With no funding, how a farmer’s son built an IT services company with offices in India, US and Canada
Raj Darji, who comes from a family of agriculturists, started product engineering and IT consulting services firm Aarav Solutions in 2012. Here is how he took inspiration from the farmland and applied it to his entrepreneurial journey.
Every morning, a young Raj Darji would watch his father, the Late Ishwarbhai Darji, go to his farm to tend to his crops.
Based in Ablauva, a village near Mehsana in Gujarat, the young boy would occasionally accompany his father and watch him harvest crops with the help of other workers. What struck him was the way his father treated his farm labour.
“The farm labour in our village particularly looked forward to work for my father. When I asked him why, he told me since he takes care of them well, they take care of him in return,” Raj says.
These words left a lasting impression on the young boy, and went on to shape and define his entrepreneurial journey.
Many years later, after moving to Bharuch and then Visnagar, Raj pursued his engineering in IT, and went on to work in the US with Oracle, Hyundai Motors America, and Siemens, among other companies, between 2007 and 2011.
In 2012, he came back to India to start product engineering and IT consulting services firm Aarav Solutions, which he registered in Ahmedabad.
Applying the lessons he learnt from the farmland, Raj has grown his bootstrapped business without receiving any external funding - not even from friends and family.
Raj doesn’t disclose his business’ current revenue, but says, “Today, Aarav Solutions has over 130 employees and corporate locations in India, the US and Canada. Since inception, we have been growing at 100 percent year-on-year.”
He goes on to add,
“My father was also an entrepreneur, and his work on the fields helped me understand that if I need to grow, I need to take care of my people, provide good service to customers, and be persistent. These are the entrepreneurial lessons I have drawn from the farmland,” says Raj.
The early days
Reminiscing his childhood days, Raj talks about studying in a government school where three rooms were shared among six different classes.
“We took turns in using the classrooms, and even took some classes under the shade of a tree in the school. With no facilities for secondary school, I moved to Bharuch where my brother was living, and studied at a school there,” he says.
Raj studied in Bharuch up to Class 12. His interest in science had him wanting to pursue chemical engineering but friends convinced him to pursue IT instead, as it was booming in India in the late 90s.
He graduated from Sankalchand Patel College of Engineering, Visnagar, Gujarat with a BE in Information Technology in 2003.
At the time, Raj wanted to study and work in the US, and he approached his father to ask if he had the money to fund his plans. “I needed up to Rs 15 lakh. My father told me he didn’t have that much money, and so I put a full stop to the plans,” Raj says.
Taking up a local job, Raj worked at a broadband firm before he began working on Oracle billing and revenue management technology, and this gave him a chance to move to the US on work. Although he took the opportunity to work for US-based companies, little did he know his entrepreneurial journey was just about to begin.
“In 2006, I got my H-1B visa and travelled to the US. In 2011, I came back to India to get my visa stamped, but due to an unexpected delay, the process took over 10 months, " he says, adding:
"During this time, I was working with my US employers remotely, but I had to stay in India and did not know whether I would be able to go back to the US. That was when I decided to leverage my consulting and IT experience, and start my own business.”
The genesis of Aarav Solutions
Named after his newborn son Aarav, the company was started from scratch. Raj says it took up to four months to convince people to work for his new product engineering and IT consulting services firm.
“At the time, I was still working for my US employers, albeit remotely. For eight hours a day, I worked remotely, and then post that, spent time building Aarav Solutions. As my US shift ended every day, a new day began in India, and I would then focus on my business,” he says.
Raj, who has been residing in the US since 2012, is now involved full-time with his business. He says he invested his savings into his business from day one, and did not raise any capital.
“One part of my salary would be spent on meeting expenses, and the other part would go directly into Aarav Solutions. From the start, I always said that the funds we had would be utilised efficiently. This is how I slowly hired people and built the business,” he explains.
As he built his business, the lessons Raj learnt from his agriculturist father began to kick in. Raj says he treated every individual working at Aarav like a family member, and all of his initial hires are still with the company.
“Whether it's a secret to success or not, this people-first focus is what I inherited from my family. Everyone wants to be treated well,” he says.
This people-centric focus has taken Raj’s company to a team size of over 130, and become a provider of revenue and customer management solutions such as commercial off the shelf products like SAP, Oracle RODOD stack, SalesForce, Oracle eBusiness Suite as well as digital transformation, enterprise solutions, mobility solutions, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), digital enablement solutions, and emerging technologies.
With offices in Ahmedabad, Bharuch and Bengaluru, Raj says Aarav’s solutions have empowered sectors such as telecommunications, banking and finance, government bodies, power, and utilities.
Challenges and the way forward
In 2015 and 2019, the business experienced two challenging phases when budgetary issues prevented its customers from continuing with some projects.
“We had to stop some projects, and 10 to 15 of our employees were just on the bench. I had to dip into my own investments to continue paying their salaries. This happened in 2019 again, but we persevered as our workforce had an organisation-first approach, and not a consulting-first approach,” Raj says.
Despite the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy, Aarav Solutions did not face a downturn.
“Our solutions are not too expensive and not too cheap, so our clients did not default on any payments or cancel them. We were able to give all our team members their bonuses and appraisals as planned,” he claims.
As the markets for product engineering and IT consulting services bounces back and grows, Raj plans to continue scaling the business, but admits a mild slowdown could be inevitable in the future.
He also intends to continue contributing towards a non-profit organisation he started, Jadishwar Charitable Trust, along with his elder brother Karam Darji and wife Alpa Darji.
Edited by Anju Narayanan