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Monday, May 21, 2001

Learn the game from her
By Peeyush Agnihotri

A woman entrepreneur in the field of IT is no longer an out-of-the-world phenomenon. However, if she is able to sustain 100 per cent annual growth in sales revenue, despite the US slowdown, recession and dot.com bust, she certainly deserves a special mention. One woman making the headlines is Kalpa Shah, who, going by the "sixth sense," preferred to leave the USA to start operations from India.

Kalpa ShahKalpa (34) is the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Netgalactic, a Bangalore-based Web solutions company. Having studied in Mumbai and Fairfax, she was formerly the producer of the health and fitness channel for AOL in the USA. On her return to India more than four years ago she launched the company with just two persons. Today the company has a global presence.

NetGalactic, which has posted 100 per cent growth in annual sales revenues during the past four years, is a company with offices in the USA, UAE, and India and partners in Europe. It has been servicing and empowering IT powerhouses all over the globe since the past three years. The company also received the ISO 9001 certification in October last year.

Kalpa started with designing portals. The first site was Deepika.com, for a Malayalam daily. This was followed by VitaminShoppe.com, AtYourOffice.com and Computers4Sure.com. These days this successful woman entrepreneur is busy setting up an office in the UAE. Despite her busy schedule she interacted with The Tribune. The following are excerpts from the interview:


There are a lot of successful women entrepreneurs in the field of IT, including you. How have you been able to cope with the work pressure, both at home and in office?

Being a woman in a field that is primarily filled with men has had its challenges. But I think that Indian women today are more emancipated and are increasingly being accepted and, in fact, respected in the IT industry. Increasingly, women are being judged more by their knowledge, management skills and business acumen rather than their gender. But then as I see the success of any organisation has a lot to do with the right resources, the market situation, company’s values and ethics and many other intangibles … but most of all it has got to do with luck and grabbing the opportunity at the right time. I have enjoyed every day and moment of what I have been doing for the past four years. I am not saying that there were no challenges. Having come back from the USA after 12 years has surely been a culture shock in terms of work methodology and in terms of personal and family life. Juggling between what the family requires, what the kids want in terms of their school and other daily needs and setting up the business has been full of challenges. If you have a goal, a positive attitude and believe in what you want without letting the "Indian system" getting in your way, anything can be achieved. When I see how well the business and the kids have settled in school and how much they like it here, I feel that I made the right decision in coming back to my country.

When was NetGalactic set up and what was the motive behind it?

NetGalactic was formed on April 21, 1997. The purpose behind starting a Web solutions company was to bridge a gap that was very evident—the USA and other developed nations had many business opportunities in the area of Internet technologies; however, they were severely lacking good talent to implement projects. India, on the other hand, had a talent pool that needed opportunities to exploit. It seemed like a logical win-win situation and, coupled with the expertise of the founders, we decided to use this synergy to our advantage.

In view of the recent US recession, how do you view the future of dot.com-dependent companies in general and yours’ in particular?

One of the decisions we as a company made last year was to not depend entirely on the dot.com businesses. Our forte is not just building Web sites but also a lot of other Internet-related technologies. I strongly believe the companies that have the capacity and bandwidth to sustain themselves for the next six months will continue to be viable. Any company that has based its model on the basis of just dot.coms will certainly have a tough time surviving in the market. Moreover, there are certain dot.coms, such as e-bay, that have continued to do well. As long as a dot.com has a viable business model it will continue to survive and, potentially, also be profitable. One has to evaluate the business model of the dot.com before jumping at the first opportunity available. Also, we have never been a solely dot.com solution company.

Isn’t the approach of the Indian companies towards e-com a bit skewed?

I think most Indian companies tend to simply jump at any business opportunity that is available. One must carefully evaluate the business model of a dot.com. Internet technologies and the e-com model are here to stay. There are innumerable advantages of this technology. Obviously, it is not meant to be used everywhere. Every technology has its time and place. Some ideas will be extremely successful and others will fail miserably. It is very important to identify the right from wrong.

How well has your sales graph grown?

We have done reasonably well. In 1998 and 1999 we grew 200 per cent and this year we have grown 100 per cent. We are looking at a stable growth of 100 per cent for the year 2001. Our focus this year is to establish a client base that is stable and to gain more clients that have strategies that are long term.

Running a business in the USA as well as India might be having both advantages as well as disadvantages? What are these and how have you been able to cope with them?

The biggest hurdle is also the most obvious one: time difference between the two countries. However, we turned that into an advantage by starting a night shift. Our clients enjoyed having the privilege of their work being completed round the clock.

The second disadvantage is that clients from the USA are typically very demanding because of their time-to-market situations. Therefore, a lot of employees at any given time get tied to projects coming from the USA. This obviously taught us to be more efficient in the way we worked but also has led us to gradually shift 50 per cent of our client base to some of the European countries. This will also help minimise our risk due to change in the economy of one country. We have recently started an office in Dubai, which again has a large gap in terms of talent available. This office will primarily cater to the UAE market. We are also in the process of opening an office in the UK, and established channel partners in different regions of the USA.

One of the key advantages of working with the USA has been getting an enormous exposure to the state-of-the-art technologies and great business ideas. There is no denying that our growth has largely been due to the expertise we have gained in what we have learnt from companies in the USA. Remaining always at the cutting edge of technology has been an excellent motivator for our employees.