Start of the Product Journey – Shoaib Ahmed, Tally Solutions(Part 1 of 3)

Shoaib Ahmed, President of Tally Solutions, began his career as a retail
software developer in the early 90s. Formerly the Founder-Director of Vedha
Automations Pvt.Ltd, Mr. Ahmed was responsible for developing Shoper, a
market-leading retail business solution — and the first of its kind in India to
bring in barcoding to the retail space. The company was acquired by Tally
Solutions in 2005, where Shoper merged with the Tally platform to offer a
complete enterprise retail software suite. In the first of a three-part series, Mr.
Ahmed talks about how and why he decided to develop a software product for
the retail space.

What was it like to develop a software product way back in the late
80’s – early 90’s? Would you say it required a lot of guts?

Well, at that point of time I think you could say we were a little mad! Back then there was
no money, there was nobody willing to fund us – there was hardly anyone even using a
computer. You need guts when you have clarity or visibility of a situation, but we didn’t
have that. For example, when Shoper was still in a nascent stage, we implemented it for
a retail customer with five stores. Now, we had to automate a manual system: this meant
taking each item, entering its details into the software, printing out a sticker and sticking
that on to the item – essentially counting each item twice. What we hadn’t bargained for
was that there were nearly 10,000 items in the store! We had no idea how long it would take, but we pulled it off despite facing some major hardware hurdles along the way.

To give you an example of the level of innovation employed, another customer wanted
barcoding at the POS stage — something which hadn’t been done in India before. So
then we found ourselves having to reverse engineer a dot matrix printer into printing out
a barcode with zero information (since there was no internet) and then using scanners
(located and bought in Hong Kong) to work with dot matrix printouts of 15,000-20,000
items in the store. So you need to be crazy because you’re often going to be working in

What was the rationale behind choosing to develop a product for the
retail space?

We felt that there was a clear opportunity for material inventory management. Perhaps its
because we also come from a community of retailers in Bangalore, so there was a natural
orientation towards the retail space. Without a system in place or a method of working,
inefficiencies are numerous. In hindsight, working with some of our larger clients who had
eight-ten stores each gave us a sense of what it takes to run a retail chain back in 1993.

Tell us about the talent involved in helping you develop this retail
software product.

I believe that the excitement of the product domain is the driving force. It’s the fact that you
can make an impact. I can tell you that guys who came in didn’t join us because they were
salary-driven. There’s this thrill that accompanies the thought of your product being used
by different people, and you’re not directly involved in the implementation. As a product
company, you are not in front of the customer: it’s possible that the customer himself using
the product or there’s a third-party who is installing or implementing the product. That’s the
big kick which acts as a motivating force.

Interview Cont’d  (Part 2 of 3)