Age is no bar to startup, ask 70-year-old Achutha Bachalli of Unilog
Amidst the stories of all the young and turbo charged entrepreneurs that you read on YourStory, we have this story of Unilog Content Solutions founded by Achutha Bachalli. Achutha is over 70 years old now and is no longer actively involved in the day to day affairs at Unilog. However, 15 years ago when he decided to start Unilog Content Solutions, Achutha had reached the age when most working professionals look forward to leading a peaceful retired life. But not him.
Read on for the story of a simple professional who took up entrepreneurship very late in the day, but had the guts to go all the way.
The early days
While working, Achutha had reached the top-most position he could in his organisation. Of all the numerous trips he made abroad, he had helped his company win over $15 million through deal licensing, commissioning and engineering. “All the customers thought I was the owner of the company, and when they came to India to sign the contract I was not even there in the photographs. So I was young enough to go on an ego trip and the entrepreneur bug bit me,” says Achutha unapologetically. This raw confidence and an appetite for risk lay the foundation of Unilog Content Solutions, a data management, product cataloging and Big Data analytics firm that serves over 45 clients spread across the US and Europe.
Despite taking the decision on the spur, Achutha had decided he will not compete with his ex-employer or do anything that was in competition with them. Unilog was earlier called Shrisoft and started offering services at the lower end of the spectrum like data entry, catalogue services. Next it moved into services like data cleansing, tax on mail services and couple of years back has ventured into product development.
Suchit Bachalli, who heads sales for Unilog and is Achutha’s son, narrates the way they got their first customer. They were invited for a business pitch by Fisher Scientific, a US-based biotechnology company. “That time the cost of flight tickets was really high. The only thing my father had was a credit card. So he went to a jewellery shop, swiped the credit card, bought gold, sold the gold, got the cash and then bought the ticket to travel to the US. Those are the kind of days we have gone through. I admire his gumption and belief that it can be done; and his faith that this will work and we will win against the big company,” narrates Suchit.
Achutha was up against one of the Top 3 IT firms in the country today, and was awarded the Fisher business because he was honest enough to admit that Unilog needed the work desperately. “President of Fisher Scientific asked why should we give you the work, we admitted that we needed the work and we also told him that we will never bring a lawyer to the meeting,” recollects Achutha. This straight talk impressed the President so much, that today he – Walter Rausch – consults for Unilog and heads their sales and marketing efforts in the US.
The Fisher contract was the first big contract Unilog bagged in 2004 and since then they have grown from strength to strength.
Hard work and progress
Achutha admits entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work, and his motivation was to have a good life. But he says a lot of things have happened because of some “unknown hand or unknown force” that has been pushing things ahead. “God has been kind. A lot of things have happened without strategy. People come, help, of course, there have been a lot of rough spots, but we have emerged well. I will make a very spiritual statement again, that there was some unknown hand which has always protected me – I want to be honest with you and not claim any smartness,” says Achutha candidly. One of the things he always did was to trust people and work with them. The company has always stayed ethical in its work, their value system has been to look after its employees and Achutha personally believes that if any work is done with consciousness, it will turn out well.
Suchit admits to having only a ringside view of things because when Achutha decided to turn entrepreneur, Suchit was still a college going 17-year-old. “His last job was almost entrepreneurial in nature. He had his own P&L, own unit, developing the product and getting to market. This role probably gave a boost of confidence that he could do it on his own,” he says. Like many entrepreneurs, Achutha is a first-generation entrepreneur, who came from a family of service oriented people.
Although he was heading a chemical company, he decided to start out in IT because of the boom that the sector was witnessing at the time that Unilog started. The early years were good no doubt, but the dotcom bust in 2001 took its toll on the company. And from a workforce of 100 people, they cut down to 15 people. When Suchit joined in 2004, the company was entering the rebuild phase, and since has grown slowly and steadily over the years.
Achutha started the company with his own money and with borrowed capital from friends and family. Last year the company had revenues of six-figure million dollars and is now looking for space to expand. “One of the reasons I could stay invested is because in my previous job I had seen the whole world and I knew this area will break open in sometime. So one of the advantages of late age entrepreneurship is you have some patience,” laughs Achutha.
Unilog started with offering outsourced engineering services to consulting companies who were putting up plants, companies, chemical factories, refineries, etc. They did a lot of CAD drawings, GIS pictures, creating bill of materials and such. From a services company, Unilog has now transformed into a products company, and Suchit says they are moving towards a time when they will not offer any services without selling their product.
CIMM2 and XRF2 are the two products they sell. CIMM2 is an all-in-one e-commerce solution for any online store; while XRF2 is a Big Data product that leverages the power of SaaS for data analytics. One of the investments that Unilog is very proud of is their R&D centre in Mysore. Unilog set up its R&D center in Mysore seven years ago employing nearly 400 engineers and post graduates from in and around Mysore area. The teams have the opportunity to work on technologies in the product data management and big data analytics space, which in turn provides mission-critical products and services to global customers. “My father studied in Mysore and setting up the R&D center was more of a homecoming. Today, we consider it as the best decision in terms of feasibility, availability of quality talent and cost-effectiveness,” admits Suchit.
The 45 customers that Unilog works with helps give their employees an exposure which sometimes even project managers of big companies like Cognizant and Genpact can’t give, claims Suchit. “If you go to Mysore anytime in the night Unilog lights are on. We don’t pay them overtime, nothing. Our employees are working on live projects, real problems and if there are issues, they have to roll up their sleeves and solve the problem. There is no one sitting in the US or anywhere else to help,” says Suchit. It is perhaps this challenging environment they provide to engineering minds, that has kept their attrition rate extremely low — just three to four%. Developing mobile apps to implementing large scale solutions for Fortune 50 companies is much cherished by the Unilog team.
Talking about the future, Suchit says they have two more products under development and are working towards being a complete product company. “In 2009, we started thinking about doing products, because on one hand we were competing with Cognizants and Genpacts constantly, on the other hands we competed with these mom-and-pop shops, including ex-employees who had left and started. We had a very broad spectrum of competition,” shares Suchit. This situation made them think of ways to move out of the cost arbitrage game, and building products was the answer to the problem. “We may not offer any services at all in the future, it will be bundled with the products,” says Suchit.
Unilog, says Suchit, has a deep DNA of innovation, something which his dad started, and they will continue forever.
Looking back at the roller coaster ride that he has had, Achutha sums up his experience as thus. “Young entrepreneurs have to realise a couple of things – you need to have a good idea to startup and according to me there should not be any Plan B. Plan A itself should be good enough. They should be passionate and have enough patience. Another thing is, everything is done in a team. The person, who makes the product, sells the product and handles finance have to be three different people, it can’t be one person – that’s going to be a problem. It’s very difficult to get God in one entrepreneur – it’s all about team work. I am an old school man, I would rather look at my cash flow and make it profitable,” he suggests.