How this software company from Kashmir became one of the fastest growing private companies in the US
According to a Google search, the word ‘quasar’ means “a massive and extremely remote celestial object, emitting large amounts of energy, which typically has a star like image.” Aptly named, iQuasar Tech is a software firm in Kashmir that has been running despite all odds – lack of Internet connectivity, landslides and floods, political unrest…the list goes on.
Started a decade ago by three friends to show the world that the Valley isn't only about violence and curfews, but has the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship as well, iQuasar today has a steady workforce strength of 70 (in Kashmir and the US) and boasts a global clientele of working with companies such as IBM, T-Mobile, EY, AT&T and Comcast. In 2013 and 2014, Inc. 5000 even recognised it as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US.
After completing his Bachelors in engineering from a local college in Srinagar, Tahir Qazi started a software training and development institute with his friends from 1988-89. At a time when every single employable graduate was running behind a secure government job, Tahir's move was a rather bold one. Unfortunately, that was also the time when the turmoil in Kashmir had begun and the efflux of Kashmiris in search of livelihoods started. Unable to continue, Tahir joined the government's power department for two years and later went on to do his Masters in Wireless Communications in the US and had a successful corporate run with companies such as Qualcomm and AT&T. But all along, the effect of the ongoing turmoil had stayed with him.
He says, "We (he and his two friends) always felt the responsibility to set up something fruitful, locally. Even if it meant providing no more than 50 jobs, change was necessary." Looking back at nearly two decades of unrest, he says,
Every time a new political party comes in, they bring in new people who are given land and infrastructure to start a project. They run it for a year, abandon it, and move to Jammu. It's disheartening that no one wants to run businesses in the Valley.
This was the trigger that brought together these three Kashmiri friends to set up iQuasar in 2004, which today, has become one of the largest software development and knowledge process outsourcing companies in the Valley.
Overcoming challenges to grow globally
iQuasar currently offers services under three categories - Consulting and Staff Augmentation services (focusing on telecommunications and information technology), Managed IT Solutions and BPO Solutions. While the company doesn't want to disclose the current revenues and profits, as per available data, in 2013, iQuasar clocked in revenues worth Rs 25 crore.
Although the company has its head office in the US (where Tahir currently resides), 45 of the 75 employees work from Srinagar. According to Tahir,
Kashmir is the backbone of our operations and our goal will always be to increase our strength there.
Setting up iQuasar at a time when no successful model existed was naturally difficult. Recalling the initial days, Tahir outlines three challenges the team faced despite which they expanded their clientele, globally –
- Lack of Infrastructure - "The biggest problem continues to be infrastructure availability - the frequent, long power cuts and Internet issues make it difficult to operate seamlessly. To solve this, iQuasar has tied up with four backup providers. While the costs do escalate, the work gets done as per the timelines. And at the end, that’s more important."
- Quality of Resources - "The cream of Kashmiri professionals migrated to cities in search of employment and safer lifestyles. Thus, finding high-quality resources with the right skill-sets and managerial abilities is a herculean task. So, when you do find them, it is essential to nurture them and allow them to grow. At iQuasar, our employees are key to our growth and we do everything to ensure they are taken care of. For instance, providing them facilities for overnight stays and providing alternate arrangements for travel or work-from-home options during curfews, have helped."
- General environment - "The ongoing malaise and uncertainty has however, never worked in our favour. While there's little one can do about it, we have remained strong in terms of policies and philosophies, which has helped the company survive through all this."
Future plans and advice to Kashmiri entrepreneurs
In 2016-17, iQuasar plans to restart its operations in Bengaluru and venture in to the Gulf by providing services, remotely. Of course, expanding the Srinagar office will always be a priority. Speaking about the entrepreneurship landscape in Kashmir, Tahir says,
The 2014 floods were devastating. The GDP of the entire state was $12 billion and the estimated losses amounted to $16 billion. It killed the small and medium businesses that had sprouted in the last 3-4 years. Yet, there is a certain positive momentum; people are picking up again and despite an absentee government, lack of policies and infrastructure; small incubators, accelerators, and shared work spaces are emerging. There is a small green sprouting from the ground.
To speedup up this momentum, Tahir has collaborated with a local non-profit, Revive Kashmir, which is starting an initiative titled KEEN - Knowledge, Economy and Entrepreneurship Network. He says,
During September-October we will bring together 15 existing small and medium business, and provide them mentorship and connects by focusing on their growth challenges.
While Tahir’s iQuasar is clearly touching new heights, it is also great to see how this Kashmiri is attempting to revive the economy by bringing his years of knowledge and expertise of working in the US to the Valley.
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