‘You would not normally associate the temple town of Udupi, also known for its vegetarian cuisine, with information technology’ begins the story about Robosoft, in Business Line. The article traces the origins of the company and the entrepreneurship of Rohith Bhat, Managing Director and CEO.
“My first start-up experience was my engineering college,” recalls Rohith. Most of the students lived in hostels and this meant working in teams. He recollects borrowing notes from friends in Manipal and Mangaluru for subjects that were new. “I learnt about managing there. When you don’t have access to anything, you have to make do with what you can lay your hands on. In college, I learnt more about life; how to live with scarcity, as constraint breeds creativity,” says Rohith.
On graduating, he joined a small firm in Mumbai. After an eight-month stint, in 1992, a Japanese company offered him the opportunity to build a word processor for the Apple Mac platform. “I worked for them for three years. The idea back then was to build a product to compete with Microsoft Word in Japan,” says 44-year-old Rohith. This Japanese experience set off Rohith’s entrepreneurial passion; it was his ‘Make in India’ moment, if you will.
“At the time, Japan was challenging the US in everything. What could left me wondering was, how a country, destroyed in World War II, rise to a position to challenge the most powerful nation in 40 years. I decided to go back to India, and start something there,” he says. When he broached this idea with friends and family, predictably there was opposition. But his father and two older brothers supported him. With savings accumulated from his Japanese stint, he started the company, Robosoft Technologies, in his sister’s living room in Mumbai in 1996.
His first customer was Apple. Having entered India in 1995 it had recruited 20 people to sell Macs. Armed with Mac software development knowledge, Rohith accompanied the sales team on road shows and to meetings with clients.
“Apple had built Indian language support for their Mac operating system. Some of the software we had worked on went into that,” he says with pride. In the first two years of Robosoft, he was working with the engineers in Cupertino over e-mail. Realising that it was immaterial for the overseas customer whether they were served from Mumbai or Udupi, Rohith decided to return to his native place. It was easier for him to get project financing in his home town.