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The 25 Years Entrepreneurial Journey of RONTEK Systems

The RONTEK Story

The real beginnings

The story of RONTEK actually goes back to when I was a teen.  Friends and relatives know me as ‘Ronny’.  I was interested in music and my first lessons came as a choir boy. My only musical possession back then was a cheap harmonica and a personal cassette player or ‘Walkman’. From the time I could remember, there was always great sounding music at my grandparents’ home, coming out of a DIY HiFi system – a tube amplifier and a loudspeaker made from packing material wood put together by my uncle, that played vinyl records. My uncle George, an ex-Airforce wireless and avionics technician was my inspiration to take up audio electronics as a hobby.

Realising the difference between schooling and education

I studied in a school that would be considered the epitome of the Indian education system. But I was an underachiever for most parts of my academic career. I struggled especially with languages like Hindi and Sanskrit.  They are beautiful languages, but you’ve got to love them to appreciate them. Coming from south of India and having to learn Geography and Social studies initially in Hindi probably destroyed my interest in studies early enough. I wasn’t great at Math or sports either. I was an “outstanding” student (More outside than in the class). Ironically, I was a class topper in electronics and scored a 100 in an International certification exam later on to do with what I loved, Audio and Video. Physics and electronics came to me naturally and I would buy books from the roadside store and experiment with audio circuits. I had to open radios, amplifiers and electronic stuff and figure out things on my own. Much later in life I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to many countries to unlearn, learn, intern and get certified in my field of audio and video integration.

Discovering music, audio electronics and the entrepreneur

When I was at my grandparents’ place, I would try to work on scales by myself with uncle Benny’s guitar.  My dad made me an offer that he would get me a guitar if I came within the first 10 ranks in class.  Both of which didn’t happen then. However during summer vacation, I got my first guitar and joined a class and soon realised that I had a flair for it.  My first performance with just three major chords and a minor was within 10 days of me getting the guitar, to an audience of around 100. 

In about a year, I started to play the harmonica and guitar together with a harmonica brace I fabricated using a steel rod and wooden grips. I then made an electronic drum-beat metronome and found ways to amplify my guitar with a pickup. I had also put together an ampli-speaker to play guitar. 

Next project was to amplify my ‘Walkman’ and so I built a 3-way speaker and a stereo amplifier system. Those days, in known circles, only someone with a rich relative from the Gulf or US would have a proper Hifi at home. But this stuff I put together to amplify a personal cassette player soon caught the attention of a few of my friends. I got requests from two of them to build something similar.  Next, their friends came with similar requests and they were willing to pay me including my profit. That then was my first peek into entrepreneurship, while I was still in college.  I remember printing the brand ‘RONTEK’ made from alphabets peeled off a golden alphabet sticker sheet from a stationary store. 

When I got to college is when I discovered my kind of music:  genres ranging from Country, Rock, Jazz, Surf and Gospel rock.  I would play ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Smoke on the water’ over and over on the Stereo I built.  While it didn’t make any musical sense to folks at home, it was something ‘magical’ I had discovered. The love for music and audio electronics matured and grew well into my college and work days. 

NCC and my childhood dream

I had spent considerable period of my academic life as an Air wing NCC cadet.  It was a para military training that changed my life for-ever.  I had the wonderful opportunity to learn aero-modelling, fly gliders, shoot targets with real guns, para-sailing, rock-climbing and attend para-military and leadership training camps.  This helped me greatly later as an entrepreneur especially during the struggle days.  The qualities of courage, discipline, grit, resilience, determination, adaptation, working with and leading a team are skills that NCC developed in me that helped me survive and lead in an industry I chose for 25 years now. I must have seen ‘Top Gun’ at-least 50 times and I had dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot during my youth days. When this didn’t happen, fortunately I stopped dreaming and quickly picked up my passion instead.

Founding RONTEK

After 6 years of employment in various Power Electronics, IT hardware companies, I had acquired a wide exposure from technical, product management, to Sales and Marketing. I took the plunge at age 27 to start my entrepreneurial journey in 1996 with one employee in a 10’ x 10’ room at my dad’s place with a capital of Rupees twenty thousand that I had saved up. I didn’t spend too much time thinking of a name for the business. ’RONTEK’ it was, although sometimes I have thought, I should have got a little more creative with the name.  Initially I pursued a ‘niche’ need of the market in terms of power electronics and served the telecom and weighing scale industry.  But it was my long-term passion for audio electronics that made me make a swift diversification into audio electronics couple of years later.  Audio products from RONTEK soon found its way to retail and hospitality industry and homes.  Today, even though RONTEK has grown many times over, it has been the passion that has guided the business to newer areas of audio and power electronics.

‘Making in India’ and the Empowered Women of RONTEK

Around 2011 is when we hired a young lady to work for RONTEK  for the first time.  Jastina came from a humble background with a distinction in Electronics. RONTEK at that time had taken a break from manufacturing our own products and was representing other multinational brands as a system integrator. In 2012 we slowly started getting back to the manufacturing business and Jastina took charge of production.  We had around 7 women who worked in the production line at that time.  Between 2013 and 2015 is when we transitioned from being an AV systems integration company back to a manufacturing company.  It was a decision taken from the heart and the price we had to pay initially was dear. Manufacturing in India in a space dominated by big names with manufacturing mostly sourced from China This didn’t look like a fair competition. RONTEK was almost getting bankrupt.

In 2014, Royal Enfield was planning expansion with showrooms across the country and were looking for a vendor to design, supply and install in-store audio systems. We were introduced to them by one of our satisfied customers who had worked briefly for Royal Enfield. They gave us an initial trial order.

In 2015, We took part in an exhibition for retail atmospherics (In-Store Asia). Three of us drove down to Mumbai for a week to set-up and man the stall and did most of the things ourselves to keep costs low. The first day, not a single inquiry.  The second day, some lukewarm interest. Third day, nothing different. By the second half of the last day, I had started getting frustrated and regretted my decision to participate in the exhibition which was expensive, not to mention the time and effort put into setting up and manning the stall.  During the dying hours of the exhibition, the in-house architect from Royal Enfield happened to visit our stall and was studying our systems and listening to the music being played while I was attending to another visitor. When I was free, she complimented me for the progress and improvement in our design.  And then she made an offer.  “A new store is opening at Bandra tomorrow. Can you install your system tonight and complete it in all aspects and clear site before 6:00 AM tomorrow?”  I took a moment with my people and confirmed that whatever is displayed at the stall now could be installed at the store.  She gave us a verbal confirmation and said that the official work order would follow when she would be back at her office in Chennai.  After the conclusion of the exhibition, and obtaining the gate pass, we drove straight to Bandra and started the installation right from ‘scratch’, wiring and all.

We completed the work by mid-night and headed back to where we stayed. A month later we were invited for a vendor meeting at Royal Enfield, Chennai and after negotiations, we were awarded the work to install business music systems at 480 Royal Enfield showrooms across the country.  This truly was a new chapter for RONTEK. 

The easiest and practical thing to do was to import a container of 500 systems from China, white-labelled with our brand.  But we decided that we are going to do everything possible in India.  Initially it was a slow process. Eventually we learnt to scale using the available local ecosystem. We have by now been the sole vendor and have completed over 650 stores, experience and training centres for Royal Enfield across India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  We were rated highly as a vendor and when key people switched to Mahindra Jawa, we were called to do all the 200 plus stores for Jawa as well.

RONTEK was beginning to find its purpose, mission and vision.  Many women from humble backgrounds learnt a skill and were getting empowered to take care of their homes through the work we provided.  Some of these women come from rural outskirts of Bangalore and were eventually finding it difficult to commute spending long hours in traffic to get to work and back.  RONTEK then helped two families construct sheds on lands belonging to them.  Work now happens from rural India too and this is our vision of growth while we continue manufacturing in India with a rural development program.

Staying relevant with young blood

In 2017, Chedup Lepcha in his 20s with a Masters in Applied Economics and a passion to sell interned with RONTEK for around a year.  Soon he found himself a perfect fit in the company’s culture and business trajectory and in his new role in RONTEK as head of business development and operations. The transition was perfect. Everyone at RONTEK, even long-term employees of 20 plus years in the company accepted his leadership well.  This allowed me to hand over the reins of operations and business development to Chedup, while iI could go back to innovations, improvement and development of new products. Anil and Roger who have been with RONTEK twenty and ten plus years respectively have been my pillar of support in handling many diverse needs of the business. My son Rajat, still in college helped us put together a digital touch screen panel that one of our clients wanted us to do for over 200 stores across the country. This was truly a diversification that has kept RONTEK relevant to meet the needs of our customers. This also opened possibilities to keep ourselves relevant in current and future areas that will be dominated by IT and AI.

Manufacturing for other brands (OEM)

By 2018, we had started OEM manufacturing for other brands. We were manufacturing one product which was an audio equipment for safety and evacuation for an American fortune 100 company. During the pandemic, they approached us with a requirement of 18 products they were pulling out of China and that needed to be manufactured in India. They gave us the option to pick whatever was doable by us.  We pitched for 6 out of which 4 were approved. When they saw our progress, they gave us 6 more.  RONTEK had earned their trust as we had promptly resolved all issues that came up during the initial days. 

Now this is heading in a direction I had never dreamt.  I had once dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot to serve my country perhaps.  But now I get to serve my customers, the people who I work with and my country at large in more ways than I had imagined.  And the only thing I’m armed with to my teeth is …my passion! 

And all this would not have been possible without the four angels in my life: my  mother, my wife, my sister and my daughter who have been my constant source of encouragement and support.

From ‘Military patriotism’ to ‘Economic patriotism’ and from wanting to “Break the Sound Barrier” to  “Breaking Barriers to Good Sound”, the journey has been challenging and exciting. 

Author’s Note:

We can be immensely proud of Jacob, a good friend of ours, for sharing his story & that of RONTEK with us and heartily wish him & his entire family at RONTEK, the very best & may their endeavors continue to go even farther. We are also very proud to share their success story on our platform to create awareness not only about their good work but also that of setting an example of ‘Make In India’ achieved successfully. We hope that the success story of RONTEK inspires more of our brethren & youngsters to pursue their passion and scale new heights in any field they aspire to be in.

To get in touch with RONTEK, pls visit their website