How an office boy in a district court went on to build a multicrore IT services company
Little did Phaniraj Jaligama (lovingly called Phani) know that 20+ years later after starting his professional life and journey as an office boy in a district court in Telangana, he would be the President and CEO of Ojas Innovative Technology Pvt Ltd (Ojas) which today generates $5 million in annual revenue.
Ojas is an IT solutions company that provides cost-effective services in application development and support, identity management/governance, software applications/solutions testing, mobile development and testing, staff augmentation and staffing needs to its clients across the globe.
In line with what William Shakespeare once said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves", Phaniraj worked to create his destiny.
As a quick learner with a determined mind and sheer will to succeed, Phaniraj had already found his transformational journey from being an Office Boy to an Executive Assistant in an IT company to a Senior Manager managing IT business processes of retail vertical in one of the top IT companies in India.
Humble beginnings in Peddapalli
Growing up in the small town of Peddapalli in Telangana, Phaniraj completed his basic education till the 12th standard and also acquired the skills in using the typewriter. He started his professional life at the Karimnagar District Court in Telangana as an office boy. It would take him more than 20 years to get promoted to the clerical cadre, but this was a dream he had harboured for long.
"At that time, there were just 10 open positions for shorthand writers, and if I had a professional certificate, I would get promoted easily. I found a trainer in Secunderabad who agreed to teach me. I had to work as a security guard at the court building at night, so that I could commute 195 km daily to learn from this trainer," says Phani.
Within six months, he was able to pass the course with distinction and approached the District Judge for a promotion. Out of his 28 colleagues, he scored the highest in the internal test and got promoted to the post of Copyist in 2003. But, his willingness to learn and grow didn't stop there.
Back then, Phani's wife Srilatha Kusumba, who was an MCA graduate, was working as a lecturer in a college in Karimnagar. The couple realised that for them to grow in their careers, Srilatha had to enter the IT industry to earn good money, so that Phani could take a sabbatical from his government job to pursue an MBA or a Law degree.
In 2006, Phani got the opportunity to work as an executive assistant in a Pune-based IT services company and finally decided to resign from his job at the district court. A few months later, his wife got an opportunity to join the same company as a Software Engineer in Testing.
Despite facing criticism from relatives, friends, and colleagues for leaving a secure government job, the couple decided to pursue their dreams undeterred.
Turning his passion into a profession
Phani completed his Bachelor of Arts from Dr B R Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad and later acquired the PGDBM in Computer Science from the University of Pune.
In 2011, Phani reached the position of Senior Manager at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), managing the Business Finance of the retail vertical.
Around the same time in 2011, he reconnected with Arun Kumar Alampally (currently - VP, Engineering), a colleague from BMC Software, and together they laid the foundation of Ojas. However, Phani was unable to actively participate in the day-to-day routines of Ojas as he was occupied with his work commitments at TCS. After a year, he realised it was best to part ways with Ojas due to the demanding nature of work at TCS.
In 2014, he applied for admission to the MBA programme offered by SP Jain School of Global Management. While appearing for the final interview, he consulted Manish Arora, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate in Pune to coach him. Manish told him, "I understand you’ve worked in reputed organisations where they have well-established systems, processes and resources and all you have to do is to pull the right strings to be successful. But, have you ever built something from scratch? Have you ever initiated something, where there is no ecosystem, but you’ve envisioned and built it from the ground?”
In 2015, although Phani joined Cognizant as an Associate Director of Operations in 2015, Manish's response was still stuck in his mind. The same year, he happened to travel to Hyderabad only to find out that Ojas had not made any significant progress in terms of business development and client acquisition. It was about the time when Arun offered Phani the opportunity to build business growth strategies for Ojas, and without any hesitation, he responded in the affirmative.
Phani recalls, "I was working for other companies, helping them in strategy and building their organisation. With my leadership experience and Arun's technical expertise, I felt it was the right decision."
In 2017, Phani finally decided to set himself free from all other commitments to join Ojas as its full-time CEO.
Trudging thorny paths to success
As with every startup, Ojas also had its fair share of challenges. The founders had to restructure the organisation and bring in promoters who trusted Phani and his experience, but not Ojas as a company. On the hiring front, no software engineer trusted them enough to sign a two-year contract. Customers, on the other hand, were reluctant to work with a small company.
Phani says, "Ojas means ultimate power or energy or the Tejas of a Brahman. Arun wanted this name as it reflects our customers, employees and stakeholders - the ultimate power. It was tough to gain the confidence of this trio. But, the tables did turn.
Over time, the founders wanted to establish themselves in the IT Services industry and expand globally.
In 2019, Phani, along with Uday Satrasala (currently Director - Global Sales) visited the US and managed to get into a staffing business. The same year, they set up an office in the US and clocked a revenue of close to $1 million.
"Our pool of skilled IT talent boasted of expertise in most highly demanded technologies that gave us an edge over our competitors. Also, we believe in the tagline 'cost-effective IT services partner'. Our in-house trained pool of engineers with hands-on technical skills are always available to be deployed on client’s projects, which gives us that winning edge," says Phani.
He adds, "I always tell my leadership team that once upon a time coal was gold and petrol was gold, but today multi-skilled technology resources are gold. As long as we’ve skilled resources, our growth is assured."
Creating an environment for unskilled employees
At Ojas, they hire both freshers as well as experienced professionals. While the laterals sometimes require cross-skilling or upskilling, the company has a proven methodology and system in place for freshers called OILC — Ojas Internship Life Cycle. The programme has five phases of training - Technology, Process, Tools, PoC/Project and Communication Skills.
The interns get a chance to work very closely on Ojas' projects and after internal assessments and rating, they are assigned to external or internal projects.
"We always have 40-50 percent of our overall headcount in OILC to make sure that we have enough resources to meet our future needs," says Phani.
Achieving YoY growth amidst challenges
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ojas' employees were stranded in different customer locations and certain customers weren't paying on time. The company’s monthly revenues fell from $0.27 million to $0.1 million.
With a highly committed leadership, Ojas could steer safely out of the pandemic and by August 2020, the business was back on its feet. It quickly adopted virtual training and utilised the lockdown period to help its employees cross-skill and upskill. In September last year, it also boarded 200+ resources, which is now reaping rich rewards for the company.
Today, Ojas has around 100+ clients that include major IT companies and businesses like Cognizant, Tech Mahindra, Persistent, Mahindra Rise, Capgemini, HDFC Life, Exide Life, among others. In the US, the company has five customers in IT services. With a 700-member team, the company has offices in Hyderabad, Los Angeles and London.
In 2020, the company registered an annual revenue of $3.19 million and has already clocked $1.32 million in Q1. The Ojas team expects to close Q2 at $1.78 million.
"We’re confident that we’ll cross $6.85 million in annual revenue this fiscal year. This is possible because of the values we believe in and the leadership team we have on board. From our MD to our office assistants, we call our enablement teams 'Leaders of Ojas'," says Phani.
Think Big. Dream 100.
Over the next few years, as part of its sustained growth, Ojas plans to touch the $15 million mark in terms of annual revenue.
Despite having a presence in the UK, the company hasn’t been able to launch operations due to the pandemic. Once the travel restrictions are eased, Ojas plans to start operations and capture a sustainable market share in the UK and Europe, while continuing its business growth in the US market.
"In addition to the US market, with opportunities in the UK and Europe markets and supported by earnings from the Indian market, we're optimistic that we'll achieve our dream of becoming a $15 million company," says Phani.
From a software product perspective, Ojas is already working to create Professional Services Automation (PSA) as part of its Business Suite Solution that suits the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.