NASSCOM EMERGEOUT Startup 6: Sriram Raghavan, CEO, Comat


Sriram Raghavan serves as the CEO of Comat and is responsible for driving revenue growth and interacting with key customers, partners, and investors of the company. Earlier, he founded Comat Data Services in the United States, which was subsequently sold in 2002. Sriram returned to Comat India in 2003, and since then has overseen the creation of one of the largest organizations providing access to essential government, education, and financial services to the poor. Under his leadership, Comat secured several prestigious awards, including the NASSCOM Innovation Award for its unique business model, and the Legatum FORTUNE Technology Prize for applying business and technology solutions that dramatically improve the lives of the poor.

In recognition of his work, Sriram was nominated for the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the World Technology Network in 2005, and won the Super Achiever of the Year Award in 2006. Recently, he has also been honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for 2010. Sriram is a serial entrepreneur and holds a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering.

Comat, in which Sriram is the senior executive, enables access to information based services to citizens in rural India. Established in 1996, Comat has successfully merged business profitability with social welfare. Its business model is oriented towards economic development of underserved markets, by providing services like employability training, job creation, financial inclusion, and essential government services. Comat is a leader in its business by successfully mapping the needs of India’s rural population and efficiently delivering the same through a network of Rural Business Centers.

Comat operates a network of over 2000 centers spread across 5 Indian states that serve more than 50,000 rural citizens daily. In December 2008, Comat won the first-ever Legatum FORTUNE Technology Prize, an award that recognizes the work of for-profit enterprises, whose application of technology solutions foster social and economic growth, and dramatically improve the lives of poor people.

Comat is a venture and private equity funded organization. The current investors are Omidyar Network, Unitus Equity Fund, Avigo, and ENAM. Comat’s success is marked by an enduring set of corporate values that emphasize innovation, collaboration, perseverance, integrity, unfailing leadership, and corporate citizenship.

The social entrepreneur who has made a difference to rural lives through Comat shares his views on entrepreneurship with NASSCOM EMERGEOUT startup initiative.

  1. Why did you take up entrepreneurship journey?

Sriram: I found myself becoming an entrepreneur almost by accident when I co-founded Comat fresh out of college. There was no real blueprint that I followed, but the drive came from the spirit of enterprise, discovery, and an urge to use technology to bring about social change. My efforts are focused on implementing large-scale high-impact projects that can alleviate poverty by enabling people better access to essential information and services. I remain an entrepreneur largely due to the unfailing support and perseverance I have received from my team that has led to the successful implementation of several of our ideas.

2. What keeps you going (how and where do you find your motivation levels)?

Sriram: The large population in rural India that is living in isolation and the extent of exploitation they face continues to motivate me to bring about change. I realized that individuals do not know their rights, leave alone fight for them, and that some of the most important information, like the procedure for applying for a social security pension, is very cryptic and not understood by the average rural citizen. This motivated me to use technology differently and innovatively to bridge the information gap, eliminate middlemen and rampant corruption, and establish greater transparency in public service delivery.

  1. 3. What is your advice to wannabe entrepreneurs in India?

Sriram: Having an inherent sense of values, being true to oneself, and believing in humility and integrity are key qualities to achieving success as an entrepreneur. It is common for any new entrepreneur to face much uncertainty and chaos surrounding their work, and this can be more striking when one is working with the government in India. So in the process of handling constant and tiresome setbacks and hurdles, I would advise them to not lose sight of the long-term vision. It is also very important to help one’s team understand the purpose of their work, to always remember what they set out to achieve together, and that they owe it to their customers to deliver quality services.

  1. 4. What success means to you and your organization?

Sriram: Much of my current work is about enhancing access to information through effective use of technology and this is a highly challenging issue. I hope to continue working in this space and demystify information for rural citizens so that they can actively participate in the community and demand their rightful entitlements from the government. I believe that this will go a long way in empowering rural communities, and this will ultimately define success for both me and my organization.

  1. 5. What are your learning’s from the failures?

Sriram: Given the complexities and inherent challenges associated with working in rural India and the government, we have been exposed to several hurdles coming from multiple stakeholders and their shifting priorities. Over the years, we have realized that the best way to overcome these challenges comes from asking the right questions and gaining a well-rounded understanding of the problems.

A clarity of vision, unfazed by setbacks and obstacles, coupled with leveraging technology for rural empowerment, makes Sriram unique in his quest to make a difference. An early mover into social entrepreneurship, he has had the courage to carry on despite facing many hurdles.

As part of the Indian startup NASSCOM EMERGEOUT initiative, five entrepreneurs have shared their views. To know what they are, please log on to the links given below.

1. Kishore Mandyam of PK4 Software,

2. Anil Pagar of Spadeworx,

3. Ajay Sharma of Shristi Software,

4. Pallav Nadhani of InfoSoft Global (FusionCharts),

5. Manoj Srivatsava of Hanu Software,

NASSCOM EMERGEOUT Conclave, Chennai, April 30, 2010

NASSCOM EMERGEOUT conclave comes to Chennai on 30 April 2010. With “Nurturing the IT DNA in India’s growth sectors” as its theme, the conclave’s objective is to help understand what opportunities do the growth sectors present for you and how you can tap into these emerging opportunities.

Mr. Bharat Goenka, founder, Tally Software is the keynote speaker. The story of Tally was started with a belief and vision of one man – Mr. Bharat Goenka. A truly Made in India product Made for India. Would you miss hearing him?

Please register for the conference here.

Contributed by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, Chief Evangelist, YourStory