Editor’s Note: Founded in India in 2009, 42Gears Mobility Systems has a suite of products aimed at accelerating mobile solutions in businesses. The company was selected as a NASSCOM Emerge 50 company in 2011, designating it as a company that will shape the software products industry. In this article, Onkar Singh, founder and managing director, discusses the software executive experience factor and describes how the 42Gears team is growing the company.
SandHill.com: You started 42Gears during a global economic downturn. What caused you to take this risk?
Onkar Singh: For most of my career I was with Symbol Technologies, which was acquired by Motorola a few years ago. At Symbol/Motorola I worked at various engineering positions and was involved in building many of Motorola’s successful ruggedized mobile handhelds and vehicle-mount computers.
I had always dreamed of starting my own business one day. Ten years of industry experience and learning gave me the confidence and knowledge to go ahead and realize that dream. By the end of 2008 the world had gone into deep recession. I thought it was the right time to start on my own. I decided to take the plunge so we would be ready with our offerings by the time the economy recovered.
SandHill.com: When you started marketing your product, what was the response?
Onkar Singh: Market response to our first product was pretty encouraging. I did the initial product development and built a small team during the first year. A year later my good friend and ex-colleague Prakash Gupta came on board. He took over complete responsibility of product and technology development at 42Gears. Our current suite of products is a result of his technical expertise and his commitment to execution and quality.
SandHill.com: Enterprise mobility is hot these days. Your company has quickly grown and today you have three products.
Onkar Singh: 42Gears builds software products that provide remote software deployment, security (lock and wipe), deployment of corporate password policies, remote control, peripheral lockdown, application lockdown, location tracking, mobile asset tracking, device repair management etc. All these can be achieved by an IT administrator from a single Web-based console on a PC while the mobile devices are out in the field.
Companies in almost all verticals are looking at mobilizing their existing processes to increase employee productivity and accuracy of results. A good mobility plan should have a provision for effective mobility management as well.
We have a suite of three products, SureMDM (Mobile Device Management platform), SureLock (Device Lockdown) and SureFox (Kiosk mode browser). All of these are supported on Android, Windows Mobile and Windows CE platforms with iOS support on the way.
SureMDM, our multi-platform mobile device management (MDM) product is a versatile solution that helps companies with software deployment, security, location tracking and real-time support of enterprise mobile devices. SureMDM gives complete visibility to companies about how the corporate mobile devices are being used, their health status and capability to remotely resolve issues on the devices even when they are in user’s hands.
When mobile workers have an issue with their device, they often have to send it back to the IT team for troubleshooting. With SureMDM admin can remotely reset the device or restart the application while the device is in the worker’s hands. Saving one such trip for repair can easily recover the cost of deploying our MDM solution. Also, if a device is lost or stolen, IT can remotely lock or wipe the mobile device to protect sensitive business data from falling into wrong hands.
SandHill.com: How did you acquire your first customer?
Onkar Singh: Our products are designed to be intuitive and easy to use; that’s what got us our first customer. They were a Finnish company who downloaded the trial version of our product, liked it, bought it and then rolled it out on over 100 handhelds without any support from us.
This was the kind of start I was looking for with 42Gears. Our goal is to reduce customer-support incidents by building easy-to-use products with almost no training requirements. Usability is and will always be our main product design goal.
SandHill.com: Is your target market mostly enterprises?
Onkar Singh: Our target market consists primarily of CIOs and IT managers of businesses of all sizes.
SandHill.com: What’s the story behind your company name?
Onkar Singh: Why “42Gears?” Well, similar to real-world “gears,” the purpose of our products is to accelerate mobility in business. That’s what “gears” in the company name stands for. After doing intense mathematical calculations, 42 came out to be the optimal number of gears for a successful mobility deployment … just kidding; I just like this number.
To be able to create something valuable for others (our customers) is very motivating. At 42Gears we love to stretch ourselves and implement new ideas faster than the competition.
SandHill.com: Since your early days, how have you gone on to acquire customers globally?
Onkar Singh: We use the Web extensively as our sales vehicle. But we also have a select group of reseller and developer partners who directly work with customers.
SandHill.com: What have you found to be the most overrated aspect of being a software executive?
Onkar Singh: The experience factor. I think experience is given too much importance in the software industry. Experience is important, but people should not be judged entirely on the basis of the number of years they have worked in a position in the past. I know many people who are more qualified than others with three times more experience. Management should be capable of identifying this difference while building a team.
SandHill.com: What non-software business or social leader has most influenced your approach to your personal life or your career?
Onkar Singh: American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison. His statement, “I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun,” is how I feel about what I do. I think it’s important for us to figure out what we really want to do and then give a good shot at it.
SandHill.com: Surely there were some days that were not fun for Edison or for you. What was the most challenging day for you at 42Gears so far?
Onkar Singh: A startup faces challenges on a daily basis. Recently on a Saturday afternoon we got a call from a customer. They wanted to set up SureMDM on their internal network and they only had two hours. The devices were ready to be shipped to remote locations across the country. The situation was pretty scary, but within an hour we were able to set up everything. Credit goes to the customer for giving us access to their systems, which was very important.
SandHill.com: What is the last interesting book you read?
Onkar Singh: I recently read a short and easy read by Jack Trout, “A genie’s wisdom: a fable of how a CEO learned to be a marketing genius.” Jack advises a practical and simplistic approach to marketing. The concept of using Genie as a marketing adviser was interesting with marketing taught in a conversational style.
SandHill.com: As 42Gears has grown beyond its early days, how has your investment in sales and marketing changed?
Onkar Singh: As a technology company, our initial investments were mainly for product development. But now we have started to focus more on sales and marketing activities, and we increased this 100% over the last year.
SandHill.com: What do the next 12 months hold for your company?
Onkar Singh: We recently released new products and extended support to new mobile platforms such as Android and will follow up soon with iOS. Our target for the year 2012 is to add support for more mobile platforms and to establish sales channels, partner with device manufacturers, and collaborate with other vertical solution providers.
SandHill.com: Imagine that next week you have a full day with an empty calendar. What would you do that day?
Onkar Singh: On such a day I would visit or call up as many customers as possible and would just listen to them. What customers say is like music to me. Their feedback gives us new ideas for products and guides us in the right direction.
Onkar Singh is founder and managing director of 42Gears Mobility Systems. He has over 13 years of experience in the software industry specifically in the enterprise mobility domain. Prior to founding 42Gears, be was principal staff engineer at Motorola (Symbol Technologies) where he was involved in building many of Motorola’s ruggedized mobile handhelds and vehicle-mount computers. Contact Onkar at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.twitter.com/42gears.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.