Posted at 6:39 p.m. PST Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Four Men With A Dream

Four young men who met at Ampersand in the mid - nineties pooled in Rs. 75,000 to start Iqura Technologies. They spoke with passion about this start up venture which plans to touch a 2 crore by 2001.

By Purnima

The dreamers: left to right -- (seated) Vishweshwara Kulur , Sharan H.P., (standing) Pawan Sivaraman and Anand Saraf

(Read about the company)

Dreamer #1: Vishweshwara Kulur, from a small village called Kulur in Sringeri, South Canara district, Karnataka. Spends the first fifteen years of his life playing with electronic gadgets and in his father's Arecanut fields, and finishes his schooling in his native language Kannada. Moves out of his village for the first time in his life to big town Mangalore for his plus two in the alien language English. Enrolls into the most prestigious of engineering colleges in Suratkal, Karnataka for a degree in electronic engineering. Gets snapped up by a software company in his seventh semester. Joins the company Ampersand in 1994 as trainee, where he gets to touch a computer for the first time in his life.

Dreamer #2: Pawan Sivaraman, hasn't spent more than 3 years in one place, thanks to his nomadic Civil Engineer father. Schooling in Patna, Delhi, Nigeria, Madras. Grows up in boarding schools and hostels as father settles down in the Middle East. Last stop Bangalore for a degree in Computer Science. Pawan gets into Ampersand during the 'Recruitment Mela' of 1996.

Dreamer #3: Anand Saraf, hails from the land of Marwaris where he never lived… Rajasthan. Granddad crosses the border to Calcutta from Bangladesh as a refugee. Dad, the original dreamer, shifts base to Indonesia. Grows up playing with computers in Jakarta, his home for 12 years. Dreams of stock brokering in Wall Street, and gets an MBA degree. Dad falls in love with Bangalore and settles down in this 'Pensioners' Paradise' in 1990. Anand gets himself a B.Com degree in Bangalore, and a Bronze Medal in Diploma in Computer Engineering conducted by NCC, UK. Much against his instincts gets into Ampersand as Customer Support Engineer.

Dreamer #4: Sharan H P, from a coffee - growing family of Coorg, Karnataka. Grows up and studies in the pristine precincts of Ramakrishna Ashram, Mysore. Mechanical Engineering degree also from a prestigious institute of Mysore. After a stint as Production Planning Engineer in BEL, joins Ampersand in 1995.

Four young men, from different backgrounds, with different natures, but with extraordinary ambitions. Thrown together by destiny, drawn towards each other by their common dream... a dream of breaking free and making it big on their own. Not for them the safety of a well - paying job with ample opportunities to settle down in the US.

"Successful IT careers, great opportunities, frequent trips to the US, lots of money and perks... seems like a dream - already - come - true, to me", I exclaim at the foursome. "You mean you wanted more?" I was talking to the four entrepreneurs at their swanky corporate office in Bangalore, where their two - year old company Iqura Technologies, is racing ahead of other IT start - ups in terms of, well, dreams - come - true! (Iqura is an e-commerce quality software service provider that builds web sites, among other things. For details, see box).

"I worked in Ampersand for five years... and it seemed as if I had done it all" says Vishwa, the soft - spoken genius and Technical Director of Iqura. "And I was doing all the work for somebody else!"

"Ampersand was fine, but I asked myself, 'what next?' I still had my personal ambitions to fulfil" says Pawan. At Iqura, he is Director, Business Development. Pawan's nomadic instincts no doubt urged him to explore different avenues. Not surprisingly, his was the shortest stint in Ampersand.

With Anand, the most vocal of the four, the enthusiasm he exudes is tangible. "A trip to Goa in 1997 clinched the issue for us. Our plans crystallized. We had to start on our own, and soon. The time was right, the will was there. Of course, we knew the hazards and pitfalls of such a venture. We decided to give it a shot for a year, and get back to our careers if we should fail."

They did not, and Anand now basks in the title of Managing Director, Iqura. "I almost gave up the idea, when I got engaged to be married" says Sharan, the only married man in the group. "I had major second thoughts. You see, my fiancée thought I had a good job and career going, which is why she agreed to marry me in the first place!" Sharan is the Projects Director of the enterprise.

"We almost called it off" the four shudder in remembered frustration. They had enough reason to call it all off too. Far too many entrepreneurs before them had attempted something similar, but "... out of 50 such start - ups, 49 fail" according to Pawan. The odds were clearly not in their favor!

But Sharan, his wife and the odds notwithstanding, and the others decided to take the plunge. Three of the four (Pawan joined them later) made sure they had enough money to last them a year, pitched in with a princely sum of Rs. 75,000 each and selected a basement in MG Road to start their operations. 3 PCs and 3 men, a cell - phone, a free hotmail email account for their corporate address, a smelly toilet, and Iqura Technologies was in Business! It was November 2nd, 1998.

The first year was hard. This was the time when most such companies went down. Anand took to undertaking data entry work to keep them afloat. Their first order was for Rs. 14,000/- from a relative. The big break came when Satyam gave them the responsibility of building its web sites. Days and nights of relentless work to meet standards and deadlines... the men aren't going to forget the struggle in a hurry!

Times were when they almost gave up, but the great rapport the men shared, the benchmarks they had set themselves, the dreams in their eyes and fires in their belly saw the foursome through the difficult times. Sheer hard work, luck, perseverance and the e-commerce mania spreading like wild fire saw them break through the crucial one - year barrier.

International orders followed, and Iqura hired its first employee in December 1999. The boys cleaned out their basement and moved to their present office in Langford road (one of the most prestigious addresses in Bangalore). Nov 2000 saw the inauguration of Iqura's overseas operations with a corporate office in San Hose, California. Iqura had arrived!

We have now broken through the 2 - year barrier, where only about 20 out of 100 start - ups survive" ,says Anand. "Our next goal is the 1000 - day barrier. We can safely say we are a stable company if we cross that. Only 3 - 4 companies cross the mark and go on to become successful enterprises".

The four founders of Iqura look forward to the battle. "The action becomes aggressive now" they say with a glint in their eyes, with confidence born out of success. And why not? Iqura now has 25 employees, the senior employees taking home around Rs. 20,000/- each. Ending March 2001, their turnover will be Rs. 2 Crores, double that of the first year. They now have a HR department in place, and are thinking of stock option plan for employees. Iqura will then think of going public in...

How has life changed for them and their families, materialistically and otherwise, with all this success? "Well, longer working hours, lousy social life" says Pawan. "We have all acquired cars and cell - phones, but that is the basic minimum the directors are expected to have" says Anand. "Our take home salary is as much as our senior programmers get. Most of the profits are put back into the company".

Vishwa's parents feel their son works too hard. The simple folk didn't even know he was going great guns, not until the success story of Iqura appeared in San Jose Mercury news in February 2000. Their son would definitely be bringing home more than twice the money if he were safely employed. But, by their own admission, the men feel that this is surely a small price to pay for the thrill of ownership and the satisfaction of entrepreneurship.

I had one last question of these enterprising adventurers. "Why 'Iqura'?" Anand is fascinated with legends. Icarus was a Greek prisoner, who gazed at the world through his prison window and imagined the splendors that lay beyond. His overwhelming desire to break free compels him to fly out of the window with wings made of wax! He flies higher and higher, and reaches the sun (Icarus's wings melt, and he crash - lands, but that's another story, and nothing to do with Iqura!).

"We too wanted to jump off the deep end, just like Icarus", says Anand. "We didn't want to get our wings scorched, though, so we added our intelligence (IQ) to the enterprise... besides, the domain name was all ours!"

With their dreams taking wing but with feet firmly on the ground, the new millennium is all theirs to conquer. The winning combination of Vishwa's vision, Sharan's voice - of - reason, Anand's enthusiasm and Pawan's ambition ensure Iqura a safe passage through the future.

In Iqura's new office, the 3 PCs and the legend of Icarus embossed on a glass partition remind them constantly about their struggle, and success. With plans to go global in the next few years, Iqura eventually hopes to inhabit the rarified atmosphere occupied by such IT giants as Infosys and Wipro.

After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt has said, the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.