Life in a hardware start-up
Good things in life usually do not come easy. And it does not come any tougher than trying to create a successful hardware company in India.
There are reasons why people do not usually venture into hardware. While most IIT or IIM grads would gleefully join an internet start-up, most of them would have reservations about joining a hardware start up. Discuss your ideas with anyone and the same common questions prop up; “How will you scale up?”, “What is the potential upside?”, “How will you compete against the giants in your sector?” etc.
And to some extent, the questions are valid. There are unreliable vendors who do not share the same customer obsession that you do. When a vendor who delivers a key component and is located 1000 kms away from your plant, there is not much you can do when the vendor stops receiving your calls for 2-3 days at a critical juncture. On paper, terms like vendor management, vendor relationship, supplier rating etc looks cool. But when you are a start up whose order size is 1/100 of the bigger players, no one will agree to your terms.
Not just vendors, it is the same with distributors and clients. Convincing them that you have created a disruptive product takes time. The hardware sector in India still takes time to accept any new technology. And when you start off in a sector like ceiling fan( which has not seen any real innovation in the last 50 years), the difficulties increase 10 fold.
Now, let me come to the work we do here. Before Atomberg, I had a super comfy consulting job interacting only with US clients. And the very first week after I joined Atomberg, I was in the assembly line till 3 AM in the morning trying to assemble ceiling fans. When we make a commitment to a customer to deliver, we ensure that we do it on time. My next few weeks were spent trying to streamline the production process, making financial projections, and meeting distributors and clients. In between, I was also updating the social media accounts and trying to get journalists to cover our story. In fact, apart from R&D, I did almost everything in the last 3 months. Out of my comfort zone- yes. Liking what I do- an even louder yes.
But what sets apart Atomberg is the culture of innovation and super quick execution. On a certain Monday, we received an enquiry to deliver a huge number of a certain type of fan. The catch was that we needed to give 5 samples by next Monday. An even bigger catch was that it had completely different specs than the one we produce. Fast forward to Saturday night 2AM, and the samples were up and running. It would not be wrong to say that we created and tested a new type of fan within a week. It is this culture and the never say die spirit of the R&D team here that will prove to be a key success factor for Atomberg in the near future.
The other most important trait is the obsession to make customers happy. Delivering on time, and exceeding customer expectation is a philosophy that is deeply ingrained at here. In fact, there have been many times where we have tasted some degree of success. Be it closing a big order, or getting covered by a National Daily. But the happiest moment was when a customer called and said he never experienced such personalized service while buying any household appliance so far.
A hardware startup separates men from boys. Going forward, things will not get any easier. But then if it were easy, everyone would have done it.