This CA & partner at EY went the entrepreneurial route and bootstrapped a profitable startup to help secure valuables
- My name is Sanjay Chakrabarti, a Chartered Accountant and an emerging Entrepreneur from India.
- I started my career at Arthur Andersen and by 2008 I was a Partner at EY.
- Becoming a partner was a key career milestone, yet there was a strong desire to start a second inning from scratch, and meeting my business partner Alok Sheth set the stage for my entrepreneurial journey!
- In 2014 I quit my job to co-found tag8.in - that uses an electronic tagging technology to help you secure your phone, wallet, key, laptop, travel items such as passport, bag, camera!
- Today tag8.in has sold over a million security tags to individuals and corporates, have a team of 45 and been growing 80/100% YOY...and I am proud to say we are 100% bootstrapped.
- Here is my journey of how the risk of starting all over has paid off!
Destiny lead me to Chartered Accountancy
As a youngster, like millions of others my age in India, my sole aspiration was to play cricket for India. (I had the opportunity to even play against the great Sachin Tendulkar, albeit only in one match).
The only condition coming from an educated family background was that I had to pass my exams with average results.
I joined RA Podar college (a reputed commerce College in Mumbai) since it had one of the best cricket teams; studying commerce was literally a byproduct.
When in the 12th grade, my father, who also doubled up as my role model, sat me down and told me, "Sanjay, at some point you will have to think whether you would like to pursue cricket full-time and if not, you will need to start focusing on your studies."
It was during that time I realized that I wasn’t good enough to pursue cricket as a career and decided to concentrate on my studies.
But what next? A lot of classmates were using their post-college time to take up other curriculum such as CA, CS, Cost Accountancy.
My dad encouraged me to pursue CA by introducing me to his CA friend, who was harrowed to discover that the subject I disliked the most was ironically accounting!
Fast forward, despite my dislike for accounting, I made up my mind and decided to go the CA route.
Luckily, it all paid off when I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in the first attempt! This was May 1997.
A great start to my career
Post-graduation and as I awaited the CA Inter results, I was shortlisted for an interview with Arthur Andersen in their Tax Team (arguably the most premium CA firm in India at that point).
I was super excited, but at the back of my mind, I wanted to pursue an MBA and was at crossroads whether I should or should not!
A great deal of luck and possibly not knowing while interviewing how big a deal it was to be part of Arthur Andersen worked in my favour. I was selected.
I started in the tax team, worked in Mumbai, Delhi and was growing well in my career. The learning at the firm was rigorous and demanded absolute commitment but was also an immensely satisfying experience.
By the time I became a manager, my plan to do an MBA was out of the window and becoming a Partner became the next mission.
During this period, Arthur Andersen merged with the EY practice in India.
In 2006 -2008, I got deputed to the New York office as the EY India desk head (the Golden years of India Shining). From a professional exposure and satisfaction perspective, these were my best 2 years.
Becoming a Partner and desire to be an Entrepreneur
In 2008, immediately after the New York stint, I returned to India as a Partner.
I was excited to be offered a role in the newly set-up Markets team that gave me a holistic view of the EY practice. Here I got a significant all-around exposure and it almost felt like working in a start-up.
In a couple of years, I became the 'Markets Leader' for the firm’s Infrastructure, Industrial and Consumer practice.
I was also given the responsibility to set-up and lead the Cleantech Practice with a team of MBAs and engineers.
My work allowed me to engage with successful entrepreneurs from close quarters which was just fascinating and their entrepreneurial spirit definitely rubbed on to me...with each passing day, I too wanted to be an entrepreneur!
Bidding adieu to the Big 4 & launching a 'lost and found business'
In 2009, I met Alok who was part of the business advisory team at EY,
I would say the idea of entrepreneurship lurked in my subconscious mind, however, it was only my meeting with my co-founder Alok, that brought the subject to life.
(Alok belongs to a family of entrepreneurs and always wanted to start his own. He joined the corporate world to gain a few years of experience but that 1-2 year window turned into a 13-year stint!)
Since 2010, Alok and I used to dream about taking the entrepreneurial leap, but without any concrete action.
Incidentally, our ‘lost and found’ business (using tagging technology) was the first idea that Alok had brought up in 2010.
We thought that our idea was ahead of time, so we explored a few more ideas.
Eventually, after brainstorming almost 100 ideas, it was only by the end of 2013 that we again got to this very first idea and started working more actively on it.
Mid-2014, we both resigned a day apart and there was no looking back. (I think things carefully and take my time, but once I have decided there is no looking back.)
How did my family react? In terms of family, given that from 2010, I kept mentioning that I would quit and therefore when I said it in 2014, they thought it was one of those passing phases. When I actually quit in 2014, it was a big surprise. My wife still thinks it was the result of mid-life crises!!
Bootstrapping our venture and building a team of 45!
We are a bootstrapped company from day one. We have been focused on ensuring that we maintain a bottom-line to manage the health of the business.
Fortunately, it all paid off when we turned profitable from the second year and started paying tax from the third year. (This was a big achievement!)
We have been growing 80/100% YOY (before Covid-19 hit).
We now run a team of 45 people and pleased to say that we haven’t had a single layoff since the pandemic started, though the going has been rather tough in the last few months.
Unlike other typical startups that are founded by younger people; in our case, because of our age, experience and existing relationships with many former clients and colleagues, we haven’t been required to make any cold calls to anyone.
Our first few large clients were companies with whom either Alok or I worked during our EY days.
We also got a lot of support from our ex-colleagues and friends. However, that does not mean we had it easy!
Since we were providing a completely new solution for the ‘lost and found’ business the biggest obstacle was to explain the solution and to create a need. Even today, we are the only company in India to provide this solution.
After landing the initial few assignments, it was all about using our skills and delivering to ensure we can leverage them for adding to the business.
The fact that we were and are blessed with a great team helped tremendously.
Also, in the fixed asset and people management business, getting in without any credentials was a challenge during the initial stages.
Luckily, the risks paid off as we were able to overcome every challenge.
1. tag8 Global ‘lost and found’ recovery services (www.tag8.in) – primarily a B2C business
- You could use tag8 to secure your daily routine items such as phone, wallet, key, laptop and also to secure your travel items such as passport, bag, camera!
- Trusted with over 0.7 million registered valuables, tag8 has an 80%+ return rate across different categories of products, with the highest return rate on the passport. (In the event your lost registered passport is not recovered, tag8 will reimburse, up to Rs 10,000, the statutory charges paid for getting a new one.)
- tag8 offerings are also supported by a 24X7 Customer Help Desk, to ensure that at any point of time, from any part of the world, we are just a call away from you.
2. tag8 provides smart asset and people management solutions (www.tag8.co) – a SAAS based B2B solution
- tag8 provides mobile lead fixed asset or people management and tracking platform that seamlessly operates across all technologies, including QR code, NFC, beacon, RFID, Bluetooth, GPS.
- In this space tag8 works for and with several of the CA firms, including all the Big 4s.
Timeline of our journey so far
- Jan 14th Company incorporated
- Oct - commercial income.
- Our first office was probably smaller than my cabin at EY. But I never missed any of the support, comfort or luxuries, except for the big fat monthly paycheque!
2016: First major engagement
2017: HDFC Bank Digital Innovation Award, FICCI Travel Tech Award, Presence in Delhi
2018: BMA Startup of the Year Award, ET Now – featured on Leaders of Tomorrow, tag8 bags security tag – Amazon #1 best-seller, tag8 passport security case – Amazon Choice Product
2019: India Mobile Congress – tag8 digital phone tag - top 10 app, NTDV – tag8 digital phone tag - top 10 trending app, presence in Bangalore and Pune
2020: In the current Covid-19 environment, tag8 has leveraged its platform to introduce Covid Safeguard solutions, including fever & mask detection, social distancing, contact tracing, smart attendance among other solutions.
Leaving our full-time jobs at EY wasn’t easy for us, because of the great time we had and the promising future our careers had in store.
Despite how hard it was, chasing a dream and bringing it to life was just something we couldn’t resist.
My entrepreneurial journey has been extremely exciting and fulfilling so far. We are committed to making ‘tag8’ a globally recognized brand for tracking valuables, assets, people.
Our entire team is working hard towards this goal.
At the same time, we are also clear that, in this pursuit, it is imperative that we enjoy the journey. Success for me is to live in the present and be healthy and happy.
Now It's Your Turn...
Have you ever considered starting your own? What is stopping you?
(Video edited by Ankit Lodhi)
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