Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Spark that lead to

The story begins with Vishal Mehta. Vishal was born in a traditional big joint family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. And "big joint family" in India, as we know, means 20 people under the same roof, with open unlocked doors and uninvited guests at home all the time.

”I was an average guy with a very happy go lucky attitude” says Vishal and sometime around high school, he got the bug of "got to make something, build something in life".  While there are no stats to prove but perhaps it has something to do with the Gujarat that breeds the most number of entrepreneurs in India. Once the bug hit him, he topped all academic exams and studied science and engineering in college.

Like many Indian students, he wanted to go abroad to pursue college studies and ended up with admissions at Cornell University where he studied Operations Research & Management.  He remembers fondly trying to catch free pizza in late evenings and thinking twice before having a cup of coffee in frigid cold, like any Indian student going to the US with aspirations to make it in life and living on a budget.

So why Cornell? Vishal says "Because I wanted to study Operations Research & Management, and Cornell is such a fantastic place to study Applied Mathematics and Computers". This was a great way of learning the principles of running an organization. After graduating with honours, Vishal toyed with the idea of starting a company and even talked to a couple of friends about starting a company. But, like any cautious Indian, decided it is better to make some money first, and equally important, get some real world experience about the industry first.

He worked for more than a year at Dell which is a leading direct-to-consumer ecommerce company with the industry’s leading supply chain practice and worked at the intersection of computers and finance. He was still thinking about his dream of building a company, so decided to further his skills. To solidify his management skills, he pursued graduate studies in management at MIT. Once you know your dreams, you will work on learning everything there is to make that dream come true.

Coincidentally, by the time he graduated, the Internet bubble had burst! So it was difficult to raise capital and the future of ecommerce was doubtful. Then he looked at Amazon, the best of the breed, and found that there were some terrific smart people at all levels.  “I felt ethically right to work in a company that is so obsessed with their customers”.  Vishal worked at for several years in technology, finance and corporate development roles.

In 2007, he wanted to move back to India to pursue his dream of starting and building a technology company.  For more than ten years of his life in the US, he had some savings accumulated but mostly invested in assets.  “I told my wife that we will need to sell our house, car and all long term investments and place the funds behind this startup, plus move back to India”.  She was hesitant at first and making this commitment was not easy but she was super supportive and the startup was a “GO”. 

“Just the week after we made this exciting decision, we found out that we were expecting our first kid!  We got worried about the timing of the big move to India in this condition.  I had given my resignation to the company, our house was on the sale block and we had booked our airline tickets.  Expecting parent + Moving to India + startup was going to be very intense.  But we had made a decision and a commitment, and we were going to stand by it.“

“The initial momentum in any startup is crucial and the first thing to do is build a solid team.  I had 4 partners join me in building the company.  They were friends and colleagues who are known to me from college and work.  We started in the good old fashioned bootstrapped way - working in someone's garage, writing up a business plan, grinding out the product, and so on.”

As a testament to Vishal’s and the team’s vision and commitment, today, InfiBeam caters to 40 lakh visits per month by Indians online  who buy everything from books to pressure cookers to instant dosa mix to mobile phones to feng shui products to chocolates to motorcycles and kids' laptops!

There are also quite a few Indians who live outside India, in fact, in more than 50 countries, who prefer to buy familiar chappals and books from And all this has happened in just one and a half years.

“The journey has been a big challenge, especially because something of this scale hadn't been done before and there were countless long nights and hard work. But it was approached by enjoying to face the odds and converting problems into opportunities.”

We will be sharing more of the past journey and the road ahead with you in future entries on this company blog. We will be discussing the challenges, the opportunities, the struggles, our thought process, and the effort we are putting into our dream, and, in the process, hopefully help other entrepreneurs make informed decisions about their startup aspirations as well.