The world was different in 2009. Lehman Brothers had gone down a year before, sending the financial world into a spiral. Sachin and Binny Bansal (not related) had left their jobs at Amazon to start Flipkart; at a time when risk-taking was frowned upon and starting up was anything but sexy. Rahul Dravid was still playing cricket.
Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D had hit theatres inspiring a new generation of aimless young drunks. Twitter was 140 characters. And the world, in general, felt like, things are so bad, it can’t get worse! It was in the midst of all this collective sigh and relief, that Anil Kumar quit his job at Zinnov Management Consulting to start out on his own. Zinnov wasn’t his first gig.
What about the graduation?
Kumar graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in chemical engineering in 2005. Even while he was in college, he was clear that he had had enough of engineering in his life. Post his graduation, Kumar moved to Bangalore—as it was called back then—and started working for a company called Manthan Software Services.
This job lasted only nine months, where he worked on collecting, analyzing and preparing research reports for companies like Dunkin Donuts and Fox, among others.
In 2006, Kumar moved to Zinnov. It was a small startup back then, not more than ten people, and it was here that Kumar found his feet and interest for research. “Zinnov had a very good work culture,” he says. “Here I worked on international information technology (IT) clients. IBM, Texas Instruments, what should they outsource? How much? Things like that.”
Kumar says that he started feeling restless in his third year or so, a feeling that he should do more. And while Zinnov had grown in size, adding more than 40 people, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to build a consulting career in IT. So, in 2009, he quit and started RedSeer.
The decision couldn’t have been more badly timed.
“I had nothing to do. No clients. I used to curse myself every day, why did I do this,” he says. Cursing gave way to desperation. So, he would go to the office—a small, two-chair set up—and cold call and email anybody willing to listen. “I would be like, I can do anything for you,” he adds. “Just give me work. If you want to improve top line, I can do that. If you want to improve the bottom line, I can do that. I can do anything. I can do everything.”
Starting the work
Fast things forward to serendipity. RedSeer started getting work.
First, a cost reduction exercise for a bank, free of cost. Then another bank. Then a third acquired on the back of data collected from the earlier two banks. The pitch was simple: We have data from two banks, can I interest you in a benchmarking study? It won’t cost much, just give us some work. It worked. Then, a former colleague from Zinnov joined RedSeer, one Kirti Saboo, and she brought in some contacts, some of which converted into business.
By 2011, RedSeer had built a reputation of an SOS button for bigger consulting firms. If they needed some quick, dirty research work done, RedSeer became their go-to agency. In 2013, RedSeer jumped on the healthcare bandwagon, doing research for daycare clinics and eye hospitals like location analysis, growth strategy, and entry strategy. It was around this time that the paths of two people crossed, and one found his professional life’s direction.
What are the investments?
Simply put, Kumar found Lee Fixel. Of investment firm Tiger Global and e-commerce company Flipkart fame.
Now, this part of RedSeer’s history is something that Kumar is uncomfortable talking about. First, he says that he doesn’t want to talk about clients.
It is a breach of confidentiality agreements he has signed. But on more pestering, he would only say, “Let’s just say, without naming anyone, that a hedge fund is very data-hungry. And a few people believed in RedSeer and the kind of dedication we can show in our work where we could provide reliable, accurate data on a month-on-month basis.”