These 20 Somethings Scaled their Startup to a 1000 People Company in Just 4 Years [StartupLessons]

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These 20 Somethings Scaled their Startup to a 1000 People Company in Just 4 Years [StartupLessons]

Brothers Sahil and Rushabh Vora were in their early twenties when they started their entrepreneurial journey. Their company SILA is a facility and  project management services provider for realty companies. Their journey is significant for 4 reasons:

Four years since inception, they have grown to over 55 sites in the facility management business.

They devised their own ERP system SILA connect.

They have grown their team strength to over 1000 from 70 and the two who had jobs at private banks really didn’t have to walk this path.

 “We knew that PE and banking would help us grow, but it would take us a longer time. It will get us to pretty comfortable lives, but we come from a business family and are ambitious. So we said lets take the plunge,” explains Rushabh Vora, now 27 years old.

Sahil Vora, Co-Founder, SILA

When in Doubt, Take the Practical Route

Sahil Vora was 25 in 2010 and working with Wall Street giant George Weiss Associates. Rushabh was 23, and working with UBS in Singapore. They both had high flying careers in investment banking. But, they always wanted to be entrepreneurs.

“We did not even have the know how to get into something like real estate development that early on. So we thought – lets learn the business from ground up. Lets start where the capital required is not too much.We started with facility management which is not very capital intensive, but is very working capital intensive,” says Rushabh.

Rushabh Vora, Co-Founder, SILA
Rushabh Vora, Co-Founder, SILA

The two didn’t have a business plan. But they knew that they should deal in real estate.  They had saved just enough money to keep them going for 6-7 months after they had moved back. This meant that they needed to pick a field that was not very capital intensive. This ruled out real estate development, and left behind real estate services.

Sahil quit his job at George Weiss and moved back to India first. He began pitching the idea, and trying to raise capital. Once they knew the idea was feasible, Rushabh too relocated to India.

The transition from investment banking to real estate was just one of the big changes that awaited them.

“We literally had to learn the business from the ground up,” says Rushabh.

Here’s what they learnt in their four years at SILA.

No Job is Too Small

The first year and a half was tough. We had to learn the systems and processes of the business, explains Rushabh.

 “For example, facility management entails housekeeping and it is a massive part of a building. I myself went through a housekeeping training course.  After an investment bank, I was one day, in a toilet of a housekeeping training center to learn about janitors. But, I did it,” says Rushabh.

Apart from the courses, the two went from site to site to understand the nuances of the business. If they went to one site to learn how an engineering room works, they went to another to understand systems, power systems, mechanical and plumbing among other things. They believe that the foundation of any business is understanding the business.

“So for the first one and a half years there was a lot of on-ground operational learning, where we really rolled up our sleeves and now obviously we don’t do that much since we have ops guys doing it, but we did it when we had to,” adds Rushabh.

 Landing the First Client: The Importance of Luck, Hard Work & Being Earnest

Their first big break came when they raised seed funding from Mumbai based Rohan Lifescapes. But that was only one step in their journey forward. They needed clients. This came from a small co-op housing society in Prabhadevi called Rameshwaram. The developer, who was also their investor helped them land the client.

 “Someone related to him ran that society, and he agreed to let us do the housekeeping work over there. But that was really small. Then we started with small little shops, and finally graduated to offices and buildings,” says Rushabh, who also has two degrees to his name, one being from INSEAD.

Landing clients after the first one, was tougher than they imagined. They figured a clear cut plan to solve this problem.

Of the seven days in a week, they allotted each day to target different clientele. On the first day, they would go from showroom to showroom trying to target car dealerships. In the subsequent days, they would split time between showrooms like VIP, Bharat Furnishings and other stores in Mumbai.

 “So we used to go to each of these little outlets, drinking tea which I’m not a fan of at all. But if we had to drink this sugary tea or whatever was needed to get business, we had to do it. We had to get uncomfortable,” explains Rushabh.

For a year and a half, they had small scattered contracts around Mumbai – one in Andheri, one in Opera House, in Prabhadevi and so on. But, how did they manage to convince them? By being earnest.

 “Bharat Furnishings was a classic example. It was owned by a Gujarati uncle who was very finicky, but he gave us a chance at one of his showrooms. He was happy with our work. So many gave us chance thereafter – thinking these are young guys, running around, trying so hard to land a contract. So we got 1,2,3,4 and one thing led to another,” says Rushabh.

This was before their first big break, Ruby Towers. From there on, they were able to land bigger clients.

Team Building: It’s All About HR, Keep your Employees Happy

 Their first hires were a marketing person and an operations General Manager. Both did not stay with the company for too long.

 “This is because we hadn’t actually realised that unless you have some sort of business plan, you cannot just hire any marketing guy. Here we were, inexperienced in the field, from finance, from South Mumbai who want to do a housekeeping business, it’s a little tough to convincing people that we meant business. But we did, eventually,” narrates Rushabh.

Part of the SILA Workforce
Part of the SILA Workforce

They eventually convinced a person to join as operations executive for Rs 15,000. He onboarded more people for the company, and taught them the ropes. He works as a senior Manager at SILA currently. The average age of employees at SILA is 30 years old. But their hiring was not without blunders, says Rushabh.

 “We have hired people without doing enough due diligence. But that happens in a startup. When no one wants to join you in any case, when you see a good resume and you see someone that’s been in the industry and knows more than you, you will take that risk and hire him. We have taken that risk a couple of times and it has really hurt us,” explains Rushabh.

But they live and learn, he says. Now, they make sure that they call up previous companies to find out how reliable future employees are.

On top of this, they strengthened their HR processes. SILA believe that HR and keeping employees happy is key to the growth of any business. They have increased their strength from 70 to over 1000 people in 2014.

Don’t Over-commit, Don’t Bite of More Than You Can Chew

After their first few projects in 2010, FTIL approached them with a contract. It was a huge project and a huge opportunity. They had 20-25 people on board their company then, and the project was beyond their capability. But they didn’t want to miss the chance.

 “We bit off more than we could chew. We messed up and we were asked to pack our bags and leave within two months. It was a big setback for us, and we learnt it the hard way. It’s a blunder where we tried to jump too fast. That’s when we realised that first we need to set systems and processes and then move forward,” narrates Rushabh.

SILA Housekeeping Staff
SILA Housekeeping Staff

They also saw a dip in employees being hired during this period. Rushabh and Sahil believe that for a company to grow, they shouldn’t be too fast.

 “We could be doing 5x the business and earning much more money if wanted right now. That’s the kind of business we are in. But, as my mentor says – if it takes 5 years to build an institution, it doesn’t happen in two years, no matter how hard you try,” explains Rushabh.

They thank their mentors, and the FTIL mistake for helping them learn this.

“You have to strike that balance between running too fast and being steady. Very often our mentors would rope us in saying, guys – calm down. Are you being too ambitious?” says Rushabh.

Two things the finance world taught them were the importance of hard work and the need to stick to commitments. After the FTIL setback, the company have been picky about the clients they pick and don’t commit unless they can deliver. This is something missing in the real

 “Because of this, we have a 95% issue rate, contracts are signed for a year, 95% of our clients have been retaining us, and 5% is purely because of us pulling out since payments don’t come in on time,” he says.

ERP SILA Connect and Key Lessons

 SILA is also forward thinking in that they ensured they brought technology to the realty space. Unhappy with traditional ERP systems available in the market, and to give them an edge over existing companies, they commissioned the creation of their very own ERP system – SILA Connect.

 “We built something called SILA connect which is a proprietary cloud based interface. It connects every client of ours to our operations team. I have a standard offering that gets out of the SILA system and looks uniform. The client knows what he will get every month,” he says.

Recently, the company also entered into a JV with US based CM&D in India to oversee and conduct business. In the future, they plan on investing more in their technology and software side, says Rushabh.

If there were three things that the brothers learnt from their journey so far, it is

“1. Don’t oversell yourself. 2. Make mistakes, not even two degrees from a business school can teach you what a mistake can, and, 3. Once you take the plunge, never look back. Never think there is a backup option – think that if you fail, you fail. That’s the only way to succeed,” says Rushabh.

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