“Every adversity is rich in opportunity” has been the mantra for Parag Agarwal, who’s entrepreneurial journey has for nearly 3 decades has been nothing short of spectacular. With experience that ranges across diverse sectors and several continents, he believes that he has travelled the jungles of Indonesia more than people have travelled the cities of India. Parag believes that “If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
The eldest of 3 siblings, Parag was born in a simple middle class family in Pune. He started helping out in the family business from the age of 15, only to realise very quickly that he needed to break out and cast his own die. A typical Leo, he had dreams that he was willing to chase, and possessed a risk appetite that was voracious and unparalleled. A Bachelor of Commerce graduate from the Pune University he immediately joined a leading stock broking firm in 1991 upon completion of his studies. As a young lad with stars in his eyes, Parag witnessed the bull run of 1992 followed by the collapse of the markets. In the era when stocks were traded physically on the floor of the bourses, he mastered the art of arbitrage and hedging investments by turning bullish on some sectors while remaining bearish on others simultaneously. Decision making was also a lesson he learnt the hard way when not exiting an investment at the right time would lead to massive losses. Overcoming “greed and fear” was critical to success and the theory of “stop loss” and “stop profit” sank into his DNA. He considers his exposure to the Indian stock markets as the most formative years of his life since he was able to gain a four-pronged perspective on Corporate India. The ability to view businesses as a Founder, management team member, investor and speculator helped him develop a holistic view that has helped him suitably identify, build, operate and exit businesses. The fact that all the businesses never thrive all the time and are vulnerable to cyclical highs and lows is what formatted his mind to operate multiple businesses simultaneously, a practice that he continues to adopt till date. However, stock markets meant betting on others’ businesses and not your own which is why he decided to move on in 1994.
This led to the beginning of his tryst with technology when he stumbled upon a very innovative communication tool called Electronic Mail (Email) which was unheard of in India. He believed that this would bind the planet in the future and he would go from door to door to sell dial-up Email connections in pairs since people didn’t know who to send mail to. In the age of 286 computers, 70MB hard drives, 1.2MB floppy drives and 2.4 Kbps speed for data transfer, Parag set up a 1GB server to provide email services to his clients. He also invested heavily in a VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) to transmit data immediately across India and increase efficiency for his customers. His ability to customize solutions for clients and develop innovative ways to sell the product was the key differentiator versus all others. Despite being a simple commerce graduate, he went on and trained nearly 500 MBA freshers on technical, sales and marketing of this innovative technology over 2 years pan India. The company had to cease operations when VSNL finally introduced the Internet gateway in 1996 and monopolized the ISP (Internet Service Provider) market.
“Life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans”. This abrupt end to a very passionate venture led Parag to look overseas and he setup his own general trading company in UAE. Over the next 4 years, he built a very successful trading business between UAE and India that included goods and commodities such as dates, rice and carpet grade high micron wool that was exported to India. His company pioneered this trade which has since become a multi-million-dollar business.
However, his belief in India being the hub of opportunities only grew and he decided to return to India and base himself here to continue pursuing his goals. He travelled the world extensively to seek collaborations with international companies that possessed technologies, expertise and experience of implementation since India was ripe with possibilities but lacked suitable capability. He adopted the role of becoming a technology evangelist who would identify relevant technologies ahead of time and then work to have them implemented in India. One of his biggest strength was his ability to work with the private sector state, federal and government agencies, both within India and overseas. Over the next 10 years, Parag travelled the world extensively imbibing the way technology was shaping and disrupting the rules of business.
Having understood the nuances of the digital landscape in 2013, he founded the Supremus Group of Companies which are a bouquet of business collaborations and joint ventures with partners in several countries. His current operations span across sectors such as Integrated Water and Waste Management, Agri-Logistics & Post Harvest Infrastructure, Drinking Water & Sanitation, Risk Management and Homeland Security.
Parag identified the gap in demand and supply of safe drinking water in India early in 2011. He believes that this industry will continue to witness “sunrise” for the next 30 years. The need of the hour was to not only make water available and accessible to all, but to do so in an efficient, robust and sustainable manner. It is necessary for a business to be inclusive, scalable and socially impactful for it to grow into a movement. This is when in 2013 he formed JanaJal, a mission to deliver safe drinking water to communities at an affordable cost.
Today, Parag believes that he has found his calling and considers himself a “Waterpreneur”. JanaJal has recently become the first social enterprise in India to have secured USD 5 Million as FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) from a US based social impact fund. In a country that consumes more water than China and US combined, he believes that there is potential to install 1 Million water ATMs in India over the next 10 years, by which time there will be demand for another 1 Million. He is determined to make JanaJal the largest market share holder in India and install up to 10,000 water ATMs over the next 5 years that will provide gainful employment to atleast 50,000 people.
“Sustainability begins where philanthropy ends” and this is the core principle of JanaJal. During the past 4 years, Parag has won various awards for Entrepreneurship, Environment Sustainability, Innovation and Community Leadership Program.
Parag’s 5 step mantra is: Spot an opportunity, Script your goal, Make a commitment to yourself, Take the first step; stay the course maintaining a laser-sharp focus and Evolve.
He believes in “Ambition Devobhava” (Ambition is God) – add to it a socially impactful cause and you will go all the way. His advice to young entrepreneurs is “Believe in yourself; stand up and be counted. Your risk appetite should be highest with your own capital.”
Parag a passionate nationalist, loves music and enjoys spending time with his family. He is quick to adopt new communication technologies and is extremely gadget-friendly. He also continues to mentor young entrepreneurs and immensely enjoys sharing his ability to anticipate business trends.