Pioneering an IT Company in India: Interview with a Founder

It was after a survey trip to a small city in India 20 years ago that Ajay and colleague Jason saw a desperate need for someone to live out the gospel there. They both committed to relocate with their families and went about assessing the needs and opportunities there. One great need in the community was to provide jobs for the skilled IT workforce so they wouldn’t need to move away for work in the bigger cities, which was separating families. Ajay and Jason co-founded an IT business, and over the last 14 years their understanding about how God can use business has significantly evolved and expanded, along with their business model. We asked Ajay to share some of his experiences.

What is the goal of your company?

We say that our mission is to be the best IT company in our region. Ultimately our goal is to do everything with excellence, to exceed customers expectations at an affordable cost and for our staff to see their work as something that they can take pride in. They thrive in serving one another through serving the client. Through that process God is giving us amazing opportunities to share with them what it is to know God and to follow Him. For example, one of the key employees is going through a very difficult time emotionally, and we have the opportunity to share that healing and peace can only come through Christ. So our goal is to have an impact holistically: providing a service with excellence, giving the staff the opportunity to thrive, and being able to talk about life and family – and being able to point them to Christ in the midst of that. We are trusting that God will use the way we do business and build relationships every day in our company.

Why did you choose the IT industry?

The city where the company started is a relatively small city with very little direct influence of the gospel, there is no gospel ministry and very few believers. Even constructing a church building would not be welcome in this place. We saw a need for the gospel in this city so we explored the question, what would be an opportunity here?

We saw that kids were getting educated in IT, but then leaving the city and their families to go to better jobs in big city. So we decided to build a business to give people a way to stay in the city with their family, as a result our business has a low attrition rate. In IT in India there is a 12 month average for employee attrition, our employees usually stay more like three, four or five years.

What are some cross-cultural issues you have encountered working in IT in India?

It has been our experience that, because of their culture, Indians do not tend to say “no”, even when something cannot be done. They will communicate to the client so they get the impression that it will get done as expected, even if it is impossible because of time or ability. We have had to learn to discern whether Indians are telling us “yes” because they really can or because they don’t want to say “no”. Even after 20 years in the culture, I still miss it sometimes. For example, we had a situation where a client provided information about what he wanted done for making a mobile app. His budget was extremely low, but our staff didn’t go to the client and say directly they couldn’t do it at the price, or tell him the budget was too low. Instead they tried to communicate the budget problem indirectly, but the client didn’t understand and I had to go back later to apologize and explain that the staff weren’t direct enough.

Also, the caste-system is a huge issue because of the lack of understanding about servant leadership. It goes against all cultural norms to get a high caste Brahmin to serve a lower caste. It takes years to model that servant leadership value and we are finally seeing breakthroughs. Meetings are another issue, if we have four different castes represented in a meeting, we want every person’s input but the lower castes won’t give their feedback because their opinion isn’t valued in the caste system or they don’t want to be contrary with what the higher caste staff member has to say. We have had to really focus on the lower caste staff and constantly have to monitor that dynamic in meeting situations. In Indian culture, the lower caste has to default to what the higher caste has to say. Sometimes it is not until we get involved and try to help them see, that they understand that maybe this is not healthy or not appropriate in our company context. We are really trying to get to be able to communicate at a heart-level with them. The longer a staff member stays with us, the more we can get there and can work through it. It just takes time.

One other industry-specific challenge is with the design and development of products. Developing the software – the actual coding – is an area that more easily transcends cultures. However, the design side is about the user experience, the graphics, the look, the appeal, the layout and so on. Indians have their own style, and in the West we have a different style.

How do you overcome that issue in your product development?

We have interns come from abroad that are trained and gifted in web design and development. They come for weeks and sometimes months and train our local staff. We also have staff from the West that live in India, so having a ‘foreign’ presence in the office helps train the employees how to see the projects from a Western viewpoint. As far as coding goes, Indians are experts at that, they are strong in the area of math and science and it comes naturally to them.

What has been your greatest business challenge and the greatest satisfaction?

Having a consistent sales pipeline has been the hardest challenge and takes a lot of time. Hiring and training the sales team has been a challenge from the beginning and there are not real easy answers. Finally, the sales cycle is taking more and more time, so closing a project can take several months which can be a challenge in running our business.

Our greatest satisfaction is to hear from our clients how happy they are with our work. These comments drive us to worship Jesus as he is the one who has made us stewards over this company. Recently one remarked how much he absolutely loved working with us and considered our employees his team. When we get that type of feedback it is huge, it encourages us as owners and really increases morale of the staff.

What has been your greatest IT challenge, and also satisfaction?

Because we are in a smaller city, we are having a hard time finding people with the skill set we need right now. For example, we have the role of a Project Manager, someone between the customer and developer who has to have a strong command of English and can also manage expectations, they are important for success of a project. We have a difficult time finding these people where we are located because we are in a smaller city. The alternative is to train someone, but that can take six to nine months, and we need them now. It’s a big challenge. As our company grows we are more and more limited at finding the right staff because of our location. But we have no intention to move, so this will be an ongoing challenge for us.

In terms of satisfaction, the IT industry is constantly and rapidly changing in terms of current technology. If we don’t stay current, we are out of business. Watching our staff take on new challenges in IT that are difficult and then exceeding the expectations of the client is very rewarding. Excelling in new tech is huge for us, and that also helps differentiate us from other companies. This motivates the staff more than anything, and creates an environment of growth.

With thanks to ‘Ajay’, in conversation with Poppy Jasper.

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