Nazim: How did you start your career?
JD: I started my career as a Sales Trainee for Colgate Palmolive India straight from the campus way back in 1993.I was the first woman to be selected after much debate by Colgate Palmolive India for upcountry Sales in India so yes it was amidst much fanfare and with much excitement that I took it up. Though it was an extremely challenging profile I am glad I sweated it out and stuck around as that prepared me to take on the future. I spent the initial years of my career doing Sales based at Ahmedabad. Colgate Palmolive, Ricoh India and Fascel (now Vodafone) …it was one fascinating journey.
The second phase of my career was with the sunrise Off shoring sector which is now popular as BPO / ITes industry. I moved to Mumbai in 2000, to begin my journey with GTL the Outsourcing/Off shoring then sunrise sector call center and that’s when my journey with call center began. The company was GTL which was like the grandsire of BPOs. They were among the first few players to get into the outsourcing and off shoring segment.
What were the initial challenges faced by you when you joined a call center?
JD: Call Centres and BPOs are about large teams working together in tandem. Recruiting the right set of people, retaining them and getting them to deliver to the same standard as expected by the client was a big challenge and it remains till date! I spontaneously started using techniques which were later termed as “Fish Philosphy” (fun at work) by our HR managers to very successfully overcome the challenge!
You have worked some of the top BPOs at in your career. At which juncture did the idea of starting your own company come up?
JD: In a large organization everyone has a role to play, there is a hierarchy and a structure and you can do only so much within your role. I had a lot of ideas that I thought would work very well for the clients and our people could not be implemented due to limitations of the structure. I thought to myself that if I go out and start on my own I could do all of that! Not that I was very confident but I had nothing to lose! My focus and vision was to create and build my dream organization and test my limits!
Did you approach any investor for funding when you started your own company?
JD: Our clients supported us by making advance payments and we always made sure our cash flows are healthy! We were also never in a hurry to scale sharply (which is when you need funding), we took each step slowly and carefully making sure we are going in the right direction keeping in line with the initial vision.
How and why did you choose the name K-SERVE?
JD: KServe stands for ‘Knowledge Services’and isn’t that what the industry is about!? We provide not just service but apply the knowledge amassed over the years to the service giving it a different hue!
There are many entrepreneurs who cite funding as one of the major reasons for them being unable to start a business.
JD: Mr. Narayan Murthy set up Infosys with a capital of Rs.10,000 ! All you need is a great idea and a great team. Any idea can be converted into success if you have a great team behind it and an inspirational leader.
Please throw some light on K-Serve activities.
JD: At KServe, we provide Business Solutions through the phone, web and social media platforms. The services range from providing Customer Experience Management to increase brand value, Lead & Audience Generation to increase their sales funnel and Data Management & Research to map market and competition. We also help clients map their processes and also reengineer them.
E-commerce is an emerging market; please elaborate more on your e-commerce services. How are you assisting them and how do you manage their challenges?
JD: I would say the term ‘Business Solution’ fits perfectly for e-commerce companies more than anyone else. Because in the e-commerce space you see a lot of startups who are struggling to make it. Not everyone gets funding. Not everyone can invest in high end technology and today we are driven equally by technology and processes. Having worked with large e-commerce players in the past we understand the processes and technology required very well. Based on these we have put in place tools which can be used as an aid for e-commerce startups. We have well defined processes which are further customized to suit each of the startups. These startups cannot invest in hiring a senior customer engagement resource neither can they invest various tools for engaging the customers through various mediums. So what we have done is we have invested in common platforms — we have experienced customer engagement teams. We bring all the required flavors together to create a solution for the e-commerce startups.
We are also equipped to service multiple geographies (domestic and international) in multiple languages. This cuts the learning curve for the start ups immensely, why reinvent the wheel?
Around five to ten years back call center or BPO was a very booming industry but in recent years there have been tremendous changes. How difficult is it for the new players to cope with the challenges?
There is work out there but the volumes are lower as everyone is looking at simplifying processes to cut costs further. You have to be creative, astute and smart! If you launch as a plain vanilla BPO you are not going to succeed because that is not the future. Telephony was partially replaced by chats and emails and that today by digital and social media! You have to look at where future is converging and take that direction. The clients are running a tight ship themselves and you have to help them to further it!
How do you differentiate your processes from your competitors?
JD: We have always been in a space of our own. We are one of the very few who specialize in the challenging B2B segment. We have the flexibility and dynamism of a small company and the professionalism of a multinational! Every client, small or large gets my attention and I handpick my team! This is what my clients love and that’s why they stay with us for years.
You are managing a team of more than two hundred people. How difficult is it managing a team if this size? And what kind of culture do you have in your office?
JD: People need clarity and a sense of belonging, so you need to have your processes in place and attentive managers to make people comfortable. We are also very careful when we induct middle managers as they are the key layer in keeping and maintaining the organization culture. As you can see everyone is very friendly here with a high level of transparency, there is a no nonsense air about my team which I am most proud of. Every output is measured and conveyed to each team member to keep in line with a high performance culture. When expectations are clear and processes in place, management becomes simple!
What is the factor that really induces people to join your company? I have met several of your employees who have been with you for quite a long time, what really motivates them?
JD: It is a question they can best answer. To my mind it is because there is a sense of belonging with a sense of ownership here. We have an open culture and fair practices, people are comfortable walking up to me to share their opinions and issues. They know we appreciate diverse views and act upon them and correct course if need be. They know honesty is appreciated and contribution acknowledged from time to time.
Do people call you JD?
JD: Haha! Yes, it has stuck to me since my Ricoh days. My sales manager at Ricoh, Balesh Sharma coined the abbreviation as he found my name long and difficult to pronounce. It has stuck to me since then…1995 I think!
What difficulties have you faced on account of being a woman entrepreneur?
JD: Personally I am not the networking types and that’s has such a major role to play during the startup and growth stages! I am inhibited when it comes to reaching out to people (inspite of my very successful sales career!) and I think that’s a major drawback. I guess I would have been more outgoing had I been a man…Then there are challenges around balancing your personal and professional life and you have to compromise somewhere! Other than that I have always been taken seriously so I think the gender gap is narrowing more than ever !
What tips can you give woman entrepreneurs on managing work and family?
JD: A Good empowered Team and a supportive Family behind you is all that stands between you and success. There are times when your work needs you more which is when your family has to step in and there are times when your family needs you when the team has to stand by you!
I have been fortunate enough to be blessed by both!
Your husband is working for an organization while you are running your own business. Has this ever been an issue of contention between you two?
JD: We are two different people with different goals and ambitions. He likes to experiment and learn different things; he would be the most miserable if he had to work on the same project and company for years! He likes to collaborate and work with large companies on complex projects! We are both content in our own space and we don’t interfere with the other!
What spurs you when you are dejected or downhearted?s
JD: Every time I come to work I look at my team, I look at what we have here, I look at my clients and that drives me. We have created something here, my team is pouring all their energy in to it. I have to keep going for them, I have to keep going to fulfill the vision of my promoter. The biggest lesson I have learnt from him is ‘giving’…. You cant give unless you ‘have’ and to ‘have’ you have to keep going!
What according to you is entrepreneurship?
JD: People who make it are entrepreneurs, and those who can’t are not.
Tell us about the best and the worst decisions you have ever made
JD: The best decision we have made is to create KServe and the worst decision was not to invest in Sales and Marketing. I think that was one of my biggest mistakes one that we have just about corrected. Today it is so important to go out and make yourself visible. When the industry growth is thirty to thirty five percent business drops into your lap with little effort, but when the industry is growing at the rate of ten per cent you have to make bloody sure that a part of that ten percent comes to you.
What are the major barriers for woman entrepreneurs?
JD: There are sections of the industry and society who do try to intimidate and dominate women entrepreneurs or try and take them for a ride assuming they are unable to stand up for themselves. At such times you have to ensure you do your homework and are well informed and adequately covered. Other than that feel if you have substance and if you talk sense people respect you as much as you deserve.
Any suggestions for woman entrepreneurs?
JD: First of all first get a very supportive husband or a partner (laughs). Unless you have a very supportive family being an entrepreneur is not easy at all. Second is to get a great team – skills, knowledge and attitude!
Second and most important, don’t shy away from networking, going out and making your presence felt. Women are generally not the pushy aggressive or naturally loud creatures but I guess its time we make ourselves heard!