AMIT JAIN, CEO and Co-founder of Girnarsoft and CarDekho - the 33rd unicorn to be minted in India in 2021 – talks of his journey guided by deep-rooted emotions around the family, setting up the company with his brother Anurag Jain, grooming simple people into leaders in Jaipur and ambition of scaling up to a $10 billion company
FAMILY IS MY WORLD
I grew up in a close-knit ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ type of joint family comprising my grandparents, parents and us children, living under one roof in Jaipur. Later, both my brother Anurag Jain and I went to IIT Delhi. We both passed out, found jobs and moved to the United States - I lived in Boston, and he in Dallas. Then I came back to Bangalore to work at Trilogy and Anurag came back too. I was a programmer by profession, and had moved into a product-cum-business role at Trilogy and that’s where I first imbibed the start-up mindset.
In 2006, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Trilogy allowed me to work remotely so I could be with my father in Mumbai where he was getting treated at Tata Memorial. I am thankful that I could be with him till the end. After he passed away, Anurag and I decided to shift to Jaipur to be with our ageing grandparents and mother, but we didn’t know what we would do there. For six months, we tried our hand at my father’s gemstones trading business. It wasn’t easy after a corporate life. You actually had to carry a bag of stones and go shop-to-shop to show the stocks and sell. Naturally, we didn’t enjoy it and decided to get back to IT. That’s when we incorporated a company - Girnarsoft - from our garage. Our ex-bosses and people we knew gave us projects. Our objective was not a start-up, but making both ends meet. However, we did have an ambition – to make it large and possibly a billion-dollar company one day. We didn’t know how to go about it, but we updated our LinkedIn profiles with this goal, and the number drove me significantly through my journey of launching CarDekho and other companies later.
LEARN TO DREAM BIG
CarDekho happened in 2008. We had gone to New Delhi to buy our first BMW at an Auto Expo. We saw a lot of nice cars. Then we searched online for the same cars. We realized that the information we got at the Expo was not available online. That prompted us to start this portal CarDekho. We collected all the brochures from the Expo, stacked them in the boot of our car, and created a site with a friend’s help. CarDekho was based on our own need of trying to find information on cars and not succeeding.
Today, CarDekho is already a unicorn and my ambition is to be a $ 10 billion company. Actually, I'm inspired by taking on unrealistic goals. That’s where the challenge and fun lies. One thing I’ve learnt is to dream big and believe in it. Then your activities, your brain processes, your thinking change. That’s what happened to me. In 2007, there weren’t too many start-ups in India. We started launching start-up after start-up to see where we could achieve scale. Many of them failed too. The good part is that we failed so many times that our foundation is very strong on how not to do things. But we have been persistent - that we want to build something large. If you persevere and believe, then you will always find a solution and a way. We persisted against all odds. We ran the organization unfunded for a good seven years. We managed to be the No.1 portal without any funds raised or a single dollar in marketing spends. With perseverance comes innovation. When you don’t have the money, you find ways to do better with less money. Thus our innovation DNA came alive.
LEADERS FROM JAIPUR
When we started our company, we took in freshers from local colleges who could not get jobs as talent is limited in Jaipur. We hired local engineers and trained them ourselves. The best part is that 50% of the original batch of people we trained are still with us. Those simple people have actually become leaders, making me realize that degrees don’t matter. What matters is the ‘experiences per year’ you gain. For 3-4 years of their lives, those folks practically learnt what a normal IIT grad would learn. They got exposed to situations. One clear I learnt is: ‘Don't measure your experience in years. Measure it in terms of experiences per year.’ So, you can easily spend five years to learn 25 years’ worth of experiences. My goal and endeavour till date has been how can I learn more every year and gain three to five years of experience further to my age every year. That will make me more accomplished. And that's what happens in start-ups. In fact, to any fresh grad I say, ‘Don’t be a small fish in a big pond. Be big fish in a small pond. You learn a lot there.’ In a small company, the impact you create, how you grow in your thinking and competencies are much faster than in very large companies where you could get lost in the crowd.
Another factor that built our company is loyalty of the team. In a small town, the culture is that people are friendlier and family-oriented. I still call Girnar my family, not my company.
Now of course, we recruit pan-India. We have a larger office in Gurugram with more talent being attracted there. But I am still based in Jaipur. I like this city. I keep travelling to Gurugram, but run the company from here.
GOALS FOR CARDEKHO
Right now, we are very focused on setting up our used car business and creating a trustworthy brand for our consumers. When you buy a car from a dealer, there are a lot of ambiguities. Was the car in an accident. Was the meter tampered with? Will I be faced with a huge expense after buying it? Will I be able to return the car if it's not good? Things like these are unanswered in India today. So we are trying to work from the consumer’s side to deliver quality cars with a promise that you won't incur any significant expense for one year if you buy from us. You can return it in seven days if you don't like the car. If anything goes bad, you can bring it back and we’ll repair it free of cost. Much like a manufacturer does. Our mission is to become an OEM of used cars. While we do so, we're also trying to establish an ecosystem of finance and insurance. We are setting up instant lending from an NBFC on used car loans. That’ll be our second focus. We are also going to set up an insurance claim centre.
Plans are for international expansion with a similar model. We are already present in Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia in the new car and used car lending business. We have not yet entered the used car buying-selling business yet. But that will be on the cards.
‘I GIVE MY KIDS TIME’
Outside of work, I like to spend time with my kids. I teach them sometimes, play football with them. My father gave me a lot of time when I was growing up. I try to give my kids as much time as I can. I like watching a series on Netflix or something with my wife on weekends, or play tennis or cricket. I like to party hard too. My theme is work hard, party hard.
On USP of CarDekho in the industry
We are an ecosystem player. We are into new cars, used cars, insurance, finance and now we're getting into refurbishment. We are a platform player. In insurance and finance, we control 9% of the used car lending market in India, and 2.5% of Indian auto market insurance. Our game-play is very varied. We recognize that a person buying a car takes finance and insurance. He also sells his car after four years. If you can repeat customers based on your services, that’s when you get something called lifetime value of a customer.
On the current market for EVs
Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the future of this industry. They will first disrupt the two-wheelers and then the four-wheeler segment. Right now, battery cost is very high for an entry level car to make it a practical buy. As in the case of mobile phones, the EV industry too is going to evolve in terms of charging time, range and price. Cost of batteries has already reduced to one-third in the last 4-5 years, thanks perhaps to economies of scale. Over the next 5-10 years, charging stations will be omni-present. We will see a significant EV ecosystem and double-digit market-share for electric cars and bikes as they become affordable and people buy them.
On new vehicle scrappage policy
The Government’s recent vehicle scrappage policy restricting use of commercial vehicles older than 10 years and private vehicles older than 15 years in metros is a good policy because it will increase new automobile sales. What it will mean practically, is that cars from metros will go to smaller towns. India is at a very low car penetration today. Roughly, it’s about 27 cars per 1,000 people vis-à-vis 800 cars per 1,000 people in the US and 200 cars per 1,000 people in China. This policy will force car prices to come down significantly as cars will become scrap after 10-15 years. Value of a car will drop so much that it’ll become very affordable for people in smaller towns, thereby increasing car penetration in Tier II and Tier III cities. Overall, it will benefit the automobile ecosystem significantly.
On CarDekho’s upcoming IPO launch
We are planning an IPO 18 months from now. A successful IPO is what we expect. I don’t think too much beyond building a good and trustworthy company.
On keeping up with the times
I have a very competent team and I learn from my team the most. A good peer group helps you get more educated than anybody else. Besides, I do a lot of reading around other companies, trends, how EVs are performing in other countries, how things are getting disrupted. What’s China doing in used cars? What’s the US doing in used cars? What is similar or different from India?
On his life mantra
Be happy with whatever you get. I am always a content guy, a happy guy. Competition doesn’t bother me. I am competing with myself to be better rather than competing outside.
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