Very few entrepreneurs in India have dared to start a venture from Jaipur, and that, too, with technology at its heart. Amit Jain, founder of CarDekho.com, has been a maverick in that sense. The Rajasthan government proudly showcases Amit as a shining star of the startup revolution from its capital. But, back in 2007, there was hardly any visibility for Amit's business.
Circumstances played a role in Amit starting from Jaipur. After their father died from cancer, Amit, 39, and his brother, Anurag, 37, had to leave their flourishing careers to support their mother and grandparents. Amit had worked at Trilogy, a software company based in Austin, Texas, and started its India operations in Bengaluru. The experience came in handy when he thought of starting from Jaipur.
“I had started with ten people at Trilogy and literally built their India operations from scratch. From fixing wires to taking care of administration, I had done everything,” says Amit.
The Jains had a family business in gems and jewellery which was run by their father. Before launching their startup, the brothers had tried to manage that, but having worked in the corporate world, they did not quite like it.
“We would carry a suitcase full of these gems and go door-to-door, trying to sell it in the US. The clients made us wait for hours. There was so much of unprofessionalism, of the kind that we were not used to,” says the IIT-trained entrepreneur. Software was what they were experts in, so the foundations of GirnarSoft, the parent company of CarDekho.com, were laid in the garage of their house in 2007. It was called Girnar after the name of their house. The startup began with writing code for companies in the US.
The first challenge Amit faced in Jaipur was hiring. Quality tech talent was not easily available. Plus it was a startup, working out of a garage with just two laptops and shoddy infrastructure. A funny incident happened then.
When one of the first applicants came for an interview, he could not believe that Amit and Anurag were the founders. The brothers were sweeping floors in knickers! They were planning to change to a formal attire, but the interviewee had come before they could.
One of the lessons that Amit learned is that you need to fail to succeed. CarDekho.com succeeded after ten ventures had been shut down because the business model did not click with the users. The brothers had started portals on jewellery, astrology and e-commerce, but most of them failed to take off. Their software business kept growing and so did CarDekho.com. Girnar posted profits year after year.
One of the high points of their entrepreneurial journey was when Ratan Tata invested in CarDekho.com. The brothers had approached Tata through one of the board members and he liked the fact that they had been running a profitable business from Jaipur.
In 2009, soon after they started investing in shares, stock markets across the world crashed, leaving a hole of $1 crore in their pocket. “We were hurt, but then we took it positively. The world didn’t come crashing down,” says Amit. Their lighthearted spirit is reflected in the company as well. And despite burning their fingers with several ventures, life is as exciting for them.
“We have built this company on a culture of celebration. We look for a reason to party and celebrate. Sometimes it is at home, sometimes at office and sometimes at a restaurant,” says Amit. The lawn at their house gets transformed into a bar for these parties; he calls it the Girnar bar.
He loves drinking with his team, so as to bond with them. So, does he collect wines? “I love single malt. But I can’t collect them. I will eventually end up drinking them,” he says with a grin.
Saturdays are for cricket and Sundays strictly for his kids, Aahil and Aayan. Amit is a family man and loves spending time with his mother. “Since my extended family is also here, festivals are celebrated with a lot of fun and frolic. I get involved in decoration, food and games during those days,” says Amit.
Quite oddly, his day begins at 9.30 in the morning, and goes on till 4am. Even after returning from office, he works from home reading and replying to mails and prioritising next day’s work. He goes through every single customer mail.
Vacations have not happened for the past few years because of the kids. His wife says the last time they went to Las Vegas for a holiday, she had to lock up his laptop. Amit is fond of gambling, though purely for fun, he says. “I loved the night life in Las Vegas and gambled as well. In Jaipur, we play poker with family during Diwali.” Amit and Anurag loves video games, too. Once the brothers played Need for Speed and Age of Empires for three days nonstop.
Amit is obsessed with speed and loves luxury cars. A Mercedes Benz E Class Cabriolet seems to be his favourite. He also drives a BMW 3-Series, Honda Civic and a Hyundai Verna. “On highways, I have driven at very high speeds, touching 210kmph. There has to be an adrenaline rush when you are driving these cars,” says Amit, who now plans to buy a Range Rover.
He also dreams of buying a private jet and a yacht. “Five years down the line,” says the entrepreneur.
AMIT JAIN, 39
Company: GirnarSoft/CarDekho.com (started in 2007)
Valuation: Rs.2,640 crore
Hobbies: Playing cricket and video games; driving luxury cars
Quote to note: I plan to buy a private jet and a yacht five years down the line.