Mumbai: Ask entrepreneur Jay Krishnan who will deploy his services, and he mentions cattle owners and silicon chip manufacturers in the same breath. The common thread between the seemingly unrelated sectors is so-called tech-enabled asset tracking (or simply, technology that helps track things, animals, even people), the broad theme that Krishnan and his co-founders have defined for Radifinity Solutions India Pvt. Ltd.
Bangalore-based Radifinity plans to help firms manage their assets by using a variety of technology platforms, including radio frequency identification(RFID)—tags that store information and can be tracked remotely. “We will approach multiple sectors such as animal husbandry, health care and semiconductor manufacturing to provide a technology backbone for tracking assets,” says Krishnan.
Keeping track: Co-founder of Radifinity Solutions India Jay Krishnan with a vehicle-tracking application. The start-up plans to help firms manage their assets by using a variety of technology platforms. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Livestock inventory management is one such key service the company wants to offer. “India has one of the largest cattle populations in the world and there are few players in this market,” says Krishnan, who believes that such tracking can also be used for important analytics on livestock disease patterns.
The company has readied tiny RFID chips that can be injected under the animal’s skin with a medical syringe. Once the chip is in, the cattle owner can record and read information such as milk yield, cream content and vaccination details of each cow. Each implant costs Rs200, a price the company expects will drop to Rs100 in the next two months.
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The name Radifinity was coined to indicate “RFID’s infinite possibilities”, but the company later broadened focus to include other wireless communication technologies such as Global Positioning System and General Packet Radio Service, used in mobile data services.
While it is still in talks to deploy the livestock management product, its warehousing solution for semiconductor firms has been deployed with Intel Corp. and Nikon Corp.Radifinity enables real-time tracking of components and large machinery transported across chip fabrication units, thus reducing loss of parts and costs incurred due to delay in paperwork.
Venture investors say it might be early days for asset tracking start-ups in India. “In economies of scale such as the US and Europe, livestock tracking (solutions) can be deployed rapidly on large farms, but in India, given the low cost of manpower and smaller farms, the problem is compounded,” says Rajesh Shrivathsa, managing partner, Ojas Venture Partners, an early-stage fund focused on technology investments. “They will certainly be early adopters, but I don’t know if it is a scalable business at this stage.”
Before turning entrepreneurs, Krishnan and his two co-founders worked with tech firms such as Intel, Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc. in the Silicon Valley and in India for 12-14 years. Krishnan met Subra Chandramouli at engineering college in Bangalore, and Dhananjay Shukla during his MBA days at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B).
“When we were in the US, we were constantly harping about doing something disruptive, focused on the India market. We had the work experience and the academic qualifications, there was nothing to stop us,” says Krishnan.
The trio registered the firm last July, but quit their corporate jobs and began full-time only in January, when they were incubated on the IIM-B campus.
In a difficult market, the company has had to revise its original business expectations drastically, scaling back projections of customer traction from 120% to 30% in the first year of operations. Radifinity conducted an informal market survey with potential customers to get a sense of their budget and spends, and found that most were not looking to invest for the next two years.
One semiconductor firm in the US’ Bay Area explained that since its own clients had yet not made payments, there was no money to invest. “We found the situation in the US far worse than what the media reported, but it strengthened our belief in the India market,” says Krishnan.
Radifinity has also scaled down the number of hires from 10 to three in the first three months of operations. While conducting job interviews, it found that while talent was better and cheaper, employee expectations had also changed to reflect the uncertainty in the market. One engineer, to their surprise, asked to see references to establish the firm’s credibility.
The young start-up faces competition from established players in each sector it plans to cater to. In RFID solutions, for example, it competes with companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc. and Bartronics India Ltd. To differentiate itself in the market, Radifinity is counting on its value additions to the customer. Since many of the large companies make profits from consultancy services, Radifinity prepares a business case analysis that outlines the inefficiencies in the current way of working free of cost, charging only for actual software and hardware deployed.
The exercise also serves to build relationships and trust with new customers. To prepare the report, the company interviews at least 30 people, starting from the head of operations down to the lab technician.
Once the client engages its services, Radifinity also deploys on-site personnel to train them for customized requirements. Such efforts have made a difference, says Krishnan: “Folks like us for our focus in this space, and it’s easier to call us directly than the 800 customer care number of a biggie.”
Radifinity is currently running on the personal savings of the founding team, which pooled in an initial capital of Rs30 lakh to set up the venture. It plans to raise funding only after gaining customer and revenue traction in the next two years. “Until then,” Krishnan says, “the next round of funding will come from friends, family and fools.”
This is the eighth in a series about entrepreneurs starting businesses during the economic slowdown. Next: A college B-plan turns into an arcade gaming firm.