That was also the year Karwal took the entrepreneurial plunge, setting up Milagrow, to support growth seeking small and medium enterprises. He entered robotics in 2011 when he wanted to build a business that had little competition and that could last at least a century.
The brand found a new lease of life in the facility management space, in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Automated solutions have come into limelight once again and Milagrow’s array of 20 different types of robots including four humanoid robots – RoboDiCaprio, Robo Julia, RoboNano and RoboElf has started gaining traction.
Karwal was able to identify the potential in robotics at a point when research in top metros and Tier I cities revealed the need for consumer-centric industrial products. “Consumer electronics – from TVs to mobile phones and now IoT – the market was dominated by too many brands. I didn’t have deep pockets to compete with well-entrenched global brands. But I also wanted to be in the marathon, not a sprint. My aim was to be in a segment devoid of brand clutter, where I could pursue my dream to be a long-term player with no sell-out plans,” Karwal told DTNext.
In 2011, Karwal entered into AI Robotics, where iRobot, a US company was present. Data showed the business potential for service and commercial robots on the back of double-income families, societal dynamics and the spawning of multi-storied complexes. The product portfolio then expanded to meet housewives’ demand for back-ache relievers – with a robotic massager. This drew Milagrow into an Israeli collaboration, for a crowd-funded product ‘Wheeme 2020’ that was launched in May this year.
Demonetisation and GST came as a double whammy for Milagrow, which made Karwal almost give up his business plans. “In 2016, the DeMon happened which meant our cash on delivery model suffered hugely – 50 per cent decline in sales. Before we could recover, the GST with 28 per cent tax on our category was introduced. I was disillusioned in the absence of a clear policy for robotics industry. The response towards automation was also discouraging and I even thought of closing down. But product business is not easy to wind up as it comes with warranty and service aspects,” recalled the leader, who left the business in an idle state.
But, Karwal said he got his ‘mojo’ back last year. An analysis showed 45 per cent of his customers were repeat orders. Also, 25 pc of demand for some robots were from senior citizens. “A brand like Maruti despite the onslaught of foreign brands has survived with 50 per cent market share. This and other brand custodians gave me enough strength to persist,” he said, explaining the rationale of targeting hospitality segment. Milagrow met success with its pool cleaning ‘RoboPhelps’ as it added 300 marquee hotels in its kitty.
An upbeat Karwal said last year’s entire year volume has been achieved in July 2020. “We are confident of selling one lakh units this year and the overall market is to increase 200 per cent,” he said, adding it is ready to launch a low-end floor cleaning product for Rs 20,000 in August first week, apart from gearing up to deploy robots for educational purposes, airports, museum and exhibitions. It is also looking at alternative sourcing strategy with supply chain disruptions causing uncertainty during the pandemic.