A Successful Start-up That Chose To Go the Open Source Way

explain-the-presentationWhat does it take to get a start-up going? Well, nothing much; just a great idea, a few devoted professionals and, of course, funds. Helical IT Solutions seems to have them all. A company that started its operations in November 2012, it has already earned funds from an international investor and is poised to grow in a domain where growth is almost guaranteed-open source technology.

Helical IT Solutions Pvt Ltd deals with Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence (DWBI).  The founders of the company, Nikhilesh Tiwari and Nitin Sahu, chose the open source way because they are sure that if there is any domain in which growth is guaranteed, it is in open source technology. The range of services provided by the company include data warehousing, data visualisation, BI, ETL (extract, transfer and load), mobile and self-services BI, geographical charting, etc.

Technologies that the duo banks on
Throwing light on the open source technologies that the company uses, Tiwari shares, “We are a company working only on open source technologies. Talking about the BI platforms, we work only on Jaspersoft and Pentaho, which are the world’s leading OSBI (open source BI) technology companies. Often, for designing the BI plugin, we resort to technologies like PHP and Java.  On the database front, we work on both open source and proprietary databases, depending upon the customers’ requirements. On the ETL side, we provide services only on open source tools like Talend and Kettle (Pentaho’s data integrator). We are also working on Liferay, which is again an open source tool. While on the data analytics part of the business, we provide services on the open source tools R and Weka.”

The two bank on open source not because it is a trend, but because they have learnt and understood the pros and cons of it over the years. Their tryst with open source began in their previous jobs, which they left to start their venture. Tiwari says, “In our previous companies we were working on open source BI technologies. According to the latest report by Gartner, the Indian BI sector is growing at 16 per cent and is expected to touch US$ 113 million in 2013 and US$ 172 million by 2016. Not only in India but worldwide, BI is one sector that is growing the fastest in the IT sector.

“So we thought of moving to the next level with our company. With the recession and sluggish economies, more and more companies are trying to adopt open source technologies because of the low cost of ownership. Seeing this kind of market growth and the higher adoption of OSBI technologies, we thought of monetising this trend. This led to our searching for clients, and even before starting our company full time, we had three paying clients with us,” Tiwari adds.

Since the team was already working on different BI tools, it could easily offer consultancy to its clients regarding what would be the best tool to adopt, whether or not they ought to purchase the enterprise edition of that BI tool, etc. Hence, not only was Helical developing the client’s solution, it was also acting as a consultancy.

Tiwari informs, “Within six months of beginning operations, we were serving clients in various domains like the energy sector, healthcare, human resources, e-commerce, social media analytics, travel, training, etc. Thankfully, the number of clients exceeded our bandwidth and we actually had to decline to sign on a few reputed companies. We have been able to achieve so much without any marketing expenses just because of our consistent performance and word of mouth publicity, which we have achieved due to our services.”

The talent crunch is a big barrier…

But the journey to success was not all smooth sailing. Like other companies working in the open source space, Helical also faced the talent crunch. Tiwari says, “One problem which we faced was getting good resources. Being in a niche technology domain, it is really difficult to find good resources.”

Another issue that a start-up faces is funds. With talent and luck being on their side, the duo could manage it easily. Tiwari shares, “From the middle of April 2012, we started to look for funding and by the first week of May, we had closed our seed funding from a Singapore-based senior Citibank official. An angel investor had pumped in Rs 2.5 million into the company. Since we are into services, we had a positive cash flow right from the first month. We only needed the money to kickstart our product side as well. In the future, we want to launch our own product and venture into Big Data and analytics services.”

Having begun the journey with open source technology, both Tiwari and Sahu want to continue down that path in the future as well. Tiwari explains that the biggest benefit open source technology brings is that without any compromise on the quality, the cost of ownership is the lowest. Hence, for SMEs and start-ups that have cost constraints, but do not want to compromise on the quality, open source technology is the best choice. He asserts, “With sluggish economies in the US and EU, we are now also approaching medium-sized companies, since they want to reduce their expenses and overheads. OSBI technologies often turn out to be 70-90 per cent more cost effective as compared to their proprietary competitors like SAP, SAS, IBM Cognos, etc.” The company currently has a team of eight people and will continue to hire to meet the requirements that come with its growth.
Throwing light on the firm’s growth plans, Tiwari says, “We have already achieved our first milestone of raising seed funding for this financial year. This will help us to raise a parallel team and start developing our product. This financial year, we also plan to increase and stabilise our services arm so that it can be a regular source of revenue for us. We would be entering the Big Data and analytics services space as well. By the end of this financial year, we are targeting a turnover of around Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million.”

Nitin-Sahu-co-founder Nikhilesh-Tiwari

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