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India’s Earliest Product Entrepreneur: FACT CEO Arvind Agarwalla (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Oct 15th 2013

Sramana: When you first started the company, how did you get the product into the market? How did you build the product and acquire your first customers?

Arvind Agarwalla: I set up the company at the end of 1987. My first colleague was a very good friend of mine and remains a close friend to this day. He used to work for a consulting company and traveled all over Kolkata. He was the techie, and I was the commercial guy between the techies and the customers. In February 1988 we made our first sale. If I recall correctly, it was for 3,999 rupees. It was a very basic ledger system that we sold to some friends and family who knew that I was getting into this business.

We got out first customer and we started to improve the product. I went out and hired some people, but it was extremely difficult in those days to sell software. Everybody was used to free pirated copies of software, or they were using tailor-made software. They had no concept of package software outside of the US. For the first two years, I was the only salesperson for the company.

When I was doing sales, my first objective was finding out who owned a computer. There was no point in talking to someone who did not own a computer. Computers were very expensive. I remember that my first computer was 100,000 rupees at an exchange rate of 11 rupees to the dollar. Sterling Computers came out and smashed the prices of computers in India, and all the prices dropped by 25%. Even in those days Word and other programs were available via copies. When I bought my first computer, they charged me for the software and then gave me five disk copies. That was the environment back then.

Sramana: How did you go about getting the names of computer owners?

Arvind Agarwalla: I would call up the computer dealers at that time and tell them that I needed to buy a computer. I would ask them for a list of 20 people who they had sold to a computer in the past three months so I could determine how good their service was. I would then call those people and introduce myself. I informed them that we had built some amazing accounting software, and I invited them to our office to take a look at the software.

It was not easy back then. I was the only sales guy, and we did not have laptops back then. When I made these calls, they would always ask me to come to their office instead. I would keep calling them until they came to our office. I was able to offer them free parking, and I told them that we had the best coffee and biscuits in town. The building we were at had a lot of parking inside. We served fresh biscuits and hand-whipped espresso. We would serve it and word got around that we had something interesting to see. A number of the customers that we acquired in those two years are still our customers 25 years later.

This segment is part 2 in the series : India's Earliest Product Entrepreneur: FACT CEO Arvind Agarwalla
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