well.

Recruiter Box

Hiring can be a cumbersome process which needs time, energy and a healthy staff to manage it, realised Raghuveer Kancherla, Girish Redekar and Raj Sheth, co-founders of recruiterbox.com, a Web-based hiring software for small businesses. Raghuvir and Girish, graduates from IIT Madras had their fair share of work experience before Recruiterbox happened to them. In beginning of 2010, both of them came with a product that could help small companies manage their hiring by automating every stage of the process from posting to hire. Usually, small companies receive resumes in their emails, which are opened one by one, printed and sorted and not shared centrally.

Recruiterbox is a simple SaaS tool allowing companies to structure an efficient online central process. Raj joined the IIT graduates a bit later in the company, but is an aggressive marketer who added a lot of customers, while the other two kept updating the product.

Today, Recruiterbox has 200 customers including Groupon China, Levis India, Hashcube, Vinsol or Hardent. But, 90% of the companys customers are in the US and only 10% are in India. The Indian SMBs still have dependence on external recruiters or other manual processes for recruiting new people, says Sheth. Sheth is only 29, but aspirations are huge. In the next 6- 8 months, we will add more engineers. We are also looking for a round of funding, though our initial funding was done by friends and family. Today, 90% of the companys customers are SMBs, but big customers are slowly joining in.

HMS Infotech

Who can understand the needs of an SMB better than one itself Aditya Sanghi did not see many players in the technology sector who could help small and mid-sized hotels manage their business better, way back in 2008. As a consequence, along with his partner Prabhash Bhatnagar, he decided to come with a SaaS product Hotelogix.

Hotelogix is an enterprise grade system, designed to meet the needs of a 5 starred property and is positioned towards the small and mid-sized hotels and resorts on a SaaS delivery model and covers the full spectrum of hoteliering tasks. The company received inquiries from 70 countries within the first six months of product launch. Mid-sized hotels need the same IT services as 5 star hotels, but do not have the same scale to have an IT infrastructure. Today, our product has 100 plus customers and 2,000 hotels have tried our product, says Sanghi. He explains that a five star would have an IT team of 200 people who can manage networking and infrastructure, but a small and meduim hotel does not usually have an infrastructure and team to manage this and products like Hotelogix are best suited for them.

HMS Infotech has 23 employees and got funding from Mumbai Angels in January 2011. Today the company counts Marg Group of Hotels, Kerala and Hostel of University of Toronto, Canada as its customers. Just R10,000 is the sign up amount for using the cloud services of Hotelogix which helps a hotel in reservation management, housekeeping, handling corporate customers and managing travel agents.

VDime Innovative Works

The idea of 1000 Lookzo came to Vasan Sowriraja in 2008 when he was working on adding an emotion to a picture before finally converting it to a smiley. Under the guidance of Pandurangan of IIT Madras, we moved to working on facial image processing technology which is best suited for developing solutions for the beauty industry. The first prototype was ready in mid 2010 and we launched our first free iPhone app in December 2010, he says. The company then released its product, 1000Lookz, for the beauty and cosmetics industry. 1000Lookz is a virtual beauty makeover application for iPhone and iPad. The application lets users upload their photograph, and try on a wide range of cosmetics for their face, along with different hairstyles and accessories.

The journey so far has been pretty interesting for Vasan with all the ups and downs typical for a product start-up company. Becoming an entrepreneur is easy but being one is the real challenge, says 32-year-old Vasan. Further, to be an entrepreneur in the highly evolving mobile and tablet apps space is a separate challenge in itself. But on the brighter side, Vasan claims that today, technology is playing a pivotal role in transforming the beauty business around the world. And the beauty players are increasingly willing to embrace innovative technology primarily to add more value to their customers, subsequently build brand loyalty ,explore new avenues of income. Statistics already reveal that the product has 200-plus app downloads every day, 100-plus photos are uploaded and saved every day.

Greytip Software

In 2007, just before the recessionary blues, the idea of a SaaS product came to Girish, though he has been an entrepreneur since 1994. Girishs focus was clear: he wanted to work in the local market and did not want to reach out to big players.

We wanted a large number of clients at the bottom of the pyramid and wanted to understand the problem of SMBs. Girishs product Greytip Online is a robust SaaS platform that enables businesses to automate HR and payroll functions quickly and cost-effectively. It extends the functionality with powerful collaborative access to every individual employee of the company.

The services available on Greytip online over a cloud are payroll processing, leave management or claims management. Rowjee feels that bigger companies might have cloud solutions, but cannot understand the needs on SMB as well as Greytip.

The charges of Greytip are R20 per month per employee, whereas the top tech majors charge SMBs upto R40,000 per month per user for the same services, without a trial. Greytip has customers like Everest Group, Rawla and Company, Sachdeva Schools and the 110 employee strong company made business worth R8.6 crore this year. Rowjee has clarity, We are looking for funding, but not actively. We are more busy gathering customers right now.