Rajiv Bapna is 64 and still exudes the enthusiasm of a freshly-minted tech entrepreneur. Perhaps not very different from the year 1986 when he set up Amkette, a homegrown floppy disk maker challenging global electronics giants like Sony. Three decades on, Bapna is still going strong and Amkette continues to hold a space in the consumer electronics market. His story:
I WAS ONE OF THOSE students who scored well in science and maths in school. As is expected of such pupils, I took the well-trodden path to an engineering college—electronics engineering from BITS Pilani and then a Masters from IIT Delhi. And then I landed a government job at the erstwhile Department of Electronics (DoE) headed by the legendary M.G.K. Menon.
But life thereafter has not followed the signposts. I quit DoE in 1979 for better opportunities in Saudi Arabia, then headed the technology division of Citibank for West Asian markets, and in 1985 left all of it to start something in India.
There was a lot of buzz in India’s technology space then—Sam Pitroda was spearheading an information and communications technology revolution, personal computers were making their way in, and Intel was doing its thing on chip designing. But in the personal computer space, very few companies then focussed on storage, and I put my bet on floppy disks. Thus, Amkette was born in 1986.
Despite the challenges, we produced some of the best floppies of the time. We were not just servicing the Indian market, but were exporting a lot too. A partnership with German firm Döbbelin & Boeder (now shuttered) certainly helped.
We kept pace with the changes in the floppy era, moving from eight-inch floppies to five-and-a-quarter-inch and then to three-and-a-half inch micro floppies. Our floppies, unlike those of international companies, addressed a unique problem faced in India: Humidity was causing fungal growth on them. That is how we became popular, servicing the likes of IBM, Novell, HP, TCS, and Microsoft. In fact, Windows 95 was launched in India on Amkette floppies.
Even the technological advancement from floppy disks to CDs and DVDs did not disrupt Amkette, at least not initially. But the expansion of the market called for a high degree of manufacturing automation. So we moved away from personal storage to input devices.
Amkette was the first company to introduce membrane keyboards in India, brought a wide range of connectivity options for Indian customers, made USB hubs and card readers, and also tried its luck briefly on a new layout for keyboards. But whatever we did, we never ventured beyond consumer technology.
The Flash TV we launched in 2009, then a first in India and which allowed users to play content from a hard disk on any TV, was a product of the consumer-centric strategy. The year also carries a personal significance as my son, Varun, joined the business.
Today, Amkette is in audio, entertainment, gaming, and traditional connectivity devices. We offer gaming controllers with Bluetooth connectivity, and an Amkette gaming app that has over 400 games. Amkette also offers accessories for smartphones and chargers. You could call us an innovation factory.
(The article was originally published in the Dec-March special issue of the magazine)