Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
Chances are you have never heard of Rana Atheya, co-founder and CEO of pet care portal Dogspot.in until last week. He is in the limelight because Ratan Tata has invested an undisclosed sum into his venture. A delighted Atheya could not conceal his joy at having got the interest of India’s most respected businessman. His dream for the portal can take wings now and he is happy that the site has got the attention of a lot more people, than only pet lovers.
"The investment by Mr Tata is an endorsement of the long-held belief by us and our investors that the India pet care sector is going through a phase of huge growth and transformation. DogSpot.in is poised to become an agent of this transformation," he says confidently.
Atheya has come home in a manner of speaking to his first love – of animals. His hobby has become a career, and besides Tata, he has secured the support of Ronnie Screwvala, Founder-UTV, who led the previous round of funding along with India Quotient and K Ganesh, entrepreneur-cum-investor, and a few other angel investors. The funds raised will be deployed towards a new range of products under the existing brand.
Dogs have been Atheya’s friends from as early on he can trace his memory. He brought home strays as a five-year-old. His house in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand had a menagerie of sorts – a cockatoo and a few budgerigars, dogs, Persian cats, cows in the cattle shed and also a fish aquarium. That should not be surprising, for his father was a veterinary professor. Atheya says that the first gift he ever received was a Doberman from his father. “For some reason, I named it Bijlee,” he says, chuckling as he recalls the incident.
Talking of his growing up years, the 35-year-old recalls he wanted to bring home any animal he took a fancy to. Once, on a visit to his mother’s home in Aligarh, the young Atheya saw pigs for the first time. A baby piglet caught his eye and he cried his heart out because his cousin would not allow it to be taken home!
The early interaction with animals fostered a sense of responsibility in him. He kept the animals clean, and ensured they were taken care of. “I understood animals and their emotions well. I still prefer to be with them and love their company,” says Atheya.
It is not surprising when he says that he wanted to pursue studies in veterinary science. But his father said he would have to be prepared for long years of study, finish his PhD before becoming a vet. “That was a timely warning,” he says. “I did not want to spend many years of my life on that degree and decided to do engineering and go abroad, for that was my goal then.” After finishing his engineering studies, Atheya went to the UK where he did his MBA and then worked for a few years.
It was Atheya’s father who sowed the seed of entrepreneurship in him. “Dad said creating jobs was of far greater value than working on one. He wanted to be an entrepreneur and could not take the leap because he faced some difficult times. That dream fired me up,” he says. He had to wait a few years before he could take the entrepreneurial plunge.
Meanwhile, wherever he worked, Atheya found that once his colleagues learnt of his love for dogs, they would seek him out for advice on pet care. Some would beseech him with, ek dog dila do. A colleague suggested he start a blog on the subject. Atheya started a blog on pets and pet care and named it dogspot.
While working with a mobile network company, a very comfortable and happy Atheya decided to throw it all up and take the entrepreneurial route as he was getting 'too comfortable'. He mulled over many options – all related to pets. But with his blog gaining traction at a furious pace, he decided to turn it into a profitable venture.
What started out as a community website in 2007 was turned into a portal offering content and a networking platform for dog owners and lovers. In 2011, it changed avatar and became an e-commerce portal.
Roping in an enthusiastic techie friend, Shailesh Visen, the portal was launched without any funds. Atheya says, “We had no savings to invest in the start-up. However, I was well-connected in the industry and that helped us. We got advertisements in the initial stage itself and that kept us going. We invested in the venture a year later and then scaled up.”
Dogspot.in caters to cats, small birds, fish, turtle, besides dogs and offers a wide range from food, toys, grooming and training products to advice on pets and pet care.
In 2012, it raised Rs 50 lakh from friends that was used for marketing, cataloguing products and hiring staff. In 2013, it received angel funding from India Quotient. Dogspot has grown rapidly from a small team of three to a 20-member staff that caters to a high traffic. The site receives traffic of around 2000 on a daily basis, informs Atheya. The start-up has an office in Gurgaon and a warehouse, too. In 2011, it had 140 products on the portal and now has an inventory of 2,000 products – a large range of products under its own label, and international brands. “We have grown 100 times in three years,” says Atheya.
Ratan Tata steps in
Atheya saw a picture of Ratan Tata with his dogs in a newspaper article where Tata also shared his dream of starting a world class animal hospital in India. That set him thinking of getting Tata associated with the start-up.
“People feel this segment is small, but it is a billion dollar industry," explains Atheya, adding, "The global pet care market has breached the $100 billion mark in 2014, with the US alone contributing to $58.04 billion. With over four million pet dogs, the Indian pet care market is pegged at over $1.22 billion with an annual growth rate of over 35 percent. There are no organised players in India. Dogspot competes with international brands on designs and products. I was aware that Mr Tata was a dog lover. So after seeing that picture of him in the newspaper and reading the interview, I wrote to Mr Tata. His office wrote back asking for details about Dogspot. I was in the middle of traffic last week when I got a call from Mr Tata's office. In the din around me on the road, I almost did not hear an executive from his office say, 'We will invest in the next round', " he says, still incredulous about the support he has received from Ratan Tata.
Tata’s investment lends dogspot.in a 'huge credibility' says Atheya. But what makes him ecstatic, he says, is that the pet care sector will benefit from Tata’s name being associated with it. The investment will enable the start-up to work and showcase a larger number of in-house labels, he says.
Life beyond career
Dogs remain Atheya's stress busters. Though he lives in Gurgaon with his wife, he still has a canine at home. It is a Lhasa Apso now. However, there is another hobby he pursues on a daily basis, that of zooming off on his bike to work. "It is very exhilarating," he says, of his love for wheels.
Atheya has achieved more than what he has dreamt for himself in his life. His father, whose dream he has made a reality, still worries about the vagaries of his career choice. Incidentally, Atheya is the first-generation entrepreneur in the family. Perhaps, that is why, every time his father calls him, he tells him, "If you need money, let me know."