Back in 2008, when I graduated as a chemical engineer, there were only two chemical companies that came to our campus for interviews, while all the others were IT services firms. This didn’t sit right with me. When I was interviewed by a global chemical consultancy and was selected, it unfortunately came with a four-year bond. Handing over control of my life to someone else just didn’t feel right. I decided to start up on my own.
During the early days of my first start-up, more than being an entrepreneur, I was just trying to get some product traction and therefore, was running from pillar to post. It went on like this until the MD of our only client at the time wanted to have a ‘tough chat’ with me when my team and I had gone 70 hours without sleep for the product launch. I knew the team had done everything humanly possible and I had to take a stand and tell the person to make a choice because I was confident that the product we were offering is something no one in India could offer at that point in time. This is the day I stopped going with the flow and actually started being an entrepreneur.
Leading a company has taught me many things. I think the most important learning has been that everybody has some talent. Hence, as the CEO, you need to nurture every individual in a personalised manner to keep them motivated, happy and productive. The other learning was about how to lead. I always believed that there are two ways to lead - by inspiration or by fear. And I always wanted to be the former. However, in the last couple of years, what I’ve found most effective is to lead by respect - inspire people who have that drive within, but for others, lead by example, set expectations and mean business. I am currently with my fourth start-up. I think the only thing that changed between each of them has been - more failures leading to more learning, which has led to me becoming a little wiser! That and years of experience with people, investors, partners, clients and industries.
One of my favourite quotes is by Thomas A. Edison, “I haven’t failed a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” I know I have failed and that has taught me literally everything! I don’t think I would be where I am today without failing - professionally and personally. Failure teaches you to survive, brings you back down to earth and keeps your ego in check. It makes you more humble and it makes you hungry again – to prove to yourself and everyone else that you can make a dent in this world. The most important thing it has taught me though is to celebrate failures - acknowledge them, step away from the situation, analyse what went wrong, try to figure out how you could have done things differently and then ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes again! As someone who’s been at it for over a decade, I would like to share three things you should never do.
- Never over-commit to the consumer, your client or your investor.
- Never build a business where unit economics don’t add up (and the only goal you are chasing is an acquisition).
- Never preach (especially to your colleagues) what you don’t practice yourself.
When I think about what lies ahead, my dream has always been to change the world. Or at least a significant part of it. With what I’m doing currently, I have an opportunity to influence a part of our lives that has literally become a necessity – the internet. So, the dream now is to make the internet available, affordable and reliable for everyone, everywhere