CEO on why start-ups are most exhilarating roller coaster ride

Dec 02, 2018, 08:07 IST | Anju Maskeri

As senior executives from traditional set-ups venture into startups, they tell us why it is the most exhilarating roller coaster ride

CEO on why start-ups are most exhilarating roller coaster ride
Radeesh Shetty, founder and CEO of The Purple Turtles; Shekhar Purohit, founder of Dapper Don, and CEO of TalentNext.com ; Vikram Poddar, CEO of BoredRoom Comedy; Robin Chhabra, founder and CEO of Dextrus; Pawan Gandhi, founder and CEO of KaHa Pte Ltd

For most millennials, joining a startup is often a fashionable career choice, and for good reason — rapid growth, flex schedules, high interactivity and a sure shot boost to your entrepreneurial flair. Never mind the crazy hours, structure (or the lack of it), and the inherent risks involved. But it's not just the 20-somethings who are flocking in droves to embrace the self-starters' ecosystem.

Last month, hospitality startup Oyo Hotels and Homes appointed former IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh as its new chief executive officer (CEO) for India and South Asia. Ghosh, who comes with a robust experience, having played a stellar role in leading the airline for a decade, has been touted as the most high-profile entry till date in the country's startup scene. While Ghosh preps for his role, we reached out to senior executives, who have made the transition from traditional set-ups to startups, paving the way for what could soon become a trend.

Being your own boss
For most, the story begins organically with festering discontent within a rigid structure and the overwhelming need to be your own boss. But for Robin Chhabra, CEO and founder of Dextrus, a co-working space that launched in Bandra Kurla Complex a month ago, the decision was more about doing what an architect is meant to do. The 32-year-old, previously worked with Serie Architects Mumbai, an international practice based out of London, where he led projects of multiple scales in the domains of residential, hotels, schools and sports facilities.

To help understand why he moved from a well-paying, comfortable job to a startup, he offers to "take us back a little". By little, he means ancient Egypt, when architects were known as master builders. "Back then, they would manage everything, from the finances and structure to pacifying the king to why they need to build a certain structure. As we moved forward to the 1900s, trade was established, which is when you see the birth of the structural engineer, because we start building a lot more and a lot faster," he says.

While that's not a bad thing, what also happened in the process was that the architect got sidelined to managing design alone. "That becomes his domain. It's something that manifested in the work I was doing, where the biggest divide was between the cost and design, wherein developers and architects were at odds. I wanted to bring design thinking to the real estate market," he says. His shared workspace today has phone booths, a library space, cafeteria (that you can also work out of), lounges, event space, meeting rooms and a brainstorm room.

But before taking an idea to the market, it's important to know whether the market is ready for it, says Shekhar Purohit. He is the founder of Dapper Don, India's first online fashion and styling portal, and co-founder and CEO of TalentNext.com Entertainment, an online discovery platform for the entertainment industry. The two companies were launched in 2015 and 2016 respectively. He recalls spending up to six months researching while he was still in the job. He created a focus group to bounce ideas over the weekend. "We would vociferously debate," he says. A "baap" in the startup business, Purohit was once a veteran executive and management consultant and also the MD and head of the San Francisco office at Pearl Meyer & Partners, a consulting firm. He's now working on his third startup.

Having been there, done that, Purohit says what is required is to have the eye to identify that vacuum in the market. And the source could be just about anything.
Singapore-based Pawan Gandhi, founder-CEO KaHa Pte Ltd, says a tragedy in the country, made him launch his company, which empowers cutting edge wearable devices, using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Gandhi designs and manufactures Internet of things (IoT) wearables for women security.

The company, which was founded in 2015, offers GPS tracker, navigation, safety, and lifestyle functionalities through its products. "The 2012 Nirbhaya case in New Delhi sent shockwaves through India, which made me want to venture in creating technology solutions that could help create social impact," says Gandhi, who earlier worked at WorldSpace as director, business development. He later joined Nokia Singapore as the global head for TV and Video.

But launching a business is one thing, and settling in quite another. It took Radeesh Shetty, founder and CEO of The Purple Turtles that offers personalised and customised lighting solutions for Google, Microsoft, Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook and Ericsson, two years to adjust to the new environment. "My previous corporate company was structured, pay cheque would hit accounts on the last day of the month, and travel was taken care of. I was pampered. Starting a business on our own involved wearing multiple hats, such as looking at sales, hiring, firing, marketing and more," says the former senior sales executive at Star TV. While Purohit might have given himself enough time to be sure about what he was getting into, Shetty did not. "I did not have a plan B consciously, but my previous boss had told me that I could always come back," he says.

Matters of moolah
Stories of scavenging for funds are galore. Former investment banker Vikram Poddar, India's first corporate stand-up comedian and CEO of BoredRoom Comedy recalls how in the first seven months of quitting his job and starting his own business, he made a princely sum of R70,000 in total. "In fact, my dating life with my girlfriend at the time was funded by my provident fund," he laughs. But gradually, as things fell into place, and corporate comedy — using humour to lighten the mood in rigid corporate spaces — was discovered and built on, revenues, partners and structured workflow starting falling in place.

"I love the time I spend with my content team and often have to remind myself that this fun thing we are doing is work and we are actually getting paid for it," he says. In fact, his team has interns as young as 19. "I teach them about GST and TDS, they teach me Instagram. My writers range from 22 to even 35," he says. It's a healthy mix of fresh blood and seasoned staffers that is required, says Purohit. "We do have well defined roles for people, but I don't see myself as a CEO. For me, CEO is chief everything officer," he laughs.

Having said that, wisdom is also in knowing if you aren't able to sink your feet in certain aspects and to hire the right person for it, says Shetty. "Developing a strong team is important because as the company evolves you won't be able to handle everything on your own," he ends.

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