In December I completed a decade of having returned to India. When I landed in India in Nov 2007 I went to Ahmedabad to start a venture that would develop electric cars in India. However, as destiny would have it RIM was getting its feet on the ground and Frenny Bawa who was heading the business based out of Canada asked me to join them as Director of Carrier Business. The meeting was over lunch at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis Club. I remember it vividly. When Frenny offered me the role I didn’t blink for a minute, but I did say “Frenny, don’t you think you are taking a big risk, I don’t know anything about India”. She said “Sanjay, I have spent three meetings with you and I know you can do it. It’s not the experience I am looking for but the will to succeed and figure out the challenge”.
BlackBerry was a great run, we grew the business 12x in little under 4 years. Very quickly I learnt that doing business in India meant that half of your success relied on dealing with complexity and driving business on the ground every day. I am a big believer in “rolling up the sleeves”, so I leveraged that fully while at RIM. Driving that kind of growth in a market dominated by Nokia at the time felt like you were waking up every morning and paddling hard uphill while figuring out which direction to go. We did come out successfully. In the process we built great teams, relationships, and a deep connect with the channel partners. I spent my weekends and public holidays visiting general trade resellers; the individual owner stores. I started admiring their passion, and dedication to their work. They were there 7 days a week, 12 hours a day and took no holidays. They knew every bit of their business at their finger tips. I worked in RIM as if it was my own business – work timing, weekends, evenings didn’t matter. Everyone who met me would say “tumko kuch apna karna chahiye”. That would kindle the secret desire to start my own company.
But then Apple came along and threw the challenge of ramping up the iPhone business in India. It was a huge challenge in 2011. Incumbent’s including BlackBerry had become dominant players. I thought to myself, what better opportunity than to drive a challenge as big as this. In the 6 year period we grew the business significantly and made it the dominant smartphone in urban India. It always felt like I was running my own business at Apple. We built one of the best teams in India, innovated rapidly, and drove relentless execution. In the 6 year period we must have put in the work of 10 years. The question came up again, what next – my 10 years were coming up in India. I had built great relations, built two businesses from grounds up, and learnt how to execute in this complex environment. So kept asking myself, what do I want to commit to for my next 10 years in India?
We are going through a great time in India. All of us are staring at an India that will rise like never before. Under the leadership of PM Modi (who I adore) I see deep fundamental changes and transformation that will shape the economy in the next decade and beyond. Having spent the time with many great business leaders in the last few years I sensed the positivity and the common belief in the economic prosperity of India. However, I also realized that as we speak of Digital India, Smart Cities and so on, there is a piece we are missing. A large part of the ecosystem that drives the hardware business in India is being left behind. The so called mom-pop shops – General Trade Resellers in my language are the back bone of this country but they are not evolving as rapidly with the changes in the Country. Millions of people derive their livelihood from these shops and many millions are impacted and served by these individuals and their dedicated team. They are located in every gali, mohalla, urban shopping center and high street markets. Yet as India digitizes, I believe these millions of traders are left on their own to enhance their skills, become tech savvy, and understand how to play in the changing dynamics of e-commerce and digitization.
That’s where Sofyx is aimed at. Our objective is to transform and enable the General Trade Resellers in India through technology so that they can compete in New India. It’s like handing over some cool gear and a polished sword to a soldier battling against a more sophisticated army. I firmly believe that General Trade is here to stay as India evolves, we just need to equip and help them. Sofyx will do that on the buying side, on store management side, and then help them build a better connect with the customers. We will bring financial services to these partners in a unique and compelling way like it has never been done before in India. We aim to be present across 600 districts of India in the next five years. So that’s the direction we are headed. Since many of you wanted to know more I felt compelled to share a bit and how we think about it.
I spent last four weeks meeting many key partners I have known over years in atleast the mobility business and each one has shown enthusiasm and excitement. They all want to come on board. We will do that at the right time. Right now we are getting started. I have three other co-founders with me who bring deep expertise in their respective areas. The website will be up soon but we don’t intend to share too many details of our business model at this moment. We will share the details of team members soon, so stay tuned!
As we speak I am looking to have two other professionals to join hands with us as part of the senior team. We would love to have someone who will lead our “Finance / Affordablity” business and provide leadership to that business. We would also like to have someone who brings incredible experience building e-commerce like platforms. So if you know anyone who wants to jump in please ask them to send me a message on Linkedin. We look for energy, drive, ambition and good intellectual capability in people and not necessarily the ranks / age. Rest we will manage :).