Entrepreneur Kailash Katkar on his journey from calculator repairman to MD and CEO of Quick Heal Technologies Ltd, a Rs 2,250-crore company listed in the NSE and BSE.
When Kailash Katkar started out his career in a calculator repair workshop back in the 1990s, never once did he think he would be sitting at the head of an Rs 2,250-crore company that is listed in the National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange.
To say that his journey has been remarkable is probably an understatement. Kailash Katkar is the MD and CEO of Quick Heal Technologies Ltd whose IPO came out two months ago. But the journey of this first generation entrepreneur didn’t exactly begin in a calculator repair shop.
It began back when he was still in school. While other kids were playing cricket in the lanes of Pune, Kailash was figuring out how to do screen printing. He’d taken to it and he wanted to know how it was done! He visited paint shops, learnt how to make blocks and studied the art. It was hard work but fun.
What was more fun was repairing radios and cassette players, very much the rage then. Even though he was making enough and more money repairing these gadgets, he knew that future was just a turn away. Which was why he responded to an advertisement for a calculator technician. From a crowd of 25 applicants, he was the only one selected.
As time went by Kailash discovered a new gadget—the computer. And he started repairing those. With the help of his brother, Sanjay, who he encouraged to take up computer engineering, Kailash laid the foundations of the company that we now know as Quick Heal.
He urged Sanjay to develop tools that would kill the viruses as he often had to battle when repairing computers. Kailash then distributed these viral destroying tools to his customers for free and soon they were more popular than MNC anti-virus softwares. That’s because most anti-virus softwares then didn’t kill the virus, they just gave you the option to quarantine the file or delete it. Sensing that he was onto something Kailash asked his brother to further develop an anti-virus software that could be sold in the market.
From a time when viruses could be transferred on a floppy disk to a time when even the most sophisticated smart phones are not safe from being hacked, Kailash has had a ringside view of the all the action in the security space.
And so on a bright Thursday morning Kailash agreed to settle down for an interview over the telephone. Edited excerpts from a free-flowing conversation:
From a calculator repair shop to the founder of Quick Heal to the Quick Heal IPO—what are your learnings from this journey?
If you really want to start a business you have to learn everything pertaining to it—from accounts to sales to marketing. When I started generating revenue, I would sit with my CA for an hour every night to understand taxation, profitability etc. When the customers started growing, rather than sitting and protecting my cash, I went out to understand what they needed from the product. When my initial sales hires didn’t work, I did their job myself. That way I began to learn something new about my business every single day. I never read any books on marketing; I’ve only studied till Std 10, that is secondary school. But as an entrepreneur, one of my biggest learnings has been that if one focuses on the business, the cash will keep coming in.
If you had been in Mumbai instead of Pune would it have made a difference to your success?
I was brought up in Pune and I’ve always loved it. I thought of setting up a branch in Mumbai, but realised it was a very fast city, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to match the level of service which I was offering in Pune. So I went after smaller cities. I started my first branch in Nashik, and was successful in the very first month. Three months later I opened a branch in Nagpur, then Indore and Kolhapur. I moved to cities where there was hardly any competition and where my skills and experience would give a much better output. That’s how we also fast-tracked our success in other states by covering the upcountry market prior focussing on Metros.
How does Quick Heal keep up with technology and innovate?
By having more and more people contributing in R&D. We have a team of 500+ just for software development. In the beginning it was only Sanjay, later he added 8-10 developers and so on. Sanjay manages the product development. He’s always on the lookout for the new entrants in the market. He’s also a part of international associations that discuss and share the latest developments. So he ensures that he’s up-to-date.
What is Quick Heal’s biggest strength— brand or technology?
Today, it is our brand. We’ve become a giant brand in India and have our own network across the country. In the beginning big distributors told me they don’t want to sell Indian products. So I had to set up my own network. Now, I have offices in 38 cities and we are connected to every shop, with more than 20,000 partners. We talk to them on a daily basis, educate them on how to sell the product, maintain the customer etc. This knowledge sharing is our biggest strength. We also have offices in Japan, Kenya, USA and Dubai.
Why did you list in India instead of going to NASDAQ?
I have a big customer base in India, and I thought that since my major revenue is coming from India I should give Indian investors the opportunity first.
What challenges do you think Quick Heal will have to face?
The first are business challenges; competition will always be there. Competition is always good because that keeps you on your toes and you keep developing better products for customers. The second challenge is getting acquiring professional talent to work. As a technology company, we really need a pool of talented manpower, be it for technical or business functions. I always look for passionate people who believe in driving the difference and of course their valued contribution for the organisation and products. Appropriate talent acquisition is a big challenge.
What’s your view about Make in India?
It’s a good vibe created by the new government. People in ministries have started talking about technology, and that’s a good thing. Even if they support the industry for product or technology development, it will help everyone – start-ups and well-established firms. And that will help the Indian economy.
What advice would you give start-ups?
If you have an idea, first find out if you have a customer who is going to use your idea/product. Then spend some money from your own pocket, find a handful of investors who believe in your idea and come out with the product/service and start generating some revenue. Then approach funding companies. That’s when you will get a good value. If you just come up with ideas and look for funding there is very little likelihood of you getting a good value.
Best route for product companies to take—bootstrapping, funding, IPO?
Bootstrapping is the most important. If you start as a bootstrap, you do business in a given time, either you take money from your own pocket or save money on the side while you continue working. Develop your idea better during this time, get one or two customers on board then approach a funder. This will help in your success as you’re not dependent on anyone at the very beginning.
What are the makings of a good entrepreneur?
Developing customers, maintaining relations by keeping them satisfied and understanding the finance cash flow are key factors in business. Without a customer your business is nothing.
Did you have a mentor?
In my journey I’ve never had any one particular person whom I learnt everything from. I’ve had hundreds of mentors; people from whom I have learnt something new and I’ve used those learnings in my business.
Any one person who inspires you?
My younger brother Sanjay. He’s the only person who has been with me since the beginning. And whenever I make mistakes he isn’t afraid to tell me so, and highlight what needs to be changed. We learn a lot from each other.
What’s the plan ahead for Quick Heal?
It is my dream that Quick Heal should be the foremost name in IT Security in the digital world. Whenever there is a gadget and when people talk of security, Quick Heal should be the first name that should come to their mind.
If a corporation would want to acquire Quick Heal would you sell it?
On the personal front, how do you maintain work-life balance?
I like music and movies. After office hours I listen to music or watch movies and spend time with my family.