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India’s Earliest Product Entrepreneur: FACT CEO Arvind Agarwalla (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Oct 14th 2013

Arvind Agarwalla is the founder and CEO of FACT Software. Arvind founded FACT after recognizing that in the mid-1990s computers were primarily sold to automate accounting practices, yet they did not have a standard software package to accomplish the accounting functions. Now FACT has been established for 25 years and helps small and medium enterprises become more efficient, productive, and profitable.

Sramana: Arvind, let’s start with the beginning of your story. Of course you are from Kolkata, my favorite city. What kind of circumstances did you grow up in? You are one of the earliest product entrepreneurs in India. Tell me more about your story.

Arvind Agarwalla: I wind the clock back prior to my birth. My family moved to Kolkata in 1900. Entrepreneurship runs in our genes. We were a large industrial family, and like any large industrial family we had our share of brother vs. brother rivalries. My grandfather was thrown out of the family in 1955 when my father was 16. We went from owning an airline, steel plant, and a piece of every industry in the country to becoming paupers overnight.

My father built up his family and his finances brick by brick. I grew up in a very middle-class environment. Education was paramount in our branch of the family. My father finished high school when he was 14. I was a straight-A student and I was a science student. Midway through my 9th grade year, we migrated to the United States. We spent the next 15 months in New York before my father decided that was not a place [in which] he wanted his kids to grow up, so we returned to Kolkata. I struggled to finish my 11th and 12th grade in science, and that was the end of my science academic career.

The science bug in me was very alive and robust. I could not see myself just doing business. When I was in my third year in college, I took over a gas station and was earning more money than my dad was. In 1984 I went to Hong Kong and bought myself an Apple IIe compatible and paid 180% duty to bring that back. I had to pay an additional 100% fine to bring a banned item into India. We became the first gas station to have its own in-house computer. Our invoicing system was developed in Basic. I paid a consulting 5,000 rupees to come and write the program. He would come from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and write the program.

We did not have a hard disk, we just had the 5.25 inch floppy disk. I had four drives. One was the operating system, one was the program, and two were the data drives. I would eat my dinner while he was there working, and then around 10 p.m. I would start working on his program to make it faster and more efficient, and do that until 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. That was my first foray into computers. That got me very excited.

My dad kept asking me why I was wasting so much time on the computer. I did not know why, other than it was something that I found to be very exciting. As things would have it in 1987 I set up my company in Kolkata. In those days computers were really expensive. There was no question of home computers or color monitors. Companies bought computers to automate their accounting, which was extremely laborious and had a large number of transactions. While I was running my gas station, I had gone around looking for accounting software. I did not find anything, so I figured there was an opportunity.

That is why FACT Software was created. In those days I would read success stories from the US about how companies were making a huge fortune selling software packages. I realized that all of the computers I had been sold for accounting had no accounting software, so I figured I would build a software package that I could sell.

This segment is part 1 in the series : India's Earliest Product Entrepreneur: FACT CEO Arvind Agarwalla
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