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‘More than competition and funding, shows like Shark Tank India give visibility to startups’

Young entrepreneur Coral Chatterjee, an alumnus of Apeejay School, Nerul, tells us how he was motivated to launch his company

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Coral Chatterjee

We have seen how most entrepreneurial ventures emerge from an interesting life experience. For Coral Chatterjee, his startup idea took birth following an unfortunate incident that he once experienced, finally leading him to launch his company 360 Infra Solutions–which caters to pan-India Electrical, Energy and Fire Safety Audit & Rectification of Audit findings of commercial real estate infra setups of BFSI, Retail & Auto sector–in 2018. Besides being a young entrepreneur, Chatterjee is also actively involved in social work through his association with an NGO. The IIT-Bombay graduate tells us more about his journey in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What memories do you have of Apeejay School, Nerul? How did it shape you?

I spent nearly four years in Apeejay School, Nerul, from classes 8 to 11. Apart from academics, I was actively involved in the school’s basketball and football teams. The school emphasises the holistic development of students. As a person, I typically thrive in a competitive environment because of which I enjoyed my time at school around other brilliant students. This competitive streak continues to date.

What about the relationships you developed with the school fraternity?

Rakesh Joshi Sir was the school principal at the time. I met him once when I visited the school while pursuing my graduation. He was as welcoming and cheerful as always. All the teachers like Brinda Gupta Ma’am, Jaspal Gill Ma’am, Geeta Ma’am, Monisha Ma’am, Albert Ma’am, Prabhakar Sir, and Manjula Ma’am, among so many others, influenced me deeply. Each and every teacher was a perfect role model for us and had a unique approach to teaching which evoked profound interest in the respective subjects. A lot of my interest in current affairs and politics, for instance, stems from the parliamentary-style debates organised in school. It was a very interesting assignment for a group of 14-year-olds to engage in and understand how the parliament operates. This is where I learned that dialogue and dissent are the core pillars of a successful democracy.

Coral Chatterjee at Dream Camp, an annual camp for underprivileged children to build critical thinking abilities via fun activities

You completed your graduation degree from IIT Bombay. Was it something that you had always aimed for?

With regard to my preparation for IIT-JEE, I really had nothing on my mind; I was following the mob in some sense. I enrolled in a coaching centre after my class 10 board exams and studied my way through. The decision to get into IIT came much later while I was preparing for my entrance exam.

You worked as an investment banker before moving to social work and finally founding your company—were you exploring through the process of shifting from one field to another?

I joined an investment bank right after graduation because of my interest in finance. I was still exploring various fields back then. Two years later, I felt a little unsettled and wanted to challenge myself further. Eventually, I founded my startup. This is my fourth year of operations. We have scaled up to pan-India with a workforce of about 150 people. We have been doing well although Covid struck us badly in between. Apart from running a startup, I am also currently engaged in the social impact sector. I work with an NGO called Make a Difference, as a finance and operations strategist for a few cities.

Does it not get difficult to juggle your responsibilities as a startup owner with social work?

I usually tend to balance things out. More than managing time, I think it is about getting your priorities right. Social work is close to my heart, and I want to continue helping non-profit organsiations till the foreseeable future.

A glimpse of Dream Camp

Tell us how you founded your company.

I was in my first job when I decided to take leave one day and go to the bank for something that could not be done via their mobile application. The day turned out to be a little chaotic—I was standing in the queue for a long time as there seemed to be some technical glitch, which led to the bank being shut for a few hours. I couldn’t complete the work that day. I was a bit miffed about how this could happen. I did some research and found some technical challenges that BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance Sector) typically face and that’s how I came across the field of technical audits. I could identify the gaps and because of the network I was building during my days in finance, I decided to explore this startup idea.

You founded your company in 2018, just two years before the pandemic. How difficult was it to cope with the challenges?

We were fully operational for close to two years before the pandemic hit. We were doing very well and were at an all-time high. However, when the lockdown started, our operations came to almost a standstill since we have very heavy exposure to commercial real estate. Our clients were working from home and they did not need service providers like us to carry out technical audits. Secondly, they would have had to travel—which was also massively impacted during Covid—to carry out these audits. During that time, I even experimented with moving to other products, some of which worked while others did not. It was a tough phase for us since we had to bear a lot of fixed costs without much revenue being generated.

Thankfully, we are now back to pre-Covid levels. There is a sign of improvement and most indicators that we usually track are doing well. We are hopeful that things will get much better hereon.

Now that you have completed four years of operations, what do you feel about the journey?

As an individual, I never feel settled about anything (laughs). In this case, too, I think there is a lot to be done in terms of the industry that I am in and in terms of where my company is heading. I would like to stick around in this sector and see if there is a growth in demand because we are a developing nation that has infrastructural needs.

According to you, what role do reality shows like Shark Tank India play in boosting young entrepreneurs?

From the perspective of building the ecosystem, I think reality shows like these are good. Of course, they just completed the first season in India and are also learning. From an entrepreneur’s mindset, it is good to play an active role and compete with other people. More than competition and funding, I think shows like Shark Tank give visibility to the startups; at a time when social media drives demand and growth, you need to be able to showcase what you have got, sometimes even before the product is ready.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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