Business India, August 7-20, 2000
Will Tejas light up?
Brought into being by Sycamore Networks, ASG-Omni and Desh Deshpande, the new technology baby in Bangalore, Tejas Network, aims to put India on the global hi-tech map
“The bible of Optical Networking, which we all study at Sycamore and other Optical Networking companies, was written by this guy, in Bangalore," said Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande introducing Dr Kumar Sivarajan, chief technology officer of Tejas Networks, while launching Tejas recently. "The technology business is totally people centric. If you have a world-class team, then you can compete in the global market. Our first milestone is recruiting 100 world class people with the right mindset in the next six-nine months," adds Sanjay Nayak, CEO, Tejas Networks.
"Tejas will be India's first globally competitive product company," says Deshpande. With that kind of confidence bordering on cockiness, Tejas was launched in a simple function in Bangalore on 25 July. Tejas aims to develop products for the fast growing optical networking market, which is expected to reach $40 billion by 2004 and also sell and support Sycamore's optical networking products.
Everybody in India claims to be globally competitive, "state-of-the-art,” etc which needs to be taken, not with just a pinch of salt, but a fistful. However what makes Tejas special is the track record of the team which is launching it. Deshpande, founder and chairman of Tejas, is fast becoming a folk hero in India. Though Deshpande has been a successful entrepreneur in North America for almost 20 years, what made him an icon in India, and a highly-respected figure in the cutthroat US market itself, is the launch of his third startup Sycamore in 1998. The Sycamore share which was offered during late 1999 on Nasdaq at $38 listed at $210. A start-up struck a market cap of about $18 billion within weeks of listing and is currently valued around $35 billion, of which Deshpande owns 29 per cent.
"The new economy unfairly rewards excellence and unfairly punishes mediocrity," says Deshpande. "Today markets do not look at your balance sheets and revenue streams to decide on valuations. They are looking at the people leading the company, their track record in trying their darnest to turn their convictions into reality. There is no stigma attached to failure as long as you did your best in a transparent way. After all, one of my start ups, Coral Networks did not work out and when I disagreed with my partner on business strategy, I had to walk out. At that time, my wife had also given up her job to bring up our children and we had to manage our family with no income for 9-10 months. But I still decided to quit Coral and start a new company called Cascade Communications which took a longtime to attract any investment by venture capitalists," adds he. Later, of course, Cascade grew into a large company with $500 million in revenues prior to its acquisition by Ascend Communications in June 1997 for $3.7 billion. (Ascend in turn was acquired by Lucent.)
"Sanjay has been a successful CEO when he headed Synopsys India, and View Logic's operations in India. Similarly Kumar Sivarajan who was working in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has earlier worked in Caltech and IBM'S Watson Research Centre. Our director engineering Arnob Roy has over 13 years of industry experience and has contributed significantly to product development in Synopsys, View Logic Systems and Cadence Design Systems and is an expert in Electronic Design Automation. We have in a short period of time recruited about 17 excellent people and are already talking to our first customers," says Deshpande.
"Products company is a big poker game,” Desh Deshpande
Q. Why is Tejas the first such start-up in India?
A. Products is a very different game. It requires a different level of confidence. In the services business you boot strap. You put some money in, more comes out. You use it to expand etc. It is a cost plus business. The product business is a big gamble. You have to say: here is my 25 million dollars, bang. It is a big poker game. That is not the culture that exists in India. It exists only in US, nowhere else in the world. That is the culture I built my business on. That is the only thing that I know how to do. I don't know how to build a service business.
Q. Will Tejas support Sycamore products worldwide?
A. Absolutely. You build the capabilities and then go wherever you can. So the professional services group in Tejas will go to the US, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and so on. There won't be any territorial issues. Right now the market is growing at such a rapid pace that everybody can have a piece of the pie if they can deliver.
Q. You promise bandwidth nirvana, but do you have a problem of bandwidth in India for Tejas? A. Of course. The amount of money you have to pay in India is ridiculous. For a 2 MB pipe to US, it is $50,000 a month. In Europe, it is $3,500 a year and Singapore it is even cheaper.
Q. Europe is a large market, so if closeness to market is the issue then how come there are no great product companies from Europe except in mobile telephony?
A. Because they are not entrepreneurial. It's the same thing in Japan. You look at Siemens, Alcatel, etc, they are not entrepreneurial. They cannot think out of the box, they cannot innovate. As a result, all these companies and countries are very good at going after a large market: 1 million cars, 100 million watches, 10 million cameras, they are good at that. But whenever the market changes very rapidly where you have to innovate and competition is very intense, they are not good at it. The only country which has done very well in such markets is the US, because they are a very, very open country. They do not say, "Hey Desh, you are from India and so you cannot set up a company in the US. So you can get the best people in the world and go after the competition. India needs to do the same thing.
Indians are very entrepreneurial too; that is why they have done very well in the US. You need people in India with ambition, you need role models and benchmarks. After all, one lives against so many odds here that you have to be entrepreneurial. There are a few start-ups in Bangalore but you need a big hit.
Q. There is a lot at stake in Tejas since everybody will be watching it. Does that create pressure?
A. No. If you want to win the Olympics then you have to say I am going to win it and you will be watched every minute of your life and you have to live up to it. But you have to sign up. If you don't, you will never win
Q. DoT has about 200, 000 km of fibre in the ground. What if it teams up with you and provide all the bandwidth we need.
A. Internationally innovation does not favour the incumbent. Look at AT&T, Mel, WorldComm, Sprint and so on. If they all did the right things, there would never be a Williams, Quest, Level Three and any of these guys. It is the speed at which you can implement and innovate which creates a brand new market. If you open up the market, there is always room for others. DoT's market share which is 1 00 per cent now will fall, but its revenues will go up. There is not enough fibre in India which will meet the demand for next 1 0 years, so there have to be a lot of players.
Today in the US, voice is practically free. It used to be 50 cents a minute and now it is 1 .5 cents. It (demand) will come from data and new applications which require high bandwidth. Pure capacity is also not an issue, it is speed of service, quality of service, etc. For example you go to a company and say I need 2 GB for two days from Mumbai to Delhi and one guy says I have got 1 00 GB capacity but it will take me six months to give it to you and then you have to sign up for five years and another guy says it will take me five minutes and I will give it to you for two days, then the second guy wins.
"The speed with which this project has been taken from concept to market place is truly amazing and is setting new benchmarks," says Ashok Vasudevan of ASG-omni, a Connecticut-based consulting and incubating firm. "In less than three months we incorporated it, recruited our top team and got our office ready from scratch to where a hundred people can work. Even in Boston this is difficult to beat," adds he.
"In fact Sanjay Nayak, our CEO, joined in two-and-a-half days," says Hans Taparia another member of the ASG-omni team who is involved with Tejas. "We had breakfast one day, he took the evening flight to Boston, spent a day with Desh and Sycamore, he returned the next and joined us as CEO!"
"The way Sanjay was talking to other people while interviewing for Tejas was like a veteran of many years. It is conviction that matters. Once you have people who have the conviction then you need the structure that gives them the independence. Kumar and Sanjay have the full power to take whatever decisions and we are there just to help. If this was a startup of a couple of people in Bangalore then you would not have the confidence, but if you know that you are going after a $40 billion market in 2004 and you have the right group of people then you will invest a lot of money. The confidence comes because Tejas is associated with Sycamore, that means you have market access," emphasises Deshpande.
How much money have the three promoters Deshpande, Sycamore and ASG-Omni put into Tejas? They are still very tightlipped about it. "We will disclose it at the right time but money is not a problem. At Sycamore itself we are sitting on $1.5 billion in cash after our IPQ, which is more than many of our large competitors. But I am on the board, Kevin Oye of Sycamore is on the board. Our management time is at a premium and I am spending a lot of time here. We are looking for some thing really big here," says Deshpande.
We have had several very successful software services startups in India which have become world class services companies. However, we still do not have a successful technology products company. One reason that has been always given by the industry pundits is that we are far from the market place (read the US). So will Sycamore playa facilitating role in this startup? "Definitely. Access to market knowledge is an absolute must for any product company, but Sycamore will straightaway provide a tunnel into the US market, which is still the most important market. Tejas is at a different vantage point from Sycamore. Sycamore had to live on its own, it had to compete with Lucent, Nortel and all the big boys. Tejas does not have to fight for survival, it just has to execute. If you can get 100 very, very talented people with a certain culture then that is a huge asset. To build products you need market knowledge, you need the process, domain knowledge, etc of world class which does not exist in Bangalore. So you need a lot of interaction with Sycamore and that is what we have been doing. Some of the speed at Tejas is coming from there. At Sycamore we take a lot of pride in all this. Everybody says the last guy did something in 30 days and I will do it in 27 days and so on. You can already see the flavour of that at Tejas and once you have the culture and the machinery to execute, then developing products is just identifying the right target and going after it," explains Deshpande.
"If it needs about $25 million to develop a world class product, it does not mean that anybody with $25 million can successfully build a product. It needs deep market knowledge and domain knowledge. Thus Sycamore is key to Tejas' success," adds he.
Tejas will have two divisions working in tandem. One at product development and the other vending Sycamore products in India which will also build capabilities for network design, deployment and support. The Tejas team is already talking to many people in India who have declared their intention to build large, broadband networks.
So what is new? Have not all Indian companies started with services and then slowly ventured into components and products? The crucial thing is not to look at services as bread and butter and invest the revenues from services into product development later, as is wont with Indian companies. The services team will build for the global market. "Even this is being done with our product strategy in mind; after all there is a lot more to do in a product company than just build products. While we build a world class R&D centre for products we will be building a sales and marketing network for Sycamore's products which will be very crucial when we come out with our own products. Opportunities will not wait at that time for us to build up our marketing," adds Sanjay Nayak.
"People like Sanjay and Kumar would not have joined us if we had started a sales office for Sycamore. Such talent can be attracted only if it is a product startup with all the attendant challenges and rewards. They have built products in the past, but for others. Now they will be doing it for themselves," says Deshpande.
Tejas, is a Sanskrit word that means brilliance, radiance and energy. A million eyes are literally watching Tejas to see if it will light up. For their first product roll out, watch this space.