When he was a Class 6 student he sold torches to the rubber tappers in his village who worked in the wee hours of a day. When in Class 9, his father bought him a computer. The next year, he started assembling and selling computers. After school, he joined an engineering college in Chennai, where in the second year, he redesigned the institute’s website. He went on to take up freelancing web design works along with a friend. He learned engineering, but failed in almost all papers. He was dyslexic. After college, he started his company at a corner of the sprawling yet sleepy Infopark campus at Koratty, Thrissur.
What he started with just four people now has 320 employees and is one of the most successful IT companies in Kerala. That’s the story of Abin Jose Tom, the 32-year-old founder and CEO of Webandcrafts (WAC) which has a client base spread over 35 countries. Elements like a struggling family, a philosopher uncle, an expensive gift and a little bit of romance make his story all the more cinematic.
The CEO who can’t draft an email
“In all my career, I have not sent a single email on my own. I can’t do that. I’m yet to develop the ability to form sentences for such a communication,” Abin revealed a secret as this correspondent met him at his office in Thrissur. Every business communication he does follows a process and mechanism. He passes ideas to a team which helps him draft his mails. The final draft often goes through the hands of Jilu Joseph who, Abin says, can translate his thoughts. Jilu is the vice president of WAC, and also the wife of Abin. The couple have two kids.
Abin’s dyslexia is not a secret. It has always been written about ever since he ventured out to launch his startup much before startup was the buzzword in the state.
Abin hails from Chengalam, a usual village in Kerala’s Kottayam district. As a schoolkid, he was unable to write proper sentences either in Malayalam or in English. He was forced to leave the English medium school and join a Malayalam medium one when he was in Class 6 because of the difficulty he faced with languages. In the new school also he struggled with languages even as he excelled in science and maths. It was only during his days in SA Engineering College, Chennai he realised he was dyslexic. The revelation came through his friend Nikhil Mathew, also from his village, with whom he stayed in the Tamil capital in the initial year. Nikhil wanted to help Abin and did everything possible.
“I was sent to Chennai for higher studies because my father was afraid I would settle with a computer shop in our small town. I was already assembling and selling computers to the people in my locality. I was interested in electronics since my childhood. I assembled torches with LED bulbs when I was in Class 6 and sold them to the rubber tappers involved in my father’s latex business. During school days, I used to make some pocket money with photography also. Once I was in Chennai I started missing all those odd jobs I used to do and felt boring,” Abin said. It was time for a new beginning.
Joseph Mattappally, Abin’s uncle who is a motivational speaker, had already made an influence in the teen boy’s life. Abin shared his Chennaiyin dilemma with Joseph and informed his wish to try his hands at web designing. He had to buy a domain for that. Joseph, the uncle-mentor, helped him promptly with Rs 1,500 which would turn out to be the very initial investment for what would later become WAC, the company which has recorded a turnover of around Rs 40 crore this fiscal.
Abin learned html and designed a website for Joseph at first. In his second year, he sought the permission of the college management to redesign its website. His wish was granted, though reluctantly as his teachers were not impressed by his academic records. It turned out that he did his job well and earned not just applause but also freelance assignments. Joseph then named Abin’s company Webandcrafts which was registered in his native Elikulam panchayat hen he was in second year.
As he got busier with such assignments than his studies, he sought the help of Clint Antony, a student of graphic designing who was also into freelancing. Clint stayed with him ever since and Abin recently honoured him with a Mercedes-Benz. Soji Jose, a programmer, and two of his classmates – Vinod and Bharat – joined Abin during the freelancing days.
From Chennai to Thrissur
After he completed his B.Tech, Abin wanted to find a space in Kochi Infopark but the authorities turned him away as they were apprehensive of the prospects of a mere studentpreneur. He then found a supporter in Girish Babu, the then CEO of Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram. The technocrat who was impressed with Abin’s works offered him a conference room at Infopark, Thrissur to start his venture. Webandcrafts started functioning from the Infopark campus on May 22, 2012.
Not everything was easy for the new company in the initial years. There were months Abin struggled to meet both ends. His father’s mounting debts also added to his woes. However, better days were ahead as the company’s works spoke for it and major clients came onboard. Abin credits Jilu for bringing in financial discipline in the company.
Having started as a web designing platform, the company now provides various services such as custom-made mobility solutions, e-commerce development, web and mobile applications and dynamic digital marketing strategies for around 650 clients spanning across the globe, including Asia, the Middle East and Northern and Southern parts of America. WaC has offered its services in different industries including hospitality, education, finance, retail, real estate and is associated with many of the most globally recognised Fortune 500 companies like IKEA and industry giants like Lulu, Joy Alukkas, Federal Bank, Geojith, Synthite and KSFE.
Abin gained global recognition when the then US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker mentioned his achievements at ICANN's 51st Public Meeting held in Los Angeles in 2014. He was listed as the most promising entrepreneur in Small Big BANG, a book published about the top 30 diehard entrepreneurs by IIMs.
His Biz Wisdom
Abin’s tendency to walk away from the norms of the day is visible in his approach to business also. He had investors coming his way, but he chose to stay independent. He wants his company to sustain on its own revenue unlike his peers in the startup spectrum many of who are often after big funding. He is proud to say that he has never gone after a client. Orders came because of the company’s track record for which he thanks his team. With the current pace of the company’s growth, Abin hopes to recruit over a 100 people in the coming few months.