Dhiren Harchandani is a self-confessed serial entrepreneur. Having spent years advising some of the world’s most powerful companies and organisations across the globe, he decided to bite the bullet and go it alone.
He is CEO of Latitude Systems, a leading global provider of advanced technology solutions, as well as the regional distributor of innovative playground equipment Imagination Playground and now spearheads ZenBoxed smart lockers, the businessman is qualified beyond his years.
Yet ironically, even after 10 years running numerous highly-successful enterprises in the UAE, Harchandani is still realistic when it comes to business longevity.
“It’s a bit like jumping off a cliff and figuring out how to build a plane before you hit the ground,” he laughed. “You’re dead by default in business – the odds are stacked against you. It’s extremely difficult. However, once you figure out what your passion is and if you’re driven by the right objective you increase the probability of success.”
Harchandani launched Latitude Systems a decade ago with his business partner at the time and in 2008, the group was awarded Silver Certification by Cisco for networking competency, service, support and customer satisfaction. Today, the company employs 75 staff and caters to thousands of clients across the Middle East.
ZenBoxed is Harchandani’s latest venture and is certainly keeping things moving for the entrepreneur. It’s an all-encompassing personal ‘errand-runner’ with more than 30 locations around the city and 20 more about to come online.
Essentially, a ZenBox is a smart locker in a residential or commercial building that can be used to drop off laundry, packages, dry cleaning, shoes for shining or items to be tailored.
“We’ve all been in the situation in the UAE when a courier company calls and says your package will be delivered between 9am-2pm or 10am-5pm. It’s very inconvenient. Errands are challenging with parking and the weather.”
So Harchandani came up with a solution to consolidate the pain of delivery, drop off and running basic errands. He believes his businesses have, for the most part, followed the general cycle the economic world has experienced globally in the last 10 years.
“In 2006 we grew 50-70%, year on year, until 2008 when things grounded to a halt,” he said. “From 2008-2011 we didn’t see much growth at all.” But by 2012 he recalls a light at the end of a pretty daunting tunnel. “Things started to show signs of change and we saw anything between 15% and 20% growth from 2012 until today. That’s been encouraging.”
As they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing and Harchandani is quick to admit starting and running a business has been far from faultless on his part.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “It’s very important to identify the right partner. Just like making a decision about a partner or companion outside the boardroom, it’s just as important to join forces with the right person in business.”
Whether partner, adviser, banker or staff, Harchandani truly believes the building blocks for a successful business rely heavily on concrete relationships.
People are key
The caliber of his staff is his “golden rule”: it’s the key to where business begins and ends, he said. “I had the benefit of consulting for a wide range of different entities from Fortune 500 companies to small start-ups,” he said. “I saw the Fortune 500 companies did something very different in terms of induction and onboarding. It was rigorous and it really gave them a better advantage in the short- and long-term. I took a lot of that knowledge and implemented it in the companies I have started.”
From day one, Harchandani made sure he employed the right people for the job and provided the correct training along the way. “As humans we don’t see ourselves for what we actually are – especially entrepreneurs,” he said.
“There’s this misconception [that] entrepreneurs are superheroes, or have to be. Many believe they should be able to do everything.” Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the Dubai-based businessman.
“Understand your competences, identify your weaknesses and plug the gap very quickly. It’s about knowing and accepting your own ‘source code’.”
In order to operate a successful enterprise, experts are required, Harchandani quickly adds, describing the process as a war for talent.
“The biggest challenge we face is making sure we bring in the right people and we consistently manage and make sure that our culture embodies the organization we want to be perceived as,” he said.
At Latitude, staff undergo a fairly rigorous recruitment process in order to make sure they are suitable for the job. It’s interview after interview and it’s tough but necessary, according to the boss who adds he’s looking for people not only to complement but also enhance what’s already in place.
“Our onboarding process can last anything up to three weeks and identifies how people perform in a practical environment. It’s much more than just an interview.”
Follow Harchandani’s advice and budding entrepreneurs will ensure the first five hires are on point. “These guys are absolutely crucial. You cannot make any mistakes. Further down the line we can train, but in the early days, time is key.”
Technology at heart of innovation
Latitude Systems assimilates products and services into high-performance turnkey solutions that then help clients drive technology as a strategic business asset. The world of computer systems, network infrastructure, unified communications, security, disaster recovery, data and call center solutions, enterprise software and maintenance are all explored in order to improve working processes and output. The first office was set up in Dubai in 2005 and operations have since expanded to Oman and India.
With inventor and businessman Thomas Edison’s wise words, “ideas without execution is hallucination”, inscribed deep in his mind, Harchandani has set his sights high.
“Either you’re an innovator and you think of new ideas, evangelize and create a new market, or you create something for an existing market,” he said. “But if you choose the latter, you better be good at execution.” The advice just keeps coming.
“Always keep momentum; try and grow. Have a relentless focus on the client. Everything begins and ends with them. I would rather have 10 clients who love us than 100 who just like us.”