Mobile and automobile are the twin passions of Sayyed Hamid, the youthful and dynamic boss of FONE4, the popular retail chain in Kerala for mobile handsets. While the former obsession helps him qualify as one of the most promising and upwardly mobile entrepreneurs in the state, the latter makes him a man always on the move. If you try to reach him on his mobile phone – right now a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 but he changes one every six months – during the day, chances are that he may be driving down on his Lexus from Kochi to Bangalore, where he has set up his base now. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than driving along with his family of five in his hybrid car; on his wish list now is an electric vehicle that would be cost-effective and non-polluting.
His journey as a businessman started in 1997 from a room that his father owned in Kochi’s Penta Menaka, which is now a hub for all kinds of electronic products. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not inherit a business empire but built it from scratch from that one-room shop that he personally managed in those days along with two assistants.
Hamid’s dad, the late Sayyed Imbichi, hailed from Thrissur. He boasted of an MBA degree in those days and worked for a multinational company in the Middle East as a senior manager for over 30 years. Hamid’s mother was from Kozhikode, another city that he holds close to the heart besides Kochi and Bangalore. Little Hamid grew up in the Gulf as well as in hostels of educational institutions in Kerala but somewhere he developed a desire to become a businessman. For his graduation, he pursued automobile engineering – no surprises there – and later on, took an MBA degree too.
His dad worked as a consultant after retirement and set up a pharma company but Hamid charted his own course. He did look for a job in the beginning but didn’t land one that suited his interests. So, he paid a certain rent to his dad and started his first store in Penta Menaka, then called Mobile Gallery. “In those days, we used to sell handsets that came from Singapore which we procured from Chennai. This was the pre-Internet era when phones were used only for talking. These sets came with no warrantee or billing. The popular models then were Escotel, Nokia, Seimens, and Alcatel. My first phone was an Alcatel which must have cost around 2000 rupees,” he says. There were a couple of other similar, small outlets for mobile phones in Penta Menaka and the owners used to take turns to go to Chennai to procure handsets.
In those days, mobile phones were only for the well-heeled since incoming calls cost Rs 14 for 30 seconds. One of the main service providers was BPL and Hamid had a tie-up with that company’s local distributor. “I had many leading corporate clients in Kochi and besides selling them handsets, I was able to arrange the connection and this became my value-added service to them,” he says.
He still maintains that first store though it has moved its position in the building, nearer now to the entrance. “We used to have a counter and some pieces on display. There is no comparison to today’s stores,” he says. He has come a long way since then and at last count, he has 29 stores in all districts of Kerala barring Kannur, Kasaragod, Wayanad, and Idukki.
Right from the days of his first store, he brought in a personal touch in customer service. “Besides arranging the ‘SIM’ for them, I ensured good after-sales service too and this helped in developing a nice rapport with my clients. Formalities were more in those days in procuring the connection. For instance, for international roaming, people had to deposit a fixed sum. We acted as a facilitator.”
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