FiveS Digital is a technology led business process management organization with a meaningful customer and community centric approach. Their core business revolves around Customer Experience, RPA/IPA driven digital transformation, and Machine Learning / Trust & Safety Operations.
Bangalore Insider recently had a chat with Kapil Sharma, the founder of FiveS on the venture and the future ahead. Here are the excerpts of the interview
Tell us a little bit about FiveS?
We focus on revolutionizing user experience through holistic customer experience management. The FiveS Digital ‘sizzle’ is that, as an impact sourcing organization we offer opportunities to people from small cities and under-served communities.
Going strong for nearly 13 years, we are making our presence felt in 9 cities across the country, recently adding another site at Mohali in the Chandigarh Tri-city area.
We speak and process 13+ languages and are a 3500+ family, growing each day. As we grow exponentially, we have ensured that our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusivity remains undiluted.
Our high point was being recognized by the IAOP (International Association of Outsourcing Professionals) as a “Company to watch for” in 2020, certified for IS Standard by GISC (Global Impact Sourcing Coalition). We are the only BPM company in South Asia, certified by WeConnect International as a diversity business.
What made you start FiveS and what problem does it solve?
I am a first-generation entrepreneur. Having worked in corporates, I have been close to the ground realities of changing work environment. There is a large fraction of community, especially young adults in India who need support to boost their employability skills. Starting a bootstrapped company in 2009 was a risk as a family we knew we had to take. The dream became a reality when we started FiveS, as a social enterprise. We kick started our operations in a basement with 12 needy people from varied backgrounds like single mothers, house cleaners and single bread earners < 5 of them are still with us>
Life is too short to fulfil all our dreams. And aspirations are nothing beyond night’s dinner or tomorrow’s work. This is true for 70% of India’s population that lives in smaller towns and villages of India. And they truly are the reflection of the five elements of life (fire, air, water, space, and earth). Thus, we feel our identity is inspired by the same. And thereby our goal at FiveS became to bring essence and purpose to life for all the people who work with us and have been living their life in present.
Businesses can do well following tried and true principles within their industries. But in this competitive global climate, it takes something truly impactful, truly big, to make customers sit up and take notice. Our collective vision is to empower the young generation in the 2/3/4 cities.
Youngsters are a powerhouse of ideas and potential, which is majorly lost due to lack of opportunities, awareness or skills. We aim to provide employment skills and opportunities in smaller towns/cities to reduce migration and help people bloom without getting uprooted. To the clients we offer scalability for new age businesses through distributed yet controlled work environment, that is talented, skilled and diverse.
I would also like to mention that our company has three women as the majority promoters, making us a diverse company with 60% women ownership. With this, we are looking to solve the DE&I problem at Scale.
Where is FiveS based? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
We are headquartered in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Our Indian operations are spread across 8 States and 9 Delivery Centers – Hubli, Jamshedpur, Bhopal, Bangalore, Udaipur, Surat, Vadodara, Navi Mumbai and Mohali. And 3500+ people with a scalable model. We are focused on meeting our DE&I goals with setting up of the Navi Mumbai site as India’s first Diverse and Inclusive BPM workspace.
Further, to complement our vision of being a Technology led business we are building our presence in the tech hub of India Bengaluru, so we continue to learn and partner with the best in business.
I feel the real and mass India is beyond tier-1 cities, so we have decided to keep our base and headquarters at Udaipur only. It has been extremely critical to maintain work-life balance. And be close to the rural/small town areas tell us about the actual gap between skills available vs desired. To keep this check, we continue to operate from tier-2/3 towns.
Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?
Honestly, we respect every organization out there. We believe each of them have their own strengths. Our FiveS focus has been “evolution’: being better in everything we do. If you look at it objectively, every organization is focusing on making tomorrow a better day for the clients and communities. We closely follow the trajectories of companies like TaskUs, Sama and 7.ai. and are inspired by the work they do.
Regarding impact sourcing, there is no competition, instead there is huge scope for collaboration and partnerships.
Having a specific, unique vision for our business is one of the first things that sets us apart as a in the industry.
What makes us sizzle is our focus on sustainable development, DEI initiatives and ensuring that we keep giving back to the community, while delivering astounding results to our business partners. To meet the key objectives for any organization’s sustainability goals, there is a lot to be done. One of the results is our partnership with a couple of leading IT companies. And there are more in making. We are looking to work with enterprises, partner with them to build and help them meet their sustainability goals, focused on UN Sustainability Development Goals 1, 5, 8 and 10. The idea is to eliminate poverty, focus on equal and diverse workspace, driven by quality work, elevating people.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
No, we have bootstrapped thus far and are now inching close to 100Cr. And, looking to grow to 500Cr over next 3 years. We have been profitable since year 2 onwards. Wrt funding plan, we do intend to raise through PE funding over next 6-8 months, where we can look at long term wealth creation for the communities while building sustainable value for businesses. With our 10X goal, we are looking to scale beyond the borders too. I have been travelling extensively in the AMEA nations and am very optimistic with the discussions to scale this impact to a larger canvas.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before FiveS?
An engineer by education, I have been associated with industries ranging from Energy, Industrial Automation, Travel Tech and ITeS/BPM for nearly two decades. During my time at IIM-Ahmedabad and Bridge Institute, UK , my interest for social enhancement became a burning passion. In 2009, as a family we ventured into the heterodox field of creating employment for the needy section through Impact Sourcing and Diversity Mode.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I have been lucky to have worked with seasoned leaders in organizations like Secure Meters (Global leader in Electronic Metering and Industrial Products) and Honeywell India, accomplishing various mid and senior level roles.
I love to solve problems and talk endlessly about various latest technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT, Electric Vehicles, Autonomous Vehicles, Computer Vision etc. Furthermore, he is responsible for the IP behind FiveS Digital’s CXFirstTM, which is the company’s Customer First approach with efficient Agent Assist platform.
My family has been my core. Blessed with two kids, while I was running hard when Hitarth (my son, now 8) was born. Didn’t realise when he grew, and I missed all the initial days fun. However he has taught me to be patient. Have a daughter, Namasvi who has been just growing too fast (2 already).
As a founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
I feel, there is a lot we have to do. Given the potential and scale of India’s economy and contribution to the global economy, grave concern of availability of relevant skillsets by 2030 is very much there. I am paranoid about bridging this gap of supply and demand.
What keeps me awake is how we can build a self-sustainable engine, supporting society with sustainable employment opportunities focused on diversity and impact delivery goal. Scalable learning and capability building programs can make impact sourcing much more effective. In the midst of our 10X journey, we have already experienced the turbulence, and we are still making progress. We are focused on 50%+ diversity ratio goal by end of 2023. This is audacious, challenging but achievable, and we are focused on making this happen. We aim to create 10,000+ jobs by end of 2025.
While this is all too stressful and challenging, Priya (my elder sibling), Pooja (my wife) and Ma have nothing short of pillars of strength. They are always there to back, support and take care of some functions that I can’t. And they are in true sense the entrepreneurs and partners in this journey. We are fighting this paranoia together.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a founder and how do you manage it?
Work-life balance can mean different things to different people, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is constantly changing how we approach work-life balance and what we know about it. Initially, it was all work. I have now matured to have equal and at times more time to family. The most important aspect has been to see my two kids growing. Both these kids are fun to be with. I play badminton with Hitarth, we do STEM projects building together, play chess and a lot more. With Namasvi and Hitarth I go to pool at times, and both love to be in water alongside me. Mom and wife take care of most stuffs that I ignore, so blessed to be surrounded by two mature ladies back home.
About work, as a CEO, you are often expected to be an expert on all aspects of running a business. You have to maintain existing clients, focus on new clients, supervise the management and staff, etc. Achieving the dream I’ve had for years, requires 24/7 dedication. Compartmentalizing my life is necessary, as no matter what my work schedule and professional life are like, I manage both work and personal life efficiently. As it’s a family-oriented organization, family members
support each other both professionally and personally. We head out to the countryside during our breaks to lesser known destinations, for some peace and quiet.
What gets you excited about this company? Tell us how a day in your life looks like?
Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
One of the things that excites me about the company is its progressive and value driven culture. It is hard, but doable. As a company, we win when we take structured decisions led by organizational beliefs.
Another thing is, how everyone is focused on just one goal beyond
the functional boundary, that is creating impact sustainably.
I wake up with a little bit of fun with kids, followed by Yoga & meditation. I try and keep my calendar largely free of run of the mill meetings, I can proudly say I am 70% successful in that. I love in person conversations: be it our clients or teams. Talking to our FiveS tribe brings a sense of value and eliminates the boundary of cabins. It also gives me my daily dose of energy!
I do spend some time hustling around some of the daily run-of-the-mill operational problems, technology product ideation and next level aspects in the product journey.
Being an avid tea lover- our leadership gets together over cuppas and catches up. I take most of the ideas from books I read. Hit Refresh by Satya, Legacy by James Kerr, and the Netflix story are some of my favorite ones.
Dinner at home is a ritual to be done with entire family together. And, that’s how
generally, a day goes by.
What would your advice be to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t run after the funds. Make sure you know your business well, you have your priorities right and you know how to stay profitable. Everything else will follow, sooner or later.
Leaders talk about their wins, tell us about a time you failed. How did you make it back up?
Numerous failures. I failed to scale “Padharo” our travel tech platform. It is still alive but hasn’t been short of money drain over last 4/5 years ☺. Coming back and bouncing needed right set of advisory and mentors. And, I am blessed to have one of the best Board of Advisors.
What gets you excited about this company? Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
One of the things that excites me about the company is its progressive and Core Principles driven culture. It is hard, but doable. As a company, we win when we take structured decisions led by organizational beliefs. Another thing is, how everyone is focused on just one goal beyond the functional boundary, that is creating impact sustainably.
I wake up with a little bit of fun with kids, some Yoga, followed up with emails. I try and keep my calendar largely free of meetings, I can say I am 70% successful in that. I love talking to my clients, so I try and have generic conversations with one of the clients regularly. I try and make up time to walk up to people, colleagues at their place. It brings a sense of value and eliminates the boundary of cabins. I do spend some time hustling around some of the daily run-of-the-mill operational problems, technology product ideation and next level aspects in the product journey. Most conversation with the leadership is on Chai. So, we make sure we do free flow conversations. Dinner at home is a ritual to be done with entire family together. And, that’s how generally a day goes by.