How a Kolkata Youngster Built a Rs 100 Crore Turnover Company By Selling Insurance
Selling insurance is known to be tough work – it’s neither easy nor pleasant to convince people to buy policies and the returns often don’t compensate for the hard work one puts in.
A young entrepreneur has changed this image of the insurance sector by turning out a 100-crore company that started from scratch just a decade ago.
Rahul Agarwal, founder and CEO of Kolkata-based Ideal Insurance Brokers Pvt Ltd, was just 23 when he started his insurance company in 2005 and today he counts several prestigious companies among his clients, including Meru Cabs, Linc Pens and Wadhwa builders.
Starting from a small cabin in his father’s office, Rahul shifted to his four-storey 6,000 sq ft office in Townshend Road in November 2015. He invested Rs 5 lakh in 2005 and, in 2016-17 the company’s turnover crossed Rs 100 crore, with 35,000 clients.
His company now has 170 staff members across the country and sells around 40,000-50,000 policies every year.
Born on 10 June, 1981 in Kolkata, Rahul is the eldest of three siblings, and has a younger brother and a sister. His father Raj Kumar Agarwal was an employee at a private firm and his mother Sudha Agarwal, a housewife. He finished class 10 from Abhinav Bharati High School and his graduation from St Xavier’s.
Rahul grew up in a regular middle-class set-up – however, his family became virtually bankrupt in the Ketan Mehta share market scam in 2001, as his father had become involved in share broking in the early 1990s, and lost money when the scam broke out.
“It was the worst phase of our lives,” recalls Rahul. “My father suffered losses to the tune of several lakhs, but he managed to pay off all the debts.”
Rahul joined Max New York Life Insurance in 2001. “The reason for joining the private insurance company was to add to the family’s income and also gain some knowledge before moving to the US to do my MBA,” he says. “I thought it could be helpful to acquire work experience in the insurance sector. I joined as an agent advisor, responsible for selling policies. My payment was on commission-basis.”
However, Rahul did so well at work that he became the youngest Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) member by earning Rs 4 lakh within four months of joining the company. This, with no prior knowledge about insurance work.
He also completed his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from 1999-2001 and became the youngest CFA in the country.
Rahul quit the company in mid-2002 but never went to the US for that MBA. “Max Life sent me to the US to attend an event in 2002, as I was the youngest MDRT,” says Rahul. “The rosy picture I had about the US changed and I didn’t like the country. I returned vowing not to go there for higher studies.”
He did his MBA from SP Jain Institute in Mumbai instead, from 2003-2005, at a course fee of around Rs 6 lakh that was funded by his father.
While doing the MBA in Mumbai, he explored business ideas as he wanted to start out on his own rather than look for a job.
Soon after returning to Kolkata, he started Ideal Insurance Brokers. He invested Rs 5 lakh that his father, who had got into the property business by then, gave him.
“I started my office from a small cabin of 100 sq ft at my father’s office in the city, at a rent of Rs 10,000. I had one employee to look after the accounts.”
Getting the broker license to start the company was the first hurdle, as there were a lot of formalities to be completed to get the permission to practice from the government. Eventually, he got the license in August 2005.
Ideal Insurance Brokers was launched on 16 September, 2005. “I used to go from one company to another, meeting people and convincing them to buy policies that were best suited for them,” says Rahul. “Insurance is a hard job and it was even tougher to sell policies by a new company. I used to walk for miles…”
He started as a consultant for life, health and motor insurance. “My experience with Max Life helped me a bit,” he says, “and in the first year we did a business of around Rs 40 lakh.”
In 2006-07, the turnover jumped to around Rs 1 crore and by 2009 Rahul shifted to his new office in Hungerford Street, around 2000 sq ft, at a rent of around Rs 1.5 lakh per month. He opened another branch of the company in Mumbai that year and got a small office at Andheri East at a monthly rent of Rs 20,000. He hired a local team to run the Mumbai office.
The turnover reached Rs 23 crore in 2011 with around 7,000 clients and offices in Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi NCR.
His aim is to turn his company into Rs 500-crore venture by 2020. “We have been consistently growing at an average rate of more than 30% over the last 10 years,” Rahul says. “The plan is to become one of the Top 5 brokers of the country by 2020.”
In 2017, the company also launched its online platform, www.121policy.com. The online platform will consult on health insurance to begin with and gradually add motor, life and other products. The company recently raised an undisclosed amount from Xelpmoc, a technology incubator.
Rahul is a frequent speaker at some of India’s top management colleges like IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Calcutta and ISB Hyderabad. “They ask me about the challenges of entrepreneurship,” says Rahul. “I try to help with advice on work-life balance and also about exits, when and how should they make an exit.”
His siblings, Shweta Agarwal and Amit Agarwal, assist Rahul in the business now, while his wife Priyanka is a homemaker. They have a five-year-old daughter, Siya.
Rahul has won recognition for his work, including Bengal Entrepreneurship Recognition by BCC&I in 2015 and ICICI Lombard Certificate of Excellence in 2015-2016. He is an active angel investor and belongs to the Calcutta Angels Network.
Rahul also does CSR activities such as organising blood donation drives, donating to old age homes, and distributing clothes among the poor.
His message to the young generation: “Think long-term, be focused in your approach, take a little risk, and think big to attain success.”
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