How I Made It

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 5.02.08
Sachin Duggal
Founder and chief executive officer, Nivio

From a youth rights’ activist to an entrepreneur — that entails a road less travelled. But it has been a rich mosaic of experiences for Sachin Duggal, founder and chief executive officer of Nivio, a software company with an annual turnover of $40 million. (Nivio is a Windows-based online desktop, headquartered in Switzerland with its backend operations in India.)

Duggal’s enterprising character made itself evident very early. “At 12, I won a competition styled Newsround to represent India at an international children’s conference,” he recollects. “I got a three-minute slot to give a speech on environment. I proceeded to tell the then environment secretary of the UK what a bad job he was doing.”

A Japanese news channel described it as “12-year-old shows up UK environment secretary”. Duggal spent the next two years working for the UN environment programme, writing the Oceans Declaration and the Compendium of Youth Rights. He also attended several UN conferences including the World Conference of Ministers in Charge of Youth.

Duggal is a technology geek and has always been submerged in it. “One day I managed to blow up my mother’s computer and had to fix it fast,” says Duggal “This got me quite excited and a year later I built my own PC after blowing it up twice.” At 14 he started a small computer company with a friend. “I kept building the business and, after selling over 100 PCs in the first year, went on to web hosting,” recalls Duggal. He learnt a lot about networks and pricing there, and launched one of the first affordable broadband services in India.

A student of Queen Elizabeth’s Boys School in the UK, Duggal learnt the tricks of entrepreneurship simultaneously with academics. The school had a huge entrepreneurial atmosphere and was producing business ventures every year. “I learnt a lot about discipline and working to deliver three hours’ work in one hour,” says Duggal.

Deutsche Bank gave him his first job and he started building systems and ideas that gave the firm oodles of profit. He imbibed lessons in personal growth and one of his bosses was truly inspirational. “At Deutsche Bank, I learnt that people work for people, not for companies,” he says.

Avoiding politics was something else he learnt from Deutsche Bank. “In a start-up, politics will kill your business,” says Duggal. The bank also taught him to think big. He once asked a superior why Deutsche Bank did one dollar trades after hearing “one dollar” being shouted on the trading floor. He was told that one meant one million and Deutsche usually did not do anything less. His performance there was so good that he was dubbed a serial innovator and shared a place with the top management on the board of innovation.

Duggal wanted to do something that would make a difference, especially in educating kids. Nivio seemed to be the perfect answer as it let him achieve both. “I was lucky to have a mother who had business experience and a friend who was very well placed in India. So setting up shop was not too tough,” says Duggal. Starting a company in Switzerland proved interesting because of the rules and regulations that had to be navigated.

There were initial hurdles though. “We needed a majority of Swiss directors and had to place 1,00,000 Swiss Franc with the public notary,” Duggal says. It was difficult getting the money. “Well, we begged and borrowed and managed it,” he recalls. He also got a couple of million dollars from some funders and slowly his firm took shape. An excellent team enabled him to turn a vision and an idea into reality.

As an entrepreneur, Duggal is strong on ethics. He says that his company will never do anything “that will not let us sleep at night”. On the other hand, Nivio will do everything to help kids and the environment. “I have had the privilege of being influenced by many great people and continue to be thankful for their advice and guidance,” he says, adding that his mother has been the most potent influence in his life.

Tennis and salsa keep Duggal relaxed. He is also fond of music. He is a man who loves to dream. For budding entrepreneurs he suggests: “Stay honest and be humble. And try very hard to keep your ego in check… I still struggle with this one.”

Based on a conversation with Shubhobroto Ghosh in Calcutta