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Portrait of a partnership

Overcoming the dotcom bust, this husband-wife team persevered to make their software firm a success story.

By Rajshree Kukreti | Print Edition: August 9, 2007

Puneet Vatsayan and Anupama AryaIt was a fortuitous family misfortune that made Anupama Arya and Puneet Vatsayan return to their hometown Chandigarh from Milpitas, California. In fact, if Vatsayan’s mother had not fallen seriously ill in 2003, the couple would not have come back to India and Mobera Systems would not have been set up. Their firm creates customised software products that give shape to the ideas and needs of their customers. From futuristic operating room concept to remote-controlled homes, they create possibility formats.

However, their first entrepreneurial venture was back in 2000 at the height of the dotcom boom. Like so many techies they moved to the US after their graduation from The Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala. Arya, an electronics engineering graduate, moved to the Arizona State University to do her master’s in computer science in 1991. But Vatsayan opted for an MBA from Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management, after his mechanical engineering degree.

Arya joined Synoptics (Bay Networks) a pioneer in networking infrastructure products, in 1993 and Vatsayan took up marketing assignments with various companies such as RTZ and Measurex, finally settling down in 2000 with Centigram Communications as a group product manager. “We got married in 1993 and wanted to be together in Silicon Valley,” says Vatsayan. “Those were heady days with the dotcom phenomenon just having taken off,” adds Arya, who also taught at University of California, Berkeley and San Jose State University.

New opportunities were cropping up as technology was witnessing its biggest revolution ever. The couple made the most of the moment, carved a niche for themselves in their respective fields working 24X7, travelled a lot, bought a house and took up new assignments. They had saved enough through cashing out of employee stock options to retire rich.

But the environment around them was in a churn. The professionals were turning into entrepreneurs and almost all were success stories. “One just needed an idea and a venture capitalist (VC) to start an enterprise,” say the couple. They quit their jobs and sat down to formulate their business idea. Their B2B proposition was to build a network in the pharmaceutical space that would not replace but facilitate the role of the distributor. Business plan ready, they scouted for venture capital.

TIPS FOR ASPIRING START-UPS

Create goodwill:
Good work is always rewarded and Mobera grew on the recommendations of its clients.
Be amenable:
Make peace with changes and be responsible for your actions.
Be a learning firm:
For the organisation to grow the emplo yees should be mentored.
Put your skin in the game:
Your investment in the business sets the tone for VCs and future fundings.
Be prepared for the worst:
Entrepreneur ship is essentially risky. But don't lose focus. Clear vision and hard work will always succeed.

But not many were ready to take the husband-wife team seriously. “They feared if our marriage broke up so would the company,” says Vatsayan. They had barely crossed this hurdle when the dotcom bubble burst. The VCs withdrew support. “It was our growing up moment,” they reflect. The unexpected does happen, realised the couple and scouted for angel investors. When an angel investor wanted to know their stake, the couple was confounded. The thought of putting their savings hadn’t occurred to them.

They soon launched their start-up—Vivexchange.com, a B2B, e-commerce company—in January 2001 with $40,000 from their savings. By April 2001, another $400,000 came in through the angel investor route. Their business fundamentals were simple— hire contractors and consultants and create a professional board of advisers. “I believe it was our best investment. The board members mentored us and gave us sound advice,” says Arya for whom the transition from being an employee to a cash-strapped employer was quite unnerving. “We no longer hopped on to the business class and checked into five-star hotels,” she says.

By June they had two big customers and business had picked up. But for the company to grow further they needed huge sums of money. And 2002 was not the best of times for business. The dotcom bust had driven away many investors. The board advised them to sell off the venture as too many changes were happening. The couple did just that, booked a profit and took a sabbatical. “We had no plan in place but we were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug,” says Arya as they worked on their second venture.

But fate had other plans. In 2003 they had to fly back to India because of Vatsayan’s mother’s illness. “We tried remote management, travelled once a month to India but just couldn’t work on our second enterprise,” says Vatsayan, who realised that the time spent in Chandigarh could be turned productive if they set up a small venture in the city.

Since Arya had worked on creating communication products and Vatsayan had worked in marketing them, the idea to create a core product development centre for firms focused on communication appliances, telecom, life sciences and logistics industries seemed most workable to them. They hired four software engineers and set up a small office in the garage of their Sector 33 house. “Our first client was Stryker Communication, a division of Stryker Corporation, a Fortune 500 company focused on medical devices and equipment,” says Vatsayan.

By 2004, Mobera Systems had got its second client. They shifted to better premises and the number of employees went up to 14. The initial investment was Rs 1 lakh and the cash flow always remained positive. Their professionalism was rewarded by their clients through referrals, thus generating more business. There was no going back to the US.

The success of the business has exceeded their expectations. They enjoy mentoring their 55 employees and the students of the Punjab Engineering College. While it should have been a tightrope walk for a couple to run their business and life together, they have balanced it quite well. “Our duties are clearly defined,” says Vatsayan. At work, he heads the marketing part of the business while Arya is in charge of product actualisation. Perfect partnership for continuous growth!

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