This entrepreneur from Guwahati is taking IT to the interiors of Northeast India
Guwahati is one of the many cities in India which is yet to build a startup ecosystem. However, way back in 2004, Sanjeev Sarma stepped out of the regular job cycle and branched out in search for ‘something more fulfilling’.
He chucked up his cushy job in IBM ACE (Advance Career Education), a venture of IBM Global Services, and started “rupaliparda.com,” a bilingual portal for the entertainment industry of Assam, under his startup organisation WebX.
He holds a master’s degree in computer application and started his professional career with ZAP Infotech Limited as a Software consultant.
His father was an Indian Army officer, hence the family traveled to different parts of the country. Being an Assamese, his father thought Guwahati would be a great place to settle down after retirement. Reminiscing a sad anecdote, Sanjeev says, “Although I wanted to start my venture outside Assam, the sudden demise of my father restricted me to do so. Guwahati had limited resources, but I took that as my ‘Karmabhumi’ and started exploring whatever limited opportunities I had.”
Rupaliparda.com used to cater to various aspects of Assamese entertainment industry like its history, current affairs, articles, directory, who’s who, interview, reviews and a repository for audio and video files. The concept at that point in time was pretty new and therefore could not gain significant traction. However, without losing much hope he decided to revamp the website and now it is running with a good viewership. Sanjeev aims to make Rupaliparda.com the first Internet TV from Northeast India.
Sanjeev started WebX as a startup firm in 2004 and in 2008, when both his elder and younger brothers joined the bandwagon, it turned into a private limited company and became WebX Technologies. Now the company has three full-time directors heading three divisions – Software Services, IT Infrastructure Management Services, and IT Sales & Marketing.
The company offers a full range of IT services ranging from system analysis to solution implementation with high-quality technical support.
Sanjeev says, “WebX is a professional IT consulting company and provider of complete enterprise IT solutions, which involves planning, design, developing, and maintaining IT Infrastructure, both onsite and remote. We gather requirements, envision the solution, evaluate the options available for the solution, perform the time/people/resources trade-offs, design the solution, and then communicate all of these to the key stakeholders and our team.”
In the name of seed capital, Sanjeev had only Rs. 15,000. But this big challenge has bowed down in front of his strong conviction. Nothing stopped him to sail his dream boat. He borrowed two desktops from his friends. Moreover, poor internet connectivity, lack of Internet awareness, shortage of quality manpower, and geographical disconnect added to his woes. After wading out in the sea of problems, he finally managed to acquire his first client Assam State transport Corporation (ASTC).
Initially, it was very difficult for him to convince them about something that involved technology, as Assam was less advanced in term of information technology. But later his task became easy when a new MD, Ramesh Ch. Jain, joined ASTC and was willing to computerise the organization as ASTC was going through a very bad phase.
Sanjeev says, “I presented him the idea of online ticketing system. Though he was quite interested, he was told by an IT expert that it is not possible. I took it as a challenge and completed the project in 15 days. The entire system was running on only 64 kbps leased line.”
This successful project has generated employment opportunities for 150 youths and has increased the revenue and market share of ASTC by three times. ASTC appointed 150 ticketing agents who used to book tickets online on the B2B Platform.
Sanjeev proudly says that today WebX is one of the largest and fastest growing IT Consulting Companies in North-East India with an experienced team members of 42. The company has its branches all over Assam, including Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. The corporate office is located in Guwahati. It has more than 200 clients at present, which is a mix of small, medium, and enterprise clients in various verticals like software services, government process outsourcing, IT infrastructure management, web application, etc.
Overall, 80 per cent of his clients are small enterprises, 12 per cent are medium enterprises and large enterprises make up eight per cent.
Some major hurdles still exist
Despite having experienced team members, lack of additional quality manpower is still a big issue for WebX. According to Sanjeev, this challenge sometimes pulled them back in delivering quality enterprise projects to their clients.
Moreover, he also pointed out that the startup ecosystem is also not very encouraging. Startups there don’t have access to venture funds, mentorship, guidance, market, and government support. The IT department of Assam recently announced some scheme, but there is very little clarity on the same.
Gateway to success
Till date, WebX has completed more than 200 projects. In the initial days, the projects were mostly related to websites. But after 2008, they stopped working on static websites and focused purely on web applications and content management systems. Sanjeev claimed that they were the first to implement CMS in the Railways way back in 2006.
Sanjeev says, “Our recent award-winning Management Information System implementation in NF Railways is appreciated by the Railway Board, and we are hopeful to replicate the same in other railways very soon. We have received queries from Western Railways and CORE (Central Organization for Railway Electrification) so far and we are planning to approach other Railways very soon.”
Presently, WebX is working on City Bus Management Information System of Assam Transport, Web-Based E-Services Delivery System for Labour & Employment Department of Assam, developing an On-Demand Web Casting Platform for Oil India Limited, MIS for Integrated Child Development Services to combat malnutrition for two Districts of Assam, MIS for Construction Industry, etc. The average ticket size per project is Rs. 25–30 lakh and on an average, and they gain 20–30 per cent from each of the projects.
With its major 12 seat development unit in Guwahati, Assam, India, WebX claims to provide high-quality IT and ITIMS Consultancy Services and Enterprise Architecture Solutions to its esteemed clients. According to Sanjeev, they have initially invested Rs. 22 lakh to build this development unit.
In a bid to incubate and nurture new ideas, WebX has introduced "Startup Powerhouse" and has altogether received 13 great ideas that are under scrutiny. Startup Powerhouse is based out of Guwahati, and the initial 11 ideas received are also from Guwahati, one idea from Nagaland, and one from Arunachal.
We have a mentoring team which is a panel of industry experts, academicians, businessmen who are ready to help startups in various phases of successful launch. As of now we are ready to fund up to Rs 1 crore for a good startup idea.
Recently, Sanjeev has demonstrated a startup idea snapsspeak.com (which is one of the 13 startup ideas) at CeBIT 2015 with a theme “Photographs to Digital Village,”. He says the idea was appreciated by thousands of visitors of CeBIT and won STPI – Make in India award.
In addition, they are also focusing on developing new markets in rural India through its startup initiatives. “We are identifying youths for setting up our rural presence who will deliver various services we are planning. Initially, we will be targeting sub-urban areas of Northeast India and later we will penetrate into the interiors,” says Sanjeev.
In the last fiscal year, WebX has witnessed a revenue of Rs. 5 crore and for the next fiscal year, they are expecting to reach Rs. 8 crore.