My Entrepreneurial Journey
Date: Wednesday , February 02, 2011
My father was in the railways and he always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Just to realize his dream we shifted to a residential colony full of entrepreneurs. My father had a lot of different businesses but he never did well financially. He was a very hardworking man and that trait is seen in all the three sons of the family. I and my whole family have been through hard times where as a kid on my birthday getting a shoe or a shirt as a gift was a big thing.
I knew from the start that there is no one behind me, so I had to rely on myself. I took my own decisions, I became very independent. This has helped me a lot in life and also cemented me as a successful entrepreneur.
I had joined Hindu College after schooling which I term as a big leap and a personality changing experience for myself. Also, at the same time I had started helping my brother in his pens business. To improve on my English I started reading English books. I did my BA in Mathematical Statistics from Delhi University. I learnt how to talk to people, to take people along, how to make groups and learnt to organize things. I kept on taking challenges in life and I set one or two big goals for myself. The main one being to ‘make it big in business’.
In 1984 I graduated from college and joined my brothers. I coined the name ‘Su-Kam’ for the pens and wanted to make it into a ‘brand’. After sometime I realized I couldn’t work with my brother in his pens business and decided to embark on my own journey by myself. I started pursuing Law from the Delhi University and used to go attend classes in the evening. I studied seriously for the first time and in the meantime I got married. My wife started working soon after marriage since it was not easy supporting the house with only me working. I had the pressure that I have to become something in life. What to become used to keep on changing. Sometimes, I used to think of becoming a lawyer. Sometimes, an entrepreneur. Marriage brought some stability in my life and so I started my cable TV business without having any technical understanding or know-how on how to run the business. I had realized that I have to learn how to do this work be it learning things to actually fixing things. I started reading my class ninth and tenth Physics books to gain a greater understanding. By 1996-97 my cable TV business was flourishing as I had a factory with 50 employees and was making good money.
Whatever I was earning, I was putting in my business because that was my life and in 1998 I made my move into the inverter business. I realized that there was a huge demand for inverters in north India, but everyone was making the same kind of inverter. There was an inverter at my home which would constantly get spoilt. So one day when the mechanic came to repair it, I just had a peek inside the inverter. I realized they were using a sub-standard PCB. I knew about PCB’s because of my cable TV experience. Later on I brought a high quality branded inverter and asked my factory workers to work on it. I had started reading books and articles on this. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is foolish but it is a way forward.
After much experimentation and testing I launched an inverter but it did not rock the market so we constantly kept improvising hoping to deliver the best product. I was very determined to make my ideas work. Finally we were able to make an efficient inverter and the sales started picking up. I wanted to make a great product and at the same time assure the best service. A great product is a good thing to have, but even great products need marketing. A fact that companies focused on technology often overlook. Su-Kam was no exception. We soon launched an ad campaign and our brand got noticed with a fairly low spend. We switched to advertising which was a first for the inverter category.
There were two or three employees of mine who were not good at work, so I put them on the job for putting up boards reading SU-KAM on it all over India. It made the Su-Kam brand very popular. We persuaded dhaba owners to put their name on Su-Kam boards and advertise along with their product. We persuaded them by giving them a T-shirt, a strategy which brands like Vodafone & Airtel follow. By 2002, we were in a good position. The following year Su-Kam launched very innovative products including the Sinewave Inverter and an inverter with a plastic body, both for the first time in India. We also brought out a UPS range. We opened our first branch office in Hyderabad and started exporting products as well as participating in overseas exhibition.
Later on we had developed some innovative technologies which needed protection. I realized that we have to patent our products to survive in this industry. So in 2004 for the first time I applied for a patent. With superior products, a well known brand name and strong dealer network, Su-Kam has achieved remarkable growth. In 2004, our turnover stood at Rs. 100 crores. Today, it is touching Rs. 500 crores, of which Rs. 80 crores comes from the export market.
Around 2007, there were buyout offers from companies but I didn’t really pay heed to them. Reliance had approached us with a PE offer and I decided to take that. Reliance India Power Fund- a JV between Reliance (ADAG) & Temasek Holdings Singapore invested Rs. 45 crores in Su-Kam. The stage was set for a scorching pace of growth. In 2006, we set up our first off-shore office in Dubai. Su-Kam became the world’s second company to manufacture 100 KVA inverter and inaugurated India’s first SMF battery plant. We also armed ourselves with a trademark registration in the US, where we are now exporting. Su-Kam has 32 people working on R&D- all engineers. Innovation is a mild way to describe it. What they do is keep inventing. As an entrepreneur I need to be make sure that both me and my company are up ahead especially with the competition around. We have applied for 50 technology patents and now every month we are applying for two technology patents.
With me innovation is the key to success. I have this problem of dreaming. I am very clear, that I have to on this. I had made a 100 KW inverter around three years ago. No one even thought it was possible at that time.
My dreams are so big that even if I work for another 50 years and the new generation also works on it, it will not be completed. I still don’t understand the real term of an entrepreneur. I think decisions are never ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s the outcome which may be either positive or negative. But you can’t sit on the fence, you have to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions in life. That is an essential quality for every entrepreneur. Mistakes do happen in life. I have also made mistakes and learnt from it. Some people may be with you and some may not. You should be driven by your passion or your interest. You should not be driven only by the monetary value. It comes and then goes: if you are successful it keeps increasing. This was my passion and I worked towards it. I have not been driven by other force.
Author is the CMD of Su-Kam