Kolkata: Shabbir H. Ashraf Bhimani, 32, was born into a Gujarati business family that taught its children to never consider working for others. “It’s better to pull a handcart than look for a job,” Bhimani’s father, a Kolkata-based trader in fish and spices, would tell his sons.
Shabbir Bhimani grew up in Dhoraji, a flourishing town in Gujarat’s Rajkot district, and moved to Kolkata to join his father after completing school. Ordained to make a living from his own business, Bhimani had at the age of 24 started experimenting with various online sites. That was in 2003 when he was a third-year student of information technology (IT) in Kolkata’s BP Poddar Institute of Management and Technology, a private college, pursuing a degree in engineering.
Shabbir Bhimani. Graphic by Yogesh Kumar; photo by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Even without a revenue model, he launched an online forum, Go4expert.com, his first, to share with Internet users the lessons he learnt in software technology. At that time, he knew little except programming codes, recalls Bhimani, who got an expert to develop the portal that fell short of his own expectations. With time, he realized he had to learn to develop portals on his own, and a year later, in 2004, here-launched Go4expert.com. The same year he fathered twins, a boy and a girl, from his one-year-old marriage with Lubna Shabbir Bhimani, a homemaker.
Shabbir Bhimani had by then begun working as a freelance software programmer, ploughing the money he made from assignments into his portal. On graduating from the engineering college, he landed a job through campus placement with a Kolkata-based information technology firm, Vision Comptech Ltd.
He changed jobs twice in the space of a year before moving to RS Software (India) Ltd, a large IT firm, where he worked on an outsource of printer maker Lexmark. In one-and-a-half years, he landed a job with Lexmark, and worked there for one-and-a-half years more. In four years, he realized it was time to hang up his boots. “People give up in a few months,” says Shabbir Bhimani, who nurtured his portal even while he worked at various IT firms. And at the time he quit his job at Lexmark in 2008, Go4expert.com generated around Rs 15,000 of monthly revenue.
He was still sharing programming codes through the website, but had by then managed to establish a revenue model by tying up with Google AdSense, which helped secure online advertisements. The arrangement with Google’s service was already four years old, but it was only now that the website was making enough money for him to quit his job.
A few more portals based on the same model were launched in 2008-2009, expanding the space in which he dabbled from software codes to management studies to financial markets. But his first launch, on which he continues to share programming ideas, remains the most profitable one with at least one million page views a month, according to Shabbir Bhimani.
The second most successful among the 8-10 sites that he currently runs is Mbaguys.net, a forum for management students and for those those seeking admissions to management schools. Launched in 2009, it currently receives 100,000 unique page views a month.
Monthly revenues from his clutch of offerings have swollen from a paltry Rs 5,000 in 2005 to Rs 3 lakh over the years. With business expanding, Shabbir Bhimani had to take on two business partners, one of whom is a web developer and the other, a designer of websites. The trio is now looking to hire people; they have already signed up three persons, one of whom has joined, and two more are to come on board in January.
Shabbir Bhimani now plans to create two separate divisions within his business: one offering software solutions and the other running portals aimed at diverse interest groups. And if things go according to plan, he says, he would not only need to hire at least 15-20 more people, but also need to bring in financial investors.
That is something he hasn’t done yet, his business having grown from its own accruals. It is surely sometime away, but Shabbir Bhimani has already started planning to attract investors as he strives to create “jobs for others”, ordained as he is not to work for others. The key challenge, though, is to build a team and secure it from poachers, he says.
His brother, Sadik Bhimani, too, has been following the family writ. After graduating as a software engineer from Kolkata’s Bengal Engineering and Science University, he, too, has launched his own firm offering software solutions and services through the cyber world. The siblings, though, aren’t collaborating because they have chosen to create for themselves their own destinies.
Mint is a strategic partner of National Entrepreneurship Network, which hosts the Tata First Dot.