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The Dyslexic Who Built A 30 Crore Business

December 29, 2023 12:00 IST

'I have saved your name on my phone, but I cannot read or pronounce it.'
'I am able to recognise my wife's name today because after seeing it for so long, it has been imprinted in my mind as a picture and not the letters.'

IMAGE: Abin Jose Tom speaks at an office meeting. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Webandcrafts/Facebook

"When I watched the film Taare Zameen Par, I felt it was my story. You take out the cinematic masala elements from it, it is my story. There was no difference between the story of that boy and mine," says 33-year-old entrepreneur Abin Jose Tom.

As a child, Abin wondered why when he was so good in mathematics and practicals, he was very bad at languages.

It was an impossible task for him to read or write both English and Malayalam properly.

What he was good at even as a 9-10 year old was making electronic goods, and later on assembling computers. Not for just fun, it was business for Abin even as a school kid.

So, you can say, Abin's journey as an entrepreneur started at that tender age itself. And the beginning was from a small village in Kerala.

It was this exemplary and unique journey that caught the eye of then US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker to mention him and the company he founded in her speech at ICANN's meeting in Los Angeles in 2014. (Watch the speech here) (external link)

Abin is the founder CEO of a Rs 300 million IT company with 430 people working for him.

12 years after he founded Webandcrafts, Abin Jose Tom highlights his entrepreneurial journey in this conversation with's Shobha Warrier.


Making and selling torches: An entrepreneur is born at the age of 10

I grew up in a village near Kottayam.

To your question whether I had any dream as a child, I would say I had no dreams at all.

But I had a passion even as a 10 year old, and that was electronics. I used to dissemble and assemble whatever that was there at home.

From radio to TV, I had dissembled everything. Of course, I assembled them back too.

My father was in the business of collecting rubber milk from rubber growers and converting it to rubber sheets. He then sold the sheets to other merchants.

Papa had nearly 100 customers from whom collected rubber milk, and I used to go with my him in his vehicle.

I noticed that all the rubber tappers needed torches for their work, and they used to buy them for Rs 700 to Rs 1,000 but I heard them complain to my Papa that the torches were not bright enough.

That made me think. I made a torch that was very bright and gave to the person who used to tap rubber at my place.

He was extremely happy with the product that he bought it from me. And I made a profit of hundred rupees! I was just 10 then.

That gave me an idea, why not make more torches and sell to the other rubber tappers?

I found that as my torches were brighter and cheaper, and they were only happy to buy from me.

Was I excited about making my own money? I don't think I felt excited. What I did was, from the profit I made, I bought components so that I could make more torches.

Looking back, I can say my strategy was investing my earnings back in the business. Interestingly, I follow the same idea even today.

Whatever profit I make from my company, I invest back. I do not know whether it is right or wrong; that's what I have been doing from the age of 10!

From torches to the world of computers

When I was in the 9th standard, Papa bought me a computer. Yes, I dissembled it first.

This led to my next business; that of assembling computers and selling them.

Soon, in my village anyone who wanted a computer, came to me.

Moving from the village to Chennai to study engineering for four years but no degree.

As I could not get admission in any of the engineering colleges in Kerala, I joined one in Chennai.

The first paper I wrote was on graphics and I scored 94/100 marks, first in the class. That was because the paper required only drawings.

You will be shocked to hear that, that was the only paper I passed in the four years of engineering.

With 100% attendance, I completed engineering, but I didn't get the degree as I didn't pass a single paper!

IMAGE: Abin Jose with wife Jilu.

How tough it was to study as a dyslexic

Now, I have to talk about what was wrong with me.

Today I know I am dyslexic. Others also know I am dyslexic.

But when I was a student, I didn't know anything about such a condition. I was not even aware of the word, dyslexia.

My condition was such that I really suffered as a student. Nobody knew what was wrong with me, I also didn't. I only knew I just couldn't read or write anything.

When I was very good at mathematics and extremely good in practicals, I just couldn't manage languages.

I was criticised a lot in school for not being able to read anything. I was the only student in class who was unable to read the textbook in class.

Fortunately, it didn't affect my confidence at all. Though I enjoyed going to school, I abhorred the language classes and the language teachers!

To my advantage, till the 10th standard, we had more objective type of questions.

But when in Plus2, we had to express even science and mathematics using your language skills which I could never do. Luckily, I managed to scrape through school.

Why the film Taare Zameen Par struck a chord

If you have seen the film Taare Zameen Par, it is my story. If you take out the cinematic masala elements from the film, it's 100% my story. I am that boy.

When I first saw the film, I thought they made a film based on my life and wondered how they knew all the details.

I have saved your name on my phone, but I cannot read or pronounce it. Yes, it's not as bad as it was years ago. I have learnt to get over the obstacles.

For example, I am able to recognise my wife Jilu's name today because after seeing it for so long, it has been imprinted in my mind as a picture and not the letters.

IMAGE: Abin Jose with wife and son.

How his friend diagnosed that he was dyslexic

When I failed in all the papers in the first two semesters of engineering except that one paper on graphics, my guardian and friend in Chennai, Nikhil Mathew, asked me whether I was not interested in studies or not.

He then did a study on what was wrong with me. He asked me the spelling of the word, Umbrella. I couldn't spell it even after I tried to learn it for an hour.

Even after writing a thousand times, I couldn't spell it the next day.

He then told me I was dyslexic; that I suffer from language disability.

If you were to ask me how it affected me, it didn't. My life continued as usual.

Becoming an entrepreneur while studying engineering

I became an entrepreneur not because I wanted to be one, or because I was passionate about entrepreneurship.

My father's business suffered badly during that period, and the situation at home was very bad. I felt very guilty asking for money for college fees, hostel rent and my other needs.

So, it was out of necessity that I wanted to make money. And doing business was not alien to me.

I was assembling two computers daily before I moved to Chennai. But I had to stop all my business activities in Chennai. In fact, I was totally bored.

When I mentioned this to my granduncle, Joseph Sir, a social activist and mentor to many youngsters, he asked me to start working on software.

IMAGE: The Webandcrafts office at Infopark, Koratty.

Year 2009. With an initial investment of Rs 1,500, a new business starts in a new city

He gave me Rs 1,500 to buy a domain and server so that I could start designing Web sites.

This was the capital with which I started my journey as an entrepreneur. I had just completed my first semester then.

I created a Web site for him first.

When I saw that our college web site looked ancient, I asked my professor for permission to redesign it. What I did impressed everyone.

First assignment for Rs 5,000

It was Joseph Sir who named my company, Webandcrafts. He felt without a name, I could not move ahead.

A week after our Web site was up, I got a call asking me whether I would design a web site.

He gave me an advance of Rs 5,000 and said, 'if you do the work very well, I will pay another Rs 5,000 too'.

And, he did pay another five thousand too!

It all started with that Rs 5,000. Today, our revenue is Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million).

IMAGE: Abin and Jilu with Vinod (CTO) and Clint Antony (chief creative officer).

The first employee joins Webandcrafts

More enquiries to design started coming in, and I found it difficult to do everything of my own. That was when a friend recommended Clint Antony to me.

My strategy was like this: If Clint charged me Rs 200, and I sold it for Rs 500. If he did the work for Rs 1,000, I sold it for Rs 3000.

That year (2009), we did business for Rs 30,000.

Next year (2010), when I was a third-year engineering student, I decided to employ Clint on a salary of Rs 10,000. I also took Rs 10,000 as my salary.

By mid 2010, I employed a programmer too.

I had to employ people because I was getting a lot of work, more than I could handle on my own as I had to attend classes too.

In 2010, I made a revenue of around Rs 2 lakhs to Rs 3 lakhs.

By the time I finished engineering, four people were working for me. And our turnover was around Rs 4.5 lakhs.

IMAGE: Employees at work at the Webandcrafts office.

Coming back to Kerala to start an office in an Info Park

Once my engineering days were over, I could be a full-time entrepreneur with a proper office.

My plan was to have an office in Chennai itself, but then my employees were planning to come back to Kerala.

So, I also decided to come to Kerala and open an office at an Info Park here.

You can say Webandcrafts became a real company in August 2012 when I opened an office at the Info Park in Koratty.

It was not easy at all.

When all my efforts failed to get a small space at low rent in an Info Park, it was Joseph Sir who came to my rescue again.

He introduced me to the founder of the Info Park at Koratty who gave me his conference room as our temporary office for Rs 10,000 as rent.

By the time I opened my office, I had only Clint with me. And he still is with me.

(It is another story that I got inspired by the news of a diamond merchant gifting a Mercedes car to all his employees. I was not in a position to do so for all my employees. But this year, I decided to gift Clint a Mercedes as he has been with me from the very beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur.)

Today, we have 340 people working for us. Our clients are from 35 countries across the world.

From designing Web sites, we have expanded to branding, mobile application development, e-commerce, cloud services, cyber security, and digital marketing.

Some of our major clients include Ikea's Middle East operations, Lulu Hyper Market, Joy Alukas, etc.

IMAGE: The WAC team at Christmas last year.

Dream for the company

In the last 10 years, we have been growing at 50% to 70% year after year.

But in the coming year, we are expecting a growth of around 300%.

My dream for my company? I don't dream about any particular size or number. I only want my company to grow to its maximum potential. I don't see any limit!

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/