Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Custom Courier Products get Startup Cash Registers Ringing.

ONE key trait of entrepreneurs is to see opportunity in a crisis. When a company gets into financial trouble, it can make a typical employee quit in fear and find safety in another job. Then there are others, who will stick with the company and let events dictate to them. There are only a few who will use the chance to turn entrepreneurs. Ashis Nain is one of those who avoided the risk of job loss to embrace the risk of their own start-up.

At the age of 36, Mr Nain was otherwise happy as the chief operating officer of Elbee Services, the express logistics company that was only second to Blue Dart. But Elbee Services was in trouble as its foray into air cargo was struggling to cope with the business impact of some air crashes. Losses suffered as of March 2000 were close to Rs 36 crore. “Things were not moving in the right direction” and he decided to quit, Mr Nain says recalling his moment of reckoning. He loved the business and he would do something on his own.

And he incorporated ExpressIT. Mr Nain didn’t want a “plain vanilla” express company delivering documents or parcels to umpteen locations. He wanted to build a niche. Six months of research showed him that Blue Dart’s customised services to business users were going virtually unchallenged by other existing players. “Customers were getting uneasy about that and were looking for an alternative to the market leader,” he says. That need for a second player, which could hope to be one up on Blue Dart, with similar services led to the creation of ExpressIT.

It all started with the pick-up and delivery of bank documents, debit and credit cards and such, but ExpressIT has since built a bouquet of services around this core offering. For instance, banking transactions such as issue of credit cards and loans require door delivery services, customer support and verification tasks.

A call centre does the marketing, a local agent helps in filling up the documents, another agency carries out verification and maintains database and a service provider delivers the product. ExpressIT wanted to straddle this entire supply chain. “What we told our customers is that having a single window is much more cost effective and convenient,” says Mr Nain. ExpressIT calls this customer management logistics and boasts of clients like GE Money, Deutsche Bank and ICICI Bank.

Another innovation is print & delivery. An online stock broking firm usually has various documents, which it has to print and deliver to its customers. It employs different agencies for these two functions. One that carries out the printing and another the delivery. “We offered to do both,” says Mr Nain.

Today, ExpressIT prints and delivers close to 5,000 documents for Networth Stock Broking each day. Mr Nain, though, believes that there is one reason why these service offerings have succeeded with customers. “While for a large organisation Blue Dart wasn’t flexible, we have been able to do that,” he says. With over 200 branches across India, ExpressIT clocked a turnover of Rs 32 crore last year.

With logistics being an important part of a growing economy, ExpressIT can hope to leverage its track record for bigger revenues. But even if there were to be a crisis in the industry, Mr Nain wouldn’t lose his sleep. As he recalls bailing out from a beleaguered company, he expresses confidence that his own start-up will seek to turn a crises into an opportunity to move to the next level.

Article Resource:
The article appeared in The Economic Times, Mumbai in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".

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