“Startups should be confident about what they are doing and never lose hope”

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Vishal Parekh, marketing director, Kingston Technology India

What has enabled Kingston to stay connected with consumers over the years is that it has helped end users get over their fear of technology. In a candid conversation with Baishakhi Dutta, senior business journalist, Electronics Bazaar, Vishal Parekh, marketing director, Kingston Technology India, talks about the organisation’s success story and how it has taken the professional gaming domain to altogether new heights.

Lesser known facts about me
Favourite music: Anything smooth and not too loud is perfect
Favourite food: Mushroom risotto, roasted asparagus and ricotta cheese pizza
Favourite films: ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and ‘October’
Favourite book: ‘Business Management Simplified’ by Sanjay Shah
Favourite actor: Madhubala
Favourite singer: Kishore Kumar
Ideals I live by: Stay composed so that you can make sound and responsible decisions


Childhood and education

My childhood was not particularly exciting, since I come from a traditional family in which there were a lot of restrictions, particularly with my grandfather staying with us. I was an average student, but I got to learn the practical aspects of life through personal experimentation. My focus was always on studies and not so much on sports and extra-curricular activities. During my childhood, I enjoyed exploring and experimenting with the gadgets of those days—opening them up to figure out how they worked was something that excited me a lot. So whether it was my first handheld video game or a mouse, I have tried opening nearly every gadget I came across and experimented with it.

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, where I completed my education, appearing for the SSC Board exam. After that I did my graduation in commerce and post-graduation in marketing management. I was always an average student and never got into the distinction or merit lists. I strongly believe that it was my logical thinking capabilities that helped me grow.

Why I chose this profession
I always had an inclination towards technology. In my friends’ circle, I was always the first one to try out new gadgets, and this was the case ever since my college days. I would read all the tech articles, especially on how computer languages were making news those days. And I enjoyed movies that focused on advanced futuristic technologies. So this is how my fondness for technology evolved early on.

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The journey so far
After completing my post-graduation, I started my career in the retail space, working with Pantaloons. Then I moved to the Lintas Group, which was one of the leading advertising agencies in those years. After that I joined a company called Monarch, which is still into building hardware and software for imaging. From there I made a switch to the gaming industry by joining Zapach. Post Zapach, I joined Kingston because it is a technology giant. Its memory cards and pen drives (which used to be a luxury more than a decade back) have revolutionised the industry.

At Monarch, I used to convert video tapes into CDs and DVDs. The company made the hardware and software for digital photography. From there I got into gaming—I got exposed to the professional gaming field in 2005-06. That became my new passion. For me, gaming had been about playing on those handheld devices, but when I actually got into the professional games like Counter Strike 1.6, that experience turned out to be something much more exciting and intriguing.

At that point in time, I heard about Kingston gearing up for the gaming domain and that’s how I was introduced to HyperX, the gaming subsidiary of Kingston Technology.
I believe I joined Kingston at the right time since India was at the verge of embracing technology advancements. Earlier, there was a fear factor associated with tech, among the general public. There was a lot of pioneering work that Kingston came up with—for instance, taking a luxury item like a pen drive from the IT domain and making it accessible to mainstream users.

So a lot of revolutionary changes took place and HyperX added a lot more fuel to the growing gaming sector. Starting from 1999, up till now, this is how my journey has been. In a nutshell, I can say that there were no compulsions at all behind me choosing this profession; rather, it was my immense love for technology and gaming that spearheaded my professional journey.

My major contribution to the industry
My journey at Kingston started 11 years back. Now we have two separate brands—Kingston and HyperX, which focus on two different industry verticals. A decade ago, a pen drive was a sheer luxury, and it was used specifically to carry very important data, which was to be shared between colleagues only. At Kingston, what we did was to break this boundary and reach out to the consumer space. We were probably the first brand to air a TV commercial that showed a pen drive being taken out of the office space and being plugged into a car stereo. This completely repositioned Kingston in India.

Our initial tagline was ‘Committed to technology’, and for the first mass media campaign this was changed to ‘It’s my space’. So Kingston became a pioneer for those early memory products, taking them out from the IT domain and placing them in the hands of youngsters. Another parallel campaign that happened at that time was about, ‘Sharing your life’. The idea was that we need not type mails, send attachments, etc, when we can actually share things on a drive, quite easily. So, that’s how we kept on innovating almost every year.

We were also the first brand to tie up with Bollywood and Hollywood movies as a part of our promotional programmes. We also sponsored the Rajasthan Royals cricket team during the Indian Premier League (IPL), which was again a pioneering move. Apart from interacting with our distributors and channel partners, we also started communicating with various tech communities, bloggers and consumers. We taught them how to install RAM on a PC, an intimidating task because consumers never thought of opening up a laptop by themselves in those days. So when we showed them how easy it was, it changed the way consumers viewed RAM. Overnight, it became a plug-and-play device rather than some hardware that you had to buy at a service centre or from a hardware professional.

We also touched base with corporate houses, where we started talking about how SSD was better than the hard drive by actually doing activations that would surprise them, and they would come back to us saying they were interested. So there were many things we did that helped to take the fear out of technology, and this has helped us to stay connected pretty strongly with consumers all these years.

Major turning points
If I have to look back at my career path, the excitement has always been in trying out new things and luckily, with Kingston, I always got that space to implement the new campaigns, new products and strategies, along with connecting with the end user. You could say that some of the challenges we faced were what startups face too; yet, this has always been encouraging for me. Even as recent as three years back, no one in India thought of gaming being a big game changer in this country. So bringing gaming to the Indian consumers through various programmes and tournaments was indeed challenging.

As we had expected and worked for, in 2016 there was a big boom spearheaded by ESL, a tournament recognized by global professional gamers. Here again, HyperX was the front runner to support such events and provide a top notch gaming experience to end users. So eventually, what has kept me going is the excitement of doing new things almost every year, even while I remained in the same organisation.

Management style
I prefer a pretty dynamic structure in an organisation. I believe it’s not possible to follow one single policy or strategy throughout the year because, eventually, we need to keep changing our plans according to the vast array of products that come out every year. Consumer behaviour also varies from region to region. So these things make it difficult to follow one particular style. So the management style keeps on changing according to the need of the hour. The different target audiences and the variety of products we work with cannot be managed by sticking to one single management style and, therefore, we keep changing our strategy.

Message to entrepreneurs
A lot of startups are entering the market. We often hear of many of them not being able to succeed. Kingston was started in 1987 when there was an ongoing financial crisis and the stock market had crashed. Despite that, we have succeeded. So the advice to startups is to be confident about what they are doing, and not to lose hope. Before they give up, they must always remember why they started the project. This mindset might help them come up with some alternative plans to execute their project instead of letting it go.

Future plans
Kingston has witnessed one of the busiest years in 2017. I am very hopeful that 2018-19 will turn out to be even more fruitful since both the brands, HyperX and Kingston, will be launching many new technologies. We are planning to strengthen our brand value in the upcoming years by launching a new array of technological innovations.

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