Thirty two-year-old Delhiite Rahul Sharma always knew he wanted to start up his own business, rather than work under someone else. And unlike most, he's been fortunate enough to realise his ambition and launch a successful venture that has made him a wealthy man.
In an interview with rediff.com, Rahul discusses his career and how a bold step at the age of 22 saw him become COO of his own company a decade later, with 400 employees and a turnover of Rs 400 crore per year.
"It was while I was studying mechanical engineering at Nagpur University that I realised my inclination towards software and decided that I wanted to do something related to the field," he starts off. "So in 1999, I partnered with friends -- my next-door neighbour Rajesh Agarwal and college buddies Vikas Jain and Sumeet Kumar -- to launched Micromax, an e-commerce company that catered to American clients."
"When I announced my ambition to my parents ten years ago, the response was quite lukewarm," Rahul continues. "I was only 22 at the time; my father is a retired school principal and he felt that I shouldn't undertake such a high-risk option. He wanted me to work with an MNC and then settle down. But I wasn't convinced. I wanted to do something on my own and I decided to go ahead with it. In the end, however, Dad came around and was supportive enough to lend me some money to get started."
Things, however, hardly ran smoothly at first. "With loans from our parents, the four of us rented office space in Delhi and paid for the outgoings. But everything we did was questioned. Our friends and families were unsure about what we were up to. But we changed that by implementing our ideas and adapting ourselves to changing times and technologies. We also faced monetary challenges -- sometimes we had orders in hand, but no money to execute them. So we'd have to find a way to generate the funds. And because the IT boom was fairly new, people hadn't heard about new technologies. It was often a struggle to convince them," he explains.
And convincing clients from halfway across the world was even tougher. "Our gameplan was to have a software engineer friend of ours who worked in the US make contact with American clients on our behalf. He would introduce them to us, we would give them a presentation and show them how much money we could save them and it set off a chain reaction, bringing on board more clients," says Rahul.
Two years later, in 2001, Micromax joined hands with the University of California for a research initiative on embedded technology. "A professor from the university was visiting India and attended a technology workshop we were participating in," explains Rahul. "He was impressed and recommended Micromax to the university upon his return." It was during this initiative that they decided to branch into creating hardware as well and create a whole product themselves.
In 2002, the company met with even more success when it partnered with cellphone giant Nokia. "Nokia wanted to launch M2M (machine-to-machine) products in India at the time and they were looking for a partner with a technical background, who could integrate their products with third party products," Rahul continues. "Micromax fitted the bill as we had experience in embedded technology; so we were their obvious choice for M2M business. However, Nokia ended up closing their M2M business in India. So we launched the same products (fixed wireless devices) by our own brand name."
What started out as a 10-member organisation now has offices in the USA, Hong Kong, China and every state of India. From e-commerce, Micromax branched into creating mobile phone solutions and wireless technologies, and can boast of 400 employees and a turnover of Rs 400 crore. Today, they are the leaders in fixed wireless technology in India and have also launched a wide range of mobile phone handsets. "To be very frank, I never thought we'd grow so much. I didn't think anybody could ever touch Nokia. But today things are different. We have just launched a mobile technology with a 30-day battery standby, amongst other products. And half a million handsets being sold every month is not a bad figure at all! That's more than giants like Motorola are selling," he says.
Today, having seen more success than anyone could have imagined, Rahul feels a sense of pride at how much Micromax has achieved in the past decade. "I think the secret to doing well is doing what you believe in," he advises. That is very important. Whichever sector you may be interested in, make sure you understand how it will affect society. I get a sense of accomplishment from Micromax because I know it's benefitting society and helping people. Also, make sure you look at things from a long-term perspective. Especially if your area is technology, you need to see how relevant your product will be ten years from now. And don't be impatient, especially with your employees. They are an important resource, so take the time to train them properly."
So what are future plans for a company that's already scaled great heights of success? "Well, we are striving to overtake Nokia and make Micromax the number one telecom company in India. We are also working on a new IT technology for laptops and notebooks, which will be launched soon," explains this ambitious entrepreneur.
And how does a 30-something COO unwind after a long day? When Rahul is not challenging telecom biggies in the corporate world, he's playing sports. "Sports help me de-stress," he says. "When I wake up in the morning, I hit the gym before going to work. And in the evenings, I play a bit of table tennis or billiards to wind down. I've always played a lot of table tennis. In fact, I've played it at the state level as well. I also love Formula 1 -- I often travel to different countries to watch the races. I have a German friend who is as passionate about it as I am, so we sometimes make these trips together," he says. Time off that's well deserved, what say?