Mumbai Capital

Being of sound mind

As a child, Hemant Waghe learnt that the courage to take risks, passion and persistence could be the best bets in uncertain situations. When he took the leap from a steady career to starting a website on audio and video systems, he had nothing but a love for tinkering with everything in his environment and his parents’ examples as leads.

“Initially, I was scared. I was from a typical Maharashtrian middle-class home, where very few people ventured into business,” says Waghe (42). Also, an online business is hard to explain. “They say you’re not selling anything. There are some who say it’s risky. And I say, yeah, everything is risky.”

Waghe could have been your typical career suit, making the calculated jumps from company to company, raking in the money until he retired. He was “reasonably decent” in academics, good enough to see him through an automobile engineering degree and later an MBA at Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. He joined Nirma in 1999, where, with his first salary, he bought himself Bose speakers for Rs 5,000. As he learned the ropes in the corporate world, he kept his passion for electronics alive by trading in second-hand audio equipment.

Subsequently, he got a break with Jumbo Electronics in Dubai. After a few years, he returned to India to work with an electronics distributor, and then with Onida, the mass-market electronics manufacturer. Then he joined a multinational recruitment agency. But, within a fortnight, he realised the job was not for him. “I was totally frustrated.”

He decided to become an entrepreneur.

Waghe’s wife, an established architect who later began her own venture, egged him on. His parents, too, served as role models. “The craziness runs in the family,” he says, remembering how his mother moved from being a homemaker to trading in saris and imitation jewellery to bridge a financial crisis at home. The business was hugely successful, and when she finally decided to shut shop due to advancing age, “she had to push it for five years, just to keep it going.” His father, on the other hand, served as an example of persistence.

He wrote the first-ever Marathi thesaurus by painstakingly collecting information for 25 years. Post-retirement, when the project was stuck, he re-wrote the whole thing. Apart from these qualities, Waghe values product knowledge and building trust. “Never judge your customer by his clothes or by what he’s doing. Never take him for a ride,” he says.

His first venture was an online liquor business — his other passion — with a friend. But the “tricky” regulatory environment in India put paid to their plans.

The next best alternative was Waghe’s first love: audio-video. He kept attending forums, and at one of these met , Pulastya Dave (39), “also an electronics freak from an automobile background”. The two connected instantly.

In December 2015, Hifi Hunt was incorporated as an intregrated portal after several months of painstaking research, and the realisation that there was a huge market gap. Customers are willing to spend lakhs on systems, but often don’t have access to information on products, brands or prices. Also, devices are becoming increasingly complex, turning up the confusion quotient.

The portal offers guidance and information about the audio-video industry. The partners began with capital of Rs 4 lakh, each providing half.

Waghe brings passion into the mix. Or as he puts it, ‘craziness’. From the time he sold soap powder in Nirma over a decade ago to dissecting Velox 4K UHD 18GBPS HDMI cables or the Mcintosh Mc2KW Moniblock power amplifier, he has never lost his enthusiasm for the technology. “We’ve been developing data for the past six to seven months,” says Waghe. “It is not a 9-to-5 job, and we work through weekends and even holidays.”

His family often bears the brunt of this obsession. “My wife gets psyched by the websites she sees me surfing. She once said I was watching gadgets like it was porn.” On another occasion, he got a long-distance call to discuss connectors. The conversation lasted an hour, driving his wife up the wall. “She said, ‘Someone called you from Delhi to discuss wires?’ I tried explaining to her that there were types and types of cables and interconnects.”

Waghe doesn’t just work with audio-video systems. He lives and breathes them, and plans to go places with them. “We want to become the first-ever agency for this. We want to take a call on home theatre, and then mass market electronics. The big money is there,” he says.

To promote the three-month-old start up, Waghe and Dave are planning pan-India events called ‘ExperiHunt’, where people will be invited for a relaxed, day-long audition.

The market is growing so fast that whereas most high-value enquiries were once predominantly from South Mumbai, now places like Miraj, Rajkot, even small towns in Madhya Pradesh, are bringing in customers. While these people may not be as knowledgeable as Mumbai customers, they are no less discerning.

“Consultants are in the market because of their knowledge, expertise and tie-ups. We want to push the idea that it’s better to take their help [rather] than spend on unnecessary gadgets,” says Waghe. Hifi Hunt helps customers study a product, compare it with others and make the right purchase decision. “We want to simplify it for them; extract value from the jargon.”

The industry, says Waghe, is in transition. “Some guys are in a rut. They do not understand the new generation of customers. These people are fast, have the spending capacity, are at times better decision-makers. Many do their own research. If you don’t treat them well, they can ruin your reputation online,” he says.

This isn’t something they’d take lightly. Especially if they are to become a one-stop solution for all audio-video queries.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 2:21:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/business/being-of-sound-mind/article8330148.ece

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