Download the latest issue of Business Today Magazine just for Rs.49

Dark horse

If entrepreneurship is also about turning failures into successes, Kunwer Sachdev is a born entrepreneur.

Education : Statistics (Hons), Hindu College
Worked with : A telecom company
Last salaried job : Rs 8,000 a month
Age at starting business : 23 years
No. of years as entrepreneur : 17 years
Initial investment : Rs 10,000
Sources of fund : Personal savings
Company : Su-kam Power Systems,manufacturers
of power protection devices
Turnover : Rs 200 crore in 2005-6
No of employees : 1,000
Who would look twice at the guy who came to fix the cable for your new TV? Leave alone think that he had a great career prospect? But this cable guy, who had just left a sales executive job, had stars in his eyes. Stars that would eventually light up millions, of homes during the inevitable power failures. And from working the pliers in apartment after apartment in Delhi, he now sits comfortable at the helm of one of the biggest inverter manufacturing company of the country, Su-kam.

But, Kunwer Sachdev, the erstwhile cable guy, is not as comfortable as you would think. "I am very excited about this new technology I discovered at the GITEX fair 2006. In business you have to constantly upgrade. If you want to move forward, you just can't stagnate." Sachdev would know. Creating a Rs 200- crore company from zilch with no formal training in engineering or management, is no mean achievement. He didn't even start with inverters, but cabling equipment. And it isn't as if lady luck really pursued him. It took Sachdev a patient 17 years to set up this enterprise which now has 20% equity stake from Reliance India Power Fund, a private equity fund sponsored jointly by Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group and Singapore-based Temasek Holdings.

For a graduate in statistics to a "business technologist" is surely an unusual leap. "But business was always on my mind. All through college I thought of nothing else," confesses Sachdev. It may be that repeated failures of his father, a railway clerk, to start his own business, silently motivated the son to accomplish what his father couldn't. "One lesson I learnt from my father's failure was that career and business don't go together. You have to sacrifice one for the other," says Sachdev. And failure has been the cornerstone of every success that he has known. During college, he helped his elder brother establish a business of pens. But they fell out, and Sachdev was on his own. The sales executive's job with a telecom company followed. In 1987 he married Gita, his junior at Delhi's Hindu College, amidst parental opposition. Sachdev moved to a rented
house. Gita's teaching job in a school came in handy.

What Sachdev learnt about the telecom company stoked his business instincts. By 1989 he was ready to start a cable TV business with the help of a techie from the same company. An investment of Rs 10,000 was enough to get the system going. But while Sachdev quit his job, the techie refused, and for a while the father's story of failure became the son's. Sachdev did not give up hope.

The going became tougher as it was now a one-man-show- human resources, finance, technology et al. "To get the work going I took up small assignments of cabling work for multi-storeyed buildings and hotels with two workers," says Sachdev, who managed these odd jobs with the advance payments from clients. Gita turned out to be his bedrock of support during the tough times. She would not only manage the house and their first-born but also slip a few notes of encouragement into Sachdev's pockets from time to time.

Sachdev's Tips for Aspiring Start-ups
If your product is faulty replace it, that is the best way to win over the customer
Instead of investing in real estate or stocks, Sachdev reinvests in his business
Su-kam organises annual get to gethers for employees
Sachdev is known for his 'lightning speed' decision-making skill
Don't gloat over your achievements. Plan your next move

When his friend left him, perhaps the biggest handicap was his complete ignorance of the technology field. So Sachdev decided to learn it on the job. Business and learning went together as he laboured on.The first taste of success came in 1991 when the business of cable TV witnessed a boom with the introduction of multi-channels. Each house needed cabling and Sachdev cashed in on this boom. He set up a small-scale unit with six people to manufacture amplifiers and directral couplers - all needed in the business of cablingunder the brand name Su-kam.

"The demand was huge, players were few and we were quality conscious. We would take back all faulty products thus reinforcing the faith of our customers," says Sachdev, who soon expanded his business by manufacturing dish antennas and satellite receivers. "By 1997 our products were being sold in entire north India," says Sachdev. He had made his first million.

It seems that destiny finally decided to intervene and do a little jig of her own that would spell much bigger success. It was sometime in 1997 when Sachdev's home inverter conked off for the nth time. Frustrated, he decided to take it apart himself to identify the problem. What he saw was not a flawed product but immense business potential in giving the consumer something superior. Once the idea was born, Sachdev was quick to cash in on it. Intensive studies followed and using a new (Mosfet) technology he started manufacturing inverters at his factory.

But wait, even here destiny did not play it straight. The products were a disaster and all 100 of them were returned by the buyers. Not to be bogged down by yet another failure, Sachdev got a few people from the fledgling UPS industry and focused on technological innovation. He manufactured inverters using a more advanced technology testing and retesting them for failures. The capacity was just enough to manufacture 100 inverters a month but the response for the refined inverters was stupendous. In the unorganised market, his products stood out.

In 2000, Sachdev took the decision to close down his profitable business of cable TV products and set up his first big factory in Gurgaon at a cost of Rs 15 lakh. His quest to continuously upgrade his products using new technologies made him a clear market leader. A validation of his success came when heavyweights Reliance and Temasek paid Rs 45 crore for a 20% stake in the company. Sachdev is now looking at other futuristic areas such as solar photovoltaic systems, wind energy systems, hybrid systems and inverters of over 100 kva capacity. A Rs 80-crore factory to manufacture SMF batteries will be operational in April 2007.

Time to go public? Maybe, he says. For a man, who took up a few insurance policies only because the agents were persistent, matters of personal finance do not rank rather high on his priority table. "I would rather re-invest in business than purchase property, look up the stock market or mutual funds," he says. Perhaps a house in Gurgaon, a farmhouse, 21 offices, three factories and 1,000 employees, are enough for Sachdev to be unconcerned with personal finance.

For more case studies of employees turned employers, log on to and click on E2E