Turn of Fortune

Experion has been able to capture new markets with a focus on technology-services

RA Chandroo

Binu Jacob, managing director of Experion Technologies, recalls the time when his company was striving hard for survival. “In 2011, we were cash-strapped and working out of the basement of a large building, and providing services. We had little money to pay salaries, and cover operating cost,” he says. From being on the verge of bankruptcy, the company has today emerged as one of the top 50 fastest growing IT firms in India. According to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 India 2017 report, Experion Technologies has grown at a CAGR of 35%, from FY15 to FY18. The company’s revenue grew from Rs.192 million to Rs.350 million. The company expects to grow at 56% this financial year and clock Rs.550 million in revenue.

The Kerala-based IT firm provides products and services to transport, retail, healthcare and finance sectors through IoT, blockchain, cloud, mobile and web. The company has established its presence globally with customers in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Its client list comprises prestigious names such as Bacardi, Tyson, Citigroup, Aditya Birla Group, Supreme Foods and Dr. Oetker.

Jacob believes that innovation has been the key growth driver for the company. “You need to innovate to get new work. Our customers, who are sitting abroad, will only trust us if we have the knowledge and new technologies,” he says.

Rough start

However, the ride was anything but smooth. In 2008, Jacob took over management control of Infocean Technologies, a fledgeling EU-based offshore services company with 11 employees, and re-christened it as Experion Technologies. “Promoters of Infocean Technologies approached me and asked me to help them in operating the company,” says Jacob. In February 2008, he resigned from his job in IBS, an airline software company serving Emirates, Etihad and American Airlines as its customers.

Soon after taking control of the company, Jacob decided to focus on creating products, as he believed it would be a highly profitable model. “You have to make the right product once, and it would be a profitable model if you have a lot of customers. You can make products in bulk and sell them to customers, without having to make different products for different customers,” says Jacob.

Under his guidance, the company began developing SMS-based applications to book movie tickets and cabs. “SMS Savaari could be rightly termed as a precursor to Uber, and SMS Balcony can be seen as a predecessor to BookMyShow,” says Jacob. After creating the products, Jacob and his team approached Vodafone, which liked both the products and asked Experion to grant them exclusive rights to promote it. “We had a simple SMS format, where a user had to just type the word ‘book’, followed by the name of the city, theatre, timing of the show and number of seats, and tickets would get booked,” he explains.

With 29 theatres in Kerala signing up for the service, SMS Balcony had 10,000 active users at its peak. However, six months after the launch of SMS-based booking services, things started heading south. “Theatres stopped allowing customers to book tickets through our service as they wanted to sell tickets in the black market, and doing so fetched them higher prices. What we thought could enable the theatres turned them against us,” says Jacob.

With theatres refusing to cooperate, revenue generation dried up for SMS Balcony. With the company facing budget constraints due to lack of capital, Jacob decided to shut down SMS Savaari, too. Things became worse in 2009, when in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the company found it difficult to bag a new contract.

Jacob says, the core team of Experion played a pivotal role in helping the company sail through these turbulent times. Sreekumar Pillai, CTO, and Manoj Balraj, partner and president of Experion’s US operations, continued to win deals for the company and made sure that money was sent to India for timely disbursal of salaries. “But, as directors of the company, we decided to stop drawing salaries till we got some big projects. We had to do this to sustain the business,” says Jacob.

Instead of scaling down during tough times, Jacob did exactly the opposite. Experion sold its old office, moved into a bigger office in Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram, and borrowed Rs.10 million from Indian Overseas Bank to expand its operations. The big orders were still not coming in, which prompted Jacob to provide technology-based services. Alongside, the company went on a hiring spree as the tide began turning in its favour.

Lucky strike

In 2014, the company started focusing on domains such as transportation, healthcare, retail and finance. “We began approaching companies across the world through references,” says Jacob. With more than 200 employees working for the company, the management decided to rope in bigger contracts. The biggest breakthrough came in 2016, when it bagged the contract to upgrade World Smart’s system. World Smart is one of the largest software providers in Australia to retailers, with installation in 1,600 stores. 

Jacob recalls, World Smart’s system was based on dated software and the company was losing money and customers. With the retail industry growing in Australia, its customers were demanding new features. Jacob and his team met the management of World Smart, and assured them that they would provide a solution in a cost-effective manner. “The product manager came to India with their old system and PoS machines, and gave us a demo. We looked at the whole setup, and asked them to introduce their product in a cloud environment,” recalls Jacob.

After deciding to adopt the cloud-based system, Jacob claims World Smart’s customers were able to save time and cost. “Their product was 35 years old, and wasn’t efficient. But, entering into a contract with any major IT firm in Australia was an expensive affair. Instead, they chose us, and it worked as a big breakthrough for us,” says Jacob. The contract was worth Rs.80 million.

Ever since, Experion hasn’t looked back — bagging contracts with several prominent companies. Now, it has shifted focus towards new technologies, with an aim to capture different markets and carry innovation forward. Experion has tied up with companies in USA and New Zealand, helping them to run their businesses powered by blockchain and IoT. It has built an IoT-based room automation system for Piot Network, to run its farms. The US-based agro company, which farms on 10,000 sq metre of land, uses IoT for farming activities, including soil testing and crop watering. Jacob claims that the deployment of IoT should help the company bring down the cost of operation. “They needed 10 to 15 people to run the farm, but with the help of the technology they would now need just three people,” says Jacob.

Experion has also started developing a blockchain-based system for a forestry company based in New Zealand, which approached Experion to reduce money spent on availing letter-of-credit. “We suggested a blockchain-based system to bring down the cost, and streamline the supply chain,” says Jacob. The forestry company now saves $3 million every year.

Highlighting other benefits of running the business through blockchain, he states that bringing different parties on the same platform and executing the workflow through smart contracts helps build trust among different players, too.

Playing it steady

Along with the focus on new technology and services, Experion has continued to create new products for its customers. Its latest product, FieldMax is designed to streamline the supply chain, while another new product, xPort was created to automate operations of ports. While FieldMax is not a major contributor to the company’s revenue, it has continued to find customers in India and abroad. The cloud-based product has been designed to ramp up secondary sales and distribution for B2C companies. The product links the salesperson of a company to his office systems, at the touch of a button.

Varun Arora Senior manager, Wings BiotechWings Biotech, which manufactures OTC pharmaceuticals, has been using the product for the past two years. Varun Arora, senior manager — corporate strategy, claims that FieldMax has increased productivity of salespersons and improved the supply chain. “When we planned to increase our salespersons’ productivity, we were in the market for a different solution. On evaluating FieldMax, we found that the product was built groundup, and had everything we required,” says Arora. He adds that after deployment of FieldMax, the company gets real-time data of orders placed by customers. “Earlier, we had a pen-and-paper model, where a salesperson had to take down the order on paper, and physically send it to us. With FieldMax, the visibility of data happens in real time, where I get to know of order receptions instantly and plan production and supply accordingly,” says Arora.

Similarly, xPort is used by a South American port on the Suriname coast. Ports demand faster turnaround time, higher productivity and tight security to grow and become profitable. Jacob says, the aim of xPort is to automate workflow and build transparency. “The system is built on a scalable and robust cloud architecture, which can be used at multiple ports and terminals,” says Jacob.

Adopting innovation

NASSCOM expects India’s IT services sector to grow by around 7-8% in FY19 driven by digital technologies, which is touted to increase at 30%. As per its estimates, while software exports is projected to grow by 7-9%; domestic revenue is likely to grow 10-12%.

With the IT sector set to revive from the muted performance of last year, Jacob believes that the demand for new technologies is only growing with each passing day. However, he thinks that the biggest challenge in the near-term is hiring skilled professionals who can work on the new technologies. “There is huge demand for new technologies in IT. We are not losing business, but new technology competence is a big problem,” says Jacob (see: Growth hack).

From being a company of 11 engineers, Experion now has 425 professionals operating in 26 countries, and offices in eight countries. With thrust on leveraging products, providing product engineering services and a growing customer base, the company wants to hire talent in three specific markets — Australia, Europe and the US.

Their work has also won them international recognition. US-based B2B technology research company, Clutch, recognised Experion among the top 10 global digital solution companies. Adding to the global accolades, Experion made it to Deloitte’s 50 fastest growing technology companies in India for 2017. 

Jacob and his team have more than just steadied the ship, after recovering from initial setbacks. Going forward, the next projects for the company range from automating road transport and traffic management, to assessing the quality of roads using algorithms. “There are not many proven customer models of new technologies. We are probably one of the few to have live chain projects based on new technologies,” says Jacob. While the company continues to grow, the future of Experion, like any other IT firm, will depend on the adoption of new technologies.