Anand inspires entrepreneurship among individuals who dream, but find it difficult to move out of their comfort zone and get into ‘the unknown‘.
This is first part of our interview, which focuses primarily on Anand’s entrepreneurial journey, reasons for starting up, what he went thru’/family reactions and tough decisions the founders took.
Reason behind starting up?
Most entrepreneurs typically start of because of more or less the same reasons. I am no different. I would not be able to site one specific reason, but a few of them put together made for a compelling reason to start up.
a) You are free to imagine, explore, reach out and question in your own start up. While working for an organization, you are restricted on these fronts on so many occasions. You are confined solely to the limits of responsibility handed down to you. These restrictive boundaries started to get to us quite early and we felt like doing something on our own.
b) Excitement of doing something new and different. It is a generic human tendency to be pulled towards the unknown and to start exploring it. Entrepreneurial journeys always start from most things being unknown and every day there is a new learning and find — much like discovering a treasure every 2 yards on an uninhabited island. This feeling of excitement begins on the day you’ve started thinking of starting up. I’ve discovered it only gets better with every day that you are actually running the venture.
c) By starting up, we hoped to support the living of many families with our ideas and the implementation of those ideas. Each of us in the founding team is passionate about doing something for the society and this has been a driving factor to create a venture as well.
d) And yes, besides all of this there is also a selfish interest of raking in the moolah. When you are not into inheriting money because you do not belong to a rich family and when you aren’t an individual blessed with the talent of a sportsperson or an actor, the next best thing to do is to become an entrepreneur. It can earn you a lot of money and fame but it comes with the clear warning that my dad once gave me — it is never ever going to be easy.
When did you decide ‘this is the right time to take the plunge’?
I graduated from BITS, Pilani in 2001 and took up a job as an analyst with JPMorgan Chase. After a year at Chase, somewhere around October 2002, the entrepreneurial bug bit me. Around this time some of my close friends (and batch mates from BITS, Pilani) were working with various organizations such as CTS, Sapient, etc. So, we started a conversation in 2002 and began by exchanging e-mails and teleconference calls.
Most of us in the founding team had a strong IT background and hence our decision to venture into the IT space was unanimous. Finally, we decided to start with building technology products and at a later stage look at diversifying into software services.
All of us were really excited and we wanted to ensure that everyone was on board at the earliest. After considering everyone’s personal situations, we set a deadline for ourselves to quit our jobs.
At the outset, we had made three decisions as a team – one was to start out as soon as possible, two was that every one had to be involved full time and therefore, resigning from jobs became mandatory, and three, June 2003 was the deadline for each one of us to be available in Hyderabad, the city where we had decided to start our venture. I would say the right time depends on various factors and situations coming together. For us, it was June 2003 and we are glad we took the plunge back then.
How did you handle your mental block (if any) of quitting a well-cushioned job, and diving into the unknown?
Personally, I was always driven to start some thing on my own. There was absolutely no major mental block expect for a concern regarding our parents and their feelings. These were the worries of my other co-founders too. As earning members of a home, we were helping provide certain comforts to our families.
Therefore, there was indeed the question of what would happen to all of it as we were not sure of what income we would be earning henceforth. The most important factor that helped us overcome this minor mental block was that we were close friends and what ever were to happen, we knew that we’ll always be there at each other’s side. We also believed that if things do not work out, we would have still learnt so much out of the experience that a job was something we could always get with our credentials.
In general, entrepreneurs in India, even though they want to build products start with services.But they end up being trapped in the service business and the product idea goes out of the window. How did you manage to get out of the trap?
In our case, it was a bit of the other way around. We started of developing a product in partnership with a US based firm. However for various reasons, the offering did not go as planned and we had to pull out of this tie up. Those were the really hard days. We found a way out by moving into the services business and have since been offering application development services to SMBs across US and Europe and now have over 100 clients in our kitty. That said, we have always wanted to build products. We had been bouncing ideas on creating a web product for the Indian audience but put our ideas on the back burner.
The issues we had to address were free cash flow availability to fund product development, our own commitments on the services business and finding someone equally passionate who could head our product development and delivery. Once we found all of these in early 2006, we committed to the roll-out of one of our product ideas. By the middle of 2006, we started work on our first product for the Indian market – tolmolbol.com and we were ready in private beta by the turn of the new year.
Have you ever thought of a fallback option? What if this initiative doesn’t work? Does that scare you?
Over the last 3-4 years, we have been through various challenges. We have seen a lot of highs and lows in our journey. One thing we have always experienced is the satisfaction of doing something. Agreed, success or failure is the larger metric by which any initiative would be measured, but to a true entrepreneur the experience, joy and learning of the journey is the real measure.
I’ve always believed in Bob Dylan’s statement: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” We have an excellent team here and the guys, each one of them is a gem. In case of a failure, they would learn from the mistakes and we would be more inclined than ever to bounce back and create a new offering for the market. To be honest, failure does not scare us as much as the fear of not enjoying or not doing what we want to do.
stay pluGGd.in for the next part of the interview, which mainly deals with the homework, Anand & his team went thru’ before launching tolmolbol.