Chetan Saligram talks about his company Thought World — which brings services and customers together, and what keeps his dream on track
Chetan Saligram came to Australia back in 2001, an international student with an ambition to do well in life. Today, that dream has changed. Now, what he feels good about doing is providing employment opportunities to people.
His company — Thought World— employs more than 100 people in Melbourne. “What I do is not unique. This model has been tried elsewhere,” he says of his business which brings together various services like energy, telecommunications etc – and offers customers the best deal when it comes to paying a bill.
It was trialled in the UK initially where it was a great success. “The concept is not mine. I started initially as a call centre,” says Chetan, whose business has grown since then and today, he has partnerships with about 80 per cent of retailers of energy and telecommunication.
“From a customer’s point of view, they can come online or speak to us and save on bills in any household. The service that we provide is free,” he says.
From a clients’ point of view, his company’s staff can get in touch with about 25,000 customers through various means. It’s a partnership that works for everyone.
He focussed on SMEs initially. These were the people who were busy running their own business and did not have time to compare bills and chase up companies to make sure they were getting the right deal.
He feels that his company is better value for money than a lot of others in the market because he gives a fair deal to the customers. Many companies that offer this service push one company or another. “Many don’t give the right service. We work with all companies and no one gets preferential treatment.”
He says that he feels good about his job for a number of reasons. Mainly it’s the fact that he is offering a very real service to the customer. “If a customer spends 10 minutes with us, he/she can save anywhere from $400 to $3000 a year. If they are in a contract, we pay them to get out of it,” he says.
“We deal with customers all over Australia,” says Chetan, saying that as a generic industry, he is able to approach everyone. This is important when it comes to scalability. It’s the bane of the small business owner. How to expand without stretching oneself too thin.
Chetan has probably learnt something from the time he spent in India from 2002 till 2008 when he returned to Australia for good. “I was employed by an Australian company but working from India.” He says that while he started as a call centre, he found that the more he dealt with SMEs, the more he learnt and that is how Thought World came about.
Eelctricity companies are one of their biggest customers. “We sign up about 70,000 customers a year and we contact more than 25,000 a day in various ways,” he says.
They work through what is known as synergy deals with a number of companies. “We promote through homesales.com.au,” says Chetan, naming one of his many partners.
He says that while his foundations are strong, he also focuses on the smaller details. “We reach out in a fashion that is affable. We have language support. There are staff here that speak Italian, Greek, French and Chinese along with others that speak a number of Indian languages. This way we are able to reach out to the older Australians as well,” says Chetan.
These are important factors in running his business successfully.
Chetan is in a unique position to gauge the differences of doing business here in Australia as well as in India because he split time between the two countries between 2001 and 2008. He says that the biggest difference is seen in setting up and expansion.
“I feel that it’s so easy to set up a business here in Australia. In two minutes, your paperwork is done and you are ready to go. However, expansion is a problem due to labour, compliance issues and regulations. In India, it’s the other way. It’s so hard to set up a business but then expansion is easy.”
While building the company and its success makes him happy, he says what gives him the greatest satisfaction is being able to help others. “When I came here (as a student), I had to look for a job and it was very hard. Today, I’m in a position to give students like that a start. I am able to provide job opportunities for them and that is a great feeling. That is my ambition now – to help people like that.”