The Ups, The Downs and Everything In Between – Abhisarika Das

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Entrepreneurship according to me, is not for the faint hearted. It takes resilience, persistence and perseverance to take one’s idea to fruition. Even if you do everything right, there is a strong chance that the world won’t accept it. Not because you are wrong but because they don’t see the value - maybe not just yet. One has to be strong enough to take failure in the stride and then learn, pick up the pieces and run again. KLoc’s story is no different.

The Early Years

I am obviously indebted to my father for his foresight and progressive thinking. In an era where women’s education especially in STEM fields was not that prevalent and in a place like Orissa where people were still quite conservative, he chose something for me that was unconventional. He has taught me some of life’s best lessons - one is to be financially independent always and second is to be committed to one’s belief and aspire to be in the top 5% in whatever one decides to do. So, here’s the next pearl of wisdom for entrepreneurs, albeit borrowed from my dad - being good is just not good enough. You need to have the passion to be the best in the business. Look at Google, Facebook, Amazon - they never settle. My brush with IT was fortuitous.

When I finished my PU (+2), I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and like any other clueless teenager, I relied on my father to guide me through career options. I can’t thank him enough because although he was a doctor, he was astute enough to realise the potential of technology in the future and picked a new program called Information Systems for me at BITS, Pilani. Most of my peers didn’t want to gamble and stuck to safe choices like engineering, pure sciences or management in the same college. Information Systems had a small class size of 20 when I joined but just a few years later it became one of the most coveted disciplines in BITS, Pilani. So, I learned this very early on and still believe that if one wants to be an entrepreneur, their risk appetite needs to be very high.

I am not sure I could stick to the top 5% all my life, but I did reasonably well to land myself a campus job at Tata IBM. I was one of the first to get a job on campus, but at that time I was passionate about doing Masters in the US. However, I didn’t want my parents to share the financial burden of funding my Masters. I did fairly well in GRE and managed to get at least 3 admits, but unfortunately did not qualify for financial aid so I had to drop my plans and join Tata Information Systems Ltd (TISL - a JV between Tata and IBM that later evolved into IBM Global Services India Ltd)

Owing to what I call divine intervention, within a few months of my joining TISL,  I was selected for an on-site assignment in US. Though it may sound a bit metaphysical, I really think, if you truly work hard towards something, the Universe gives it to you in some form or the other. To draw a parallel with entrepreneurship, you have to believe in yourself and keep going and the rewards will follow.

Part Deux

Confident in my space : At Stanford Ignite Event

My stint in US was an enlightening experience to the core. The first thing I realized was how little I knew about anything. The exposure both at the professional and personal level was overwhelming. This is not the case now but in those days, the exposure at the high school or even the undergraduate level was minimal to say the least. I learnt everything on the go - technology skills, people skills, life skills. The only thing I had going for me was my intrepid temperament. 

One such example was driving. I had never driven before and I flunked the rather stringent driving test 5 times but I didn’t give up and eventually not only passed the test but could drive on the crazy roads of Washington DC to Los Angeles without flinching. This fearless temperament is what veered me towards Entrepreneurship.

I tried to incorporate a small company when I was in the US with an offshoring model in mind but it never really took off. However, I wrote a business plan, made a brochure and did all the groundwork. Then I helped set up a company called Convergent Technologies in NCR with a friend. I helped my friend bootstrap it with funds and equipment. Although I had nothing to do with the company at a professional level, I earned his friendship and goodwill for life. These half baked ventures paved the way for the next phase in life and taught me how to learn from my mistakes, reboot and start over. Resilience is the second nature of entrepreneurship.

Return to India

In 2005, we decided to come back to India as we wanted to raise our kids here. I had a little one who was 8 months old and an older one who was 3. I was trying to settle down in Bangalore so I decided to take a break. However, that didn’t last long. The entrepreneurship bug came back to bite me and in 2007, I decided to float a small company called KLoc Technologies [www.kloctechologies.com]along with a friend who agreed to fund it.

Our idea was to bring Open Source like PHP to India. This was again a bold experiment. . We saw the promise way back then like nobody else. But the timing seemed to be wrong. We struggled to find work. We bootstrapped our startup with our own savings, did not take any salary and tried to tweak our business plan also. Then, I landed a staff augmentation contract through my professional network and that helped us keep afloat. In the meantime, I hired a business development head to help me kick off the services business. He has been one of the cornerstones of KLoc’s success and is still part of the KLoc family. As an entrepreneur, it is extremely important to choose the right people who can stick with you when the going gets tough. However, never forget to reward and incentivize them. 

Stint with E-commerce

We tried our luck on an online portal called “Elance”. After some initial hiccups, this move paid off. Slowly, but steadily we started to get work from different parts of the world. It was really the first project which was the hardest but once you show you have the ability, you will find takers. It was one such Elance project that changed the fortunes of KLoc. It was an Ecommerce project way back in 1999 and although we didn’t quite know what it entailed we took up the project and learnt on the job. We haven’t looked back since. From our humble beginnings, we managed to build a reputation for ourselves in the E-Commerce sector.

Owing to our hard work and passion for customer delight, we become one of the top 3 Amazon Webstore partners in India and amongst the top 20 in the world. This niche skill kept us going till 2015 till Amazon decided to sunset this product but since our core competency was strong, we bounced back and made a foray into other platforms.

After struggling briefly we quickly made a mark for ourselves in the Shopify ecosystem. We are now one of the four exclusive partners chosen by Shopify to be 'Enterprise level experts in India'. We have worked with over 1000+ Ecommerce merchants/entrepreneurs  from all over the world over the years and helping them succeed keeps us motivated. However, the important lesson for KLoc from this series of events was not to put all the eggs in the same basket and keep up with the evolving technology landscape. As an entrepreneur,  one should never stop learning - may it be your peers, competitors or customers.

 

At an E-Commerce Event - Key Speaker

The Future, as we see it

KLoc needs to grow from a value driven company into a system and process driven company. So, our next goal is to drive excellence by incorporating efficient processes, nurturing talent and building products that we feel will benefit the ecommerce community. We also want to keep up with the changing technology trends in the industry and adopt new technologies. Like they say, even if you are on the right track, if you don’t evolve, you will get run over. There will be challenges along the way like finding the right people, learning new technologies, acquiring customers and many more but you have to invent new ways of tackling these challenges.

Postlude

The mantra for entrepreneurship is appetite of failure and a tremendous amount of patience. What I have also learnt from our own experience is, don’t start with an idea that you think the world wants.. start with something for which there is a glaring need. Founder’s block can be self destructive. Let people critique your idea and give feedback. Identify something that people want and are willing to pay for. It needs to be a business that has a reasonably high entry barrier.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from your own network - professional or personal. People are ready to help so don’t hesitate to ask. Today there are incubators, accelerators, startup communities and professional networking services that will help you connect with the right people and take your startup to the next level.  Leverage these resources and become a part of active startup groups. This is where a lot of entrepreneurs have gotten their early breaks. A special thought for all those women entrepreneurs out there - the time to step up your game is now! There is great deal of support from private and public sources to help women entrepreneurs. The time and environment has never been better for women to start new ventures or take their businesses to a new level. Go seize the day!

Contact Abhisaika Das @ 9880874702  abhisarika.das@kloctechnologies.com www.kloctechologies.com

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