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The Small Town Start Ups That Are Making A Big Difference

Monday, March 30, 2015

When in the film, Swadesh the protagonist Mohan Bhargava played by actor Shahrukh Khan quits his NASA job as a scientist to change the face of the village of his ancestors in India, critics thrashed the movie by saying the story theme was too idealistic... Maybe it was unrealistic in the India of yesterday, but it is very much realistic in the India of today where aspirations of young India having found echoes in society; when everywhere there exists vibrations of inclusive growth and promoting young talent to become employment generators rather than seeking employment... In today's India, small town boys are dreaming big as cities like Uchain, Indore, Jaipur and Jhunjhunu giving rise to emerging start ups... The four entrepreneurs  profiled have hunger for success. Their strengths are inspiration, diligence and persistence..... these are hallmarks of success of entrepreneurs who hail from smaller towns, where glamour may be lacking, but the quieter and gentler way of life as well as the desire to hang on to local roots are assets in their own right. Mayura Shanbaug  reports...

Abhinav Choudhary, Co Founder,
It is best to start up in college itself when energy and risk-taking behaviour is at its peak says Abhinav Choudhary, the Co-founder of an IITian, who hails from Uchain (Bharatpur) Rajasthan. Abhinav started working on his idea in May 2011 when he was 23 years old and studying in the 3rd of year of his graduation. Soon was launched along with his partner and has been in business for over 3 years now.

“At that time e-commerce companies were in startup phase and every day we would hear news of a new e-commerce company starting or getting funded. Ideas were that there should be a common portal where users can make smart buying decisions while purchasing a product. And after choosing the best product they can have different options related to best prices and offers,” says Chaudhary explaining why he chose this particular business.

 “One of our friends wanted to buy a new mobile phone and he was struggling to get appropriate information on which cell phone he should buy. We thought that using our technical skills we can make an online portal which extract information from various places online and put it at one place. It proved to be a time saving product for shoppers and helped a lot of users from information overload and overpaying,” says Choudhary of his business.
It was not an easy journey for these freshers... who raised their seed capital by bootstrapping. “There were many challenges we faced while starting up things,” says Choudhary. “Information collection for our personal use wasn’t hard for us, but to present the information to users in an intuitive and simple manner took a lot of time.

We also had to manage our studies while working to build an awesome product. Routine at IIT Delhi used to be very hectic and we used to work late nights to complete the project,” he says, adding that the “ lack of manpower was also an issue. “As only 2 of us worked on Smartprix, everything from designing to marketing was done by us, which was a challenge for us. It took us 4 months to finally complete it and launched it in starting of our winter vacation.”

The duo faced lot of financial constraints too. “We’d to survive on our pocket money major part of which used to be spent on servers. But every second and all the pocket-money spent on it was worth it says the proud entrepreneur. As far as profit is concerned Choudhary says that first 2 years we didn’t make any earning, “no ads were displayed on site. After that when we started some promotions we started to make profits,” he says.
Smartprix currently list electronics and books categories on its site. Future investment will be done to expand the team and expand to more categories like fashion as it has a huge potential.

When asked, what made the company click?,  pat comes the reply, ”although there are couple of price comparison sites in India, but we aim to provide the best-in-breed comparison-shopping experience, not just the price comparison part. “What to buy and from where to buy without overpaying” – Everything at one place,” says Choudhary. ”We want to see Smartprix become a one-stop solution for shopping in India in five years from now,” adds Choudhary.

Diwakar Chittora, Founder, Intellipaat
Diwakar Chittora (32), who founded Intellipaat in 2011 along with his wife Shilpi, belong to Jaipur; Diwakar holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management and a Master’s degree in Information technology from IIIT Bangalore. His venture Intellipaat trains candidates in IT based courses and he has personally trained more than 600 professionals. Being the first company to offer Hadoop courses and grab its first client as Ericsson, the company is growing at the rate of 1000% YOY and having more than 60 corporate clients.

The decision of starting Intellipaat was a surprise to Chittora's family as he and his wife decided to quit jobs. “I was working as Technology Manager at Wipro and she was an Architect at IBM. Many people said don’t you like living easy life as it was a huge risk everyone see... as we both were quitting at same time,” says Chittora. It was the feeling of giving back to the society for this couple. “Both Shilpi & I share the same thought of giving back to society what we have learnt; what can be better place to fulfill this thought than opening up a training company,” he explains.

Intellipaat started its journey without any VC funding. Today it’s sitting on a good cash reserve. “However, we are contemplating to approach few interested VCs for funding as part of expansion plans. I think it’s not difficult to raise funds for startups in India anymore. Bangalore is known as the startups hub in India. All the major cities offer a promising platform for the entrepreneurs to interact with potential VCs through various seminars,” says Chittora of his future plans.

Though startup journey was a Roller coaster ride for him with every day full of challenges and learning... they were able to do breakeven for the capital they invested in first month itself. “We kept ourselves focused on making profit as startup are always in crunch of money and it is the bloodline for everything you do else survival will not last long,” he says.

“From day 1 your journey is adventurous as you are the owner of everything from peon work to CEO work. You have to build your team and make them believe that your idea has great success. I am from technology background so it was easy for me to identify right trainer but at the same time when it comes to sales and marketing, I am novice. I spoke to my friends who were in different domains and read books and that how started the all learning and setting up of an organization. Building the right team is one of the biggest challenge I faced and still facing and keep looking out for right candidates to join us,” tells Chittora of his journey.

In the first month of its inception... the company created a lot of market buzz by being the first institute to launch online courses in Hadoop and Big Data at affordable prices. “Our courses are a huge success owing to it model which emphasizes 60% on on-hand exercises, quizzes and projects and 40% on theory. We are the official corporate trainers in these niche technologies for Ericsson, TCS, Wipro, Genpact, to name a few,” he says.

Today Intellipaat has 3 divisions in the company – Corporate, Online Instructor led and e-learning courses and all of them have bigger expansion plans of moving into multiple geographies with physical presence and increasing our courses catalog. Talking of future Chittora says, “By the end of this year, we are planning to add more courses in technologies, taking the total number to 250 courses. In the next 5 years, Intellipaat will be one of the leaders in providing training courses across the globe,” he says.

Ashutosh Modi, Founder, EntrancePrime
Lack of preparing material and resources for IIT in his hometown prompted Ashutosh Modi, who hails from a small town in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan to start EntrancePrime in 2013 – a test preparation portal to make the online education sector more organised. Being a technology student and an entrance exam aspirant himself, Ashutosh felt a need to utilize technology to bring precision to entrance exam preparation.

Modi says,”I am from a small town in Rajasthan where I completed my schooling. I wanted to go to IITs but I did not have access to preparation resources in my hometown like students in bigger cities who could start their preparation right after 10th boards. Many of my friends had similar dreams but due to lack of resources, they chose traditional courses in nearby colleges. I and two of my other classmates were fortunate enough to get a chance to go to Kota and prepare for our dreams. We three were class toppers in board and state rank holders. However, living in a new city was not easy for young kids of a small town. Home sickness, city life, language issues, and peer pressure eventually led us to give up on our dreams and none of the 3 friends could make it to IITs. This pain of not being able to make it to IITs always hurts me. Later, after completing my management from S P Jain School of Global Management, I joined my father in his business in the field of education and there was a chance for me to create a resource that was accessible to not only urban student but also to the students of small towns and villages. We established a coaching institute in my hometown and started searching for online test platforms. There were a few platforms available but none of them impressed us. That is when EntrancePrime came into existence that ensures top quality learning resources accessible to everyone, everywhere.”

Modi explains that they started JIVEM Education (P) Ltd. in 2010 which was the company behind”Initially we were focusing on K-12 education which still remains our major revenue-centre. We developed e-learning as a separate business unit under the same company which operates EntrancePrime. We are operating without external funding so far and are generating profits for the last 3 years. We believe, e-learning is still in budding phase in India and is attracting lot of investor focus,” says the educator.

He says that there were not really hiccups but there were a lot of questions that we had to find answers to...”Firstly choosing a city for setting up our office as my hometown Jhunjhunu was not a good choice anyways. Second convincing good people to join our team and expanding to 3 offices in one year’s time, convincing our first few customers, solving their issues, keeping the team encouraged, the journey has always been eventful and I really enjoy the fun,” he says.

A strong believer of God, who likes to believe that nothing happens against his will, has plans to grow both horizontally and vertically. “We have recently launched new products for CSAT & NDA and are planning to launch more products for other exams. We will keep on adding exams that have a reasonable number of aspirants,” says Modi.

“On the other hand, we are also planning to make EntrancePrime a complete learning resource rather than just a test practice website by adding online tutorials, video courses and collaborative learning platform to bring wholesomeness to test preparation,” he adds.

Raman Singh Saluja, Founder, Gramco Infratech
42 year  old Raman Singh Saluja who handles Gramco Infratech – an agri solutions company is based in Indore- and helps the farmer community by providing warehouse and procurement solutions. Raman is an agripreneur who first would like to expand in the MP region only  and strengthen the farming community in the state before he moves elsewhere.

“Agriculture and farm services are still pretty inefficient in India, more so, on the post harvest and marketing side, plus the fragmentation is huge, I had my first stint with agriculture in late 1990's by exporting potatoes and lentils to South Asia. It was the close contact with the farming community that I learnt of the additional costs and inefficiencies in the entire supply chain, including lack of Infrastructure. With a friend I formed '', wherein we not only Web enable farmers with all market and technical information, but also set up procurement centres at multiple locations. The response was good but banking and connectivity issues forced us to scale back and wind up. The APMC laws made working even more inefficient.

Despite that I strongly believed in the sector and the need for building an enterprise located close to farmers and growing areas. In 2008 I got back to building a business model around my learning and formed Gramco in 2009,” says Saluja of his business.

As far as seed capital is concerned they set up the first 2 facilities themselves...”then looking to scale, we did a Series A 2013 in August from Samriddhi Fund, managed by SVCL. We are looking at increasing our geographic foot print over next 3-5 years,” says Saluja.

The challenges were many for Saluja. “Rural India is a tough market. We hear about the bottom of the pyramid, what it does not mention is that the weight of the pyramid is at the bottom too... human resource is the biggest challenge. A lot of local factors come into play during get execution. Power situation is far from acceptable, Internet connectivity and quality is still not very supportive. A lot of approvals are within the domain of the panchayat and that brings its own set of issues,” explains Saluja.

“2015 is shaping well, we have built a team capable of building each vertical and we are expanding our reach to over 140-150 villages by next quarter of 2015. We have commissioned a new facility in Ujjain and planning to open four more by next month. Value addition holds a great promise for farmers but they are still hesitant, we are looking at promoting and encouraging farmers to make that a “natural” choice and also in marketing the produce thereafter. The company is also starting procurement yards at 12 locations in the state soon,” he says.

For Saluja quitting was never been an option, “the sector is tough but the potential is huge, it is a hard road initially. We believe in vision and are confident of the value proposition that we offer,” he says.  Saluja sees a much wider foot print, with a network of owned and leased facilities.” We look forward to be serving over 1000 villages and have a strong farmer community working with us,” he hopes.


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