YourStory in conversation with entrepreneur Sailaja Nori about the business idea behind her GIS-oriented venture, GeoVista
Sailaja, introduce to us the business idea behind GeoVista.
GeoVista is a geographical survey and mapping solutions company. We survey and collect geographic and other relevant data from the area of interest and make digital maps and also, offer other visual data (pictures and video of the surveyed area) to support the map. We also build applications on our data and offer custom solutions to clients. Our major customers are government departments like Power, Roads & Buildings, Revenue department (for cadastral maps), Railways and Irrigation department and other private companies like utility networks (power, telecom, water & sewage), navigation companies, etc.
How is GeoVista different from other GIS firms? What are your flagship solutions?
GeoVista is a services company with technology as its main strength. Either in the form of processes or innovative technologies, we do and always aim to offer the simplest solution. When we started in 2009, surveying was almost an untouchable industry, because of the several challenges involved – one of the main challenges being skilled manpower, owing to the drudgery of the job.
GeoVista aims to eliminate the drudgery by the introduction of technology into the process and minimizing “land armies”. We have invested in the latest equipment to arm the surveyors and make them one-man teams and thus eliminating the need for scores of people from the field.
GeoVista has also introduced a novel technology called “Mobile Video Mapping” in India, which is essentially, capturing a 360° video of the area to be surveyed. This technology helps us completely eliminate field surveyors and allows us to conduct the survey and also, quality checks in the office as against the field. We can readily offer this service for utilities, road and rail and municipalities at the moment, for condition mapping, asset mapping, planning maps, etc. and can customize it for several other applications.
Tell us about your background.
Srikanth, my co-founder, has a Bachelor degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering from UC Davis, California. He has 7 years of experience of technical experience in the field of digital hardware and embedded systems design and testing in a major MNC.
I have a Bachelors degree in Electronics and a Masters degree in Software Systems from University of Sheffield, U.K. She has 4 years of mixed experience in GIS and IT development and Testing in an MNC.
How did the business idea for GeoVista come about? How much capital was required to implement the idea?
Srikanth was a chip design and embedded systems engineer in a large American chip design company while I was a project manager in another large IT consultancy. In 2009, we were discussing several ideas to start out on our own, with some of them being organic farming, renewable energy, smart metering soutions and LED lighting. We started research on all these. But the mapping idea gained traction almost immediately. It was a good start because of the large number of multi-state, World Bank funded projects with massive GIS components in execution as well as about to start in India at that time.
We were also able to leverage the wealth of knowledge we had access to through our father who’s been in the industry for about 20 years and is one of the stalwarts in the business.
We were really serious about this idea and began aggressively. Also, since this is an equipment and manpower intensive field, it needed a large investment. When we started in 2009, we raised about $220,000 from angels and in 2011, some limited secured bank financing. We are now looking for external funding to scale up and take this to the next level.
Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. Is there acceptance for your concept? Can you give us some incidents to illustrate the same?
GeoVista is in the process of tying up with several global and local survey products companies. We hope to announce some of these partnerships in the coming months.
Initially, we met several of our target clients and explained the theory before we had the product in hand; they still always gave us the time and listened patiently while we showed them the possible applications. However, when we later showed them the full system and pilot results, we saw immediate excitement. We gained traction when we won a major electrical survey project from TCS, who wanted to bet on this technolgy in one of their core pilot areas in Hyderabad.
We used the Mobile Video Mapping technology for the R-APDRP utility network survey project, in Hyderabad for TCS. R-APDRP is a national power reforms project and has strict standards for the use of specific technologies to ensure accuracy and timely completion. However, we convinced the clients about the efficiency of our technology over the conventional methods and we have received approval from the Power Finance Corporation, the nodal agency for the project (who disburse funds and hence, monitor quality and approve), who have recommended the technology for this project in other states.
We have, since then, been able to penetrate several new verticals and applications, sometimes to our own surprise. Our clients have been nice enough to recommend our services to other departments and sometimes other companies as well. Therefore, we have, until now, not had to engage in very active business development activities, having been busy with executing current and repeat orders. In 2011 however, we plan to beef up our BD wing to focus on a few verticals that we hadn’t concentrated on earlier and on some new ideas we’ve had along the way.
Where do you see GeoVista five years from now?
In 5 years, GeoVista hopes to be a full-lifecycle GIS solution company. We would like to go up the value chain and get involved with companies at the level of project conceptualization and specification, rather than just be a service vendor. We hope to lead the market in key niches like mobile mapping, navigational data collection as well as a few others that we have identified. Apart from this, we will be getting into hardware and primary data sales. We have a few interesting ideas in the mobile space as well which will probably see the light of execution by then! We also plan to offer services outside of India, beginning with Middle East and East Asia.
What are the challenges that you faced while developing your solutions? How did you overcome those challenges?
One of the major challenges we faced when introducing new technology is the adaptation of technology to Indian conditions and accepted processes. Our customers, being large corporates or the Government, tend to be very traditional in approach and are suspicious of new technologies. However, once a clear advantage is shown in the form of reduced costs or increased timelines, the clients are receptive. We have experienced this with the MVM technology.
Another challenge is the environment itself. In most cases, Indian conditions are worse than the specified worst-case scenario for the stress test of electronic equipment. Weather is extreme and physical conditions are not always reliable. So are skills of the labour that uses the equipment. We have, however, spent considerable time researching the best local sources for localizing and ruggedizing our system so as to make it Indian road-ready and fool-proof for usage. This was possible because the founding team has a strong foundation on electronics and systems engineering and hence, we were able to fare better than any other pure play GIS or IT company in re-engineering the technology to suit Indian condition.
How big is the team behind GeoVista? Are you looking at hiring?
GeoVista currently employs around 40 people, with around 40% in the GIS services team and the rest of them on the survey team. Apart from in-house resources, we regularly lease teams for field work, depending on projects. We have set up a great middle management set with considerable industry experience in handling teams as well as executing jobs. We are, however, always looking for talent at the execution and delivery level.
We have a constant requirement for survey manpower – people with a graduate diplomas as well as 12th class/ITI/NAC qualification and willing to work on the field.
How has the journey been so far for GeoVista?
GeoVista has been able to service about 5-6 key government and private clients in long (6-8 month) projects in the last 12-18 months. We have also been able to execute a similar number of smaller jobs with lifecycles less than a month. We plan to take up jobs in this ratio going forward since long engagements bring reliable revenue, project management skills and experience while smaller engagements usually inspire us to be creative and make forays into new verticals or to take up new kinds of jobs. These smaller jobs are more satifying and prove to be testing grounds for proposing new kinds of services to our clients.
Another interesting observation has been that fact that we have been able to use our MVM technology to shorten project lifecycles, in some cases, as radically as 10x. We were literally able to shorten a 2-month conventional mapping project to 1 week and this had a profound impact on the clients. We have been able to excite senior government servants like IAS officers and chief engineers into spending hours of their precious time, discussing the potential new applications of this game-changing technology. This has been heart-warming to witness and to be a part of.
We at YourStory wish Sailaja and the entire team at GeoVista all the very best. To know more, check out http://geovista.in/. Also, do let us know what you think of this story by writing to us at email@example.com.
Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 14th July 2011 | Bangalore