Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interview With Anju Maudgal Kadam, Unitus India

Featuring Women Entrepreneur
Anju Maudgal Kadam
Founder: Unitus India

[Category: Early Riders
Deploy Your Skill-set In A New Avatar]

Unitus began as a software services company in 2001, and soon, with client referrals, they established themselves as a preferred company to work with for US clients wanting to set up offshore development centres (ODCs) in Bangalore. Unitus has consistently built enduring partnerships and customer relationships. They have worked with customers across diverse industries. Strong domain expertise, extensive technology skills, process focus, speed and innovation has enabled Unitus to provide value-added, high quality IT solutions to their customers.

Their range of service expertise has two more domains: Media Streaming and Video Production. They now make audio visuals and stream live events on the net. Unitus delivers sharp and comprehensive IT & Media services, complementing their technology skills and focus on business solutions.
Their ability to successfully manage and deliver complex, enterprise-wide services and solutions over the past nine years has enabled them to gain and retain diverse global customers like Authoria, Wipro, BullRun Financial, Apostek and Microsoft.

In an interview with me, Anju Maudgal Kadam, co-founder/director of Unitus India, has shared her experiences as an entrepreneur. Read on to know more. 

Q. Let me start with your background. Please tell us something about your education and past work experience. Do you have entrepreneurial roots?
I finished my Masters from Bombay University, majoring in International Trade & Econometrics. Then I switched academic streams and enrolled in a course in Social Communications Media at Sophia College, Bombay.

I specialized in television and joined Plus Channel as a reporter for business programmes. It was a nascent medium. Doordarshan was just losing its monopoly on India television homes to satellite television and those were exciting times to be working in the field; worked my way up to becoming Director Non-Fiction programming. Nimbus, Ananda Bazaar Patrika are other companies that I have worked for.

Many, many hours of business programming, daily shows, and weekly shows followed. I researched, wrote & directed the shows I worked on.

I have interviewed all the top CEO of the nineties, including Ratan Tata, Aditya Birla, Adi Godrej, the Goenkas, with special emphasis on corporate growth and strategy. I also covered the stock market regularly. I made a special feature on the Bank Scam, which meant being the only television journalist to be granted an interview with Harshad Mehta, before he went to jail.

I learnt everything in television industry from my mentor Amit Khanna and our vibrant team at Plus Channel. I learnt  Journalistic reportage and being true to the story no matter what, from the two stalwarts of business journalism, T.N Ninan and Debashis Basu.

I went on to designing and conceptualizing game shows, business shows and real time telecast events like the Filmfare Awards. There was always so much to learn, so much to do; never had a dull moment!

Then we shuttled between Bangalore and Boston for short periods; returned finally to Bangalore to set up home and business here.

Q. That's a really 'rich' work experience to have! Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
Yes, Unitus is our very first business venture.

Q. What market segment and industry are you addressing?
1. Software Services for International companies wanting to set up Offshore Development Centers (ODCs) in India.
2. Streaming and Film Production for all Indian corporates.

Q. How did you arrive at the business idea of Unitus back in 2001?
With the Dotcom bust in 2000, the need to do something on our own was becoming more pertinent and even though the software industry had plunged into a recessionary phase, we were convinced the time to strike out was right for us.

My husband and I set up the business together. He took the lead then, while I was back end support and advisor on big decisions. Initially, we concentrated on skills that were more in line with his work experience - Software Project Management.

Q. Unitus offers Offshore Application Development as one of the solutions and services. Don’t you think this market segment is extremely cluttered? How have you differentiated your services in this area?
It is a service we offer under our ODC model. We have established ourselves since 2001 and have been extremely selective about the customers we work with. Our knowledge and understanding of the domain and our 100% success rate differentiates us. We are a boutique company, focused on quality services.

Q. After the financial meltdown [which started by October 2007] in the USA and in other countries, the offshore outsourcing IT services has been very somber. Your views on the future of IT off-shoring services in India.
India will continue to dominate its position in the offshore outsourcing space for some more time. We have the best talent, we are cheaper, and doing business with India still makes sense. Challenges that lie ahead for the software industry in India are quality of workforce, rising salaries and infrastructure costs and the expiry of the tax holiday.

Q. Presently Unitus is offering services and solutions in 3 verticals, IT Software Services, Media Streaming and Video films. Which domain has the highest annual revenue contribution, given the fact that you added Media Streaming and Video Production later on?
With media streaming and Video production services, I actively joined the company. And I directly handle both services. These divisions are still relatively new, and yet, we have made profits from our first project. It will be a while before we catch up with the revenue contribution of the software business, which is more established. But we will continue to aggressively add to the revenue of the company.

Q. What made you decide to add Media Streaming and Video Film Production in the gamut of services offered by Unitus? What market potential do you see for  a) Media Streaming b) Video Film Production?
These services are more related to my skill sets. With over 12 years of experience in producing television programmes and films, video film production was a natural addition to our services at Unitus. So we began producing corporate films. This was my past experience bundled into a new avatar because active television projects did not fit in anymore with where I was in my life then. (Though, I must confess that is my first love. And I hope to produce a television show with the Unitus name in the future). We regularly make video films for many corporates. And this part of the business is running at a steady stable pace.

The Media streaming business has taken off to a great start. We have completed some very prestigious projects. Live streaming for Microsoft events, including Steve Balmer’s visit, TEDX events, an Indian Oil Corporation event, The India International Jewelry Week, the biggest in Asia, was recently streamed by us.

The streaming business is very cutting edge, advanced and innovative, and fits in well with our appetite for technology that we have built over the years.

Also, media streaming IS the future platform of messaging. And we were keen to offer our services in a nascent but very fast growing medium. There are benefits of being first-in, in a business. Learning and research is huge and deep and our knowledge of the domain will remain the differentiator between us and all the “me too” entrants.

The same applies to our work on the corporate films and communication videos front. Our experience and knowledge of telling a story is unmatched in the industry in Bangalore, and separates us from competitors in an industry that is actually quite cluttered. The discerning client recognizes experience and the outcome of a satisfied and repeat customer is our reward.

Q. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder? What has been your strategy to find a co-founder?
My Husband and I are co founders. We found each other, before we found the business we wanted to start :)

Q. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee?
We started with a team of four from the very beginning because skill sets required to service the client were varied. We grew from there.

Q. How did you fund your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
 Unitus is 100% owned and self-funded. We are a zero debt company.

Q. What have been the challenges – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc. Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Recruiting and selling remain the two biggest challenges in an ever changing dynamic market and expanding business offerings. But the real challenge is building a vision for the company. We have come here today, where do we go from here? That is a question we ask ourselves continuously.

While one is struggling to get a business up, the goals are very clear. But as you stabilize in a business, the challenges are different. On the surface the goals may seem like they still remain - to do good work, retain good people, and make profits. But the challenges of keeping the fire in your team, of becoming more selective in choice of projects and seeing a respect build for the company in its ecosystem are non tangible, but aspirational goals nevertheless.

Q. Are you profitable now? Any plans of Unitus launching IPO?
Yes, we are profitable. And have no plans of launching an IPO.

Q. Last, but very important, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and your venture?
I actually waited a long time to actively participate in the business. The kids ALWAYS take priority in my life and that is non negotiable. But they are now old enough for me to share time with the business, which also requires constant nurturing. Only when I was ready to give certain work hours to the business, did I formally move into the office. Before that, I worked from home on a really strong will and powerful Internet connection!

Thanks Anju for your precious time.

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