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September 10, 1999
Srinivas Polisetty wears a blob of red kumkum on his forehead. That is the only colour on his person. His Chinese collar shirt is spotless white. His trousers are white. His socks are white. His shoes are white. And the laces on the shoes, you guessed it, are white.
Though his neat and trim appearance might not conform to the techno-anarchist motif of a computer hacker, 25-year-old Polisetty's technology skills are indisputably impressive.
"Whenever I posted my resume on the Net, even on just one bulletin board, I would get at least 30 calls in a day!" he boasts.
He met Rediff after an e-commerce show in Bombay this month. His dramatic appearance and youth attracted enough attention to his company Mahadev.com.
Nearly two years old, Mahadev.com is headquartered in San Jose and provides business-to-business e-commerce backbone for small, medium and large enterprises. Polisetty hopes to reach a turnover of $10 million by the end of this fiscal.
Mahadev.com began India operations a few months ago. In June it launched its first packaged product 'bzcommerce'.
bzcommerce automates end-to-end business and commerce activities. It ties together marketing, online sales and ordering, trading, manufacturing, shipping and customer services into a unified process.
The lobby of the Taj President in Bombay is relaxed enough to pop the question that everyone is wondering about. Why Mahadev.com?
Explains Polisetty "My spiritual guide's name is Mahadevji who is from Manthini in Andhra Pradesh. I met him when I was in the second year of engineering college. Though he was ten years older we were like brothers. He would give me anything that I wished for. He could create any object that I asked for."
In reaction to the incredulity of raised eyebrows, Polisetty strips off his wristwatch and hands it over to me "I had asked for a wristwatch once and Mahadevji created this for me."
"But this is a branded watch with a manufacturer's serial number at the back of the case! How could have someone created it?" I protest.
Technologist Polisetty's belief in Godmen is as contradictory as his kumkum in Toffleresque Valley. He brushes aside my lack of faith with: "But have you ever seen this brand 'Fortune' before? Mahadevji passed away in a car accident in January 1997. So I decided to name the company after him. I thought that the .com part would help differentiate us as an Internet company."
Polisetty is an engineering graduate from Matoshri College in Andhra Pradesh. He recalls: "I went to the US in 1994 to do my master's in computer science from the Syracuse University. When I left India I didn't know anything about the Net. I was put from one world into another. That time people were still developing protocols for the Net. I worked on protocols for Lynx and also on Web Work, a project to do distributed processing on the Net."
Polisetty started his career as a research assistant at the North East Parallel Architecture Centre. "In the US, unlike India, educational institutions are more advanced than the industry. In India I had done a lot of work on databases. In the US, right in 1994, I was working on Web spiders and agent based products. Even before Lycos was there I had written Web crawlers," he claims.
Polisetty started out with a company called EIT as an Internet engineer. But when EIT was acquired by Verifone, he found himself working for the bigger company and ended up with larger stock options. Then HP acquired Verifone and Polisetty's stock options grew even bigger.
It was this stock options money that gave Polisetty the seed capital to begin his own venture.
"I liked working at EIT because I feel start-ups are better to work with. Work is fast and we all work as a team to achieve something. At HP the pace slowed down. But by then I had seen how normal down-to-earth people become millionaires. So, with the stock options that I had, I decided to start my own company. I had not gone to the US to learn just technology but to also become an entrepreneur," Polisetty reveals.
Polisetty began Mahadev.com on December 24, 1997, in Delaware, Untied States, along with Naveena Nagi, a friend whom he met at a Sai Baba Centre in the US.
He explains: "I was the youth representative of the North US-Nevada Sai centre. I met Naveena who has done a PhD in computer sciences. She is also on the programme committee of IEEE. She too had worked in a start-up called Logic Vision before."
After nearly two years of its inception, the company released its first software package in June this year.
Polisetty has a reason for the delay. "For the last one and a half years we have been developing components for our product. Also we did some consulting services and acted as systems integrators."
Mahadev.com has over 18 employees in the US, of which 14 are software developers. The company has set up sales and marketing offices in Bombay, Hyderabad, Singapore and Germany. Polisetty, however, hopes to expand the Hyderabad office into a development and customisation centre.
To the serenade of a Mariachi band playing in the lobby of the hotel, Polisetty lists out the USP of bzcommerce: "It is platform independent and is compatible with multiple databases like Sybase, SQL server, Oracle Financials, Informix and ERP systems like Baan and SAP. The package works on any platform that has Java. We are able to connect to different data systems and almost all legacy systems like VSAM. No other technology does this."
bzcommerce conforms to the Open Buying on the Internet and Online Trading protocols. It incorporates this into existing standards like CORBA, COM/DCOM, JavaBeans, EDI, XML and HTTP.
Polisetty says that "Much of business-to-business e-commerce software is costly and ongoing maintenance adds to the cost. If you want to add functionality to those products it means that you have to write code and then debug it. We provide this software package that generates the code dynamically. It is not necessary to write a single line of code."
bzcommerce has different modules like
The package costs $75,000 per CPU. Srinivas cautions that the price is valid for the US market only. "We haven't decided on the pricing for the Indian market. But many people have told us that the US price is probably too much for Indian customers. We are thinking of offering a scaled down version of our product for small and medium enterprises which will cost less than a lakh (Rs 100,000)."
bzcommerce also provides multi-currency and multilingual support. It is shipped in eight languages, including French, German, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese.
But there is no Indian language support. Polisetty promises that it can be built into the system in less than six months, if required.
"So, what's it with white? Don't you ever wear any other colour?" I asked hesitatingly towards the end of the discussion.
"Well, all of Swamiji's students are dressed in white. Till I was in college I used to be dressed in the latest fashion. But since I met with Mahadevji I decided to wear white only. White, after all, represents purity," Polisetty smiled.
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