#19 Apurva Shah - Leader In Water

Apurva Shah is the managing director of TSA Process Equipments Pvt. Ltd. He talks about the origins of TSA, how he never wanted to work for the family business, a $100,000 scam and his obsession with movies.



So my target was three crores and I'll retire. My turnover should be three crores. The day my turnover is three crores, I'll retire. But we have a target of doing 200 crores by 2025. 


That was Apurva Shah, the managing director of TSA Process Equipment Private Limited, the leader in the manufacturer and installation of high-purity water systems. He, along with his partner, started TSA 17 years ago and today the company is worth almost 100 crores. He talks to us about his childhood, how he's never worked for anyone else, and his love for movies. This is his story.

Hello there, I'm Aamer Khan. And this is the Zed Medium Podcast, a podcast that talks to people and about them too. We take out the most significant experiences of an individual and package them in the form of a story, sharing those with you. We narrate people's journeys in the simplest way we can. There's a new person every episode, so do check out the previous ones. I'm sure you're going to find someone to relate to. Let's start with this one, shall we? 


Apurva comes from a family of engineer businessmen. His father owned a business that eventually became a poor first job. Not because of his choice, though it was kind of a necessity at that point of time. 


Apurva: In fact, I had always thought of starting my own company, and doing my own business. I never wanted to get into my dad's business and which we closed because none of myself or my brother did not enter that business. I must have worked with my father for some period of time when he was not well in the start of my career, since he could not go to the office. I used to go to the office for say, a year or so. 


He had got a diabetic foot, so he could not get out of bed. And I just finished my engineering that time. That is the first job you can say I had done. I used to take a seven to eight-car bus from my house to go to JV nine because my factory used to be dad's factory used to open at 08:00 and I should be there till seven or eight in the evening. 


It was like Goodwill, as I used to do the management side also, which I learned. One of my dad's younger brother was also in the business with us, so he used to teach me he was on the commercial side. So what was your father's business about? 


They were making parts for an Italian machine packing machines which was used by companies like Hindusan, Unilever, Godrej and Britannia. There was a specific design of machines by a company called Akme. We had a specialty in making those parts. 


Aamer: Okay, so this was again in the pharma industry? 


Apurva: No, it was in food and Beverage and FMCG. Those machines were used for soaps and biscuit packing. 


Aamer: He was 20 when he first spent time at the office. He was there for a year and a half or two maybe learning about the technicalities of the business as well as the management side of it. It was his first taste of what running a business would actually look like. The business, which reached a peak annual revenue of 60 lakhs at one point in time had to eventually shut down because neither a poor nor his younger brother wanted to be a part of it. 


They never wanted to run their father's business. 


Apurva: Yeah, I stopped working there. In fact, I stopped working anything. I did not work for some time. Then after that, for a couple of years, because I was thinking of what to do. Then I was asked by my father and my father's cousin what are you doing with your life? My dad has done his masters in mechanical engineering from USA and I have done only mechanical engineering here. And they were expecting me also to go to USA, which I was not interested at all. And then I was asked. 


So I decided to start with electric polishing, which was my first business. It is still there. It is run by my younger brother. We have a small factory in Ravale. After that I started TSA Process equipment since 2004. 


Aamer: Sorry, there was only one job that you did that also in the family business. And after that you've had two consecutive businesses that you've started. You've never worked for anyone else, right? 


Apurva: Yeah, never. My family was forcing me to do work because I was not studying. So I went ahead and took admission into college. But it was a part time college. I used to work in the daytime and go to the college in the evening. It was from five or six in the evening to eight or nine in the night. And how old were you at the time? I did the course. I never took the exams since I had learned. That was the whole criteria.


I said this was right before you started the electropolishing business or after the electropolishing business. I started when I was in this part time.


Aamer: Apurva went from doing nothing at all for some years to starting his first business at the age of 25 and the second business very soon at the age of 29. And he set up his businesses while studying a management course in the evenings as well, leaving himself no time to ever take a breather. But there was one question left to be asked why electro polishing after all? Probably too late to ask this, but what exactly, in the simplest terms is electropolishing? 


Apurva: Electropolishing is reverse electroplating. In electroplating, your deposit material, for example, if you're doing zinc electroplating, you deposit zinc on the surface of the material. For example, it might be an auto component. In electropolishing, it is a reverse electromagnetic. So we remove certain microns of material from the stainless steel surface to remove the impurities, give it an even finish and a bright finish. What did you see that made you want to go into electropolishing? 


At that time there was only one person doing electropolishing in Bombay at that time rather in all of India there was no competition in the field and there was a requirement for other electropolishers. I had a thoughts of doing something else also this was the easiest and fastest I could do. We had a pilot plant to do electropolic in my dad's factory itself they're giving me a space of 32 sq ft. 


That was four by eight and I started the electropolishing there. So that pilot plant I ran for a year then the electropolishing chemicals were rusting the mechanical workshop machines so I was asked to leave when I looked for a place I had a place upgraded from a 32 sqft base to 175 sqft. Most of the things which we required for electropolishing are made by my cousins. I used to get it fast and on credit so I did not have to wait to arrange my funds. I never started my business by taking 72,000 from my father and after that I've never taken anything from the business took off rapidly. apuro had set up three plants in three years. 


Aamer: Everything was sourced from within the family so there was no external pressure to disturb the peace. This story would have probably ended with Apurva being known as the guy who swept the Indian electropolishing market but he decided to venture into what looked like a vertical integration at that point of time purified water systems actually used electropolishing on the inside of the vessels because they contained, as the name suggests, purified water and any impurities from the metals couldn't seep into the water.


No one could have known if that move would have paid off because in essence, he was actually competing with his clients. Everything was going well and you were setting up three plants and you were growing rapidly at that time. What is the idea that came into your mind that you wanted to start TSA also at the same time after that, like while this was going on? 


Apurva: That is a very interesting question electropolishing and electropolishing business what I do in TSA we have to get electropolishing done so I am my biggest client also right now for that there are small people also company with a donor of say three crores and 30 crores. Everybody was getting electropolishing done by me so I saw them and I thought I can do a better job than what they are doing. We started with purified water and water for injection distribution systems the pipeline is required in the pharma industry for transporting water to the packaging machines and to the manufacturing area where you make injectables where you make tablets, and capsules so everything requires purified water. 


As I said, I was always studious so I had a knack for studying everything prior to I start something and I used to discuss with the clients who are coming to the clients who are my computers right now. They used to come to my factory to get the jobs and then we used to sit for a couple of hours and I got to learn a little bit from them also. 


Aamer: While clients turned competitors, he never had a situation where he was directly competing for a project with them, which made things easier to move forward for rapport. But he didn't do all of this by himself. He had help in the form of his partner, Rajiv. So you started TSA with your brother? Or was it all loan or you had a team already established with you? 


Apurva: I started it with a friend of mine, Rajiv. 


Aamer: How do you know Rajiv? 


Apurva: Rajiv apparently had come to me for electric. He was doing his own business, I was doing my own business. I had started this PSA business already. It was a proprietary concern. Then when we joined hands, then we converted it to a private. 


Aamer: Why did you join hands with Rajiv and only Rajiv? 


Apurva: Rajiv also had good technical knowledge and he had a very good idea about the market. Since he was in Millipoor and he was dealing with pharma companies already. He had dealt with someone for four or five years of his career already. We started to talk about sales and marketing and since both of us were new in the same field, we thought we'll do it together. And he can handle the sales part of it and I can handle the technical part of the manufacturing side of it. 


Aamer: Do you remember how TSA was when it first began? And how did grow like, in the first five years? Where had you guys reached in terms of the number of people, in terms of revenue, and in terms of the offer? 


Apurva: Very exponential growth, because we had started from zero. So it's very easy to get a market share when your market share is 0%. We started the company in October sorry, six months. We did 35 turnover in six months. The next year turnover was 135. After that it was five crores, then nine crores. The first five years of growth was very exponentially. 


100% growth every year or maybe more. And how did you guys sustain that amount of growth? Yeah, so we should have that we understood later, so we could not manage it. See, if you are growing at 30% a year, you don't have to concentrate. If you're growing 100%, 200%, then you have to consolidate, sit back, give a break for a couple of years to maintain the turnover. You have a 30% growth and then move ahead to balance the finances. 


So we should have appointed a financial consultant that time, which every business who is growing very fast to do. Both of us were from an engineering background, so we know how to sell and make and sell other. We did not understand the finances in the first place. Right now, the way the business is running, finance is the most important thing as of today. Also, finance is the most important thing because technical and the quality is given. You want to stay in the market, you have to make a good quality and it has to be at the right price. And what was the mistake that you guys made? Yeah, we are outrating. We did not have that capacity. 


We did not have the bank limits, which would justify the turnover we are doing. So the funds got stuck. And see, in this case, if one project gets stuck, some, for example, one of the companies got shut down. We had a very huge outstanding, so we never got that money. So that was a big blow to us. We have taken a very big order from a government company. A lot of finances stuck there also. 


So to overcome that order, it was a very huge task. It was a $2 million order, and it took us one and a half years to finish. Right now, we finished a $2 million in four months. It was not so much a rise and fall as it was rise and being stagnant for a certain period of time. 


Aamer: Some say that sustaining your growth is harder than actually growing, and it's true to perform at the highest level and to make sure you're giving your best while keeping people's expectations, projected revenues, employee satisfaction and brand image, and check o NES finances as well. It's a pretty huge task. 


But as the famous saying goes, this too shall pass. And that phase passed as well. They dug deep into the problems they were facing, hired the right people to rectify the situation, and overcame the period of little to no growth. One thing that remained was the passion for what they were doing. 


Apurva: This is a very interesting business, I tell you. 


Since we are in project business, every project is different. You're not stuck. You have a variant every day. All the projects are different. And we are doing projects internationally, domestically, we got 1520 projects lined up all throughout the year, one after the other. So we are closing four projects and finishing four projects start to end. It has always been interesting. This business will never get going until you are bored of the business. What kind of mistakes did you do earlier in your career that you wish that someone had told you about them before in business? 


Yeah, we got cheated once by a person who had come down with a financial proposal and we got cheated with some of Rs50. In fact, I was the person who bought that person, so I have to pay myself, but it has nothing to do with it. What was it like listing it on me in US? 


Aamer: It wasn't the right move, but it seemed like one at the time. No doubt. One can look back and think of all the naive things that they have done throughout their life. 


But that's what makes up for the experiences with which Apurva handles things today. This could be considered a failure, but more than that, it was an honest yet expensive mistake, and it was genuinely a setback at that time. But nothing ever lasts, either success or failure. And that's the philosophy by which Apurva and Rajiv have grown. TSA threefold in the last ten years or so. While we want to talk more about his professional life, we'll deviate a bit into what he likes doing when he's not working. His consistency and perseverance not only reflect in business, but in other aspects of his life as well. 


Apurva: I read a lot of fiction. I never read nonfiction. I must have hardly read five or six nonfiction out of the 800 fiction books I've read. I myself had a collection of 600 books, which my wife drove me to give it away because we did not have space in the house to put. Then I shifted to kindness. 


So at least digitally, I can store the books. And the movie buff. I am a very big movie buff. I go to theaters a couple of times in a week, or at least once a week, minimum. So I was one of the first persons to go to the theater when, after Kuwait, the theaters opened and people were very scared of going. And there were only three people in the theater. I was with my daughter, and there was only one other person in the theater when they actually opened the theater. I think three days off during Mummy, the mobile festival. 


They showcase a lot of international a lot of international movies are screened. So I take one weekend off. I watch five movies in a row. 


Aamer: He loves storytelling in any format possible, and that's why he's becoming better at weaving his own story. What we mean is the Apurva that is talking to us now was way different than the Apurva that had started out. And, yes, that seemed like an appropriate transition back to the story. But when Apura first started, his goals were not quite thought out. He had plans of retiring when he hit a revenue of three crores just for a comparison. TSA today is anywhere between a 90 to 120 core company. That's how far he has come and how well he has weaved his own story. 350 people at least. And how different is the Apurva that I see now from the Apurva that had started, as I was saying, when? 


Apurva: In college last year, when I was discussing with my other friends and somebody wanted to do a job, as I said, I was always going to do my own business. That time, my target was to do a turnover because I had seen my dad's factory, and I knew that I needed 30 lakhs or 40 lakhs, and that was a big amount that time also. So my target was three quarters and I retired. My turnover should be three crores. The day my turnover is three crores, I'll retire. 


Now, there is a different outlook altogether of the experience I've had in the past 18 years of doing this business, 16 or 18 years of doing this business, and the kind of product expansion we are doing. But we have a target of doing 200. 


Aamer: I think we've talked about mostly everything that I wanted to ask you. How do you feel? 


Apurva: Good. In fact, I feel very good. I have never spoken to somebody about the past very recently. That is so it was a very good feeling. It was very nostalgic. Now, all my friends, we decided that we would do a turnaround three growth and we would retire. Yeah.


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