“If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.” – Mark Zuckerderg

Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in just one sentence captured the essence of entrepreneurial journeys of rising stars like Hemant Prasad who succeed despite their humble beginnings and the testing travails of the journey. Hemant today is the CEO of Crest Business Solutions, an IT solutionsand services company with offices in Singapore and Malaysia. By partnering with large technology companies, system integrators, and software consulting firms – like Microsoft, Oracle, Alfresco, and Ephesoft – Crest has managed to leverage their strengths in technology services offerings on various platforms. With a team of highly skilled technology experts and business analysts, Crest has been delivering business solutions to customers in various industry domains including banking and Finance, Insurance, Energy, Telecommunication, Property, Retail and e-Commerce. In his career he continuously rediscovered himself–recruited IT professionals at a recruitment consultancy in Delhi; managed strategic resourcing for an IT services company; headed business in APAC and EMEA regions for a Singapore based IT services firm; and donned the entrepreneurial hat to lay the foundations of Crest Business Solutions. For some one from a small town who admittedly struggled with the English language, it is quite a feat; given the fact that it took Hemant only eight years from being a semi-employable fresh graduate to founding an IT services and solutions organisation in foreign lands.

The Beginning

Hemant was born in a small village near Alwar, a sleepy small town in eastern Rajasthan. Born in a traditional small business family, Hemant always perceived himself to be a round peg in a square hole. So, contrary to all the expectations from him, just after his graduation from the Arts College in Alwar, he decided to get a private job instead of opening up a shop. The reaction to that, however, was as expected! His friends and relatives literally laughed at his perceived lack of sensibility. Their weltanschauung did not allow for any permissible reason as to why one of their own should travel to a far-away place to work for someone else while he could stay right where he is and employ others!

While the arguments – logical and emotional – were given to dissuade Hemant from getting a job, he tried to explain his side of the story. He worked hard to bring home two core points: (a) he did not want to a get a job to make a living (b) he wanted to take it up to learn the ways of big business organisations. While the former did not work wonders, the latter did bring some satisfaction with hopes of him eventually returning to the business fold.

Hemant recalls “I always wanted to start my own business; it was just that my idea of doing business was different. I was not satisfied with limiting my horizons with a traditional trading business. I wanted to establish a modern business at a large scale. For doing that, I needed to first understand how modern day big businesses work.”

With a resolve to join a large organisation when Hemant started his job hunt, little did he know about the rough days that were ahead! There exists a huge gap in India between education and employability and Hemant was about to learn it the hard way. A fresh graduate does not have many options to choose from, especially if one is coming out of a nondescript college. After multiple rejections, thanks to a vocational course that he completed from a local computer training centre in his town, Hemant finally landed himself a job in a recruitment agency in Delhi.

The initial experience was somewhat paradoxical; Exciting as well as painful. It was exciting, because a boy with education in the vernacular medium was getting to learn English on the job only by observing others. It was painful because the pay was so meagre that it was difficult to survive in a city like Delhi. Nevertheless, it was a good learning experience which then allowed him to connect with people from across the country and gave him a sense of how to hire well; two of the skills that have helped him throughout his career so far.

The Ascent

He spent about a year learning the fundamentals of the recruitment business and finally decided to move on to a better opportunity. That is when he joined a small software company in Delhi that allowed him to breathe easier on the financial front and held promise for his career. Seeds of his entrepreneurial journey were sown here. Being a man who always speaks his mind, he ended up openly airing differences in opinion with none less than the director of the company. Recalling his state of mind, Hemant says “In the year 2001, when I visited Dr. Pradeep Gupta, I saw a poster on the wall of his clinic that said – be bold in what you stand for. That is what I did many years later !” Given, the high power differences that characterize small Indian set-ups, this was out of the ordinary. In a resultant brouhaha, he resigned.

This apparently was one of The Leadership the best things that happened for him and in a bid to retain him, the company came-up with a lucrative offer of promoting him to a position where he was to lead their business in Hyderabad. Although he had never been to a B-school and was very young at that time, he accepted the offer with “what do I have to lose” as an attitude in his mind! He knew that even if he failed, the lessons learnt would be invaluable.

So, he moved to Hyderabad to setup a branch office – a software company in an unfamiliar city – and setting up an office he did. After that things moved rather fast for him that entailed a fair amount of change. He narrated the roller coaster of the ride that ensued. ‘‘I quit my job, went to Noida to help a friend set up his company, and came back to Hyderabad. Once back in Hyderabad, I took a job of a solo player in the human resource team of a public listed IT company. Incidentally, the top management of the company resigned within three months of my joining. As destiny would have it, I was entrusted with the recruitment and application support business of the company. I was back in the driver’s seat to take on the world.” This zest to jump up at a challenge, at the first opportunity, constitutes most part of an entrepreneur’s DNA!

While managing domestic business of this company, he got opportunities to interact with people in its international offices– Singapore, Australia and USA. The quality of these interactions opened the doors for further growth; he was asked by the management to join the Singapore office and develop business in the Asia pacific region. After working for some time in Singapore, he switched over to another small scale software company. At a small platform as this, he could get a free hand in taking decisions pertaining to the expansion of the business

This time since there were minimal instructions from the management, he could exercise his entrepreneurial zest. The results he achieved cemented this autonomy as he went on building an impressive clientele in the Asia pacific and the Middle-East. He led his organisation to receive a prestigious Partner innovation award; it was in this partner conference, where he decided to do something substantial on his own. He was already successful and he wanted to risk all of this to do something on his own!

The Flight

So, the idea of Crest was born and many of his colleagues gave their commitment to support his initiative. This gave him the confidence to move forward and he registered his own business in Singapore. Though, Singapore is one of best places to setup a business, it isn’t an easy location to sustain it considering the high cost of running operations and manpower. That is when Hemant decided to shift significant parts of his venture to the nearby country of Malaysia for lower cost of operations and manpower.

Putting money where the mouth is

“Who will fund your venture?” This is a question which has sunk more entrepreneurial dreams than an entire season of The Apprentice. Hemant tells us how he coped with this: “Setting-up the business is like raising a baby; one needs to tend to it with utmost care, feed it right, and sometime see specialists to take care of its health. All of this costs money! There was plenty of advice from all corners but there was no funding.

Since we did not have too many choices, we were left with no option but to bootstrap and fund our own expenses. We reached out to customers to sell services initially and planned to develop an intellectual property at a later stage due to funding constraints.”

Creating value from most messed up situations

Moving on to the next stage of getting some business for early momentum, Hemant continues: “The other challenge was to win customers as we were just a start-up in a highly competitive market, where customers had many established service providers to offer the same set of products and services.

To overcome the constraints of being a small entrepreneurial undertaking we had to sell our personal credibility and commitment to win the customer’s confidence. We decided to get our hands dirty by setting right the work messed up by others; in such situations the customer just wanted a remedy regardless of who brought it to them. The strategy worked and we were given a chance by a few renowned companies in Malaysia. We did put in an extra effort to go beyond their expectations and we got repeat business from them.”

Building a brand by association

That was still not enough; Crest needed to build its brand as an IT services company and not get limited as a mere mess clearer! Sharing how he went about doing this, Hemant says: “The next challenge was to make the company build some corporate creed, develop a trusted brand, and acquire software development licenses; all this to get the customers to take us seriously.

To achieve that we decided to setup partnerships with technology companies such as Microsoft and Oracle. It came at a very small financial investment but through association helped our brand gain momentum in the minds of our potential customers. My past experience of building relationships with the technology companies helped us and we were able to sign technology partnerships to gain a better credibility in the technology market.”

Manning the ship with entrepreneurs

The next priority for Hemant was to foster the growth and transform Crest from a smallstart up into an organisation. Talking to us about the transformation he recollects: “A mother forgoes the pain of labour the moment she sees the face of baby. The company was born and it was functioning well; my focus now was to get it to grow at a vigorous pace. I saw the need to build the core business team to ramp-up the business development efforts; the idea was to create companies within the company to fuel vertical growth.

At Crest, we intentionally kept the organisation structure flat and hired people who were entrepreneurial; who could talk both business and technology at the same time; and more importantly could think logically. I did not want to have the IT coolies in the company but have people who are flexible enough to fit into any role given to answer the business needs. Despite being a technology company, we focussed a lot more on the entrepreneurial skills of a person than his mastery of a technology. Though we didn’t create a bias, but as a strategy we decided to hire people only from tier two or tier three companies, so that the cost of hiring remains within our budget and we get people who have hands on experience with work. We believe that processes can wait, but business couldn’t, hence we didn’t lay down lots of processes and have so far run the organisation in a very agile manner”.

The Next Horizon

Crest has so far stuck to the policy of delivering high-value, low investment, and low-risk IT services to stabilize their operations. Looking forward, Hemant understands that the real value is assessed by the intellectual property owned by a company. Hence, the focus is now on building Crest’s own Internet Protocol (IP) based on an open source solution to create more sustainable and longterm business models that yield optimal value for stakeholders.

On being asked about expanding their base in India, Hemant chuckles “We have always wanted to setup a base in India, but with much talked about large scale corruption, scandals and the policy paralysis, we kept away.

However, with the new government, the political scenario in India seems to have stabilized and we hope to Make in India and export to our customers in Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries.”