It was the experience he gained in running the Indian operations of a multinational IT company that was into outsourcing and business process management that gave him the idea for his venture. On his return to India in 2003 after stints abroad, Murali Vullaganti, as Xansa India’s Managing Director, was responsible for setting up centres in Chennai, Noida and Pune. He was recruiting graduates, including from small towns and villages in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The rationale

Those recruited from rural areas had to be trained and employed in centres in the cities. Their salary would be much higher than what they would have earned if they continued to remain in their villages, but it was still not enough for them to save and send money to their families. “Neither were they benefiting nor were the families getting anything,” says Murali.

“That is when it occurred to me that if these people are given the required training and if they can do the job, then why bring them to the cities. Why don’t we take the jobs to the rural areas and set up centres and employ them there,” says 54-year-old Murali, a Master’s in Maths from IIT-Kharagpur and an M.Tech in Computer Science from BITS-Pilani, explaining the rationale behind RuralShores Business Services, the business process outsourcing venture that he launched.

Murali worked in the US and Singapore for about 20 years, in various companies, the last of which was EDS. He returned to India and joined Xansa, which he quit in 2006 and started working on the concept of a rural business process outsourcing business. Murali and five friends kicked off the business in 2008 with a seed capital of ₹1 crore. The first centre started functioning in February 2009 from Bagepalli, about 100 km from Bangalore.

The idea, according to Murali, was to have 500 centres, one in each rural district in the country. Each centre would employ about 200 people. The 500 centres were to come up in 10-15 years; now, RuralShores will achieve this goal by 2025, five years later than envisaged. Today, it has 19 centres in 10 States, employing over 2,000 people and delivering over 45 processes to more than 30 blue chip clients. RuralShores has centres in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab. By March 2015, it will have 27 centres and almost 4,000 employees, with probably Kerala and Meghalaya added to the list.

Murali acknowledges that the initial years were difficult as the market was sceptical of outsourcing their business process work to rural areas, even though the promoters of RuralShores had a credible track record. “When you go to the market, they have their own doubts about the quality of work, the data confidentiality and technology, availability of power. It took us almost three-and-a-half years to convince the market that this is possible.” RuralShores’ first client was Payback, which runs a loyalty card programme, and the first process it handled for it was e-mail correspondence.

Expanding clients list

Murali admits that getting the first few clients was difficult, but that is where his standing in the industry and that of his co-founders as well as the network all of them had built came in handy.

“In any business, the first few clients will come only based on trust, the trust they have in you and the confidence in your ability to deliver. Same thing happened here,” he says. Today, RuralShores has banks, telcos, retail players and insurance players as its clients. The work it handles includes internal processes that covers financial and accounting, like accounts payable, accounts receivable, vendor payment, invoice indexing and HR-related processes; insurance claims processing or new policy enrolment; new account enrolment or loan origination processing for banks; sales tracking process and customer help desk for retail players.”

It has raised ₹40 crore so far from HDFC Ltd and Lok Capital, an impact investment venture capital firm. It may raise more money depending on growth plans.