Dadasaheb Bhagat/ DooGraphics
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In August 2020, Bhagat started DooGraphics, a design start-up whose software tools allow you to do anything, from creating a résumé, a wedding card or a website to constructing and executing a social media marketing strategy and digital presence. “In terms of the work we do, I’d say the closest international equivalent is the Australian start-up Canva, which is currently valued at $15 billion,” says Bhagat. So, the possibilities for growth are endless.
It was during the lockdown of 2020, when he was forced to return to his village Sangvi Patan, in Beed, that Bhagat decided to start his own company. With massive job cuts everywhere, he also decided to employ many of the young men and women from his village who had lost their livelihood during the lockdown. He now has a staff of 35, and about half of them are either from Bhagat’s village or the neighbouring ones. “We live in such a remote place that work is hard to come by. Also, with the pandemic, a lot of youngsters had returned to the village, either because they were jobless, or because of the lockdown. I trained and hired many of them,” says Bhagat.
But how do you operate a software business in an area which has no connectivity and only intermittent electricity? “I kept looking for places which would have a mobile network, and came across this slightly elevated area,” says Bhagat. “It was in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing here was a cowshed that belonged to a friend. I convinced him to let us use a portion of it.”
He was forced to return to his village in Beed during the 2020 lockdown
The walls of this Beed office are made of corrugated tin sheets and the actual work space has been partitioned off from the rest of the cowshed by an old sari. Sometimes, when the sari billows in the wind, you can see the cows on the other side – or hear them mooing, in the middle of a Zoom meeting. The cramped ‘room’ can only accommodate five or six people. There are only three desks – one of which is occupied by Bhagat’s Apple desktop – so the rest of the staff have to make do with a camp cot for a workstation. Since there is no habitation for at least two km in any direction, a tent just outside the office serves as both living and dining quarters, and a nearby pond is the bathroom. Food and drinking water have to be brought in every day, otherwise the team cooks some basic meals on a makeshift stove.
“We had to start living in our office because of the patchy power supply,” says Bhagat. “Even now, for one week we have 12 hours of electricity in the day time, and the next week it’s 12 hours at night, in a pattern. So, we’ve had to work around this.” The power is supplied by a kilometre-long power line drawn from the nearest outlet. As for digital connectivity, the team uses its mobile phones by pooling in whatever gigabytes they get as part of their data plan. There’s just no possibility of installing a wi-fi hub. But even now, most DooGraphics employees work remotely, from their homes. It would be impossible to accommodate them in the cowshed.
Bhagat’s personal story is equally compelling. “I have only studied till Class 10, so I am not [educationally] much qualified for anything,” he says. “Then, when I was 19, I started working as an office boy at the Infosys office in Pune because someone told me I could earn as much as Rs 9,000 in such a job.” There, Bhagat says, he noticed how people were “sitting at their computers all the time, and still making money”. He adds: “It made me wonder if I could do the same. So, for the next 10 years, I started learning various computer programmes, like animation and graphic design.” Bhagat is now 30.
Given its humble beginnings, it's remarkable that DooGraphics today has some 1,000 to 1,500 daily users, and 30,000 to 40,000 in a month. Its days in the cowshed, however, are short-lived. Last month, DooGraphics was selected as one of 42 pan-India start-ups to receive Rs 25 lakh as funding from the central government. The NextGen Incubation Scheme (NGIS) of the Software Technology Parks of India (a subsidiary of the Ministry of Electronics and IT) had launched a competition in August 2020. The idea was to identify some 300 homegrown start-ups and, over three years, spend Rs 95 crore on developing them. DooGraphics was picked in the first lot. The idea behind NGIS is to foster the growth of start-ups from Tier-II andTier-III areas, and create a more enabling environment for others to follow.
The funding that DooGraphics receives will now go towards creating a better office space, but also some projects close to Bhagat’s heart. “India has so many good designers and artists, and yet we use stock photos and illustrations from abroad,” says Bhagat. “We would like to build a platform for local artists, designers and illustrators to showcase their work, so that they can be picked up by anyone anywhere in the world. We will use our tech to amplify their reach.” For someone whose life has been changed by technology, Bhagat certainly knows what he's talking about. But for now he has more pressing matters at hand, like keeping the leopards out.
Produced by Mansi Bhasin