Three of India’s leading entrepreneurs Neeraj Kakkar, Vijay Shekhar Sharma and V Vaidyanathan came together at the Outlook Business Leading Edge 2017 to share their start-up stories. The panel discussion ranged from the topic of what keeps them motivated, who inspires them, and some of the craziest things they did as entrepreneurs.
Neeraj Kakkar, Paper Boat
Describing entrepreneurship as a selfish endeavour, Neeraj Kakkar, Founder, Paper Boat, said that his motivation to run a company like Paper Boat is to be a superhero who is the protector of traditional Indian drinks that are losing their space in the current Indian milieu. “I take off my cape every evening, hang it behind the door and go back home a happy man (having protected drinks like aam panna all day),” said Kakkar.
Speaking about his craziest start-up story, Kakkar spoke about his quest for kaanji, a traditional north-Indian drink made from purple carrots, mostly extinct now. Kakkar made reviving this drink his pet project. “I looked around in India, and there are very few places where there are small crop product of purple carrots. Then we discovered that Turkey produces purple carrots. I headed there and saw their huge fields of purple carrots and was overjoyed.” Overwhelmed by the carrots, Kakkar picked up 25 kilos of purple carrots and brought them back to India where he was stopped by the Customs officers and was forced to discard them. Kakkar said that he was extremely disappointed by the incident. Later his team sourced seeds from Turkey and tried growing a batch here in India. The team failed 13 times in growing the crop and succeeded last year in Ooty. The team recreated the drink but the recipe is still not perfect. Kakkar hopes that next year his crazy quest for making this drink that may have several takers will finally bear fruit.
According to Kakkar, Infosys founder, Narayan Murthy gave everyone from small-towns hope. Kakkar said that Murthy made it acceptable to take up a job in a private firm and not follow the crowd into government offices. “He has impacted us all more than we give him credit for,” Kakkar said.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Paytm
Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma encapsulated his vision for his company in a few powerful words. He said, “I truly want to build a company that ages well and becomes an institution in the long term in India.”
Reminding everyone that Paytm is a 16 year old company, Sharma said that in 2001, post 9/11, he made the decision to never go back to being an employee. Reminiscing his tryst with becoming an entrepreneur, Sharma said, “To generate cash flow I would make myself available to give lectures on Internet for Rs 5,000, set up email for people and receive Rs 500 as payment for that service.” He added that on some days he would walk home to save Rs 15 of bus fare. Speaking about that phase of his life, Sharma said that such phases come to define one’s real priorities.
Sharma said that Steve Jobs is his superhero for imagining something audacious like the smartphone. “My aspiration, much like the Think Different campaign, is to move human race forward. And now I can say that I moved the human race forward, even if it is only for my country.” Jack Ma is Sharma’s other role model. “The Chinese are the most aggressive in the world, from my experience. Sharma said that he learnt from Jack Ma that “you don’t wait for the market to happen, in many categories, you make the market.”
V Vaidyanathan, Capital First
V Vaidyanathan was at the peak of his career at when he was 38 years old as part of ICICI’s Board of Directors, by 41 he was the MD of ICICI Prudential, and he left it all to launch his own start up with the anxiousness that any beginner experiences. To kick start his project he had age and experience on his side, but no capital. “My idea was to look for a private equity firm, ask them for Rs 1,000 crore of equity and set myself a benchmark of 10% for myself and suggest launching a non-banking finance company in the area of financing customers whom banks do not finance. But I was building castles in the air.” That was when he came across a company whose share prices had dropped from Rs 1,100 to Rs 92 in a matter of two years because of the global financial crisis and decided to take the plunge.
When Vaidyanathan and his team were desperately looking for private equity, he would hope to meet people working with private equity firms to make a pitch and wish it works. During that phase Vaidyanathan had multiple instances when he could not express how desperate he was but did everything in his power to secure support. From rushing out of the airport after checking in to meet a potential investor to taking a flight from Mumbai to Delhi to only fly back to Mumbai with a potential investor and conduct a meeting on the flight, he has done it all.
“I get greatly inspired from people from all walks of life- anyone who has seen adversity and come through it, and sometimes even mythological characters like Karna,” Vaidyanathan said. Other times people like former Sri Lankan cricketer Marvan Atapattu who failed continuously for a few years before finally emerging as a successful batsman inspire Vaidyanathan. Vaidyanathan also said that he is strong believer in the power of optimism.