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Start-up ecosystem has not lost momentum even after the COVID outbreak: Aaron Fernandez

While the global pandemic has bought economies to a halt and massively disrupted businesses, it has also fuelled start-up dreams and we even saw several Indian start-ups achieve Unicorn status during the pandemic period. The times have never been better for the budding entrepreneurs to give wings to their start-up dreams.

The Government, too, has come up with various schemes to support its ‘Vocal for Local’ drive. A case in point is the recent Rs 1,000 crore Start-up India Seed Fund announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Start-up India International Summit 2021 held earlier this year.

Adgully is turning the spotlight on the entrepreneurs who fought against all odds to bring their dreams to fruition in our special series – START-UP STARS. We at Adgully wholeheartedly support the ‘Vocal for Local’ movement and over the next few months will be featuring all local/ homegrown businesses, brands and Apps.

Aaron Fernandez found his first fortune, and a sense of purpose too in Goa. In 2002, Fernandez was on a summer break after completing his final year at high school, and grabbed an offer from his father’s friend to distribute flyers along Goa’s gold coast – the Sinquerim-Baga beach stretch – to promote a restaurant. Fernandez’s first brush with entrepreneurship earned him $13 a week, good money for someone just out of high school. He roped in a friend into the venture because the beach stretch was a long one and he could do it with help. While the entrepreneur in him was still coming to the fore, back then, the word ‘company’ meant companionship and not a business enterprise; many of which he would come to start years later.

End of college and the salad days brought along new opportunities with potential to broaden his professional horizon. Fernandez moved to Norway to work as a graphic designer – a new country, with new ways. He adapted to the new environment. Some years later, the media company he was employed with at the time, as part of his day job, had a large requirement of design and development chores. Fernandez stepped in and pitched them design services by outsourcing them from India, which was already a world renowned BPO market. The media company agreed and became his first client. What followed was one of the most successful start-up stories Goa has witnessed.

They started with KodeWork, a website development firm that was born out of India’s city of dreams, Mumbai, in 2014. Despite being a metropolitan city, establishing a dedicated team in Mumbai turned out to be a challenge due to several reasons. They then decided to move the entire team to Goa in 2015 and started afresh. It took a while to even out the transcontinental chinks. Work cultures in India and Norway were different, so were expectations in terms of quality and meeting deadlines. But over time, things fell in place.

In late 2020, the various companies established by Fernandez with his siblings, Judah and Caleb, were consolidated and brought under a single banner – Kilowott. The company today has partner deals in Norway, Holland, India, France, Switzerland and the US.

In conversation with Adgully, Aaron Fernandez, Founder, Kilowott, narrates the fascinating story behind Kilowott, how the company is overcoming the gap created by the lack of full-service companies within the technology sector, growing clients organically in Europe and much more.

What need gap did you want to fulfil with your start-up? What is the core business proposition?

Kilowott was launched to overcome the gap created by the lack of full-service companies within the technology sector. The company has consolidated diverse products and offers customers impeccable insights, which our in-depth market understanding provides. We are not a generalist, but a specialised firm offering customised digital interfaces and operational solutions featuring design elements such as CX, AR and VR and also technologies such as analytics, AI, IoT and other such tools to improve customers’ business and profit growth.

How did you identify your TG? Did you carry out any feasibility study prior to starting your business?

Not really.The media company I was employed with in Norway, as part of my day job, showed me the way and paved the path for my entrepreneurial journey.

Our first major website development firm was ‘KodeWork’. Me and my brothers, Judah and Caleb, relocated the company to Goa in 2015 and started operations from scratch from a 700 sq mtr office space in Porvorim. Our clients grew organically across Europe. As our client-base spread across continents, we started a clutch of other IT firms like ‘Nine Stack’, an app development agency; ‘Creometric’, a digital marketing agency; ‘Bootcamp’, a mentoring and training firm; ‘Fat Hamster Studio’, an animation and virtual reality studio, etc., as well as Nordic Hub India, a start-up accelerator, in 2018.

In 2020, the world changed and we decided to realign some of our verticals into a single entity – Kilowott. Our core philosophy, however, stays the same – to offer cutting-edge digital solutions in a global marketplace to enhance digital customer experience.

What were the challenges that you faced in your start-up journey and how did you overcome them?

I had been working in Norway for a number of years, and when I launched my start-up in India, the transcontinental differences had to be dealt with. The work culture and approach in India is very different from Norway, and there were challenges in terms of quality and timelines.

We started off by hiring freelancers from various locations – Israel, Ukraine, Vietnam, Poland and India. What we noticed is that communication with resources from countries other than India as well as deliverables was a constant challenge. We then moved to working largely with Indian resources on technical aspects.

However, things have since fallen in place.

What were the clearances that you required for your venture from various authorities?

My brother Caleb has a Commerce background and took charge of the company’s back-end operations like administration, finance, taxation, legal & compliance aspects. He is meticulous and ensures all compliances are in place.

Funds/ finance is the prime issue of almost all start-ups. What can the industry and the Government do to address this issue and ease the capital requirements of start-ups?

The Government of India has taken some steps in easing the situation, however, the ease of access to finance remains a challenge for start-ups. India is a huge country with incredible entrepreneurial potential. If the conditions for institutional financing are made less stringent for start-ups, then it would become easier for the budding entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into successful businesses. This would not only help in economic growth, but also greater employment generation across the country.

Prime Minister Modi announced the Start-up India Seed Fund earlier this year. How do you see start-ups benefiting from it?

The Start-up India Seed Fund is a step in the right direction. As I had mentioned, despite the great potential, start-up founders in India have to face a lot of challenges in securing institutional funding. Through this fund, a number of highly promising start-ups will get seed stage funding to fuel their early-stage growth.

How is digital helping you further your business?

Kilowott is a purely digital firm and right from the outset, we have used cutting-edge technology to run our operations and cater to a clientele which is mostly located overseas. We use advanced digital design elements such as CX, AR and VR and technologies such as AI, IoT, and others to help our clients grow their business and profitability.

We use technology and innovation in our consulting and strategy services such as customer journey mapping, customer experience process assessment and surveys consulting, assessment, roadmap ideation and modelling with use cases, brand positioning, go-to-market strategy, brand identity development, concept design and prototyping, etc.

What were your key learnings from 2020? How do you see the start-up ecosystem progressing in 2021?

The year 2020 was a highly disruptive one for most businesses. It underscored the importance of technology in everyday business operations. Today’s business landscape has been transformed into a digital-first environment with remote working and automation being the standard processes. Since Kilowott is a technology driven business, we didn’t face many challenges as far as operations are concerned.

India is already an IT powerhouse and there is a robust presence of skilled professionals, innovators and access to the most advanced technologies in the world. The start-up ecosystem has not lost momentum even after the pandemic outbreak, and it is going to evolve rapidly in the new normal. Even during the pandemic times, we have seen a large number of new start-ups come up and many of them join the unicorn club. The start-ups will contribute significantly to help India achieve the goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy in the years ahead.

What would be your message for the budding entrepreneurs?

I would advise the future entrepreneurs to believe in their dreams. The journey to building great businesses will always have a number of challenges. However, once you believe in what you are doing, you will find it easier to work around the challenges and create success for yourself as well as your team and overall community.

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