A Conversation With Vineet SethFeatured, Interviews Friday, October 7th, 2011
At the Delcam Asian Technical Summit held in Zhuhai, China, I had the chance to sit down with Vineet Seth, the country manager of Delcam India. His is an interesting story of how one Indian took an idea to a British company and completely changed its presence and the way it does business in India.
Deelip: Tell me something about yourself. Childhood, education, etc.
Vineet: The odd thing about my childhood is that I studied at many schools. My dad used to work for State Bank of India and he used to get transferred every three years. Invariably he used to get transferred in the middle of the academic year when it was difficult to get admission into a good school. So I used to enter into the first school I could get into and then move to a better one as the year progressed. So in the 15 years of my schooling I had studied in nine schools. This can be quite taxing for a child. But in hindsight it allowed me to be be more versatile and more at ease with different people.
The other thing that made a difference in my childhood was one of the schools where the principal was quite strict on the proper use of English. He made a rule that inside the school conpound every had to speak in English and no other language. I think that really improved my grasp of the language.
Deelip: Which is often a problem for Indians.
Vineet: Yes, a lot of them. Anyways, after my schooling I came to Maharashtra to do my Mechanical Engineering and then later did a MBA in Marketing.
Deelip: Was the MBA immediately after Engineering?
Vineet: Yes. I thought that if I took up a job after Engineering I would get so used to the idea of earning money that I would never come back to study again. So after finishing my studies I joined a company called Neilsoft, which was a distrubutor for Autodesk products. Later they took on the distribution of Cimatron. I worked as a Applications Engineer at the start, but then quickly went into sales. Then two and half years later I joined Delcam.
Deelip: So was Delcam already present in India at that time?
Vineet: No. Actually, when I was selling Cimatron at Neilsoft I came across a couple of installations of Delcam and the users spoke very highly of it. I thought this was a good opportunity if Delcam were open to the idea of opening their own office in India. So I contacted Delcam and someone wrote back to me to meet up with him while he was in Mumbai. We met and things clicked. A month later I was offered a job at Delcam to work in India. For the first couple of months I worked from home. My initial job was to support the Delcam distributor in India. The hope was that the distributor would subscribe to the CAM way of selling software.
Deelip: And what is that?
Vineet: Well, there is a huge difference in selling and supporting CAD and CAM software. As a CAD user it you face a problem and you call up the vendor or reseller, the problem is usually not mission critical. The CAM situation is entirely different. The user actually has a job on the machine and he needs to be attended to immediately, not 24 or 48 hours later. That makes a world of a difference in the mind set of people.
Deelip: So I assume that the Indian distributor didn’t have that mindset because I hear that you fired them.
Vineet: There are very few distributors and resellers in the world that have that mindset. Most of them subscribe to the CAD way of selling and supporting software. If I was a reseller possibly my way of working would be the same. I mean, if I have sold the software, collected the money and provided basic support, any other visit I make the customer is an expense that is eroding my profit.
I wanted to change this situation and I came to the conclusion that the only way forward was to go direct. I wanted to go and offer support myself without the idea of making money so that we could create a name in the market. Which is what actually happenned. We went out of our way to give support. We still do it. And a lot of our sales comes from referals from our customers.
Deelip: True. That’s the most pure form of marketing. It’s very genuine.
Deelip: So how soon after you joined Delcam did you fire the distributor?
Vineet: In about six months.
Deelip: And how did that happen?
Vineet: Well, overnight I hired nine people. I mean literally overnight. I had the people in mind. I call my boss in the UK and told him that I was parting ways with the distributor.
Deelip: You told him. You didn’t ask him.
Vineet: (laughs) Yeah, I told him. And he was very supportive and said that he would go along with whatever I decided because the current situation wasn’t working anyways. In five years we had only sold three seats in the country. I told him that by the evening I would be coming back to him for a head count increase. To which he replied that by then he would have spoken to people at Delcam and made sure that it was approved. So I went ahead and hired people in the important cities and told them that in the next 15 days we would have offices there. Yeah, those were crazy times. I remember counting 240 nights spent in hotels in the first 365 days.
Deelip: Were you married then?
Vineet: No. Thankfully not. But my wife has been very supportive. Even after that whenever I travel she’s the one who holds the fort. She’s one reason why I don’t have to worry about a lot of things.
Anyways, when we decided to go direct we were only a liason office, which as you may know, has a lot of limitations. So we opened a branch office and then as we grew created a wholly owned subsidiary.
Deelip: So how have things changed after you went direct?
Vineet: Oh! Its amazing. We have only grown from strength to strength since then. A lot of limitations that would have been there had I had only a skeleton staff are not there any more. There are people invloved in pre-sales, post-sales, support and some levels of development as well and it all owned by us. That’s pretty satisfying in its own sense. I don’t want to use the word control because that can have different meanings. But we actually control what we do in the sense that we do not cut a sorry face in front of someone who comes to us asking for support. Support is very important.
Deelip: So how large is Delcam in India today?
Vineet: We have 14 offices in India. On the sales and support side we have about 75 people.
Deelip: Would you recommend this kind of business model to other people?
Vineet: I really don’t know. I really depends on what you are trying to achieve.
Deelip: Lets say [Delcam CEO] Clive tells you, “OK, you have done your work in India. I want you do now go to China and become the country manager there“. Will you do the same thing there?
Vineet: I would prefer to. Because I think that’s the one way we would own our own business.
Deelip: So are there any exceptions? I mean, have you met any really good resellers?
Vineet: Sure. We have some fantastic resellers within our organization. Our reseller in Australia has been with us for 23 years and we have never had an occasion to doubt their sincerity. We also have many such examples in our North American setup whose commitment to Delcam is truly amazing. In India, there are also some very good resellers. But they are more on the CAD side. We have started associating with some of them due to our “Delcam for SolidWorks” products.
Deelip: What do you think is the most glaring brawback of your company? I mean, what would you like to change?
Vineet: Nothing much really. We are very versatile. We are quite ready to change. But if there was anything that I would like to see change is us becoming more American than British. Americans know the art of marketing. We also do to an extent. But we do not oversell. We don’t go out of our way to make a noise about ourselves.
Deelip: Precisely. I think that is actually a bad thing at a time when people’s attention span is very small. If you actually wait for a long time to build something substantial and only then tell the world about it, you are pretty much off everyone’s radar. You need to be in front of people at regular intervals.
Vineet: You are probably right. We have come a long way. What we are doing now is a lot more than what we were doing six years ago. However, as an organization I don’t think we are geared to do the over the top kind of marketing. Delcam is not that kind of a company. We like to be true to ourselves. We like to show what we can do. Not what we can or might do. But to answer your question, yes that is something I’d like to see change to an extent, mainly because of the reasons you just mentioned.