Once upon a time
There are umpteen successful businessmen and although we might attest to the top layer, either a rags-to-riches OR money and manpower to their achievements. Neither poverty nor being rich has a role to play in becoming successful in a business. Then what is? Struggle, learning, and persistence.
Coming from a Marwari family of businessmen, this young lad saw his father, his grandfather, work their way to business.
“My father is 76 and he works eight hours a day”, says Vikas Bagaria.
That’s a pretty high bar for any son. Not that his father has a raging fire to earn money, but he just wants to keep himself busy. Vikas Bagaria was brought up in Kolkata around dinner table conversations about business ideas and new prospects. But there was a much closer inspiration in his life, a driving force which fueled his own journey. His sister, Suman Nathwani, a designer who revolutionized the bed & boudoir clothing for women by bringing in a line of lingerie clothing in India.
“She started when she was 16. Thirty years back, coming from an orthodox Marwari family.”
After completing his graduation in economics and masters in computer application, he joined his father’s business of Material Handling Equipment and moved to Delhi to work on the contract with the Airport Authority of India(AAI) for handling the import and export of cargo.
Vikas Bagaria, Coal Miner, and 18 Months
In the 2000s the Delhi Airport under AAI underwent privatization, which although was a good move for the larger audience but the contract with them was scraped. There were two options for Mr. Bagaria, either go back to Kolkata or do something for himself in Delhi.
“I got in touch with a company in Dallas who were doing some amazing work towards damage prevention. I started a joint venture with them.”
Before the formed SRV Control started catering to clients from ISRO, Indian Air Force, Nuclear, T&D, Pharma, Electronics, Oil & gas sectors, there was an eighteen-month hiatus where he couldn’t make one sale! No revenue from 2002 March — 2003 September.
“There is a push not just from the family and friends but from within as well. 4 months, 8 months, a year. Being told to try something new. Questioning myself, am I doing something wrong? Sleepless nights, apprehensions, and doubts were the order of the day.”
“What kept me going? Consider the example of a coal miner looking for coal, digging away. Ten months down the line he loses hope and gives up, when he didn’t realize he was just two strokes away from his goal.”
Consider the number of startups coming and going. Now put that in the frame of reference of the coal miner. How is the miner supposed to realize until when he should continue. Now we’re talking in a very subjective realm but still, there has to be something that we can control?
“One, I saw people around the world responding to the same product and they were successful, so now the question was why not in India. Two, I did my research. Is it the right time for this in India? After the Internet bubble burst, industry in India was rising again, government was performing well, and trust that India will eventually catch up with other countries. I took all the elements into consideration and continued persistently.”
The word startup didn’t exist then as it does today, it was just business. The purpose then was how to make the enterprise profitable. Raising money like today, wasn’t even on the table.
The Safety Realization
Things were now going well for Mr. Vikas Bagaria. He was able to provide for his family and himself.
“I was about to turn 40. Traveling around. Providing for my family. That is when I started feeling, ‘What am I doing? Where is the purpose? And then the Nirbhaya incident happened in December, 2012. I realized how little people think about safety in India. Child, Women, or Road.’’
This was the period when the child of IT industry grew up. E-commerce. Mr. Vikas Bagaria had set his mind to work for safety. Combine that with his pull towards E-Commerce, he started SaketyKart.
“A, I wanted to do something for safety. No one was doing it. B, well B represents business.”
Before the end of December 2012, SafetyKart was live. In 2013, their growth skyrocketed. Probably because people then, in that moment, understood the importance of safety.
Think about it this way, most homes have a fire extinguisher outside their homes, in the staircase, but a fire in kitchen or condenser unit isn’t rare. Now you’d have to purchase a fire extinguisher which will last 5 years and the safety is, not have to ever use it. The same was true for health insurance a couple of decades back.
“Within a year, we realized the E-commerce space was tricky. People would switch for a rupee’s discount. Customer loyalty was an issue. After 18 months we realized that safety doesn’t sell in India.”
The Road Trip, Public Restroom, and Pee Safe
Safety is only spoken about when there is an imminent threat. But there was an untoward incident which gave birth to a new avenue to hygiene.
“My wife Srijana and I, were on a road trip to Dwarika. We had to abandon our trip in Rajkot when she caught an illness and we had to fly back from Ahmedabad. She was diagnosed with a severe case of UTI(Urinary Tract Infection) through the use of a public restroom.”
During that period she thought as to what lead to her contraction of the infection. SARS in China brought the practice of using hand sanitizers. The thought process behind, how infections from such encounters can be prevented, started.
“When she brought this up, I said ‘We already have toilet cleaners’. But before she brought it up, it never occurred to me that we never clean toilet seats. And then, she came up with the name Pee Safe.”
His experience and expertise taught to the extent that Ms. Srijana took ill on 13th December and the bottled samples of Pee Safe on 14th January. They sent out 500 samples to friends and family to test the utility, not one of them said it didn’t help them. Xerox or Dettol replaced the name of the utility as their name, and PeeSafe came to be known as the product name for ‘Toilet seat sanitation’.
There was no end to the stories I could have explored with him or the lessons to be learnt.
But the one I took home was, “Work and persistence are important but only when coupled with timely action.” I hope you found yours.
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