Mahesh Lingareddy is very candid when he says that if you are looking to buy just a phone or just a device, then Smartron is not for you. Right from the time he started his business, he knew who his target audience is.
Competition too, does not bother him at all. In fact according to him, Apple is the only brand that also offers what his brainchild Smartron has for consumers.
So what is Smartron? And what about it gives him this confidence?
Smartron is an IoT-based smart devices company. In its first year of operations, it launched TBook, a 12.2â€ť multi-touch laptop that switches from a tablet to a laptop. Mahesh says this first product saw tremendous success and has been compared to the likes of Microsoft and Apple laptops.
Its next product was a high-end Tphone, a 5.5-inch, 64 GB smartphone with features that are at par with the top brands. And most recently, it launched the srt.phone, a tribute to Sachin Tendulkar. The cricketing legend is also an investor in the company and is also the brand ambassador for the company. It also supplies tablets to the government of Saudi Arabia.
The journey of this Hyderabad-company started back in August 2014, with commercial operations starting in the beginning of 2015.
But this wasnâ€™t Maheshâ€™s first venture. He first founded Soft Machines, a chip-design company in 2006 which Intel bought in 2016 for nearly Rs 2,000 crore. But by this time, Mahesh had already founded Smartron. The idea was to build an indigenous brand to take on global incumbents.
â€śIndia as a country hasnâ€™t been able to go beyond services and build brands, product-based companies that are driven by innovation, technology and internet of things (IoT). On the other hand, China has been able to build some very successful companies in literally every vertical such as Huawei, Alibaba and Xiaomi. And back in 1992, we were the same size as China. Thatâ€™s where my inspiration came from,â€ť Mahesh says.
He believes that while we may not have the manufacturing capabilities, intellectual property (IP) is where Indians can lead the race. Hence, he wanted to build a company that was innovation-drive. And that is how Smartron came into being.
â€śTo start with, we wanted to launch a few products that are completely designed and engineered and partly manufactured in India with a focus on being a premium brand with a premium experience,â€ť Mahesh says.
It has also signed patent licenses with global chip-maker Qualcomm, under which Smartron now has a royalty-bearing patent license to develop, make and sell WCDMA, CDMA2000, and 4G LTE devices.
But operating in a market that has over a 100 brands, Indian and foreign, will Smartron sustain in this market?
According to Mahesh, Smartronâ€™s products donâ€™t just function as stand-alone devices but are a part of an ecosystem tied together with IoT. This is why he says that Smartron is not for those who are looking for just a basic device.
â€śThe core of our brand is Tronx, our IoT-based cloud platform with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Then in the next layer we have a range of smart devices such as mobiles, laptops, smart home devices and more for consumers and enterprises. The next layer is where we provide services to verticals like smart cities and smart homes. Services play a very important role in delivering experience to customers with Tronx at the centre of it,â€ť Mahesh says.
Smartron is clearly focusing on building an entire ecosystem rather than just devices. The idea is to provide a seamless experience across devices through its cloud platform. This includes options like copy-pasting across devices, receiving mobile notification on your other devices and even accessing data across devices.
According to Mahesh, mobile phones are done to death by everybody. So in order to survive in this market, it is looking at a range of devices. While it has mobile phones, laptops, ultrabook, it is also going to soon launch wireless routers, electric bikes and smart home devices.
And competition? Mahesh does not see any competition. According to him, the Chinese brands that are quite popular in the Indian market right now are not sustainable.
â€śYou may think theyâ€™re doing very well. But if you look at their balance sheets, it says otherwise. Spending Rs 500 crore on advertising over a revenue of Rs 700 crore, that is not sustainable. They are getting access to cheap capital in China and are coming to India and making it a dumping ground,â€ť he says.
According to Shyam Sekar S, the founder of Startup Xperts, the market for such companies is huge and is growing multifold. But for a brand to create a successful recall and sustain in the India market, it needs to do a lot more than have good configurations.
â€śIt is all about performance, the user experience, value for money and excellent customer support. Whoever can successfully provide all this will emerge the winner. And for a new brand, it is very important to have customer support, respond very quickly and resolve issues immediately to gain the customerâ€™s confidence. I honestly donâ€™t see any brand doing all of that right now,â€ť Shyam adds.
Even in terms of IoT, Shyam says the market is very nascent with just 0.5-1% of people being IoT users. But this is a market that will tremendously grow in the next two to three years. And unless a brand build its own ecosystem and provide IoT, it will become difficult to survive against bigwigs like Apple and Google.
With over Rs 100 crore invested into the business so far, Smartron clocked Rs 50 crore in the first nine months of FY17 and expects to close FY18 with about Rs 1000 crore. This Mahesh claims is quite impressive for a startup.
Additionally, Smartron will be setting up a manufacturing facility in Hyderabad, which will also have an R&D centre. It is also planning to expand to Latin America, Russia, Africa and the Middle East
Mahesh is very confident of his companyâ€™s prospects in India. â€śWe have accomplished quite a bit despite challenges in the Indian market. We have grown from a small team to one that has over 50 patents, a few successful products in the market and are even shipping our products outside,â€ť he adds.
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