Among the many partnerships that Flipkart has forged over the last 10 years, one has been vital to its very existence. In 2007, the year that Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal started up Flipkart, a genial gentleman named S M Fathaulla gave the Bengaluru-based startup the proverbial roof over its head. In the quiet residential neighborhood of Koramangala 4th Block, the Flipkart founders moved into the first floor of a modest two-storied building. The apartment has typical Bengaluru coordinates — #447-C 1st A Cross 12th Main — and it became the business address that would define Flipkart’s future.
Listen to this special Studio34 podcast in which S M Fathaulla narrates how he met Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal
Fathaulla began constructing the house in 1989, when Bengaluru had still not shaken off its reputation as a pensioner’s paradise. “During this era, Koramangala was a mosquito-infested village and was considered unlivable,” narrates the silver-haired gentleman. “The Koramangala tank had buffaloes basking in the sun. The roads were clean and broad. Owing to the minimal traffic during those days, I taught my wife and children how to ride bikes. The word ‘pollution’ was non-existent in the 1990s. Job opportunities were limited and scarce, but the city soon saw a wave of change.”
How #447-C became Flipkart’s business address
After a brief stint as colleagues in Bengaluru, Sachin and Binny were motivated to build a company that understood the specific demands of the Indian customer. The duo, who had met as students at IIT-Delhi in 2005, began their search for a workplace that was both affordable and in an accessible location. A broker introduced them to Mr Fathaulla, who retired as the director of a public sector department for the Government of Karnataka.
“In 2007, I saw two young men — Sachin and Binny — escorted by a broker,” recollects Mr Fathaulla. “They came on a Hero Honda motorcycle in search of a place to start their company. My wife was skeptical about handing over the first floor of our house (#447) to two youngsters because we had no clue about their background or any other information except that they were from Chandigarh. My wife suspiciously asked them if they would pay the rent on time and Sachin promised that they would keep their word. It’s been 10 years and their payment has been as regular as clockwork, and I’ve had no issues whatsoever. Initially, Sachin would personally hand over the cheque. Subsequently, as Flipkart grew by leaps and bounds, Sachin got busy and somebody else does that chore.”
Today, Koramangala is one of the most coveted residential destinations in Bengaluru. It is not only a posh residential neighborhood but a major commercial hub, too. Infosys, the information technology bellwether, opened its first office here in the 1980s. When the dotcom revolution took off in the latter part of the 1990s, Koramangala housed a number of companies including Microland and Indya.com. In this decade, too, a number of startups have taken flight from here — Ola, Zipdial, Swiggy, HackerEarth, FreshMenu and Big Basket are some of the familiar names. From a swamp to startup-churning machine, Koramangala has transformed into a business district for Bengaluru. Even as traffic clogs the roads and pollution chokes the lungs, Mr Fathaulla reflects meditatively on the change.
“I personally feel that things have changed to a certain extent for the better in Bengaluru,” asserts Mr Fathaulla, adding that development comes at a cost and necessitates sacrifices. “Today, Koramangala has developed, the city has developed commercially and culturally. I have always supported youngsters who have a vision for something big. In 2005, I had rented out the first floor at a very reasonable price to a youngster named Anand who did very well in the recruitment business. In 2007, the same place was rented out to Sachin and Binny. I always wanted to promote youngsters who would do something viable for the society, for the city and ultimately for the country. And these two men have done very well.”
Lady Luck lives at #447-C: Fathaulla
Today, Flipkart has multiple offices in Bengaluru and in India. That said, it has not relinquished #447-C, which remains open for business. If one were to visit the office today, the main door has a sticker of the old Flipkart logo. For Sachin and Binny, #447-C is more than an office. It was a launchpad of innovation that changed the face of Indian e-commerce. It still retains a touch of nostalgia and sentimental charm, and it evokes fond memories for the first Flipsters.
When Flipkart grew in stature, Sachin offered to buy the house, reveals the eloquent 70-year-old Bangalorean. “My wife and I told them that #447 has been a lucky charm and if we were to ever sell this house, you will be the first to take charge. When I was in Canada, I read the markets were down and during that time, Flipkart was one of the few companies which held its head above the water. My family has done well and so has Flipkart. Perhaps, it’s the work of Lady Luck residing inside #447!”
Mr Fathaulla strongly urges landlords who are hesitant about renting out properties to entrepreneurial youngsters to be a little more open-minded about it. It is his conviction, he says, that the youth play a significant role in bringing a positive change. Fledgling startups can’t afford the high rent at huge tech parks and hence, resort to working out of residential properties. Starting up from #447 paved the way for Flipkart to become an e-commerce leader in India.
“I wish Flipkart employs more youngsters and I earnestly pray that Sachin, Binny and Flipkart grow together and reach greater heights. God bless Flipkart and God bless them both,” says Mr Fathaulla with a warm smile.
Photographs by Arjun Paul
With inputs from Benedict Gershom
Studio34 podcast recorded by Anand Vijayasimha