Had it not been for his son Aagman, KS Bhatia would have never ventured into the world of start-ups two years ago and nor would Google boss Sundar Pichai laud that start-up, Pumpkart, at his ‘Digital India’ speech before PM Modi in the US last year.
It was the 14-year-old who pushed Bhatia into pursuing this brainwave by buying and gifting him the domain name Pumpkart, an online portal selling waterpumps.
“Never underestimate the young, they are the future and much more cued in,” says Bhatia. After Pichai’s pat on the back, the Chandigarh-based company set up in 2014, literally ‘pressure pumped’ its way to become a startup star overnight.
Not only did the Union Ministry of Information Technology get it integrated with the government-run Common Services Centre across India under the National e-Governance Plan, the portal now has opened its first offline hybrid store O2O in the city. “The idea is to give the customer an idea, a touch and feel of the product,” says Bhatia, aiming at opening 100 such stores in next four years.
A chemical engineer and MBA, Bhatia calls himself a pure salesman who has a knack of spotting opportunity and bringing it home. And while Pumpkart’s popularity is recent, little do people know that Bhatia has been in this business for 17 years now, a time when there was no ‘startup’ buzz, venture capitalists or angel investors, government action plans or extensive pitching sessions.
From designing all pumping systems at a biogas plant to working on sewerage treatment plants, Bhatia, over the years, saw a huge potential in the water and pumping sector. The son of professor parents from Amritsar, Bhatia says he started his business, Air Fluid, with just Rs 20,000 in 1998 and grew to be a Rs 30-35 cr company, making it one of the leading contractors in the region in water supply and pumping systems, also instrumental in introducing the pressure boosting hydropneumatic system here.
By venturing into a startup with Pumpkart, he brought under one roof, over 150 waterpump brands. With 10,000 hits a day on his portal and an aim to bring in fold 3,000 brands, Pumpkart was “one of the riskiest projects” for this is a niche vertical no investor wants to touch. Bhatia admits he has not succeeded in his plan to reach the consumer directly too. “Across the world it’s a 100 per cent unorganized sector where consumers buy through shopkeepers or plumbers. At shops, they have an option of four to five brands. There is no education or awareness about the kinds of pumps, the installation and repair,” says Bhatia.
“This is an area difficult to breach as it works on a chain of commission, a network of plumbers, retailers, architects, and I had a tough time breaking ground.”
“I’ve already burnt Rs 1.5 crore in Pumpkart, and now want investors on board for this,” says Bhatia, who will receive the Leadership Award from the Rural Marketing Association of India next month for his social enterprise and innovative spirit. There are times when one is demotivated by politics and lack of acknowledgment, but to aspiring startups, he says never to give up, give in or copy.