Kent RO’s launch in the late 90s was a period when the water purifier market in India was hardly even in existence. This is when Mahesh Gupta, founder of Kent RO Systems Ltd, stumbled into the water purifier industry and revolutionised it within a few years.
When his children had jaundice, Gupta realised that drinking water was the culprit for many dangerous diseases. “I started researching and found that only UV water purifiers were available in the market. UV does not remove the particles dissolved in water. After extensive research I figured out that the process of reverse osmosis (RO) could tackle the problem. I decided to design a purifier for my own house and imported few components like the membrane and a pump from the US,” says Gupta. It took Gupta about three months, but the result of his design was very good, “It struck me that what is good for me would be good for everyone else in the country. The idea of Kent RO was born,” says Gupta.
Gupta graduated from IIT Kanpur in 1975 and subsequently joined the Indian Institute of Petroleum in Dehradun. Passing out in 1977 he joined Indian Oil Corporation as an engineer and worked on the conservation of fuel.
In 1988 Gupta figured out that he wanted to do something on his own. “I wanted to start a business which could work in the conservation of oil. I started a company called SS Engineering, which developed products to save oil. Investing Rs 20,000 from my personal savings I started the business from my backyard,” says Gupta.
Gupta’s second business was more by accident after his children fell ill. “Spurred by the product I had designed for my house, I decided to manufacture and market it to consumers and get into the water purification business. People called me crazy since the cost of these purifiers was so high that it was a given that no one would buy it. A purifier came for about Rs 20,000 while a gravity purifier was available for a maximum of Rs 4000,” says Gupta.
However, there were some who bought the product and the feedback Gupta got was very positive. Having said that, the first month Gupta hardly sold two units and the first year of operations Kent hardly did a few lakh in sales. The going was much tougher than he had anticipated it to be.
Watch: My Big Plunge featuring Kent RO founder Mahesh Gupta
“Capital was not available, that is why my journey was very slow,” says Gupta. Once the product and company were ready for launch, he then faced competition from established international brands, which they outbid on the basis of the technology being used.
By 2006 Gupta realized that to make the product work he needed to get serious about advertising and marketing. “We needed a well known, popular star, and a mother to advertise and we zeroed in on Hema Malini for the same. By that year we expanded to other metros and mass media campaign had worked. The entire country started to know Kent as a brand and we clocked revenues of Rs. 30 crore that year,” says Gupta.
Since those early days, Gupta and Kent RO has grown across the healthcare and wellbeing space. From a small garage with a self-made, self-serving product, they now have an array of Ozone-based food and air purifiers. Kent RO also has three state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in Roorki, Uttarakhand and a fourth coming up in Greater Noida. The company currently exports products to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Nepal and recently entered GCC Market. They are planning to double exports in the next two years.
With an entrepreneurial journey that started in the 80’s Dr. Gupta has certainly had his fair share of challenges. “Even now things are not so rosy. Any entrepreneur coming forward must understand that he has to face difficult times because within the bureaucracy, things do not move very easily.” Gupta adds that life is not easy for a businessman owing to a lack of trust from governments. “Governments always feel businessmen are not honest and they are not paying their dues properly,” says Gupta.
While he does sympathise with the reality of drinking water conditions in India, Gupta says that the unlikeliness of it improving is also an opportunity for Kent RO to grow. For the last six years, the company has been growing at a rate of 15% and hope to clock a turnover of about Rs 850 crore this year.