At an age when his friends were whiling away the hours at playgrounds and hardly knew a thing about the Internet, Srish Kumar Agrawal had opened his own cyber café, fired by his passion and love for computers.
Though he did not realise it then, it was the first cyber café of Kolkata. Srish, now 42, started his business from his home in Kolkata and today owns A1 Future Technologies Private Limited that has a turnover of around Rs 11 crore and employs 150 people.
Born in Kolkata, Srish was the eldest of two siblings, with a younger sister. His father was a computer engineer while his mother was a housewife. “I had a solid middle-class upbringing – comfortable but never extravagant,” says Srish.
Young Srish did his schooling from Cossipore English School and then completed his higher secondary in the science stream from St Joseph College in 1995. He joined Goenka College in the commerce stream and completed his graduation in 1998.
“In 1997, the Internet was at a nascent stage in India and even in Kolkata the knowledge was limited to the educated and sophisticated bunch,” explains Srish.
“As my father was a computer engineer, I had a proclivity towards computers from childhood. We had a small space of around 200 sq ft on the ground floor of our house that my father wanted to convert into an office. We were working on different ideas when suddenly it dawned on us that we could open a computer shop with browsing facility.”
They didn’t know then that such a set-up is called a cyber café. Srish’s father invested around Rs 3 lakh and bought five computers. “We named our shop Future.com with a tag line, ‘One Stop, Internet Shop’,” laughs Srish. The shop opened in 1997.
“I only realised that we had done something path-breaking when reporters from Star News contacted us after six months and told us that they wanted to shoot a video on our venture,” he says. “We were obviously surprised and excited.”
The shop started with just one staff member who handled the paperwork, while Srish sat in the shop only after returning from college in the evening.
The business began to thrive and slowly they began to offer services like web designing, animation and digital marketing.
“We were running profitably and for the next 10 years continued with the same business. We registered a turnover of around Rs 10 lakh by 2004-05,” says Srish.
In 2004, the name was changed to A1 Future Technologies in keeping with the services they offered. They increased the office space by adding another 200 sq ft space of the house and improved the staff strength to eight people.
The business had expanded and they were doing brand designing for companies, making their logos, letterhead, and designing the front-end of their websites.
“Interestingly, everything I did was learnt from Google and I never did any professional course,” shares Srish. “Even when I started designing websites, I had no expert knowledge but learnt it through the Internet. I still remember being paid Rs 2,000 for the first website designing work in 1999.”
His company also began to get orders from abroad for brand designing through word-of-mouth publicity by satisfied clients. By 2007-08, their turnover crossed Rs 1.5 crore, and they had 25 employees.
In 2011, he bought a new office, a few metres away from his old office, at an investment of around Rs 1 crore. It was a two-storey building with a 7,500 sq ft floor area.
Two years later, in 2013, he converted his company into a private limited firm. In the same year he suffered a tragedy when his father passed away.
“It was a severe blow for me as he had been my constant support throughout my life. I owe my success to him,” says Srish, turning emotional.
Currently, Srish has clients in over 50 countries with the US being his major market. He has already served over 25,000 clients in over two decades of being in business including well-known names like Berger Paints, Royal Bank of Scotland, and HDFC Life Insurance, among others.
“We reached the turnover of around Rs 11 crore in the fiscal year 2017-18,” shares Srish.
They have also received awards, such as Nasscom’s Emerge50 leadership award in 2011. Their growth rate has stayed at a steady 15-16 per cent every year for the past four years. “We work on a reseller and partner model where big companies outsource their work to us. We also make YouTube videos for marketing and promotional purposes,” says Srish.
About the challenges he has faced, he says, “Every day throws up a new challenge when you run your own business. One has to be strong to deal with them. We have survived for so many years just because there has been a constant transition by adding new services,” he shares.
His mantra for success: One has to keep evolving to succeed in life and have strong faith in building relationships.