Aiming at Perpetuity
For the past twelve years a company has been diligently making a name for themselves in the field of converged communication, surveillance and related technology solutions. Not only have they set standards that make their clientele more than happy they have set their sights on the Holy Grail of Entrepreneurship aiming to make themselves a “Perpetual Entity”. Shriprakash R. Pandey spoke to Yourstory on how he established a successful communication venture and revealed his methods too.Could you sum up the work that you have been doing at Commtel for our readers?
Commtel Networks has been in business since 1998 and growing at an average rate of 40% for the past 12 years. Commtel is a turnkey provider of converged communication, surveillance and related technology solutions, tailored for our customers in Oil & Gas, Power, Transportation and Defence Sectors. We have a rich portfolio of products as well as professional services in the areas of Systems Design Engineering, Integration, Implementation, Project Management and Multi location Supply Chain Management as well as a 24x7 support. We design, build and manage networks over fiber, radio or copper media and seamlessly integrate triple play services to meet our customers’ business objectives.
What are the primary sectors that your communication services cover?
Commtel’s business is primarily a B2B play. Having customers who empower the nation’s infrastructure by providing Oil, Gas, Power, Railways and Road Transportation makes it incumbent on Commtel to provide them with professional engineering services and technology support to keep nations infrastructure running ceaselessly. 20,000 Kms of telecom networks deployment and more than 50% of Oil & Gas pipeline utilizing communication system set up by Commtel, corroborates the fact that we are here for our customers and people alike. The systems and services which we provide is an important part of our customers’ assets as it helps them operate and maintain their business in a safe and secure manner. Our advanced engineering and technology solutions, built around hazardous establishments and operating under testing conditions have been extremely reliable and ensured safety of people who operate them.
What has the growth of your company been like in the last 12 years?
The company has grown from revenues of INR 62.76 Lakhs in first financial year 1998-99 to INR 44.98 Crores in financial year 2009-10. The average growth over the past 12 years has been about 40% YoY. We presently employ 145 personnel among which 70% are engineering professionals. We have 4 branches in India and subsidiary companies in United Arab Emirates and United States of America.
What has been the single best contract your organization has worked on?
Securing a single order of INR 22.50 Crores for one of the major pipeline projects in India in the financial year 2007-08 was one of the major milestones. In addition, we are very proud to state that we have very high level of customer retention and our employee attrition is also very low. The 12 year average attrition rate is around 7%.
Could you explain the business model that has been developed at Commtel over the last 12 years?
The Commtel 3C customer engagement Model 'Conceptualize, Construct and Care’, developed over the past decade enables us to engage with our customers on a single point responsibility basis and ensures that they are not left with fragmented solutions. Over the past 12 years our efforts have led to the formation of a dynamic ecosystem, comprising of trusted partners and valued customers, tightly hinged on inter-dependability, long term relationships and trust. More than 80% of our business comes from repeat customers, year on year, bolster the fact that deep customer engagement process have kept us afloat as the best in business. The growth engines of Commtel have been for years, it’s highly experienced engineering talent pool backed by a committed and proactive customer care unit which makes the combination a perfect service enhancer for customers and partners alike.Commtel’s business is divided in the following four segments;
Turnkey Solutions- We design, engineer, integrate, supply, install, test & commission and manage all the activities for turnkey execution of converged telecommunication and surveillance systems projects. Our design and implementation capability ranges from simple point to point network to complex converged telecommunication network comprising multiple systems designed to meet specific Customer needs.
Product Solutions- Commtel Networks provide a vast range of products in telecommunication and surveillance systems. Having designed, deployed and supported systems built on various technologies, we have a track record of delivering world-class products either as part of a turnkey solution or on a purely supply basis
24x7 Support and Maintenance Services- Commtel's Helpdesk service provides its Customers technical and operational staff with the assistance needed to resolve problems that may occur in the daily operations of the End-User's network. This support is provided via telephone or an email uninterrupted 24x7.
Advanced Engineering Services- Working with the design team of our Customers we identify their functional requirement and tailor a solution which meets the requirement to its fullest. Having engineered systems for various applications in the Energy and Hi-Tech sector, we possess substantial skills to evaluate and recommend technology which most suits the functional requirements for telecommunications and surveillance
What is currently on the agenda table for Commtel? Are you looking at growing your operations?
Commtel’s expansion plans are as follows:
Maintain the utilities market leadership in India.
Commtel for the past 3 years has been securing more than 45% market share for providing telecommunication solutions in the Oil & Gas, Power and Transportation sectors. We will maintain this leadership position and continue to grow this domination as there is a huge outlay of investments in these three sectors over the next 3-5 years.Margin Improvement through backward integration.
Our product development initiatives are in progression and once it is fully tested and approved by various approving agencies and customers we will offer this product as part of our solutions. Efforts would also be made to sell the product directly which would surely improve Commtel’s bottom line in the years to come.
Expand Business in Middle East and Africa.
Extensive effort will be made to grow our business in the MEA markets through our wholly owned subsidiary Commtel Networks FZE. Strategic Alliances with large EPC companies operating in the MEA region are being put in place in addition to the direct business development and marketing initiatives.
Drive exponential growth through focused North America go-to market effort.
United Commtel, which is our subsidiary company in USA, is poised for an exponential growth. The management team is in place and they are driving the business forward with a challenge to build the India base as an ENGINEERING PROCESS OUTSOURCE CENTER of United Commtel in next 18-24 months.
Penetrate the India defense market.
Indian Defense telecom spending is second only to the main stream telecom market. It is incumbent on us to have a focused strategy in developing and penetrating this market in India. A comprehensive defense market penetration plan is being prepared and the same will be rolled out in coming months. The GOAL is to make defense market contribute at least 10-15% to our annual revenues from FY 2011-12 onwards.
Was entrepreneurship a planned event or a stroke of fortune for you?
Being an entrepreneur was not a planned transition. Prior to setting up Commtel Networks, I used to work with Olex Cables, a large Australian multinational organisation. Olex decided to fold its projects operations globally. As I was heading the Indian Operations at that point of time, I decided to set-up a new company and continue the same work that Olex was doing in India. Thus, Commtel was born on 31st July, 1998. We were 14 people in Olex then and we all joined Commtel. Our customers continued to get the same level of support and services from the same team, under a new banner.
What has kept you in entrepreneurship for the last decade?
We have committed to our employees that we are building an organisation for perpetual existence and at the same time committed to our customers by accepting their purchase orders. It is this sense of responsibility towards all our employees and customers which keeps me rooted.
What was the most difficult part about transitioning from being an employee to a stakeholder?
There have been few major challenges. During the formative stages of the company it was critical that we have a strong team who could keep the business going. As the human capital as well as the cash capital was in limited supply, we continued to serve our customers with the best of what we had. Always staying on the lookout for newer opportunities to expand our customer base and aggressive pitching got the best out of us. What has defined Commtel is the quality of service it has provided over the years without compromising on its set principles of yearning for holistic growth.
What do you think is a challenge that (Indian) entrepreneurs should be focused on conquering?
The biggest challenge is scaling up the business and making it a perpetual entity. Easy access to funds is not available. If at all you have access to some fund it comes with a lot of encumbrance and performance expectations. This results in negative pressure on the entrepreneurs and they are unable to scale up the business as the goal is then to somehow return the capital and not business growth.
How did you raise the seed capital to run Commtel?
Olex had given INR. 5 Lakhs as severance allowance and one of my very close friends Mr. K. R. Shashi wrote a cheque for another INR. 5 Lakhs and thus the company commenced its operations with INR 10 Lakhs as seed capital. We were fortunate to have existing business coming in from the customers transitioned through Olex which gave additional capital support for us to scale up.
What is the outlook that entrepreneurs should approach their goals with?
Thomas Alva Edison has quoted, “Opportunity is often missed by most as it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. I would reiterate the same, spot the opportunities, invest time and effort to turn it into a possibility and then work with lot of rigour and passion to make it a reality. Building a business is a constant and perennial engagement. We need to keep our long term goal in mind and work towards it continuously.
Yourstory wishes Shriprakash R. Pandey many more successful years at the helm of Commtel and hopes that posterity will bear witness to their excellence.