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Meet the small business that thrives with big ideas At Avaap, Shah feels the little things set his company apart

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Dhiraj Shah is the CEO and president of Avaap Inc. in Edison.
Dhiraj Shah is the CEO and president of Avaap Inc. in Edison. - ()

Dhiraj Shah was all smiles as he sat in an armchair at Avaap's Edison headquarters.

And why shouldn’t he be? Since its inception in 2006, the company has outgrown several offices and has even been featured by ComputerWorld — two years in a row, Shah points out — as one of the best small businesses to work for in the IT industry nationwide.

Add to that revenue of $23 million in 2014 and Shah has plenty of reason to be pleased.

Shah attributes part of that success to being in the right place at the right time: Avaap’s services are specialized and focused largely on a company called Infor, the third-largest enterprise resource planning provider in the world, which caters to specific industries such as retail, manufacturing and health care.

“We work in specific industries and Infor recently bought Lawson and is re-architecting everything in the cloud,” he said. “That’s created a lot of opportunity for us as a system integrator and we’ve grown a lot due to that.”

The other driver of this growth, Shah said, is the company’s drive to set itself apart from the competition, which is so intrinsic to the business’ direction that Shah put the company’s philosophy right in the name.

“Avaap stands for the five elements,” he said. “When I was thinking of a name, I didn’t want to be Shah Consulting. I wanted (the name) to have something.”

Influenced by a book he had been reading on the five elements, Shah decided to create an acronym based on the Sanskrit of the five elements and how they influenced his approach to business.

Apas (water)

Water, which can create dramatic changes in geography over time, ties to the company’s innovation, Shah said.

“We have our own product development team,” he said. “We’ve developed our own IP (intellectual property) that distinguishes us from our competitors, and we have seven different solutions that we sell as part of our implementation.”

Vayu (wind)

For Shah, wind represents the need for a business to be adaptable because business, as the colloquialism goes, changes with the wind.

“Wind and air we tie to the speed and calm with which we work,” he said. “At time, we have to be very tenacious and, at time, we have to be very calm because we’re serving a business.

Agni (fire)

Shah connects this element to his passion for what he does. When he founded the company in 2006, he had left a comfortable job at the enterprise resource planning company Lawson to take a risk on his own idea, much to the chagrin of most of his family.

“When I was looking to start off, my dad and everybody else thought it was the worst idea,” he said. “My wife, thankfully, said she was tired of listening to the story every night of what could happen and she said to go out and try it.”

Aakash (sky)

“Sky is tied to the growth we tie to the goals we have,” he said. “We’ve had 77 percent growth since inception year, and if you carry on that growth for the next seven years, we’d be a billion-dollar company.”

Even with its history of growth, the company’s goals remain optimistic.

“We see ourselves moving from the small to midsize, which is defined as over 1,000 employees, in the next three years,” he said.

Prithvi (Earth)

“Earth ties into the broad, global eco-consciousness: We’re all into the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’” he said. “We’re also very socially conscious. We do a lot of charity; we spend time at kitchens in Newark.”

And what benefits has he seen from implementing this perspective in his business?

“Team-building,” he said matter-of-factly.

As relaxed as Shah is, there’s one thing he takes very seriously: his goal of making his business one of the best places to work in IT.

Shah said it’s not complicated and can involve simple gestures like helping an employee move their belongings when relocating from India.

“It’s not rocket science; we’re all in the people business,” he said. “Egos are checked when you come into work. There are no ranks, no files. We all build that camaraderie.”

His goal is to maintain that intimate startup culture.

“My goal, the No. 1 goal, will be that we continue to be on the best places to work,” he said. “The question is that you’re at a crossroad of culture, because when you’re a small company, it’s easy.

“When you’re 10 people, you have a pizza party and everyone likes each other. When you’re 50,000, it’s very difficult. And we’re putting together packages that will help us do that.”

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrewsnjbiz

The biz in brief

Company: Avaap
Headquarters: Edison
Founder: Dhiraj Shah
Employees: 85 full-time in New Jersey; 130 total worldwide
One more thing: To create a sense of community, the company not only welcomes new employees, but also their spouses, by sending them welcome packages, too.

A distinctive perspective

As someone who provided health benefits for his employees before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dhiraj Shah has an unusual perspective: that of a small business owner with glowing reviews for what has come to be known as “Obamacare.”

“I’m a big fan of it; it worked for us,” said the founder of Avaap. “It’s the first year, for two years in a row, after it came into effect, that insurance has not gone up. And it’s been going up 30 percent since I started the company.”

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