Multi-Ventured Multi-Gained

  • Abhishek Behl
  • India
  • Dec 21, 2012



In India there have been very few instances where someone has built a large company, sold it to an outsider, and moved on to a new venture. Family silver is rarely sold here. But that is precisely what Sanjeev Aggarwal did. Is this an example of how new age Indian entrepreneurs and visionaries think, and do business?

In 2004, Aggarwal, along with his partners, sold Daksh—one of the largest Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies—to IBM, for an undisclosed amount. Then, after serving the company for two years, he moved out, and set up a venture capital fund. His company, Helion, incubates startups, helps them spread wings, and has funded dozens of companies in the internet, education, and healthcare space. FG caught up with Sanjeev Aggarwal:

You had a long corporate career, working with Indian and foreign companies; and then you built your own company, Daksh, into a large enterprise. What is your managerial philosophy? And how has it evolved, to help you now in spotting and managing  opportunities?

My personal philosophy hangs on two pegs: One, is that you should know your strengths and weaknesses, and pursue things that interest you. Early in my life I had realised that business was my passion, and engineering was something that could run parallel to this universe. 

In 1999 I finally decided that the time had come for me to take direct charge, and do things as I wanted to. That is when Daksh happened.

The second peg is that I prefer to focus on the process and system, rather than worrying about the outcome. Keep performing your karma, the outcome will take care of itself, is my belief. When we started Daksh we did not think about creating a 20,000 strong company. The goal was to create a customer centric company through happy employees. Happy employees lead to happy customers, and this helped us to scale up the organisation in a short period.

Recently you have said that selling Daksh was a mistake. You sold the company when the business was good, and it was cash-rich. 

No doubt selling Daksh was a mistake, because I read the market wrong. It was our view that consulting, outsourcing and technology would combine, and this would lead to customers migrating to bigger companies – that offered a complete suite, rather than only process outsourcing. At that time IBM seemed a sensible bet. We now know that while some customers have chosen integrated capabilities for business transformation, others continue to exclusively buy business process outsourcing.

Daksh would have been a much more valuable company had we carried on. The penetration of offshore BPOs should be higher, given the overall market opportunity.

How do you see the future of the outsourcing industry in India? NASSCOM says that we have moved from Business Process Outsourcing to Business Process Management. Do you think India has moved on from a low cost destination to a place that can offer a package of services and solutions?

I think that India has evolved from outsourcing, to the management of processes; and the future lies in developing capabilities such as research, analytics, and knowledge processing. The first phase was driven by the processing of information, and the next phase will be driven by knowledge management. Indian companies will have to also go up the value chain. So we have to work at both ends of the spectrum.

There are three aspects to this business – Cost, Quality, and Scale. While it is true that India’s cost competitiveness has diminished because of wage inflation, the country still offers better quality and scale as compared to competitors like China, Philippines and other countries. There is no effective alternative to India yet, and we need to now offer services across the spectrum – from low end telephony to high end data processing, and building financial and software models.

Q Do you see Gurgaon continuing as the hub of outsourcing in India, given that the rising real estate prices have already driven some companies out?

Gurgaon will remain a strong hub for the outsourcing industry, as a large number of companies have developed strong roots in the City. Being in Gurgaon helps them tap a large and quality talent base available in the National Capital Region. Secondly, there is no other city in India that offers quality real estate infrastructure needed by BPO companies. Globally, Gurgaon is an established destination, and customers know that companies based in this City have the ability to scale up, with no compromise on quality. We have a solid track record of delivery.


You have invested big in new age and internet companies. How do see the Web 2.0 and 3.0 space evolving? What technologies and companies will be in focus, and what sectors will Helion look to invest in?

The focus of Helion is on five sectors, and includes mobility. With an application platform like Android, a lot can be developed in India for a global audience. The underlying ecosystem is the same, and I believe we just need to spot the winners in this space.

Enterprise Software is our next big bet, as a large number of Indian companies are automating at a rapid pace. This provides an opportunity to Indian software developers to create a product, test it locally, and then sell  it in the emerging markets. This is a great opportunity, especially for India. E-Commerce is also something that Helion believes has great potential, because the internet space in this country has evolved. We have 100 million Net users, and around 5 million people buying regularly on the Net. I think the time has come for this space to offer returns, and any business based on eyeballs can be monetised now. This was not possible a decade back; and that is why we went on to build Daksh, and did not set up an internet company. Digital has now dawned on India.

Another domain which has a great future is the selling of online services – such as travel, insurance, real estate. We have invested in companies such as Make My Trip, India Home and several others, as we feel that online service delivery will also become a major force. Healthcare has a lot of scope, and will see major growth in the near future.

 As a venture capitalist what do you bring to the table? Do you ensure that values and styles you cherish are imbibed by the entrepreneurs that your fund supports?


A When we started as a venture capital fund in 2006, our vision was not only to provide funds to the entrepreneurs, but also help them in scaling up the business. A lot of us have the experience of building companies. We help in refining business models and strategies, but refrain from entering into micro-issues. Our presence also helps the startups get the right talent, because most people do not prefer to work in new companies in this country. As far as our values are concerned, we do not impose them on people, but only advise them. However, if an entrepreneur builds discrete entities, then it is a good mantra for scaling; and empowering employees will always benefit in the long run.

Q Despite the arrival of a number of venture capital firms, this industry is still maturing. There is a lot of confusion among the entrepreneurs about whom to approach for funding, how to do this, where to go, and how much to ask for. Can you shed some light as to how people seeking funds should go about this task?

A Entrepreneurs, while seeking investments, should carry out a due diligence of this market. Find out which investors will bring only capital, and who will support them in building the business. Thereafter they should calculate the amount of money they will need in the next two years; and if it is less than a million dollars then look for an angel investor. If they need more than that, they should look towards venture capital firms. A number of such companies have arrived in India, and there is competition for good deals in the market. If the idea is good, and can be converted into a business, then it will get the necessary backing.

It should also be borne in mind that entrepreneurship should not be pursued just for the sake of it (it sounds fun and easy), or in a herd mentality. If sport is your beat be a sportsman; don’t chase things if these are not aligned with
your system. 

Q Apart from venture capital, how do you see product development taking place in India? When will we see an Apple, a Facebook, or a Google being developed by an Indian company? Do you see this happening in the near future? What are the strengths and weaknesses of Indian entrepreneurs?

A Indians are very good at ideation, and are able to see what is coming next. But they need to get better at converting their ideas into action. The need is to plan and execute effectively. As far as product development is concerned, I believe that we will do better in enterprise software products. Consumer hardware like Apple will remain a global play, but a service like a SAP or an Oracle could originate from India – particularly for the emerging markets.

Q After so many years in corporate life, how does it feel to be doing your own thing

A It feels great. It has been an exciting journey – from an executive, to an entrepreneur, and now a venture capitalist. It has made me a rounded professional. And the fact that one can make a profound impact on people, employees and even the Indian economy, has been quite fulfilling. In every stage of my career I have stayed within the fraternity of business. I built a successful company because I had learnt to run a company. Now I am helping build businesses, because I know how to build a company.

Q You have been quite successful in life. What would have been your take if it had taken a different turn?


A It is a bit tricky to answer this, but I think success is relative, as it is more important to be a good human being. The question is: are you enjoying what you are doing? This has been my quest in life, as I prefer to do things that I am interested in. We started Daksh because I believed in the idea, and enjoyed executing it. Had it not been so successful I still would have been satisfied, because business is what I like to do. My priorities have been health, family, professional success, and making a positive impact on society. I think I have delivered fairly in these spheres, and this journey has been a gratifying experience. The opportunities which we have got will not be present fifty years from now, just as these were not available to our parents. It is the right time to be in India, to harness these opportunities, as we have been thrown into a different orbit altogether.


Q Lastly, how do you see Gurgaon developing into a world class city? What should be done to ensure that it achieves its millennial aspirations?

A We love Gurgaon, and moved here in 2006. The City has a lot to offer in terms of shopping and entertainment – and everything is within reach. More importantly it is a community of like-minded professionals, many of whom work in the new economy, and have set up base here. You feel like you are part of a large extended family.

On the flip side, I would like to say that Gurgaon should have been built in a more integrated manner – where transport, infrastructure, and other services were more synchronised, and worked seamlessly. Commuting is difficult here, everyone has to use cars. I wish all parts of the City could function better in tandem, and the power situation could be improved



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