It is not everyday that one comes across a truly inspiring story of success, interwoven with hardwork, vision, judgment calls, and yes, the ability to spot opportunities. Kailash Katkar, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Quick Heal Technologies started his journey as a school dropout. Despite being low on education and skill, Kailash Katkar has created a multi crore anti-virus software business.
Katkar gave up formal education after he passed the Secondary School Certificate examination in the mid-1980s because of his family’s circumstances. His father was a machine setter in electricals company Philips in Pune and his mother was a homemaker. Katkar relied on his interest in technical matters to learn how to repair the then popular office gadgets such as Facit adding machines, desktop electric calculators and ledger posting machines. Looking back, Kailash Katkar, started his entrepreneurial venture with a calculator repair business in Pune in the 1990’s. When one door closes, another opens. It’s been like that right through Kailash Katkar’s life. Every time an opportunity looked like dimming, another emerged for him. He says his success was largely the result of his ability to sense changes in technology early. Kailash Katkar explains his success story as told to Amit Shanbaug. “I wasn’t interested in studies, had no special skills, only a small repair business These may not be the right qualifications for being an entrepreneur, but it has turned out well for me. I started working on my own when I was in school. I always was on the lookout for jobs that could supplement my family income. I think it’s the drive to give myself and my family a better life that moved me on the entrepreneurial path. In 1985, having barely managed to complete my matriculation, I took up a job at a local radio and calculator repair shop as I needed to supplement the family income. The owner sent me to his Mumbai shop for a two-month training and, subsequently, I returned to Pune to work for him for just 1,500 a month. I was only 19 and, over the next five years, I not only learnt a lot about fixing calculators and radios, but also picked up enough accounting skills to handle the books for my employer. In 1990,I felt confident enough to start my own calculator repair business with a seed capital of 15,000,which was drummed out of my savings. I leased a small 100 sq ft office in Pune and started a one-man venture. In the first year, I managed a decent income of 45,000, but I was not satisfied with the progress I was making. I realised that one way to scale up would be to capitalise on the ongoing software boom. So I started reading about computer hardware, even enrolling for a short computer management course in 1991-92 to understand the basics of computer application. The classes were held in the evening, so my business did not suffer, and once I was sure I had my basics in place, I decided to venture into computer maintenance. The idea was to take care of the entire repair work for an annual fee. In 1993, I finally started a new venture, CAT Computer Services, while continuing with the repair business. Generating business was a huge challenge initially since I had no work experience in the field. However, I did not lose hope and kept trying to woo customers aggressively. I got my first break a few months later when two families signed up for the maintenance of their personal computers for an annual fee of 2,000 each. With some work experience to back me up, more work soon came my way. In September 1993, I managed to breach the corporate domain by bagging the annual maintenance contract for New India Insurance followed by another group a month later. I managed to generate a turnover of 1 lakh in 1993-94 and employ four people to manage and expand the business. Around this time, my younger brother, Sanjay, who was studying computer engineering in Pune, began writing software programs. On my insistence, he started developing a basic model of antivirus software for us. In those days, the people involved in computer maintenance faced this problem and I realised that there would be plenty of takers for cheap and simple solutions.I started using the software we called it Quick Heal for my customers and sold it to other vendors making it one of the least expensive options available in the market. But nobody was willing to pay for it. So it was distributed free with the computer AMC and also circulated it among their network of computer service professionals. “Then came deadly viruses like One Half and Natash. Only our antivirus could decrypt the files they encrypted,” Katkar recollects, indicating that even the global big names in the antivirus business were not up to the task. “That was the birth of Quick Heal as a business idea — a solution that would reside on a machine and tackle problems as they cropped up.” Before long, the anti-virus software became a big hit and my turnover for 1996-97 was 12.19 lakh, three times that for the previous financial year. In the following years, Sanjay and other hired software developers came out with more advanced versions of this software.By 2002,the business had grown to a point where we managed shift to a 2,000 sq ft office in Pune, which we purchased for 25 lakh. Our first branch opened in Nashik a year later, followed quickly by several others across India. By 2005-6, we had diversified our product portfolio, moving beyond the anti-virus solutions. We covered the entire gamut, from security and tuner solutions, which focused on increasing computer speed, to mobile security and gateway level protection. Another milestone year for us was 2007,when we renamed the company Quick Heal Technologies. Of course, there have been several setbacks along the way. “There was a time when our employees were leaving our setup because they felt that our company was small and wasn’t growing or well-known. We realised that it was time we moved to a realistic idea and that’s when we decided to do away with the Maintenance Company tag. We lost a few customers because we were short staffed and could not meet our deadlines. We suffered losses and the cash crunch affected our product development and the process. Even no bank was ready to support us. At one point, in 1999, the business was in such a bad shape that we considered shutting shop since we were not even in a position to pay staff salaries. Thankfully, we decided to delay the decision by a couple of months, and during this period our hard work pulled us out of the red. Accepting challenges is not always easy, but if you have a “never give-up” attitude, you survive. You have to completely believe in your idea and give your 100% to it. Also if you are a good observer and can read the pulse of your consumers, you will know when and how to improve. The infusion of 60 crore from the US based private equity firm, Sequoia Capital, in 2010,helped us expand our footprint internationally. In the past two years, our export turnover has been to the tune of 4% of our total business, and we hope to push it up in the coming years. Today,the company employs 610 people and has 23 offices in India. We also have a presence in nearly 50 countries across the globe. The sky is truly the limit for us.”
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