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In this conversation with Amit Somani, you will learn about how to be watchful about different biases while making decisions or navigating a crisis. He talks about one of such techniques called “Invert, always Invert” from Charlie Munger, co-founder of Berkshire Hathaway.
I speak with William for this week’s podcast, he reiterated FabIndia’s focus on standing by its community of craftsmen and women, and the employees, even during the ongoing pandemic. “For the first time, truly the first time, in human history, it’s an event that affects every single person on the planet,” he tells me.
In this week’s Outliers podcast, I bring you another candid conversation with Nithin Kamath, the founder of Zerodha who has disrupted some of India’s biggest banks and financial services companies with his innovative and bold approach. Add to that his bootstrapped startup journey, which illustrates how to build a company that matters without raising monies from a VC.
Manish is a battle-hardened entrepreneur who has steered his startup Printo through many crises, including the last existential crisis triggered by the Lehman collapse post-2008. In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, he is looked upon as a bold voice of realism and honesty. Not false hope.
Over the next few weeks, I intend going back to some of these Outliers (and some new voices), sit down with them for deeper conversations about how they managed different cycles of disruptions and crossed the valleys of death in their lives and careers -- basically, look how their experiences in the past can help us navigate the coming few months or quarters. The first in this series is a conversation with Ravi Venkatesan, the former chairman of Microsoft India, who has worked across the sectors of manufacturing, technology and now social over the past few decades.
A.R. Rahman is one of those Outliers who, having charted a unique path of their own and spread their magic along the way, hardly need an introduction. His genius lies not just in his creative melodies but in seeking out all that is ‘good’. In music, in life, in other human beings. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Raju Reddy of Sierra Atlantic talks about his entrepreneurial journey, and how the underground nerve center of BITS Pilani network – he's an alumnus and currently the chairman of BITSA – works. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
C K Ranganathan of Cavinkare talks about starting up and his journey building one of India’s best homegrown retail brands. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
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Ritesh Arora talks about how he learned from failures to bootstrap, and then turn BrowserStack into a $60m rocket ship. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
“Giving just returns to your investors and shareholders is a restrictive model for business. Business is such a powerful force, it needs to stand for a higher purpose,” Bissell tells me in this episode of Outliers. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Listen to Amuleek Singh of Chai Point talk about some never-told, amazing back stories about Chai Point’s innovative packaging, business strategy, and organization culture. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Vinoth Chandar, founder and CEO of ChuChu TV, talks about his journey and building a successful global YouTube company from India with over 23 million subscribers and more than 17 billion video views. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Sebastian Thrun, the Google X founder and among the world’s top AI and robotics scientists, flying cars are no more science fiction. In this episode the Outliers podcast, he talks about flying cars and solving today’s problems Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Kishore Biyani talks about his rollercoaster ride of an entrepreneurial journey and his latest ammunition to fight his business battles - a combination of his customer base and technology-powered data insights for making decisions. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Nandan Nilekani - cofounder of Infosys, the brain behind Aadhaar and India’s recent financial platforms, including “the IndiaStack.” - talks about his playbook for building things and how he builds them to create impact at scale. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Guneet Monga of Sikhya Entertainment talks about her journey producing next gen movies in a world ruled by the incumbents. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: www.accelerated-ideas.com/
The first Indian in space, Rakesh Sharma, talks about his journey becoming an airforce test pilot, going to space, and life after space. Produced by Anand Murali Music Credit: http://www.accelerated-ideas.com/
Journalism’s biggest existential battle isn’t about fighting the business model disruption or the way new consumers of news are behaving. It’s the war against intense polarisation and biases plaguing the newsrooms. There’s extreme negativity on one hand and excessive cheerleading on the other. For those in journalism staying true to the craft and following the principles of objectivity and the good old world balance, it’s a tough battle. Amid all this chaos, Ravish Kumar is a rarity who practices fundamentals of journalism by pursuing. How does he stay this way? And why? And what’s the cost of speaking truth to power? Our Season 2 Finale of Outliers is with a journalist who evokes emotion in what he chooses to cover as much as admiration in the way he keeps to the fundamentals of on-the-ground reportage.
Over past few years, and especially as a rookie entrepreneur myself, a lot of what Phani said and did have started making sense. After the exit, he took his mother to London, her maiden foreign trip. Phani tells me now in this podcast that she’s not in a shape now to travel overseas. And his thoughts about how entrepreneurship is a self purification journey cannot be more relevant at a time when debates about a crisis of culture and integrity are at centre of India’s start ecosystem.
Entrepreneurship is hard. No matter what you’re building. It becomes even harder when you’re building something that’s not understood by many, and even worse if the product is clearly ahead of its time. But founders are crazy. They see opportunities when no one sees them. They also get blinded sometimes by it and fail. When Tarun Mehta started building Ather Energy, India’s first electric two wheelers, his startup was being written off even before the pre-orders started. After getting his pitch rejected by 80 investors ( is that a magic number? Even Kabeer of Dunzo had similar number of rejections before getting funded), Tarun finally met Sachin Bansal. “What should I change in this pitch deck?” “Don’t change anything. This is how you’ll build this.” Perhaps only a fellow entrepreneur can empathize with another founder’s dogged optimism. So here’s to the entrepreneurial mafia being led by Sachin Bansal and several others.
Ashish Gupta is an outlier for many reasons. A gold medalist in computer science from IIT Kanpur, Gupta built a startup (Junglee) and sold it to Amazon, has been through several near death experiences at his second startup (Tavant), and is now in the process of sunsetting his third entrepreneurial venture, Helion. None of the above make him an outlier though. Over years, Ashish has found a way into some of India’s biggest and most valued startups as an angel investor. From MakeMyTrip, to Flipkart and MuSigma, Gupta has been an early seed stage backer. It’s almost like getting a front tow seat in a blockbuster movie, and also being able to help produce it. There are very few investors who are as humble, intellectually honest and loved by the entrepreneurs. How and why does he stay that way? Please tune in to listen and read the full transcript below to find out more. Hat-tip to Kanika Berry for help with transcription of the conversation, which is produced lightly edited below:
India’s booming startup ecosystem has been mostly about the founders and the investors writing cheques to fund their ideas. But building a startup takes a lot more than just founders and investors. It takes exceptionally talented individuals who take the leap of faith to become part of these startup journeys as employers. And while these professionals may not be the founders, they are highly entrepreneurial. In this week’s Outliers Podcast I sat down with former McKinsey consultant Ananth Narayanan who’s been the CEO of Myntra since October 2015. What sets him apart as an outlier is his deep passion and sense of ownership for Myntra. So much that it’s difficult to tell that he’s not a founder.
So who is the quintessential Indian entrepreneur? This is the question we keep asking while analyzing success and failure of Indian startups. On one hand, large scale platforms such as Flipkart and Ola have high profile founders at the helm, always grabbing the headlines. On the other hand, a bunch of low key, reticent and enterprise focused startups such as Mettl continue to create impact in the niches they serve. When Mercer acquired Mettl few weeks ago for $40 million, it didn’t make splashy headlines. And while you would have read the stories by YourStory and The Ken, there’s always more to learn about these entrepreneurial journeys. And with Outliers, we bring you the stories told as it is from the horse mouth. So here’s the podcast, our 76th, with Ketan Kapoor, Mettl’s founder.
In June this year, we broke away from the mould to bring you companies, not just people, that are outliers with How AngelList works. If there’s one thing common in most of the companies that appear outliers, it’s their founders. From Steve Jobs to Elon Musk and even Jeff Bezos, the founder’s mentality continues to shape Apple, Tesla and Amazon. These founders are almost inseparable from their companies. I first discovered Zoho, the cloud software company, in 2010 when I wrote this story about how it was hiring talent from unconventional places. Sridhar Vembu, the Zoho founder who we hosted for the 27th episode of Outliers podcast last July, is an outlier for many reasons. For instance, amid all the startup frenzy, he believes in “slow laddering” or building a company slowly, one step at a time. And to top that, he’s shunned venture capital and said “no” to an over $25 million acquisition offer from Salesforce during the early days of Zoho. Zoho, the cloud software company with estimated revenues of over half a billion dollars, is an outlier for many reasons. For over a decade, Zoho has been hiring students from government schools and colleges and turning them into software programmers. Such students will constitute nearly half of the company’s over 5,000 workforce very soon. And then, there’s a strong growing “Zoho mafia”, too, wherein former employees and leaders including Freshworks founder Girish Mathrubootham and Chargebee’s co-founders are building the next generation enterprise software companies. Why Zoho exists: Sridhar Vembu “Zoho exists because India exists. I always thought that if I were born in a different country, I may not have been an entrepreneur. I actually wanted to become a professor, to teach, publish papers. But growing up here...surrounded by what you see, at some point you ask, 'Why are we so poor?’” he tells me. “I realised you have to be building a lot of things to skip poverty. And I am the kind of person who will say, 'What am I doing about it?’” “So, in a sense Zoho exists because India exists and it continues to exist because some 27 million kids are born in India (every year), and in this state of Tamil Nadu the number is around 1 million. That’s actually the same number as all of Japan’s. And you see the number of companies, the brands from Japan….” “South Korea has around 45 million population and Tamil Nadu has about 72 million people. Which brands are popular worldwide?” “It’s not just about the brands. It all correspondingly translates into jobs, incomes, infrastructure, all of that.” “If we are not able to create world class products and world class companies here, then we will never have world class incomes, or world class healthcare. In other worlds, we cannot consume if we cannot produce.”
“There was a time when Zoho was talked about as an engineering company, even today it’s an engineering company. User interface design was done by engineers, too. But over time, things changed,” Dandapani says. “Today, we started realising that individual brilliance isn’t enough. … a couple of months ago, one of our customers said, 'Every one of your interface is good, but why do they look different?’” “So now we are back on the drawing boards.”
“When the six of us joined, we knew where a computer keyboard is and mouse is, that’s all. Later we were taught programming here as part of 18 months training,” she says. “I come from a very poor family,” Durairajan adds. Durairajan now leads iOS development for some of Zoho’s software products including Zoho Recruit. “My professor in school used to tell us you should aim to work at Google and Yahoo. But Zoho is now competing with Google, so why to go there?”
“Our engineering department is like Rahul Dravid -- scores slow but steady. I even call this a Dravidian phase of development, not because we are based in south India -- I dedicate it to Rahul Dravid. The engineering is more tuned towards that approach,’ he says. “All of us agree that making products is like preparing for a movie release. So, out of the ten movies you make, two of them will be superhit and others not so successful. Success of a product is based on how many people pay for it. Each of our service teams across 40 product lines are aware of the monthly revenues.” “At the engineering level, we are now tracking usage. Over past 15 years we have been revenue focused, but now we are looking at feature usage. How many customers are using a product, and within that a particular feature, and so on.” “One of the good things about Zoho is that most of our hires are freshers, and they stay through. More than 90% of our managers are homegrown. Because we have had people working for long terms, we can do knowledge transfer just by sitting next to each other. Working together for long reduces friction.”
Nikhil Pahwa is an angry young man. But that doesn’t make him an outlier. Pahwa, 37, channelises that anger to build and scale mainstream movements such as the net neutrality campaign against Facebook’s FreeBasics in India more than two years ago. So what’s the source of all the anger and sense of activism? It’s Pahwa’s deep need for freedom of the internet. “The need for freedom led me to activism, entrepreneurship...I don’t know where it will take me next but freedom is central to everything I do,” he says. “My mission is to build an internet ecosystem which is open, fair and competitive.” Pahwa’s journey as a media entrepreneur has been filled with existential crisis because of the battle he fights. But then, those battles are also the reason why his venture, Medianama, lives today. “I’m what I’m today because of the fact that internet is open and this freedom exists. Medianama has turned 10 today because of that. I want that for everyone.” Before he committed fully to the net neutrality campaign, he knew it could mean a near death experience for Medianama. “I told the Medianama team that we could die because of what I’m going to do, but this is worth fighting for because we wouldn’t exist if internet wasn’t free and open.” There are some great lessons in this podcast with Pahwa. These lessons aren’t just about rightful activism but also offer insights on fighting battles larger than your own, personal existence. The net neutrality campaign, for instance, had its own moments of existential crisis. “Nothing was budging, no one was participating. And Facebook simultaneously began this massive “support Free Basics” campaign, putting hoardings all over the country. And we were losing.” Pahwa is next readying for another challenge in his life: his wedding is coming up soon.
Depending who, just the mention of Infosys founder N. R. Narayana Murthy’s name will evoke strong views. Ever since he co-founded Infosys in July 1981, he’s shaped the company with some strong decisions. From walking away from customers such as General Electric, which accounted for over a quarter of Infosys’ revenues in 1995, to making a comeback in June 2013 as the executive chairman --Murthy’s decisions have been bold and at times considered everything from being foolish and old-worldly to self fulfilling. If there’s one thing that even his biggest critics agree with his loyalists, it’s the issue of corporate governance and personal integrity. As I sat down with him to record this episode of Outliers, I decided to stay away from analysing all the decisions he’s taken in his career and, instead, try and understand Murthy’s decision-making framework. If there’s one thing that defines all his decisions, it’s governance and integrity. “Most organisations that have seen a downward slide have seen that it starts at the top. As they say, a fish always rots at the top. Therefore, it’s very, very important for senior people to conduct themselves with fairness, transparency, and accountability,” says Murthy. “Never look at a ticker tape and make a decision. If you enthused your employees to work hard, if you satisfied your customers with good software, if you followed the best rules and did not violate any laws of the land, and if you used a part of your profits to make a difference to the society, then your revenues will grow and you will provide better and better value to investors.” “Never focus on the ticker tape, but focus on how can you win better in the marketplace.” “Anybody who looks at stock price and takes decisions...that person is definitely going to destroy the corporation,” he adds. On his part, Murthy has always stood firm by his decisions, notwithstanding all the criticism and questions raised by others. As a journalist tracking Infosys all through my career since 2000, I’ve myself had confrontations and arguments with him on several topics. And, he has had questions about my stories too. “We should not worry about criticism from people who have no knowledge of the issue. Those are opinions… anybody can give opinion… as long as I have a mouth, as long as my voice box is working,” he says. “Before we went public in 1993, I sat down with my colleagues and I told them… from today onwards, we are going to be in a different paradigm, which consisted of the founders, their families and the employees. You’re now answerable to the entire mass of shareholders.” “And there may be a shareholder with just one share, but that person has as much right as somebody with 99% shareholding. So I impressed upon them that only if they’re ready to accept this, then we should go public.” Listen in to the man credited with creating one of India's most respected companies.
Entrepreneurial journeys mean different things to different founders. For some, it’s a way of creating wealth. Many others do it to achieve their “change the world” ambitions. But at its core, entrepreneurship brings a deep personal transformation. Past Outliers episodes with Kailash Katkar, Aneesh Reddy, Manav Garg and K Vaitheeswaran are among conversations that underscore the personal transformation of entrepreneurs while building their startups. For Sanjay Parthasarathy, a Microsoft veteran who quit the company to build Indix, an AI-powered catalog for all of the world’s products available online, entrepreneurship is all about patience. And what taught him patience? Running. “I used to play cricket, squash all kinds of sports. Now, I don’t play any sport, but run. Running is the ultimate sport for patience.” “A job at a company like Microsoft or any large company is about career development, much more outward focused. Whereas a startup journey is much more about character development and is much more inwardly focused,” he says. You have to question your core principles, your character.” Parthasarathy says you can afford to be impatient when at a large company. “You can talk more than listen. When you do a startup, as a smaller company you have to be patient, you have to roll with the punches,” he says. “You don’t react to every piece of email. At Microsoft, I used to be very proud of responding to an email within few seconds. Now, I just let it lie for a bit to see if it fixes itself.” “You don’t realise until you do a startup that it takes at least seven to ten years to build something worthwhile,” he adds.
Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has been a digital warrior much before online privacy and data security became fashionable battles to fight in India. Abraham founded CIS in 2008 and established the organization as an important voice for explaining privacy in the social, digital age in India. Over past decade, Abraham has questioned projects -- most famously, Aadhaar. Many in the country, especially those in the technology ecosystem, have found him difficult to comprehend. And that has a lot to do with the ironies he lives with. For instance, despite being a vocal critic of Aadhaar, he counts Rohini Nilekani -- wife of Nandan Nilekani, architect of the citizen ID project and a passionate backer -- among the top donors at CIS. Then, around the time there were raging battles against Facebook’s controversial Free Basics program, which many argued violated Net Neutrality, there were different views within CIS. “People would ask what’s the CIS position on net neutrality,” says Abraham. “And the answer to that question is always the same—CIS is like the Kamasutra, we don’t have one position. We’re a collection of many positions.” Abraham's journey in building CIS and keeping it alive and relevant, after coming out of a near-death experience due to paucity of funding, offers insights about doing business amid extreme polarisation. Most importantly, for anyone looking to build a career in objective research, he and CIS are great role models. Please tune in.
What do Dropbox, Spotify and DJI have in common? Great founding teams, obsessive focus on details and, of course, their core products. Another common factor across these and several other successful companies of this decade is venture investor Sameer Gandhi who’s now a partner at Accel. (Disclosure: Accel India is the lead investor in SourceCode Media, the owner of FactorDaily). Over past two decades, Gandhi has had the front row seats in some of the most important startups. He’s also sat through “the situation room” at these companies. “Founders are the spiritual core of their startups,” he says. Successful founders aren’t afraid to go get people on board who are better than them in certain areas “I talked to one of my founders at one point in time. He was running the company as a founder—very inspirational,” he recalls. “I told him to come back as the CEO after a break and not the founder.” According to Gandhi, it’s this transition from being a founder to a great CEO that makes startups such as Dropbox, Spotify and DJI insanely successful.
In March this year, we published an Outliers podcast with Ryan. it also gives you a sense of how long we’ve been working to get these conversations:). We’re sharing it again as part of “How AngelList works” story to give you a complete inside view. In many ways, Product Hunt completes AngelList’s quest to become the one-stop platform to help startups focus on their core product and not bogged down by funding, hiring needs. From a small email list launched in November 2013 by Ryan Hoover, Product Hunt has now helped discover over 100 million products with more than 100,000 new product launches on its platform.
With Naval becoming the chairman and moving away from day to day running of AngelList, Laws has perhaps the toughest job in the startup investment world. For many, it’s difficult to even think of anyone else as the face of AngelList. It’s a challenge that Naval himself recognizes. Globally, AngelList moves about $175 million every year into startups, which is about 600-700 startups annually. And more than have of them use AngelList for their hiring too, according to Laws. “There is a misperception that we make it easier for startups to raise money. Not any more likely that you will get to “yes” if as a startup you’re using AngelList. That said, the time that you spend to get to the same answer you would have got any time…..that’s a lot less,” says Laws. “Same thing for hiring. The idea is to make that time much smaller proportion of the total time spent to get to a good match.” “The biggest challenge for us is that people think AngelList is a place where if they go, suddenly the startups get funded. That’s not quite the way it works.” So how do you spend your time? What does a typical week look for you? These are among the questions I ask Kevin to understand AngelList works on a daily basis.
At its core, AngelList is all about matching the most promising startups with the investors they deserve. What is a syndicate? How does it work? What happens in the background while matching startups with potential investors? These are among the questions you will hear him answering in this podcast. “I think we are democratising access to LP capital. We’re gonna raise all the money in the world and we are gonna allocate according to meritocracy,” says Zeller, a Stanford University physics graduate.
Most organisations have separate engineering, product and business teams. At AngelList, engineers are the owners of the product too. When AngelList started building out a product for India, Sridhara led the product development. “That doesn’t mean you have to do all that (product, business, legal) all by yourself, but it’s pretty much like running your own company,”says, Sridhara, a University of California, Berkeley graduate in computer science.
Organisations, like people, can be outliers too. Since December 2016, I have had conversations with 59 individual outliers; a journey where me and hopefully you too, have learned with each episode. With this episode of Outliers podcast, we’re kind of breaking away from the mold and expanding these conversations to companies and organizations that are outliers in the way they behave, their mission, and so on. AngelList has been an outlier from the start in February 2010 when Naval Ravikant along with his co-blogger at Venture Hacks Babak Nivi, started with a group of investors. “AngelList was started to help startups with their most difficult tasks, helping them do that with internet at scale and with the matching engine that makes it possible,” says Ravikant. “AngelList can stumble, AngelList could fall, but I don’t think that will be because technology stops being interesting. It will be because of us,” he adds. So how does AngelList keep relevant? “Relevance just means you change with the times. It’s a hard problem,” says Ravikant. For its part, AngelList has been trying to stay relevant. For instance, AngelList hived off CoinList last year; a step towards shaping the future of investing, according to Ravikant. Then, in 2016, AngelList acquired Product Hunt for $20 million. Now, AngelList is looking to conquer India--a market that can be painfully slow and chaotic, especially given its unpredictable regulatory environment. For AngelList though, India is an important market not just for the narrative sake, but because Naval and his team picked signals of future growth from the country. In August 2016, AngelList hired Utsav Somani to lead its India operations. According to Somani, Indian startups raised close to $2 million in less than 5 months on AngelList India from domestic investors. “When we launched AngelList Talent, it (India) rapidly grew to be the second largest market for us. Right now we are living through the age of China ascending. I think India is going to go through a similar transition. It’s obviously slower than all of us would have liked, but it looks like the giant may be awakening,” says Ravikant. “India’s issue has always been that it’s held back because of regulations and bureaucracy, and unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be getting that much better. “ AngelList is a startup too; an 8-year-old platform born as an email list that has watched and enabled the biggest startups such as Uber and Airbnb. A lot to learn from what AngelList do Here’s Naval Ravikant on the future of AngelList.
When he was 19 years old, Kailash Katkar started fixing calculators and even drew screen paintings for living. Then, one day, he saw a computer for the first time while repairing calculators at a bank. “I asked what’s inside the glass walls and why was it air conditioned. They said it was to keep the computer cool,” he recollects. That encounter changed everything for Katkar, especially after learning that the computers were soon to replace calculators among several other jobs. In the age when the ability to learn new skills is considered the most important capability for anyone seeking to build a sustainable career, Katkar’s entrepreneurial journey offers great learnings. From fixing calculators to writing code to fight computer viruses, Katkar’s hunger to learn new things has helped him navigate all career disruptions. As for education, Katkar hardly managed to pass 10th standard. That’s how far he went with formal education. Over decades, Katkar along with his brother Sanjay, has built Quick Heal Technologies into a publicly listed company with annual revenues of Rs 318 crore (FY 2018). So how did it happen? Listen in.
This isn’t the first time we’re discussing entrepreneurial journey and how it’s lonely, and filled with failures and self doubt.But unlike the do’s and don’ts in entrepreneurship dished out byexperts and mentors who have absolutely no experience in building anything. When a veteran entrepreneur such as Harsh Mariwala openly shares his biggest entrepreneurial failures and how he handles critique, the insights are far more valuable. “I can talk about my failures all this podcast,” he says. As for wealth, Mariwala calls himself a caretaker of all he’s earned in his career. “The first 25 years are about learning, the next 25 is when you earn. And the next 25 about sharing that wealth.” Please do listen in.
“Things became so bad around 2012 that one of my co-founders came to me and said I was bullying everyone around,” Aneesh Reddy, co-founder of Capillary Technologies, told me while recording this episode of Outliers podcast. With over Rs 60 crore in the bank raised from investors such as Sequoia and a secondary share sale of around $5 million (more than Rs 26 crore then), Reddy, then 25, became his own biggest enemy. “With all that, it (money and success) starts getting to your young mind,” he told me. I first heard about Aneesh’s journey at fixing his bully image over a year ago. His boldness in accepting his problems, fixing it, and sharing the story with everyone so they learn makes Aneesh an outlier. That and the growth of Capillary. Capillary now counts Walmart and other top retailers among its top customers and earning nearly $5 million in revenues a quarter currently. While Aneesh wouldn’t disclose financials himself, a person familiar with his company confirmed the numbers. Listen in to Aneesh.