I want to prove that Indian firms are capable of designing and developing quality STBs of global standards: Amit Kharabanda

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Wednesday, April 16,2014: All his life, he aspired to be an entrepreneur. A confident young man whose only asset was his strong faith in his vision, who fought against all odds and carved a niche for himself in the set top box (STB) business—something nobody dared to take up after bigwigs like Bharat Electronics had failed to make a success of it. Cherishing his childhood dream, Amit Kharabanda, executive director, MyBox Technologies Pvt Ltd, recounts his success story in a conversation with Kartiki Negi of Electronics Bazaar

Amit Kharabanda, executive director, MyBox Technologies Pvt Ltd
Amit Kharabanda, executive director, MyBox Technologies Pvt Ltd

I was born in 1974 in a joint family based in Delhi. My mother was a biology teacher at a government school, while my father is a chartered accountant. I had a very pleasant childhood, growing up with my uncles and cousins, and was very close to my grandparents.

I was always a confident child and fared well in my studies. Initially, I wanted to become a doctor but later I opted for engineering. Since the very beginning, I aspired to be an entrepreneur. So, as soon as I finished my engineering from Jamia Milia Islamia College, I enrolled in an MBA programme from MDI, Gurgaon. Even in those days, I was among the few in the college to be labelled as a future entrepreneur.

Both my parents have been supportive throughout my life. They always had faith in me and my decisions, while I had faith in my instincts.

Initial professional journey flew with the tide

As soon as I passed out from college, I joined Mohan Exports, a company owned by my father’s friend to understand how a business is run. It was a trading house. It was not a typical MBA job but I got to learn a lot. During this period, I got to travel to several places and Iraq was one of them. The firm exported all sorts of products—from pencil boxes to big machines, etc.

After having worked there for a year or so, my uncle, who had a garment export business, proposed that I join him. Deep in my heart I aspired to be a businessman but since I did not hail from a business family, I thought it would be a great experience. When I joined him in 1998, I thought I would be able to create a niche for myself in the garment business but that did not work out. It was towards the late 90s that it started becoming a much tougher business.

Amit Kharabanda with his colleagues
Amit Kharabanda with his colleagues

Initially, I enjoyed myself while I moved up the ranks—from learning about fabrics and production, to managing a team of about 400 people in the factory and realigning the company. During this period, I got married (in 2002) and took life as it came, carrying on with the garment business. Those five-seven years just flew by and I kept doing the same thing every day. That is when I ‘lost myself’ as an entrepreneur. I just lost that huge zeal to come out of the business and do what I aspired to do. I would not say that I wasn’t thinking about my plans but even my thoughts only went as far as discussions.

From garments to electronics

In 2004, we opened an IT company wherein we represented a few international IT companies to sell their products in India. All this while, I was also taking care of the garments business. This move triggered a new spark in me as I started enjoying myself, because there were far more new products and this gave me an opportunity to interact with clients. I was now applying the marketing skills I had learned while doing my MBA. So I decided to join this business full time. But, unfortunately, my uncle passed away and I delayed my decision so that I could shut down the garments business. But within six to seven months I was back to full time with my father. As the business progressed, we tied up with a Korean STB firm. We were probably the first Indian company engaged in representing an STB firm. Till now, few STB companies had ventured into the market. When I started, I thought the business would grow gradually but it grew quite fast. In a short span of time, we tied up with leading operators like Dish TV, Tata Sky, Hathway and Den. In 2007, we signed up with Airtel. By that time, we had achieved complete market dominance in terms of an STB brand. We were associated with all the top five brands of the country. However, the agreement with Airtel had a clause, which specified that any foreign company it dealt with, would need a proper office in India for smooth communication. Until then, we were representing the Korean firm as an agent. So, after consulting with the Korean principal company, we opened a registered office and I became the firm’s country head for India.

Birth of MyBox

During my several visits to Korea, I noticed that a lot of Indian origin software engineers were engaged in developing the software. By that time, I had also got a fair idea of how STBs worked and that is when the idea of locally manufacturing the STBs came to me. I felt I just had to put the whole ecosystem in place and get the right people employed.

So I did the research and created a blueprint. I started analysing other companies that had started in India and where they were going wrong. After I was fully convinced, I shared the whole idea with my father. I told him that it would be a risk, which required a huge investment, but I believed that since I had seen the industry, in and out, I was pretty sure that I would be able to make a success of it. My father, who was very close to the Vachani family (of Dixon Technologies), discussed the proposal with them and, fortunately, they found it to be good and agreed to it. We then entered into an agreement with them in early 2008. We registered ‘MyBox’ and at the same time, I quit the Korean company.

On the one hand, I was happy that my dream was finally going to be realised but on the other, I was quite apprehensive as it would take two years for us to go commercial and, therefore, large funds were needed to be pumped into the business to sustain it till then.

We started my firm with two people on board in September 2008. With time, we gradually increased our strength. Luckily, only a handful of people have left the organisation since its inception. Most of the team is still the same as on Day One.

We went commercial in September 2010, when we delivered our first product to Dish TV. Simultaneously, we were in talks with other people. From then, there has been no looking back. In the course of time, we also got ourselves registered with the Government of India as a recognised R&D house from Ministry of Science and Technology, which was also a great achievement. We incorporated the latest chips and software in our STBs so that when we went to market, we would be among the top two-three companies in the business.

In March 2011, we were a ‘one client, one conditional access system (CAS) and one STB product company’. By the end of 2012, we were a multiple product company, with many clients and two CAS. In 2013, the market appeared to be very slow due to the slowdown in digitisation, and so we focused on R&D and developed new products. We have also added high definition products to our portfolio.

I remember, when I ventured into the business in 2008, the world was reeling under a global crisis. Had I started thinking of this venture in the second half of 2008, this would have never happened because everybody might have withheld the funds they had put in. But since the project had already started by the time the global crisis happened, we got a good two years for R&D as the economy was bad and people were avoiding taking big decisions.

We received good deals initially, but in 2011, the market again slowed down after the World Cup and the IPL. So we got stuck with some stock but whenever the market crashed, we went back to R&D aggressively. Since we are a small organisation, we need to multi-task and also build our brand name.

In 2012, destiny played its part again and digitisation happened. We struck the bull’s eye. We did great business, and in 2012-13 we sold about 800,000-800,000 STBs.

My mantra

I have always believed that honesty is the best policy. There should be transparency in everything one does. I develop a good understanding with the suppliers and distributors. They are the ones who supported me when I was a nobody, before people had the faith in me that I could deliver. They always stood by me during the ups and downs. So I work towards maintaining a long-term relationship with them.

One needs to have faith in one’s passion and have the patience to execute it. For any entrepreneur, the toughest part is patience. Everybody around me told me that I was wasting money, but I believed in myself. I ventured into this business with 100 per cent confidence in my vision. When I left the Korean firm, I received a letter from the company saying that I had made the wrong move and that no Indian company would ever be successful in the STB business. Though I was already pretty confident, those words spurred me on with a renewed zeal to prove that letter wrong, at any cost. Even now, when I feel low, I go back to that mail—it motivates me again and again.

I keep telling my people that I can only guide them but it is up to them to make it big. At the end of the day, one has to have a sense of belonging towards the firm, and a sense of ownership in relation to the product. For me, passion is very important. When you come to the office, you should be motivated. Work will not get done if I force you to do something. It has to come from within. One has to be honest to the client. I would never compromise on that factor.

My family is my strength

What I am today is because of my parents and my wife. They have always supported me in my all decisions. I attribute my success to my lovely family and younger brother, uncles and aunts, cousins and world’s best friends, who have stuck by me through thick and thin.

My wife is my best friend, my biggest supporter and my biggest critic, who has always kept me grounded and always believed in me and given me the confidence to take on the world against all odds. I have two wonderful daughters aged nine and five, and all three of them are my biggest strength. I love spending time with them. I try to read to them and spend quality time with my daughters. They are the biggest stress busters for me.

My younger daughter was born in the same month, MyBox was set up. I have always believed that she is very lucky for me and has brought prosperity with her. I always thank God for giving me the honour to be a father of two lovely daughters, who are the greatest gift him ever.

Future goals

Amit Kharabanda with his family
Amit Kharabanda with his family

At present, we are moving in the right direction. However, during the past year there has been a lull. Like everyone, we also want to grow fast and expand our product portfolio, but at the same time we try to stay grounded. Sometimes, when you grow too fast, things get out of hand and uncontrollable during a crisis. We have always had this ‘sinusoidal curve’ kind of growth—sudden good numbers are invariably followed by a market crash. So at such times, it becomes very tough for the management but for the company, it is nice, as it keeps you grounded. We need to manage ourselves and expand in such a way that we do not go overboard.

Our mission is to become India’s leading STB brand across the world. We are expecting that next year will be good after the general elections. Over the last one or two years, there has been a lot of focus on local manufacturing. We have seen a lot of positivity from the government. We have realised that any product that is manufactured locally achieves a good market presence due to its sustainability, flexibility and availability. So, we are expecting good returns and bright times ahead.

The second phase of digitisation is also on the cards. At present, a lot of realignment is happening, which was expected. In these eight months, a lot of people have assessed their business models because, initially, these operators distributed STBs almost free-of-cost to the consumers with an aim of acquiring them. This way, they kind of harmed themselves by subsidising a product up to an unmanageable level. Hence, they are now realigning because, at the end of the day, this business needs lots of capital. If banks are offering funds, they also need returns, which is not happening. Even the local cable operator is checking his strategy. Therefore, we are on a path of evolution.

We, as a brand, have also done a lot of planning and research so that by the end of March 2014, when the market revives, we will be a leading Indian STB brand that can offer variety of products for the whole market of both cable and DTH.

I am hoping that the industry now starts believing that an Indian STB company can survive and challenge the global organisations. I truly believe that STBs can be designed, developed, and manufactured in India, yet compete globally. This is something we are trying to achieve and that would be a major contribution to the industry.

I want to make MyBox a very strong R&D firm not only in the field of STBs but, may be, for other electronics products also. We want to grow as an organisation that is known for its R&D, quality and products. I see a much bigger role for MyBox in the next five to ten years.

One thing that I would like to change…

In this world:

Negativity

In the country:

Corruption

In Society

Hypocrisy

 

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS…

Music:

Soft music

Food: 

Continental  

Books:

Fiction and books on law 

Holiday destinations: 

Scotland

Film:

‘DDLJ’ and ‘Pretty Woman’

Actor:

Aamir Khan

Actress:

Julia Roberts

Sport:

Golf

Role model:

My grandfather

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine