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How I Did It

U.K. Gupta, Holostik India

Being a pioneer, U.K. Gupta takes great pride in having introduced holographic images for brand protection in India.

As told to Pooja Kothari

How I Did It

Photograph by Subhojit Paul

UK Gupta has tried his hand at many businesses—from plastic bags and
water tanks to steel warehousing and real estate. But his most famous achievement
has been to the hologram industry in India. Not only did he introduce the technology to
firms in the country through Holostik India, his nearly two decade old company, but he
also encouraged localisation in the form of locally-made machines and raw material.
With seven companies and 800 people in the group, and his two sons shouldering
the burden of the Rs 82 crore business, Gupta is now looking forward to
hitting Rs 300 crore in turnover—and getting a public listing in the
next three years.

I was born and brought up in Dhampur in Uttar Pradesh. My father was a freedom fighter, who turned to business—instead of politics—once India became free. I am one of four boys, and all of us are involved in business in some way.

I did my graduation and post-graduation in management from the Benares Hindu University. Once I completed my education in 1977, my father decided that I should not join my older brother in running the family business. He thought it best that each of us started a venture of our own, so that the cyclical ups and downs of a particular sector did not affect the overall fortunes of the family.

So, I moved to Delhi to join my other brother, who was studying to be a doctor. My father gave me Rs 2 lakh at that time to help me start up. I collected information on industries that I could get into. There were reports from government departments that were freely available. I was looking for industries that were village-based. IPCL was starting a new plant and getting into polymers. So, I decided to start a venture under its seed programme to manufacture polypropelene, which was a new product then. My small-scale project was inaugurated in the winter of 1978.

Over the next couple of years, I concluded that I must have a few businesses not related to each other, not just one, so that a recession in one would not affect the other. I started manufacturing plastic bags in xx, then I started a sulphur grinding unit in 1982. My third venture was polywell.

I started each of these businesses with limited capital and knowledge. I firmly believe that no business can fail, if you work hard and with passion.

It was in 1991 that I came across holography. I was at an exhibition, and saw a machine that was being fed polythene and something shiny was coming out. I thought that could be quite an attractive packaging material. I hadn't come across holography for brand protection. I didn't have much knowledge about the field, but I was excited at the prospect of starting something that was the first in the country. In each of my ventures, we have been the first in the region, if not the country, to start up. So, we placed an order for that machine.

It was only in the coming months that I was to realise how expensive a product a hologram is. Mastering, which involves creation of plates for embossing, is the most important part of the process of creating a hologram. It is done with laser and without any ink. Using an etching process, light rays are broken into rainbow colours. The plate is engraved in such a way that it can break light in different ways. This process cost about $8,000 to $9,000 per plate. On top of that, I had to source a 'master' from the United States, where it was used in security. Since people didn't want to sell directly to India, I had to ask a relative of mine in the US to buy them and dispatch them to me.

It was a difficult time for the company. We didn't have the technology. People abroad didn't want to work with companies in India, and no one wanted to buy such an expensive product to pack their goods. It was very difficult to explain what a hologram was.

But, then, that is what it means to be an entrepreneur. You have to welcome difficulties and challenges. That's a basic quality of entrepreneurs.

In 1993, the owner of Kores, the makers of office stationery, such as carbon papers, got in touch with us. It was he who taught us that a hologram is used for brand protection, not as decorative paper. He was using holograms on the inks and toners he was supplying for photocopying machines. And importing a hologram was very costly. There were no fixed machines available anywhere in the world for holography. Moreover, we weren't in a position to import too many machines. We had already invested Rs 1.5 crore into this project, which was a lot of money back then.

Our big break came at the beginning of this decade. TN Seshan was introducing voter identity cards (IDs) into the country, and looking for a way to avoid duplication. Although nothing is impossible in this world, it is quite difficult to duplicate a hologram—and even then, you cannot achieve its exact replica. A 100 countries use holograms in their currency notes.

Seshan knew many companies abroad, but found their price too high at Rs 1.50 per hologram. We approached him and offered to do this at 50 paise a piece. He approved the use of holograms on voter IDs, but not before telling me: 'If you fail in supplies, I'll put you behind bars. Accept this challenge, and I'll give you the order'.

I did. And, the rest, as they say, is history. We supplied holograms on the IDs for 18 states in India. That was a huge turnaround for us. Once it reached the public, and they realised what a hologram is, we started being approached by those from industry. We were accepted as a solution for brand protection.

The second big project for us was the excise departments of state governments. They used our product to keep an eye on revenue from liquor production in their states. For every state, excise revenue from liquor industry is the highest. But there is a lot of theft as well. So, we introduced holograms with a unique serial number for each unit.

Since then, we've come a long way in not just building the business, but in giving shape to the industry in India. We started the Indian association of hologram manufacturers and invited others to it. We've been at the forefront of all innovations, whether in technology or in business practices. I promoted many machine manufacturers in India and helped them make holographic machines locally. We helped kick off the registry of hologram images, so that no one creates the same product, even by mistake.

We have six companies in the group, but I remain hands-on on the hologram business. It needs me to be so. We have to upgrade technology frequently, for which, I have to travel all over the world to look at the latest developments. I especially keep an eye on which technology is going to China—and stay clear of that. I source those that have either not reached China yet, or will take a long time going there.

I have always kept a difference between me and the next player. Whatever technology we brought in, others followed suit. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that we have introduced new technologies and products. I am known as the first one in each and every field that I have started a business in India. I feel proud that I have a big hand in creating the holographic industry in India.

The future looks good. As an industry, we are working to introduce holograms in a big way in the pharmaceutical industry. My own business group is working on developing a roadmap for the coming years. Our ambition is to become a listed company in the next two years and to achieve a turnover of Rs 300 crore, or more—for it is only then that we can get listed.

Personally, my ambition, apart from business, is to set up an old age home—a good quality four- or five-star facility that runs on a no-profit-no-loss basis. It will be for people who are good in technology, and can work as consultants at nominal cost, and share their knowledge with new entrepreneurs at low cost.

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