Interview with Online Productivity Solutions’ Ricky Noronha

In 1995, three visionaries decided to undertake a path-breaking journey, setting up one of Goa’s first IT startup. Today, Online Productivity Solutions Private Limited has come a long way to complete its 20th anniversary and to become a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and a listed Linux, MariaDB and PostgreSQL consulting company. We sat down to have a chat with Ricky Noronha, one of the trailblazers behind OPSPL.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes you tick and why did you pick the IT sector?
I’m originally a mechanical engineer, and a damned good one if I may say so myself. I still dabble in it as a hobby. But years ago, I got a chance to move to IT, 1997 to be precise and haven’t looked back since. It seemed a nice, new and exciting field at that time. The PC was just making an entrance into the IT scene and computers were moving from the lab to the desktop.
How did this 20-year eventful journey begin?
For the first few years of my IT Career, I was in training. I headed the NIIT Goa Centres set-up at the height of the IT Education boom in India and I trained a lot of capable Goan youth. The one complaint I always heard from them was, “there are no jobs” for us in Goa!

The other directors in the company too were also involved in training and felt the same way. We were friends and felt we had to do something in Goa for Goa and Goans. Even way-back-then, with just a handful of trained IT professionals it seemed silly to have all IT professionals leave Goa in search of jobs and then come-back to Goa, hired by and posted here by Pune and Delhi Companies – that’d employed them.
Till date, we’re the only company in Goa that will prefer to take-on smart and enthusiastic freshers. We never ask for the “2/3/5 years experience that most of the other -not originally-Goan-but-based-in-Goa companies here do”. We’ve given the largest number of freshers a launch-pad for their careers, in Goa and globally – with some of those starting with us holding senior positions in even Microsoft!

Share with us what your company does and who you work with?
We do total IT solutions both bespoke or custom solutions in the UK and the USA respectively. We’re currently partnered and doing development work on different platforms for clients in Australia, the Gulf, Europe and Canada.

I work with two other directors – and 85+ enthusiastic Goan IT professionals, 95% of whom started with us as freshers and 100% of whom are GOAN! Beat that!
What was the most difficult moment for your company?
Everything we did was difficult. Being one of the first – we had to educate most people along-the-way. Blaze a trail, create the path, go where no one has gone before!

From getting an SSI registration in 1998 – when the department (then of Industries and mines) told us – how can we register your company as an SSI? You’ll have no raw material requirement, no fixed process, no production machinery and no tangible finished product! So we finally convinced them to register us under the SSSBE (Small Scale Service and Business Enterprise) – a somewhat indeterminate category reserved for companies that no one was sure what exactly they were doing.

Looking back, what is the most memorable moment in the life of your endeavour?
Being able to provide jobs to Goans. In Goa doing world-class IT stuff! For global clients!

Seeing fresh IT graduates join-up, learn the ropes, excel at what they do, learn, earn, travel abroad, meet and marry each other in the Company, start families — All the while, knowing that we provide stable, secure and enjoyable work and work-atmosphere, along with a good pay package and world-standard work and working hours – In Goa. We are also one of the few 100% Goan companies that works a 5-day week!

As some would say – one hasn’t really lived – if one hasn’t made a difference … We have – as individuals and as a company.

What are your thoughts on the present IT scenario in the state?
From the entrepreneurial and technological point of view good. There’s a lot of new start-ups and people doing good “tech stuff”. It makes for a vibrant industry with a lot of scope for qualified freshers to get jobs in the preferred areas. Or even for folk to return to Goa and set-up here/

From the government and state perspective things are dismal. The government and the department of IT really hasn’t a clue. Apart from trying to sell real estate to the highest bidder “in the name of IT parks and offering sops to go with it” they aren’t really doing much else. And really aren’t interested in promoting IT – which is the worst thing.

As I often tell people, we have started and flourished as a company – not due to any encouragement from the government. In fact and it is sad to say, we have reached where we are in spite of the government.

I have a letter from the then chief minister Manohar Parrikar saying he would look into any incentives, etc. that we could be eligible for. This was 10 years ago. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.

We were registered as one of the first IT solutions companies with the STPAG (Software Technology Parks Authority of Goa – part of DOIT) – as far back as 2000. When we contacted them in 2007 to change our office address from Porvorim to our own premises in Verna, they very sweetly informed us that they’d lost all the old files – and have no record of our registration (even when we forwarded them a copy of their STPAG Registration certificate that we had) – and Sorry, but we would have to re-register all-over-again!

What are the top three challenges that ail the local IT sector? Any advice?
Be the best at what you do. Mediocre work doesn’t garner any respect. If it’s a choice between making a profit while doing a mediocre job and making a loss and doing a great job, choose the latter. The profits will come-in.

For the first 10+ years of our existence – we were a loss making company and at times even had difficulties paying staff salaries. We’ve come through all of that now. Thanks to our single-minded determination to “Do the best job possible” above all else!

We started with just enough money to print a set of company visiting cards and letterheads to give proposals to corporates. We worked for the first two years from a friend’s office in Margao. They were kind enough to take messages for us.

All three company directors come from a non-entrepreneurial background. It was a huge risk we were taking and we knew it. Today 100% of the work we do is by word of mouth and recommendations from existing clients.