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Balakrishna BM, Founder & CEO of Aquapot RO

Coming from a humble background and beginning his career with numerous small jobs to now owning a well-respected and fast-growing water treatment equipment company in India with an annual turnover of Rs. 20 crores, Battala Munuswamy Balakrishna believes that quality and service are the pillars of his success. Mayur Sharma talks to him about his interesting and very inspiring journey so far…

Balakrishna BM or fondly called as ‘Bala’ by his friends and industry colleagues had come to Bangalore with just 1000 rupees in his pocket which his mother had saved by milking cows. He had something more valuable hidden with him though…a strong conviction in his abilities and the discipline required to channel all his energies into whatever he worked at.

After completing his 10th standards, Mr. Balakrishnan joined Intermediate wherein he passed in the subject Mathematics in his 8th attempt after failing in it 7 times. He says, “Later on, I was further interested to complete my education. Therefore, I joined for a diploma in Nellore and came out with a good 72%. So in college days, I can say that I was topping in my trade. That is how I finished my diploma.” He completed his Automobile Diploma in the year 2001.

When 72% Marks Couldn’t Land a Job Offer
Coming to jobs, Mr. Balakrishnan thought 72% marks were more than enough to get a good job. He had walked in almost all the automobile showrooms in Bangalore like Opal, Mahindra, Maruti, etc. Though every showroom had his resume, he did not get a single call from any of them. By now, he had decided to join any random job as the 1000 rupees given to him by his mother was slowly getting spent. She had saved this money by milking cows which at those times was sold at 3 rupees a liter.

“I had decided to go back to my village if I didn’t get any work. I requested a small Maruti service station owner saying that I would accept any salary and any kind of job. He told me that if I wanted to do even a mechanic job, I will have to wash cars for at least 1 year. I accepted his offer and started working. He offered me 400 rupees per month. It was in the year 2002. I had completed my diploma in 2001. Within 3 months of completing my diploma, I had joined into Maruti. I worked there for around 6 months.”

Jumping from 400 Rs. to 2000 Rs. a Month
Mr. Balakrishnan had been applying for many jobs while he was working as a car washer. His parents had provided him with more educational facilities compared to his sibling. They had spent quite a lot of money to educate him. He thought if he kept continuing there, it would take a lot of time to reach a certain level. Therefore, he started applying for other jobs. He adds, “One day I got the call from CRI Pumps. They needed a Marketing Executive. The starting salary that they offered me was 2000 rupees plus a stipend of 150 rupees for each tour. I felt it was something crazy jumping from 400 rupees to 2000 rupees. I decided to do marketing and come out of the automobile mindset. I then joined as a Marketing Executive in the Chittoor branch of CRI Pumps. It is in the border of Tamil Nadu. I worked there for 3 years. In those 3 years, I travelled to almost all the villages. My job was to create my company’s brand awareness among the customers. Maybe that is the experience that I am using right now in my brand awareness programme. There I learned – how one can create the brand awareness. We used to travel in open-top jeeps to all the villages. The roads were not good. We had the target to cover 5-10 villages in a day. We used to keep a mike with us and announced our branding through it. We used to meet the farmers, carry irrigation pumps and give them demonstrations. These 3 years were a very big learning point for me at that time.”

“I Wanted to Move to a City – Hyderabad”
Mr. Balakrishnan had bigger aspirations. He now wanted to move to a bigger market. He comments, “After those 3 years, I decided to go to Hyderabad. I was working in a town but I wanted to move to a city. I applied for jobs in Hyderabad. In those 3 years, I had travelled a lot and suffered from back pain due to the continuous long journeys. There is a company who are into air pollution control. They offered me a job as a Resident Engineer. My job was to cater to industries like cement, food, pharma, steel, and all those where there was air pollution. I used to promote my company products in all these industries. I worked there for 7 years. I had worked well and the company had also taken care of me. It was a very good journey in that company. I had loved working there.”

The Idea of Business Venture Came at a Water Expo
At one point in time, things started to become a regular routine for Mr. Balakrishnan which was very unlike him. His dynamic nature wanted him to do something different. He recollects, “I thought of doing something myself, on my own. One of my friends asked me to go to an expo that was going on in Chennai. It was the place where we decided to start our business venture. He asked me what we wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to work with domestic products. One of my friends came from Selum also. He was already there in this business. He told me that he would train me for the same. This was the year 2010. I visited the Water Today Expo. From here, I straightaway went to Selum though it was not in my plan.”

(Left to Right) Mr. Balakrishnan BM in Conversation with Mayur Sharma and Kailash Shirodkar from SWWW

Started RO Business with His PF Amount of 1,27,000 Rs.
Before going to the expo, Mr. Balakrishnan had read about the water industry online. He had read somewhere that only 12% of the world’s population has access to safe drinking water. So it was one of the budding businesses. At Selum, he was handling domestic assembling of ROs. “I sat with their technicians and tried to understand the technology and learned how to assemble the system. I also learned to make minor repairs, etc. My friend told me that if I wanted, I could buy products from him. I had just received my PF amount of 1,27,000 rupees in my bank account. I told him that I would transfer the same amount to him and buy products from him. So I transferred the amount and also got 15-20 systems from Selum. One of my friends, Mr. Navin, was also in the same business. He was already operating from an office. But he wanted to dispose of that office. He asked me if I wanted to take it. Initially, I had got 20 systems from Selum.

The First Order – Procured at Rs. and Sold at 7500 Rs.
“My first order was given by my friend’s neighbor. I had got it at 5000 rupees and sold it at 7500 rupees. I took the system on my back and went for its installation. I had fitted it on my own and everything went right. I became confident in myself then. Within 1 month, all the systems were sold out. It was the year 2010 then. Thereafter, I got to know that I could make it on my own by sourcing the components from Hyderabad. It was suggested to me that it was always better to procure it locally and then assemble on your own. Initially, I went to a few of the traders in Hyderabad and got the components and assembled it. Initially, I used to assemble them. Later, I hired 2-3 people for the same. I had hired some technicians and trained them as well. I was concentrating on marketing. I made a small notice stating the Aquapot products. I still have one or two copies of them. At that time, Aquapot brand was not there. One fine day, we decided that we must give it a name because it will then be a branded product. Instead of selling it as a local product, we could make it a brand and then sell it.”, says Mr. Balakrishnan.

Aquapot Name is a Mix of Tradition and Water
Mr. Balakrishnan made his first product in the year 2010. It was of the capacity of 13 liters per hour. When his friends saw the product for the first time, they found it quite good and thought he could do something in the market with it. He had started selling it by the brand name Aquapot. He had first stored water in a clay pot. So, mixing tradition with water, he came up with the combination name Aquapot. The one thing that he was sure about is that it would start with Aqua. Since it was a water-related product, he captioned it – ‘Purity Assured’. Aquapot is his brand name and ‘Purity Assured’ is the caption.

His First Product Was a 46 Component RO
Quality was his first preference. It is the reason why he put together an entire gamut of 46 components together to make a seamless domestic RO. He believed that people would pay for quality. Once the people were satisfied they suggested it to their neighbors. He believes it is better than 1000 people refer Aquapot to a single person than a single person refer Aquapot to 1000 people. It was then that he decided to push the product into the market. He requested the local OEMs to sell his product. Initially, they were not much interested. But later on, people started believing in his product. Thereafter, he opened his offices at Vijayawada, Tirupati, and Bangalore.

First Major Order, First Year Turnover of 20-25 Lakh Rs.
While Mr. Balakrishnan was doing domestic RO business, he got an inquiry from M & R Dairy Farm of Hyderabad requiring 10,000 liters capacity RO. He had submitted a quotation of 10 lakh rupees back then. His team’s approach and way of clarifying their technical doubts made the customer straightaway believe them and give them the order. This order gave them the confidence that they could take even project orders, industrial orders, and grow further. He says that this in parallel gave them a good number of enemies also.

Their first year’s turnover was 20-25 lakh rupees with not even 100 units in 2010. It was then 45 lakh rupees, 80 lakh rupees, 1.2 crore rupees, and 1.8 crore rupees in the consecutive years. “We may cross 15-20 crore rupees this year. No doubt, it is a very good figure based on the Hyderabad market.”, says Mr. Balakrishnan.

An Incident to Remember
Mr. Balakrishnan tells us about an interesting incident that took place in his early days. He says, “We got a call from L&T, Hyderabad Metro Rail Project stating that they required a 10,000 liter RO. We went to the site to see the exact situation. What they needed was a water softener, not an RO. We told them that technically they were looking for a wrong product and the best alternative would be a softener. They asked how big it would be. We told them it would be a 4000-liter resin model with a big vessel. It was actually lifted with the help of cranes back then. Even today, I can claim that it is the biggest water softener in Hyderabad. After we sent them the quote with the technical specifications, they had asked for competitive quotations. There were a total of 17 people. On the basis of the technical requirement, 10 people were rejected. Among the 7 left, they again wanted a price list. At the last moment, they asked for its rough drawing. They said that they could make the vessel, procure the resin, and make it on their own. They would save 2-3 lakh rupees in the project in this manner. Its value back then was around 10 lakh rupees. I told them that no doubt they could make it, but a little bit of expertise was also needed. If they could give us a chance, it would be good. Initially, they were worried about its performance and therefore asked me for a bank guarantee of 10%. We had to arrange a bank guarantee as there was a shortage of money. L&T said that if we wanted some advance money, they would give us 10% – 20% of the total amount. They had never done that before. We gave them a bank guarantee against their order of 10 lakh rupees. We took the complete amount of 90% started working on it. It was executed very well. We never received a single call from them except after 1 year to take that 10% bank guarantee back. We had thought that 10% of money would never come back. This is because even we did not have 100% confidence in the regular traditional softener, and this was a huge one. Luckily everything went well and finally, we received our bank guarantee money.”

How did the Solar Water Purifier Happen?
After 3-4 years of being in the RO business, Mr. Balakrishnan thought of mixing solar power with water. He made a compact system that had inbuilt components. The product came out very well and even today he claims that it is more economical than the traditional water purifiers. The solar water purifier is rugged and requires zero maintenance. Thereafter, they have developed 3 to 4 models of the same.

Many Laughed at the Now Successful RO Superstore
Mr. Balakrishnan believes in thinking beyond the limits in whatever one does. He launched the RO superstore in June 2017. It is located at Komepally, exactly 14 km from his office at Hyderabad. He has rented a huge space at 1.5 lakh rupees per month for the Superstore. It is a warehouse cum store. “When I started the RO Superstore, I invited around 100 traders for lunch. Everybody was shocked. They said it was unnecessary and would never work. Almost 20 people among them assumed that we were going to do it successfully. From that day itself, they stopped talking to me. I myself made them my enemies from that day. Many of them laughed at that time.”

“For example, if you want 1000 pieces of small O-Rings, you will find them at the Superstore easily. In short, you will have the availability of components, complete readymade products, and also products with particular combination volume-wise. Technicians are shown with actual floor products, given rock-bottom prices, as well as immediate availability.”, says Mr. Balakrishnan.

The one thing that he wants to assure his customer is that he is capable and strong enough to supply any quantity. He says, “Many suppliers in Hyderabad don’t even have a godown. Whereas, we have 7 godowns plus 7 Superstores. What they see is what they buy. For this purpose, I have brought in the Superstore.”

He Has Never Followed up with a Customer in 7 Years
In the 7 years of his career, Mr. Balakrishnan has never sought the phone number of a customer for follow-up. He says his job ends after giving the customer a quotation. He will assure the quality, explain the product, quote the best price, and then limit himself. He never allows his people to follow-up on the orders. He asks his customers to finally come to him with the least quotation that they might have procured from 10 other people. “I would show him the difference and still give him the best product. So the customer will start believing me.”, says Mr. Balakrishnan.

He wants to make his customer base strong and permanent. Whenever a customer calls, he takes the order, gives the prices, and does everything within seconds. He further adds, “My service is very fast. This encourages word of mouth publicity of our Company. There are so many people who are surprised. They ask me who is supporting me, who is behind me and all. But there is nothing else than my motivation behind me.”

How His Turnover is Unaffected by GST
According to Mr. Balakrishnan, business is business. Even in the GST times, he is able to reach his target turnover. He says, “How can there be a slump? If someone has decided to buy a product, he or she will buy it. In the first month of demonetization, there were no people in malls, no cash transactions, etc. That phase has passed. Do you think that the same situation prevails now? Nowadays, Congress supporters oppose GST, and BJP supporters accept GST. I am not a BJP guy. But as an individual, I found that more than disadvantages in GST, there are advantages.”

He says that earlier, in the inter-state businesses, if everything worked out, they got C Form. Even if there were small discrepancies, they wouldn’t get the C Form and would pay a 14.5% penalty. This incurred losses. He has paid penalties of 5-6 lakh rupees even though not been able to earn that amount of money after doing the transaction. Another benefit of GST according to him is the ability to expand beyond boundaries. The fear of C Form would limit him to local businesses. But now, even if he is based at Hyderabad, he can supply products to Kashmir.

“For example, there is a product being sold at 20000 rupees in Delhi and I am selling the same product in Hyderabad at 15000 rupees. There would be an additional 1000 rupees transport charges in this case. But even after the transport charges, they will be at a benefit. So they will buy from me if the quality and services are good. No doubt there would be some drawbacks too. But prices of 90% of the products have come down after GST. This can be because of the heavy competition. This is a good sign.” says Mr. Balakrishnan.

“I am Open for Collaboration with Foreign Companies”
Battala Balakrishnan is ready to open branches in new cities once he finds the right people. He is ready to enter into joint ventures, collaboration with foreign companies. “If something comes, like a joint venture or manufacturing, I am open to it. I am selling more than a manufacturer. A steel tank/ container manufacturer in Hyderabad usually has a stock of 10 or 20. In my store, you will find 300 tanks. If I buy one tank, the price comes 17000 rupees. If I buy 100 tanks, it comes down to 13000. This is my strategy. Even if I order just 10 tanks the next time, they unconsciously give me the same price.”

“I Search for New Technologies in RO”
New technologies, innovations, new products, industry peers stories, and related events catch Mr. Balakrishnan’s attention. As he pioneers the RO field, he is glued to pages that have knowledge related to the same. Small columns on people who develop new products interest him.

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