Acting On What an Irate “Customer” Said Changed My Destiny — Anil Bakht #JeenaIsiKaNaamHain
The other day, I read somewhere — I am unable to recall the exact words — where the writer says, that if it’s art, then listen to yourself and do what you have to do. But in business, do what the customer wants. Simple words drive home the point about customer-centricity, which is what our world is all about.
I can tell you that facing an irate customer with an open mind is very difficult. When an entity becomes hugely successful it’s not a very pleasant thing (for them) to be told that a course correction may be required. But sometimes — It NEEDS TO BE TOLD. And ACTED UPON. Companies, if they have to play the long-haul, must prepare to reinvent themselves.
It was back in 2004 and at that time, I was trying to build the SME community at NASSCOM. Very early days but the momentum was there — pulsating. I knew that we were onto something very big but of course, I had no way of knowing how big it would eventually become and be a driving force for Nasscom in the years ahead.
We used to have these Friday meetings for SME companies, and it was in one such that I met Mr Anil Bakht, the CoFounder of Eastern Software. That day, there were about 20 or 25 founders in the room. It was a free-flowing conversation, and the atmosphere was all charged up. Mr Kiran Karnik & Ms Sangeeta Gupta were out for a meeting, and I was the sole Nasscom representative in the room.
As luck would have it, I bore the brunt of Mr Anil Bakht’s ire. He was scathing in his comments and though I was visibly shook-up, I knew that if something could be done then it would not only impact Nasscom’s destiny but mine as well. The sum total of his criticism was simply this — Is Nasscom all about IT Services & large companies?
To be sure, this question had shadowed India’s apex IT body for several years till it managed to shrug it off by taking giant-sized steps to create an SME & product focus that eventually became the gold standard. I believe that day, in many ways, was the starting point. You don’t hear the words “cyber coolies” these days and folks immersed in Metaverse or Web3 may smirk or draw a duh if they chance upon today. But back in the mid-2000s, publications would often question Indian IT and keep harping on labour arbitrage. The wink-and-nudge rigmarole was infuriating, to say the least. Was it only about cost? Innovation as an over-arch was still a distance away and Indian software products were fledgling at best. That day, Anil Bakht forcefully put forward the great significance of innovation and that it would play a pivotal role in shaping India’s destiny and why Nasscom needs to push for it in a big way. And software products as a whole — the vehicle. Words like “ecosystem” had still not germinated and neither did “inflection point”. Digital disruption was palpable, but it hadn’t become cliched or a placeholder.
Anil Bakht was a powerful force back then and his company was well ahead of its time and had taken on the global players in the ERP space. So, he knew what he was saying.
After a few days, I went and met him at his office and asked him humbly what we should do to take the discussion forward. The conversation gave birth to what was then called the Innovation Awards. It ran very successfully for more than a decade and proved to be a powerful platform that showcased Indian innovation in software & services. I travelled with him extensively in the country in the early days and I learnt a lot in the process. Some of the thoughts that have become tribal knowledge in product forums today were articulated back then by him, and I cherish those moments.
The Indian software products ecosystem owes a huge lot to Anil Bakht and he can be said to be one of the pioneers. People like him contributed majorly when things needed a push, and they also had the courage & conviction to take on time-tested practices and rock the boat while many just sat back and asked why. It’s only much later one realizes how critical those questions were and even more — they were acted upon.
He is also the first person who showed me an iPhone which is when I fell in love with Ux design. Recently, I pinged him “Sir are you doing well?” To which he replied wittily, “I am still alive”. The man can be critical when the need arises, but he has a great sense of humour as well. He is also a workaholic and I saw it during the jury process of the Innovation Awards. Painstakingly, he would scan through every application and make sure that the best ones got the spotlight. Nothing less.
He is retired now, and I do hope he is enjoying his second innings. I take this opportunity to wish him great health and very happy days ahead. Sir, it was an honour knowing you. That day, at the Nasscom office you changed my destiny and for that, I am forever grateful.
Men like Anil Bakht remind us that we can see far because we are privileged to stand on the shoulder of giants.