Even though the past year did not end on an upbeat note for the Indian economy, young entrepreneurs are taking an optimistic long-term view.
The new year began on a sombre note, with society confronting deep problems with the way it treats women, tensions on the border and continuing anxiety about the economy. Youngsters have been at the forefront of protests and debates. Yet many realise that the drive for change must be sustained, with a long-term horizon. So too in the economic realm. Taking a long-term view, youngsters are giving up stable jobs to strike out on their own. “Young entrepreneurs have more institutional support now than ever,” says Ravi Kiran, 46, co-founder of the Mumbai-based VentureNursery, an angel-backed start-up accelerator. “They have become more realistic about short-term results. They are willing to be patient.” Here, we profile four young entrepreneurs beginning the new year with high hopes for their new ventures.
From brick-and-mortar to click-and-mortar
Shubh Cheema, 29, and Kris Nair, 30, first came up with the idea of a platform to streamline dealings within the AEC industry six years ago, while working at an architectural technology firm.
The two kept in touch, resolving to develop the idea into something more concrete.
“Back then, I was too inexperienced and Nair was too busy with a number of start-up ventures,” says Cheema. “Last year, when I was finishing my master’s degree in the UK, we decided we should stop cribbing and actually do something.”
In September, Cheema returned to India and shifted base from Delhi to Mumbai. Nair’s Bandra (West) apartment and a nearby coffee shop now serve as their office.
The company name, Fused Cow, was registered earlier this week. “COW is an acronym for ‘construction over the web’,” says Nair. “’Fused’ doesn’t mean anything. It just sounded cool,” he adds, with a grin.
The software platform, capable of running as a layer over existing architectural software, uses augmented reality to constantly curate and suggest the right architectural products to the architect as per a customer’s requirements.
“There are up to 20,000 products launched every year in the market,” says Cheema. “It’s difficult for architects to keep track of them. This platform will help them.”
The software is still in the testing stage and is due for launch in April.
The state of the economy doesn’t bother the duo, particularly Nair, who has helped build six companies over 12 years, four of which failed miserably. “I’ve gone bankrupt twice,” he says, with a laugh, “so I don’t have any fear of failure.”
Adds Cheema: “The problem we’re attempting to solve existed six years ago and exists today. If you have a solution that can solve problems, regardless of the state of the economy, you can find customers.”
— Suprateek Chatterjee
Putting everything in its place
Michelle Pereira is known as the Monica Geller of her friends’ circle. “They say I’m just like that neat-freak character in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.,” she says, referring to the popular American sitcom.
So, in 2009, when she decided to quit her job, the nascent niche of de-cluttering and re-organising spaces — an established sector in the West — seemed the perfect place to start her own enterprise.
“I had grown tired of the commute, traffic, monotony and stress,” she says.
Till mid-2012, she travelled, relaxed, and completed a five-month certificate course in Lean Six Sigma, a manufacturing practice that advocates organised thinking and visual management for the more effective use of time and resources.
In October, she launched OCD out of the one-bedroom Santacruz home that she shares with her parents, who divide their time between Mumbai and Goa.
To promote her business, Pereira advertises in a community magazine and sends out regular posts on Facebook. She also plans to tie up with professional cleaning services.
She has already bagged her first client — David Rodrigues, 79, and his wife Alice, 75, who wanted to reorganise their 1,000-sq-ft home in Marol, Andheri (East), so that they could find things more easily, and without bending or climbing.
“Michelle is a one-woman army who puts her heart into this unusual job,” says David. “She put our whole kitchen in order, even helping us donate heaps of unwanted steel utensils to a home for the destitute.”
— Humaira Ansari
Grooming the next generation
It’s a weekday afternoon and Mohit Jain, 32, dressed in a formal grey suit, cuts a sharp figure sitting in his home-cum-office in south Delhi’s Maharani Bagh.
The young entrepreneur and his equally sharply dressed partners — former corporate lawyer Maitreyi Singhvi, 27, former human resource executive Romit Choudhury (extreme left), 30, and former corporate strategist Anant Singhvi, 27 — have all quit their jobs over the past year.
They now head an educational venture that offers management and finance courses to young graduates and working professionals in league with the London School of Economics, at a third of what it would cost them to study in the UK or at a premier institute such as an IIM.
“Our courses are designed to help make youngsters more employable,” says Jain.
Classes are held at various corporate facilities in Nehru Place and Saket in Delhi, while the founders work out of Jain’s basement home office. At the end of the programme, students take examinations conducted by LSE at the British Council.
“The Indian education system lacks the questioning spirit,” says Choudhury. “We simply want to expose our peers to other ways of seeing.”
— Shalini Singh
Wooing the e-customer
It took Shantanu Mathur, 33, more than a decade of working and travelling to finally nail down his long-held ambition of starting his own company.
“I come from a family of doctors. My dad was in the army. I was always the maverick and enjoyed working with young people and new ideas. Luckily, my family was always supportive,” he says.
After some entrepreneurial attempts in the mid-2000s in both India and the US, which left him with very little money, Mathur decided to pursue an MBA and a steady job.
He moved back to India in 2011 and worked in the e-commerce sector, where everyone was always angling for new customers. “Many of our clients in the retail sector wanted someone to help them draw repeat customers,” he says.
By September 2012, when he quit his job, he managed to put together about Rs. 40 lakh and hired a staff of three people. “No one really knows what works. You have to go with your gut when experimenting with new strategy. That’s what I’m doing now,” he says.
“After all, how long can you run away from what you really want to do?”
— Shalini Singh