| In 1995, Sabeer Bhatia started Hotmail with his idea--of a free, Internet-based email service that can be accessed anywhere in the world--and seed capital from pioneering venture fund Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The service was commercially launched on 4 July 1996. The idea found takers, 8.5 million of them by December 1997. That month itself, Microsoft Corporation, the world’s largest software company, bought it off him for a whopping $400 million. |
That’s the power of a good idea. In the last decade, businesses like Hotmail have rewritten the rules of starting a new business. The first idea that has been junked is that you need a large amount of capital to get it off the ground. The second concept to go was that you must make a tangible product to sell. Their demise has been helped in no small measure by the increasing access of the common man to the Internet, as well as by the emergence of the services, rather than manufacturing as a huge and fast-growing sector. Further, the emergence of angel investors, venture capitalists and private equity funds has made it easier, although still not easy, to fund a new venture. The first new requirement for new-generation businesses is what old advertising hands would call the big idea, the ability to spot unmet needs for products or services.
One, two, clean a shoe ... Take the case of Mumbai's Sandeep Gajakas. He saw a lot of otherwise cleanly dressed people going around in expensive, but dirty, footwear. That was because age-old methods were not good enough for cleaning hi-tech branded shoes that used different materials and textures.
So, armed with a knowledge of chemicals and cleaning methods and all of Rs 7,000, he started a shoe cleaning service, Shoe Laundry, four years ago. His service appealed to company brass, TV and film stars, models and politicians, among others, who did not mind spending Rs 120 a pop to have their costly sneakers looking like new. Today he has the likes of Yash Chopra and family among his clients and his turnover has ramped up to about Rs 1.5 lakh a month. While initially he did all the cleaning himself--he did not trust anyone else to do the job--he has now hired help to keep his business growing.
Low entry fee. Gajakas is not the only one who has managed to turn a good idea into a successful business. The table 20 Businesses You Can Start Within Rs 5 Lakh is about initiatives that do not require very high seed capital, taking into account both the initial capital expenditure as well as the working capital required to get rolling. In each case, somebody has actually made a success of it. And all of them can be replicated, although the specialised knowledge that most of them need creates an entry barrier that keeps competition in check and prevents them from becoming commoditised.
Spot a need. Few things can be more mundane than cleaning a drinking water tank. But Mumbai-based Sunil Uplap thought there was a job to be done when he saw tobacco chewing, beedi-smoking men cleaning one. So, in 1995, he set up TanClean, which uses modern cleaning and disinfection methods to ensure the water is potable. Today, TanClean operates in 87 cities and towns now and Uplap is on the lookout for more franchisees.
The dotcom bust of 2000 proved that you cannot succeed simply because the entry barrier is low. But Bangalore-based Phanindra Sama, Charan Padmaraju and Sudhakar Pasupunuri proved that good ideas still work with www.redbus.in. It is one of the few websites through which you can buy bus tickets in India, just as you buy air tickets over the Net. Investment is low, but you need grit to stick through the initial stages, says Sama. Sanjay Anandaram, managing director of JumpStartUp, provides the perspective: “Bus service is usually ignored, but in India it is a $2 billion-plus (approx. Rs 8,000 crore) industry.”
Hyderabad’s V. Pani Kumar Reddy has found a novel way of bringing demand and supply together. His Dial-A-Meal has tied up with restaurants in Hyderabad to deliver food to all parts of the town. Today, it is a household name in that city.
Bangalore-based Kiran Gopinath’s Ozone Media is an Internet advertising network. It brings together those with advertising space on the Web and those who need it. He partners online publishers to take advertising reach across the world. His initial investment was just Rs 3 lakh, but his success is also a proof of his networking ability.
Even the killing pace of today’s life can throw up an opportunity. Bangalore-based Sandeep Chakrabarti’s Outrigor organises stress-busting trips for others. Says Chakrabarti, “I was a little hesitant in the beginning and did not want to put all my savings in a business venture.” Initially, he used to hire equipment to keep costs down. Now he has his own.
Business creates more business. E-States International of Pune-based Sachin Dhanwala and Sundip Joshy will take over the job of finding the right office space for companies, which can be quite a headache. Say Joshy and Dhanwala, “We will not only find a place or two but also take care of all the paper work, which can be quite time consuming.” The spreading boom has brought opportunities for professional housekeeping companies too. Says Delhi-based Ramesh Verma, who owns housekeeping firm Collections: “With many malls and BPOs coming up in different parts of the country, there is a lot of scope for the success of such a venture.” Ritu Mukherji, who owns Delhi’s Pristine Interiors, which does housekeeping for hotels, adds: “The real investment that a person needs to make is their time and knowledge.” Her business is based on the 16 years of experience she had with the Oberoi group. And Arvind Pandey’s eponymous Concierge 4 India offers concierge services to expatriates. With more of them moving to India, there is enough and more opportunity for anyone who enters this field.
Ride the boom. The BPO upsurge has made data security a growing concern. Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations takes care of this by checking the credentials of prospective employees. Managing director Krishnendu Biswas says the “growth potential is massive”. Sridhar Pai, a 15-year telecom industry veteran, set up Tons Telecom to mentor newcomers and even help them work out their business plans. Event management is growing in India and managers often need temporary staff. Mumbai’s Chirag Bhatia and Varun Parekh bring them in touch with students wanting to supplement their pocket money.
Deepak Mendiratta has been successfully using his expertise and knowledge of insurance to bolster the revenues of his Noida-based revenue credit billing company, Heath Insurance Integrated. His job is to handle the paperwork and complications that arise when patients make payments in credit and claim the amount due from their parent organisation.
Do what you love. Passion is a key element in these ventures. You need loads of it. That's what lies behind chocolate freak Rashmi Vaswani's Rage Chocolatiers in Bangalore. Appreciation for a casual chocolate preparation for a friend two years ago got her an order of 150 kg of customised chocolates, and there was no looking back. Like her, you too can give a new twist to a common product. With average incomes in India soaring, weddings are becoming more opulent and a need has arisen to creatively organise them for others. Delhi-based Rita Bhasin’s TAB Events has been doing just that. “Seed capital is minimal, but what one really has to invest is time,” she says. Prakash Mundhra of Pune has made a business out of his skill at sourcing gifts for festive occasions. His Sacred Moments makes designer puja and festival kits, down to the last agarbatti.
KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
Finally, we leave you with five more business ideas that have been successful in the West, but have not seen much activity in India yet. Given that some aspects of life are becoming homogeneous across the world, it is just a matter of time before Indians, too, start demanding these services. To that extent, we think they have good prospects. What’s more, you should be able to start them for Rs 5 lakh or less. Here goes.
Home inspection. Looking for a house to buy or rent can get pretty tedious. Many would be grateful if someone shortlisted houses for them--for a fee.
E-bargain website. A website that simplifies the job of choosing the best price--for toasters, trucks and anything in between--is bound to find lots of users.
Payroll administration. This includes tax deduction at source, PF contributions and tax-saving investments. Target clients: SMEs that cannot spend too much on administrative expertise.
Website for children. A website that lists children's names for parents to choose from and also investment options to save for your child's future.
Warehousing services. The job of transporting products from warehouses to retail outlets.
With such a wide range of choice available to start small and think big, what are you waiting for? Go, start up!