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Entrepreneur turns paging into mobile messaging biz

Mobile messaging has replaced paging (Nokia)

The evolution of simple paging into more sophisticated mobile messaging services is providing the springboard to growth for Dharohar Info Tech, a three year old Solothurn-based firm.

The fact that the firm's founder, Naveen Varshneya, was born in India and did not have a network of family and old school chums here to tap into did not deter him in his entrepreneurial endeavour.

Presented with the opportunity in 2001 to acquire PageIt, a tiny Swiss paging service, from Distefora, an imploding dotcom era IPO star, Varshneya, jumped at the chance. He folded it into his at that time, one year old firm, Dharohar InfoTech.

He then started to re-vamp the business. PageIt had about 1500 subscribers, mostly call centers, hospitals, and border police.

Using the revenues from the paging business and his savings, he invested in updating the paging platform, upgrading the software and the network architecture. The idea was to make a messaging platform in addition to simple paging services.

Varshneya was able to tap into the emerging Swiss infrastructure that assists new technology businesses. For example, he moved his firm from Baden to Solothurn to benefit from that canton's pro-small business economic development efforts.

Ericsson (Switzerland), which has been working closely with Swiss mobile application startup companies over the past three years, agreed to test and promote its corporate email application on the new higher speed mobile data network service, called GPRS.

In the meantime, he applied and won a spot in a five year old program run by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne where business students provide hands-on help to early-stage companies as part of their MBA educational program.

The most encouraging development, according to Varshneya, is getting the support of Swissphone, an established but growing company that employs some 400 people. It has taken an equity stake and it will be distributing Dharohar's messaging services in Switzerland.

"The partnership enables us to enter the enterprise market, such as offering two-way messaging needed for business oriented applications," says Michael Kaufmann of Swissphone. He is referring to things like field service dispatching and alert services.

Swissphone's thirty year old business has until now been targeted primarily at making and selling analog and digital pagers, as well as offering paging services to emergency forces, such as police and fire departments. The partnership, if successful, has the potential to expand the market significantly for the mid-sized firm.

Software development was done in New Delhi, which saved his budding firm some SFr 1.5 million.

Varshneya has also managed to get some experienced Swiss information technology industry entrepreneurs to join his board. These people help him get the word out about his company and provide contacts. For example, it was through one of these board members that the company was drawn to the attention of Swiss Venture this month.

Dharohar Info Tech was one of fifty firms that applied for but was not selected to be in the European Tech Tour roadshow recently held in Switzerland. The judges, contacted by Swiss Venture, did not select the company because they felt the market for mobile services would be consolidating and that the barriers to competition were too low - that it would be too easy to copy the idea.

Talking to Varshneya, it is clear that such statements bother him, but he is upbeat. "If an idea is good then someone will copy it. But then again, it would take anyone one year to reach us and millions of investment to get to where we are today, he added.

Besides a little competition would be welcome in the entrepreneur's opinion. "I am happy if some more people come into the market. Mobile messaging is supposed to boom, and there is so much to be done," says Varshneya.

Valerie Thompson


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