Varnaaz - The Incredible Journey of Dinesh Badagandi - 1544/VIJ

Disclaimer: This story is dated 2014, and mostly an outcome of my discussions with Dinesh Badagandi in 2014. Dinesh has made tremendous progress, and has followed his passion in the education sector to launch some of the most revered and successful projects in the past few years. An update on his recent adventures is available on this article on YourStory.

As the world was approaching the end of a millennium, the IT industry in India was booming beyond what the NASSCOM or any other industry expert could even have dreamt of. In the year 1998, while companies were on a mass recruitment drive, everyone wanted to be a part of this revolution that was about to change India’s landscape forever. Dinesh Badagandi had the dream too. A mechanical engineer by education, an MBA by some more education, a salesman by profession and a hardcore IT dreamer by passion, Dinesh had always been amazed by computers, software and technology. As a part of his academic curriculum, these subjects did not have any significant weight. However, all through the last 8 years, he had been looking to pick up one opportunity, just one breakthrough, to switch over to his passion and he was confident of the rest. As Dinesh walked in to Taj Vivanta on MG Road, Bangalore, he did not have any idea of what was happening there. It was only while registering his name at the reception that he saw a board mentioning about interviews being conducted by Zensar Technologies. A dashingly bright Dinesh spoke, “Ok, I am here for the Zensar interview. Can you tell me where is it going on?”

As Dinesh sat awaiting his turn, he tried his best to concentrate on the lessons that he had learnt in Oracle developer course classes, the hottest technology then, which he had been attending recently. However, his mind only dragged him to the Rs. 3000 fees that he had paid towards this course. He had borrowed this money from a friend. He had borrowed another Rs. 5000 as he had resigned from the previous job and had no money to meet sundry expenses. Dinesh’s interview went on for quite some time. The interviewer was, perhaps, as confused as Dinesh was as far as his career moves were concerned. However, the interviewer appeared impressed as he said, “Dinesh, thank you for your time. We will get back to you shortly”. Dinesh never knew that Zensar had seen something else him and not his IT/Oracle skills. The game was being played on a different court.

Dinesh continued the job hunt. Over the next couple of weeks, he received another 3 job offers of which 1 would fly him to the UK straight off. Interestingly, Zensar too made an offer. Adding more to the excitement, and confusion in disguise, Dinesh received a letter, which said that he had cleared the KAS exam and the Government of Karnataka asked him to attend the interview. The stars had changed their course. Hard work pays, finally. Dinesh decided to get going with the IT industry as his passion for the same kept pulling him. He had been waiting for this since 8 years. Ironically, though a mechanical engineering student, Dinesh did his final year project on Expert System Foundries, more of an IT subject. Dinesh still wonders why he chose to go ahead with Zensar. Some decisions have no reasons or logic.

In 3 months, Zensar was convinced that they had made the right decision. Dinesh learnt that he had been picked up by Zensar for his managerial skills when they offered him to go to Dubai as a Principal Consultant. Life was really on a fast track as the world of new opportunities was thrown open before him. A strong believer in hard work, Dinesh continued to earn appreciation for his work at every venture/project. Soon, he had become an expert in ERP implementation.

It was just a little more than 2 years since he had joined Zensar when Dinesh made a move to join iCelerate, a US startup. As he walked in to the office in the US, the atmosphere was not very energetic. A large number of people who iCelerate had made a job offer had not turned up. Without his knowledge, Dinesh took up the onus of the project that he was selected for. Leadership skills, initiative and entrepreneurial abilities were not new for Dinesh.

Way back in 1992, when Dinesh was studying engineering at Bagalkot’s Basaweshwar Engineering College, he would regularly go to Goa with friends for some adventure on the beach lines and also buy T-shirts to sell them to shops in smaller villages near Bagalkot. This would take care of financing his trips as well as add to his pocket money, something he was very shy to ask his dad for. Being on his own had been on his mind ever since then. He amazed his partner friends when, one day, he discovered that after selling the T-shirts in these villages, they could take the bird nests back to Bagalkot and sell them to rich students. A large student population from nearby states, with a strong financial background, was his premium customer segment to who he sold these nests like hotcakes for a short period. “Our venture did not last long. We succumbed to the operational challenges. However, the lessons we learnt have lasted all life”, says Dinesh, recollecting those days that involved managing this venture, managing time for friends, managing time for activities like dance, drama, cultural program, sports, etc., managing time to listen love stories and help lovers, managing time for adventures, tours, hangouts, etc. and amid all this, managing time for the classes and studies as well. Indeed, a herculean student life. An otherwise average student, Dinesh came into limelight when he was one among the only 3 students at university level who had passed the engineering 3rd year exams in the first shot, that by mathematical calculations made him a rank holder, something that he had not ever dreamed about. With voluminous initiatives in all the college events, fests and other important occasions, there was nothing that could stop him from being adjusted ‘The Best Outgoing Boy’ as he completed his engineering. Student life is one of the busiest phases of our lives and yet, we all fail to recognize it.

iCelerate was delighted to have Dinesh on the team. Very soon, Dinesh went ahead to head iCelerate’s business in Europe. The business of implementing ERP kept growing stronger with massive emphasis that the world gave to Information Technology those days. Dinesh honed the best of industry skills and gained envious exposure in the world of IT consulting as his interactions involved PwC, KPMG, Capgemini and the likes. “Those days were really tough. I had no time to breathe. However, the excitement of working along some of the greatest consulting companies in the world kept me on my toes. It was perfectly in line with my dreams.” Dinesh continued to handle bigger projects that threw bigger challenges and his achievements only kept becoming bigger.

In what transformed into great friendship and business relationship, Dinesh met Rishi Khosla in London. Rishi worked with Dinesh for some time at iCelerate. A brilliant professional, Rishi proposed a business idea to Dinesh. However, Dinesh was too busy at iCelerate and did not take it. Many years down the line, Dinesh learnt that he had missed being a co-founder of Copal Partners, now a Moodys company, one of the biggest names in the investment banking industry. “16000 pounds was not a big challenge to join Rishi. I knew I would not be able to do justice”, says Dinesh, “Being responsible for technical deliverables is not easy. Every Tuesday, at the review meeting, I felt more like a spit bin that a manager. Sitting in the UK, managing more than 100 people in India is irksome. In an instance, when Dr Rajkumar was kidnapped, Bangalore had come to a standstill. When I informed this truthfully, our client sarcastically asked me to find a better reason. India is a land of surprises and foreigners demand certainty. However, being upfront, clear and honest had paid me rich dividends at work and in life.”

There are times when Dinesh has not been honest, but not exactly dishonest. There are exceptions to every rule. If you have to lie to save someone, it’s not a lie. It so happened at SSBJ that Dinesh did not know swimming and he was very inclined to learn. There were strict timings that coincided with football timings for Dinesh and many of his friends. They decided to jump the 9 feet wall to learn swimming. A couple of friends who knew swimming offered to help. With great difficulty, they climbed on one another and got into the swimming pool premises. This continued every afternoon, when the time was allotted to sleep, and one day, they were caught by the instructor. All of them were punished and warned. However, the afternoon swimming sessions resumed soon. Passion drives life.

In 2005, drastic waves of change flickered into Dinesh’s life. As it happens in the IT industry, a fast growing company becomes an acquisition target for the big fish. e4e acquired iCelerate. In close to 6 years at iCelerate, Dinesh’s personal life had been seeing changes. He was not single anymore. He was planning to return to India. With e4e taking over iCelerate, Dinesh used the opportunity to return to India. iCelerate, a 200 employees company, was now a part of a 4000 employees company. The branding, the recognition, the employee positioning and many other factors dimmed. From being apart from the crowd, everyone had become a part of the crowd. iCelerate business did not hold a significant before the giant e4e businesses. Attrition rates in this 200 member group shot up; Dinesh was a part of it, too.

When Dinesh signed his resignation, all that he knew was that he was resigning. He had no idea, whatsoever, of what he intended to do going forward. “I was so desperately looking for options that I landed up reading an ad about pickle manufacturing franchisee and had taken it too seriously. It took me a while to come out of it”, recalls Dinesh. Dinesh introspected to learn that he had been having an illustrious career solely because he was doing something that he loved, he was passionate of IT.

There are some people who are recognized for their work by everyone. Dinesh, undoubtedly, is one. While Dinesh was dilly dallying with plans for life post e4e, someone sitting in London needed him, his work to be particular. Dinesh had worked in London too and could recognize the ISD code when his phone made some noise. It was Rishi. Dinesh was glad to learn about Copal Partners. “Can you can implement ERP for me at Gurgoan?” Rishi opened the door for Dinesh, “Look, I already have proposals for SAP from IBM, Peoplesoft from Hexaware, Oracle from KPMG and Microsoft Dynamics from PwC. But then, I have many reasons to not to go ahead with them. One of them is that I feel you can do it better”. What better compliment can one get in a lifetime!

Dinesh was stunned. He was clueless. Rishi gave him 15 days to decide. Mystery had struck again. It was too difficult to take Rishi’s words seriously. On seeing the website of Copal Partners, the little seriousness too waned. It was too real to be true and too good to happen. Even if it did, implementing ERP at such scale with close to zero resources, as a startup, was impossible. More than a week had gone by and Dinesh did nothing. “It was like Michael Jackson came and told me that you can dance better. Of course, the ray of hope was that big people speak no nonsense. There is a reason for every sentence”, says Dinesh. After a lot of yes-no, Dinesh walked in to a Chartered Accountant’s office to format a quote to be given to Copal Partners. Dinesh was an individual, not a company. To resolve the dilemma, the CA suggested Dinesh to buy a company, a private limited company, which was registered some time back but it never started business. They contacted the owner. A sale deed was signed overnight; Dinesh had a debit of Rs 1 lac reflecting in his bank account even before things showed the smallest signs of beginning.

On the day no. 15, Rishi called Dinesh again to know his decision. On affirmation, Rishi said that he will be in Delhi shortly and asked Dinesh to be there with the presentation, quote and related requirements. Dinesh had to quickly pack up and leave to Delhi immediately. 2 days in Delhi and nothing happened. That night, at 2AM, Rishi called Dinesh, “Hey, sorry to call you at this time. I am in Delhi”. After a quick wash and change, Dinesh went to meet Rishi. Long time, it was. They were happy to see each other. Rishi had been hungry all day and their hunt for food landed them in The Oberoi at 4AM. The business discussions began and went on. Dinesh mentioned that he had chosen to go ahead for the implementation using Microsoft Dynamics and the reasons for the decision. Rishi was happy. However, at the end, Rishi made a clear statement, “The board will make the decision on the ERP project. So, give it your best. The only objection that I can handle for you is that you are a startup because I know you and your work. Everything else will be based on objective decisions”.

The meeting began at 10AM. Dinesh knew that this, if through, will be the turning point of his life. The Zensar interview experience was repeatedly flashing before him. Post lunch, indeed, the turning point happened. Dinesh won his first project, an Rs 1.5 Crore project from Copal Partners. To help Dinesh start things, Rishi made an advance payment of Rs 40 lacs. There were numerous complications including the need to set up things in Gurgaon, hire people, etc. The first task that Dinesh took up was to rename the company. VizionARK was born. Officially, this is explained as the ‘Vision to build a Nova’s Arc’, a safety boat for the customer. However, a very few people know that Dinesh molded this word with RK to express his gratitude to Rishi Khosla.

VizionARK began with 12 employees in Gurgoan. The one year of work at Copal Partners had drained sweat off everyone. It was no less than an achievement to complete the project in a year amid many operational hurdles. Those were times when BPOs/KPOs mushroomed all over Noida/Gurgaon and thus, the attrition was high. In an attempt to retain some employees, companies had to offer exorbitant wage hike that was straining the budget. VizionARK started winning more projects. However, the most depressing part was that VizionARK was unable to win any big project. “DNS and Persistent, projects worth Rs 4 Crore and Rs 5 Crore respectively, were 2 such projects that we had won in every factor. The only factor that took these away from us was that we were a small entity. It was highly depressing. The biggest consideration in projects business is to be cash rich with a line of employees in order to get orders”, says Dinesh, “Ashok (Patil) and Yogesh (Vats) were of great help and support to me in the beginning days. Ashok helped me a lot in building up sales as we acquired more customers and got into implementations. Yogesh worked miracles by implementing the HR modules at Copal Partners by studying them extensively. It was a challenging task and he did a great job without having any previous implementation experience. All this proved to me that we are built for everything in life. The school has had a great influence on my life. Today, I feel, Rishi came to me because of my hard work and honesty. It was in school that our lives were built with these. Of course, these lessons are a part of CBSE as well as state syllabus. There is a hell of a difference between an exam of marks and an exam of life. We are built for life, at school.”

Dinesh points out that there have been a number of people who have been instrumental in setting up his businesses as well as bind him to the entrepreneurial spirit that ran in him. Maltesh Jeevannavar, a senior from Sainik School, is one such mentor that he refers to often. Maltesh has also been helpful to several other persons desirous of running businesses. In 2 years, VizionARK grew to a 50 people company with an office in Bangalore. In these 2 years, Dinesh developed a vision to make VizionARK a global company. He roped in big names in the industry like the IT director of Cisco, Global Delivery Head (IT) of Logitech and CEOs of a couple of companies. A lot of brain storming happened. However, to his dismay, things did not work due to difference in their vision. Not everything that a businessman takes up can be successful. Sometimes, success lies in not taking up something. By 2008, VizionARK had reached a turnover of ~ $ 1 million.

2008’s recession came in as a storm in Dinesh’s life. VizionARK was already seeing symptoms of cash flow challenges, order cancellations, delayed decisions, etc. Moreover, small IT companies continued to be used by employees as a launch pad to get into a bigger one. Attrition was a real challenge that he had been facing ever since day one. As business sentiments decline, people feel that IT is nice to have but not necessary. VizionARK’s pipeline dried up. What hit VizionARK deeply was that some receivables, approximately Rs 15 lacs, turned into bad debts. Like every business, VizionARK started cutting down costs. The cost cutting sentiments were so strong that Dinesh started travelling in a bus. Though it did not make any saving in real monetary sense, it exemplified the financial stress brought in by the recessionary sentiments.

Dinesh started looking for partners overseas in order to improve revenues, especially due to the currency value additions. In the process, he met Amar Lama who was looking for similar companies. However, Amar had different intentions. Alera, a US based company, was looking for acquisitions in India. Amar also said that he knows Fullscope, a company in the business domain that VizionARK was into, which was growing at a splendid pace those days, especially in implementation of process manufacturing. Amar asked Dinesh to sell VizionARK to Alera. Dinesh was skeptical. Owing to the situational crisis of funds, later on, Dinesh agreed to sell 49% stake in VizionARK to Alera. Amar took over the discussion and convinced Dinesh to sell majority stake. It was learnt later that Alera had plan to sell itself to Fullscope after this acquisition. Amar said that Fullscope had no presence in Asia and VizionARK will become the representative of Fullscope in Asia. The big picture made sense not only to Dinesh but to his dream of taking VizionARK global as well as to his employees. Dinesh sold 80% stake in VizionARK to Alera.

Trust is the greatest virtue in any relationship. Many business deals are signed across the world on the grounds of trust than other factor. Dinesh has been learning to trust people too early in life. Once, Dinesh had forgotten to put off the candle, which he was using to study in the evening, while going to the mess for dinner. On returning, his friends found that the candle had burnt a bed. They quickly picked up the remains and disposed them behind the house building. However, the nasty smell had no go. A series of stories was knit by each of his friends to all those who questioned about the smell. Dinesh was amused by the love and care of his friends. To save him from being punished, they took all the risk even in his absence and made sure that his momentary hurry remained so rather than being termed as negligence. “I learnt the greatest lesson of my life that day. I have found great value in life due to the wonderful friends around me. What stun me even more is the alumni our school, who we don’t even know, get ready to help us by the mention of SSBJ. It adds a lot to my confidence whenever I am taking bigger decisions. It’s great to have someone backing us up, always”, says Dinesh

The Alera shock came up soon. After 2 months of this transaction, Fullscope was acquired by Microsoft. The dream shown to VizionARK was washed down the drains. The worst part of the experience was that this news reached Amar only from Dinesh, who got the news only after it was publicly available. Dinesh had surrendered his dream in disguise. Today, VizionARK has a turnover of ~ $ 1.5 million and Dinesh continues to hold 20% stake in the company. Dinesh was required to be a part of VizionARK for the next 18 months in order to ensure proper handover of activities and responsibilities. During these 18 months, Dinesh got a lot of free time as he was not working full time at VizionARK. He started volunteering for many social and educational activities. One such activity was teaching ERP at BVBCET, Hubli. Soon, Dinesh earned a good name for his selfless efforts in these activities. Those days, the IT industry was consolidating and there was an evident oversupply of engineers. Additional skills like this added tremendous value to the student’s resume.

In 2009, Dinesh had been frequenting Hubli as a lot of his relatives stayed over there. In those days, Dinesh observed that a large number of corporate had begun building mineral water bottling plants. Dinesh observed that nobody manufactured pet (poly-ethylene terepthalate) bottles in North Karnataka. Players like Sujal, Omkar, etc. were getting these from long distances. After intensive study of the field, Dinesh partnered with his Harshvardhan Malagi to set up ‘Transparent Polymers’, focused to manufacture the pre-forms that would be converted to pet bottles in the injection molding machines. Transparent Polymers gained a significant market share and went on to become the suppliers of bottles to almost all the mineral water manufacturers in North Karnataka. After a couple of years, however, Dinesh stopped being an active partner due to other ventures that grabbed more of his time. Today, he continues to be an investor into the business and the business continues to do well.

Alongside the Transparent Polymers business, Dinesh had been planning to start a business that would help him make the best use of the knowledge, skills and experience he had earned over the last 2 decades. He studied various business models and understood that he has to look for long term contracts and recurring revenues rather than planning on lines of a projects business where the company would receive a windfall of revenues on one day and face a near to bankruptcy situation on another. Dinesh saw an opportunity in the IT education space. He had already been earning enough goodwill. In fact, students had now started asking if he conducted tuitions as the time allotted to Dinesh at the college was not sufficient. Further, there were also some students who took the training lightly only to realize its importance later and then, they approached him for help. The stage was set perfectly for Dinesh and it needed just one right decision to make things happen. If making right decisions was easy, there would have been no difficulties in life.

Dinesh started visiting more colleges and introducing these training classes. While the response at some colleges was positive, it was depressing at some others. Dinesh recognized that there was a considerable opportunity in the training business. A large number of colleges, especially in North Karnataka, were mushrooming to offer professional education (BE & MBA). Education had suddenly become a business that set all the eyeballs rolling. Dinesh could sense that there will be a significant demand for finishing schools as the supply of factors that aid learning remained stagnant amid growing student and college numbers. Varnaaz was born to make an effort to bridge this gap.

On completing his MBA, way back in 1997, Dinesh was in a similar fix. For a moment, he felt that he did a mistake by joining MBA as his engineering friends were already earning more Rs 10,000 a month. After numerous interviews, Dinesh got his first job with Mico. Of the 6 people selected for the position of management trainees, he was the only fresher. Within no time, everyone was assigned with the first task. Mico had plans to introduce Diesel Filters into the market. The company assigned each of them with a territory and asked them to get pre launch bookings. They were required to return after a month for a performance review. Dinesh was assigned the NH4 and surrounding territory. “I was totally confused. It took time for me digest what was happening. The first thing I did was that I studied the diesel filters, its application, utility, etc. There was not much of an expectation from me considering I was a fresher doing sales for the first time. But, like all of us, I had that fire in my belly. It doesn’t need a mention that I put all my heart and soul into the work, met a large number of prospects, sat with factory workers, visited garages that worked late night on the highway, built a rapport, started learning things, toiled every moment and soon, I was taking orders. On the review day at Mico, I was afraid. However, my order book of Rs 15 lacs was the highest. To my utter disbelief, the second highest was from the TN belt at Rs 1.5 lacs”, Dinesh recollects the incident, “Nobody believed my numbers. The manager was asked to authenticate my order book. This time, I was going in a Maruti car along with my manager and I was very happy. Except for 1 order of Rs 50,000 in Hubli where we were unable to reach the customer, all the orders were vouched as genuine by my manager”. Life throws out many challenges on us every day; it is important to be prepared to face these challenges rather than perishing by succumbing to them.

Dinesh faced typical difficulties when he incorporated Varnaaz in 2010. He had just got out of VizionARK’s responsibilities. He had a build a team. Dinesh had to draw out a large portion of his savings to get started. The education space values a person’s work experience tremendously. Dinesh wanted a couple of people with at least 10 years of experience to join him. This was a great challenge as nobody wanted to risk their careers to take up a futuristic idea. “To get the 1st 3 people join me, it took me a lot of time, energy and enormous convincing. Nobody was buying into my idea. On the other hand, there were a large number of entities that had begun similar businesses recently and this made people skeptical”, says Dinesh, “After the team was formed, we started exploring all possible opportunities and started converting the leads into business at a quicker pace.”

Today, Varnaaz is not just an IT training company as it works to connects the students and the corporate by leveraging on programs like Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance (DynAA) Program and thus, creating a win-win situation for every party involved. Varnaaz is the only delivery partner for Microsoft DynAA program in India. Varnaaz works with more than 30 academic organizations today training thousands of students to get industry ready. Varnaaz is still in its nascent stages but has started creating a visible impact. This year, Dinesh has even been nominated for the coveted ‘Top 100 Microsoft Dynamics Most Influential People’ by the Dynamic World.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t lose heart. Keep travelling.


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