An IT start-up in the conflict zone of Kashmir

It needs not just courage and a brave heart, but immense confidence and commitment to give up hefty pays and cozy life working abroad and take up the challenges to start a tech firm, not in Bangalore but in the conflict zone of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.

It was in 2004, when Fayaz Bhat, Amin Bhat and Tahir Kazi—three techie friends—took a bold decision to leave their jobs abroad and returned back to pursue their aspirations to do something worthy for locals in this state, the land once called by Jawahar Lal Nehru as the heaven on earth.

“We three friends came together and co-founded Musky Software Solution (MSS) in December 2004 with the initial investments of Rs five lakh. Our concept was that we all belonged to J&K, so wanted to give back to the place where we were born,” says Fayaz Bhat.

Looking at the turbulent socio-political situation in J&K over the past three decades due to constant terrorist activities, security issues, curfews and so on, setting up an IT business will not be considered a wise decision. “Yes, we were aware of the problems here but were enough confident to meet those challenges and determined to give a chance to the locals with our positive thinking,” added Fayaz Bhat.

Because of the uncertain situations, Bhat takes extra care and safety of his staffs. He has created a residential and kitchen area where the staffs prepare food and stay overnight during curfews.

According to Fayaz Bhat, the state has some eight to 10 engineering colleges, institutes and universities, so every year a big number of tech graduates pass out from the state. “So getting IT staffs here is not a major issue but getting work or projects regularly is the key problem for companies like ours,” explained Bhat.
Initially, it was the support and references of friends based abroad that offered IT projects, back office work, software development and support type of jobs to MSS. Owing to the difficulty in getting a smooth flow of work, they decided to have five business lines rather than having just one specialized sector, in order to keep the business sustained. “Our business include software development, flash product development, banking services, IT staffing and recruitment and IT consultancy,” said Bhat.

Apart from the socio-political situations, the start-up also faces issues like regular power-cuts, inconsistent and low Internet connectivity, lack of business locations along with non-availability of evening flights, which hampers client visits and meetings.

Despite the challenges and problems, today MSS is a six-year-old firm with 30 staff members, two offices in Srinagar and Jammu and they are furthur planning a third one in Bangalore in the next fiscal.

“Though our client base is small, most of them are from the US, Africa and other countries. On an average we are able to add a couple of clients every year and growing at 50 percent annually. Last year we posted revenue of over Rs one crore,” claimed Bhat. Currently, MSS has 10 clients from verticals such as banking, healthcare, e-commerce, exports along with software companies for outsourcing work. According to Bhat, there are some 45 plus small and mid-size IT firms providing various IT support and services such as data entry, web designing, back-office outsourcing and software developments.

But in the absence of a state IT policy or vision, he reckons that the prospects of utilizing IT resources and boosting small IT firms here highly depends on big IT enterprises such as Infosys, HCL, Wipro and TCS.

“If these big companies can share or outsource even 0.5 percent of their non-critical work or back-office jobs to firms in J&K, then it will not only boost the IT sector but will also create big job opportunities for the locals,” quoted Bhat.

“If telecom firms are operating and doing business in J&K, why can’t the tech companies follow the same and change their attitudes?” asked the entrepreneur with a mission.

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