Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Long Leap: From Setting up Websites to Big-ticket Embedded Solutions

STORIES of companies that perished when the dotcom bubble burst and those that survived the crisis with grit and innovation are now the stuff of entrepreneur lore. Chennai-based GoDB Tech is one such company that has reinvented itself successfully. Today, its success as a player to be counted in the service delivery applications in partnership with top companies such as Texas Instruments (TI) is a long leap for a company that was once building websites.

Though lesser-known than some of its counterparts, GoDB has managed to grow substantially and get contracts from multinational customers that use TI chips in their devices. Its embedded software business is less than a year old, but already the company is working on a partnership with Analog Devices, another major chip player. GoDB’s application works on chip platforms and the company rides on such partnerships to access a wide range of customers.

“Our goal is to reach as many customers as we can. The marketing costs are minimal since we are going through our partners. For example, TI introduces us to its clients and if the clients are convinced, they sign up with us,” said founder-director Mahavir P Chand.

The company had clocked revenues of Rs 1.5 crore in the first year (2000-01) itself, but many of its dotcom clients folded up soon, leaving the company with an uncertain future. Chand and his co-founders, Raja Raman and Ravi Kiran, had to look for a new opportunity to keep the company afloat. They had already developed expertise in the area of service delivery, which helps data updation and synchronisation of live websites. They sought to convert this into a platform that could be used by companies to capture data from field staff for supply chain management.

Initial revenues and a funding of Rs 3 crore from Intel in October 2001 saw it through the difficult years when the company was investing in product development without earning any revenues. The decision to build the platform had been a smart one, freeing the company from dependence on internet properties and giving it a toehold in the corporate segment. However, getting customers for this was proved to be tough.

GoDB Tech founders Raja Raman (sitting), Ravi Kiran (left) & Mahavir Chand

“There were times when we questioned the wisdom of it,” recollects Chand. In fact, 2003-04 was the only time Chand came close to considering chucking it all and going back to a job. But in the end, he and the other founders, decided to stick it out and the lucky break came soon in the form of a big order from Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever) in 2005. “Then, we knew we were home,” Chand said. Others like the ICICI group, which had placed small orders initially, also started coming back for more. Today, its enterprise customers include HDFC Bank, Tata AIG, Standard Chartered, Reliance Capital, ICICI and of course, Hindustan Unilever.

In 2005-06, the company took Kalyan Chakravarthy, who had successfully nurtured a business and sold it to Flextronics a few years earlier, as an advisor. Under Chakravarthy’s guidance, the company tweaked the application that was already being used on PDAs by Hindustan Unilever’s agents, and demonstrated it to TI. TI tested it and was quite happy to recommend it to one of its clients. From then on, the company’s embedded solutions grew to account a fourth of revenues, the enterprise segment accounting for the rest. Future revenues are expected to be split equally between the two businesses, Chand said.

Unlike many companies of that time, GoDB has diverged from the beaten track of building dotcom companies with an eye on quick valuations and sell-out opportunities. Its founders stayed patient even in the face of adversity. The company is now looking to scale up, given that embedded technology is spreading rapidly among mobile and computing devices.

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Author: N Shivapriya is the cheif editor in the Economic Times and the article appeared in one of their successful columns called "Starship Enterprise".

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