“Ramani is principled, energetic, passionate and exemplifies the force that builds great technology companies.”, says his site about one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs. Throughout his stint at the high echelons of the Indian corporate world, this bespectacled and humble man was responsible for many firsts in the Indian software and communication technology business. It was an immense learning experience to have him amidst us to deliver a guest lecture yesterday on ‘Entrepreneurship and successful business models’. He took us on a journey, a jouney of his 40 years of professional experiences, a journey in which we occupied the window seats as scene after scene of his tryst with entrepreneurship passed by.
A gist of the lecture follows –
Mr. KV Ramani started his career with IBM way back in 1970 when computers were unheard of in India and the economy had not opened up. One of the very few in India to be handpicked by IBM for training – Mr. Ramani’s intention to get into a non-traditional career path was aptly fulfilled. There began his tryst with the pre-liberalization bureaucracy.
The vision and commitment:
Quick to spot trends, way back in early 80s, Mr. Ramani realized that computers and communications were merging. (IBM had created SBS (Satellite business systems) and the Government of India announced a software policy to promote software exports). He founded Future Software in 1985 with the mission of building communication software out of India. Funds proving hard to come by, he had to convince the banks to lend, shuttle between Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi for customs approvals, suffice it to say that not many Government servants believed the idea to be a profitable one at that point in time. The several anecdotes of encounters with Government and bank officials were examples of the triumph of perseverance. Thanks to that virtue in the man, a whole new territory that was never explored was thrown open!
The vision of Future software was driven by the emerging scenario. With talent in limited supply, Mr. Ramani had to recruit managers and train them himself. The most difficult part of any new business is to test the potential of the business plan and in the absence of clear role models, it became all the more daunting.
The Growth story:
After demonstrating its potential in the first project, Future software grew slowly and steadily to ~65 employees in 3-4 years. With the first few successes, the ability of Indians to provide advanced technology was firmly established. The economy opened up and the ambitions began to soar – to leverage technology as a base and get into IP (Intellectual Property) business, to develop protocol stacks from India and deliver them on licence with added services for implementation, to expand into world markets, to deliver full systems instead of modules culminating finally in an intention to tie up with an international player.
The firm worked on a talent arbitrage model as opposed to a cost arbitrage model and invested nearly 20% of revenues in Research and development. Just when it was about to go the IPO way, the dot-com bust slowed the momentum a little. Mr. Ramani also saw an opportunity in a threat and helped set up Hughes Software Systems in India and acquired equity in it. Meanwhile, Future Software specialized in telecommunications and networking space. In 2004, Flextronics acquired the firm along with 4 other firms in a first of its kind acquisition. Mr. Ramani agreed to be on the board to help with the merger. He has also served as the chairman of NASSCOM.
After the lecture, Mr. Ramani took some of our questions and in response to one question on the changing scenario in India for entrepreneurs, he said that there is a paradigm shift.
Paradigm shift in entrepreneurship:
Entry barriers in India are now almost nonexistent. Anybody who is passionate about a new concept and who has an ability to look out for cues and visualise the future 5 years on can make the best use of the available ecosystem.
Entrepreneurship – the buzzword that appeals to each and every student of business at some point in their lives – is more about vision, passion, perseverance and commitment. It is about working around every hurdle that crops up, having the ability to see at least 5 years into the future and a steely commitment to implementation and operations in the face of constant change.
In Mr. Ramani’s words, “If you are committed, somehow you will make it work”!