I am the founder and CEO of Thinking Hut– a consulting, product and services company with focus in the healthcare and logistics. I am a seasoned IT professional with over 20 years of global experience. I have a deep understanding of the ever changing Business and IT landscape. I am on the board of OCHFL, a housing finance company under license from NHB. My responsibilities include business planning, strategy, processes and IT. I am co-founder and director of Ordinal Analytics, a data analytics company. In my last corporate role, I was Vice President and Head of Sales with India Business of Infosys. Before that, I led the DHL & Deutsche Post relationship for Infosys for close to 10 years. DP/DHL was one of the largest clients of Infosys. During my tenure at Infosys, I worked across the continents, led very large accounts, built large teams and helped penetrate new geographies. I am a B. Tech. in Electronics and Telecommunication engineering from IIT-BHU. Mystrengths lie in strategy development, building teams and setting up operations.
Thinking Hut is a software start-up that believes in changing the world leveraging technology. The company was started by a bunch of experienced leaders from a Tier I Indian IT company in late 2010. The founders have experience across sales, account management, delivery, product development, consulting, quality & processes& relationship management. We do a range of activities – we consult on healthcare & logistics, have invested in IP in the Healthcare space and provide software services, mainly to other start-ups.
There are plenty of risks for a start-up.
Business –The way it works is that bigger guys work with bigger guys and smaller guys are more comfortable with smaller guys. This was the biggest hurdle that we were required to tide over. Choosing the right geo was also equally important.
Financial Security – I think it’s important that you do not draw much from the company till a certain stage is reached. If you, as an owner, are too dependent on the company for your monthly expenses, it’s bound to create pressure on the business model. We were prepared not to draw anything for the first two years. It’s a different matter that it worked out better for us.
Focus – It’s important that you remain focused in what you are doing. It’s very easy to get distracted. Course correction is equally important. We must have done that 4-5 times in the last 2 years. Though we are a small set-up, we take time out every 6 months to do a strategy session. It might sound like overkill but you need to step out of day-to-day grind and think about what you are going to do next.
Talent - Attracting and retaining the right kind of talent is a key one. We believe we are an employee friendly company and go out of the way to make the point. What we have is a “Thinking Hut Family”. Employees have responded likewise, more often than not.
Most Critical Decision
We took the tough decision of co-existence of services and products/IP, though many suggested against it, keeping the self-sufficiency and sustainability in the mind. We have been able to “ride in two boats” till now.
Keeping out of India market from a services point of view is another of them (though our IP is focussed on India market).
We started with two big products but dropped one of them because we very soon realized that it’s tough doing 2 big ones together. The idea was close to our heart and it was difficult to let go.
Services – Since we did not have a dedicated presence in our target geo, it took us some time to get going. We came with some innovative models and built partnerships to tide over the hurdle.
Product – Managing the scope becomes the biggest challenge because you are trying to strike a balance between what’s best and what’s optimal. Since the idea is close to our heart, we were susceptible to the calls for the best! A few months in the journey, we put tight requirement management processes to get the whole thing under control.
I try to ensure that I always have the bird’s eyes view. It’s very tempting to get sucked into one aspect (example – the product that we are working on… it’s very very tempting!). The bigger picture has to be kept in the mind and the longer term goal has to be kept in the view all the time. At the same time, the daily ops need to be smooth. It’s about striking a balance between shorter term and longer term aspects of the company.
Mistakes Made and Lesson learned
- We invested in an analytics company which did not take off. Though we could see it falling apart and would have liked to do everything to save it, we could not do much because we neither had the competency nor the access to the market. The lesson learnt was that we must stay close to what we know – at least to start with.
- We tried helping couple of start-ups in pure equity model. The idea was someone else’s, the sweat was ours. It did not go too far. It’s important that your partner puts skin in the game and just not an idea. The other party should be willing to pay from their pocket for you to believe that they believe in their idea!
- We started with 2 big products (by our measure) which was not a very good idea. It’s not about number of people you can put in but it’s also about how much energy and focus you are able to put in yourselves. Also, it’s a huge task to market even one. We soon realized that it was not a wise idea. We dropped one of the products but only after having spent good amount of time, money and energy.
What I would have done differently
I would definitely do a few things differently. I would not make the same mistakes and learn from the lessons the journey has taught.
I think the biggest motivation has to be the legacy that we are trying to build. The idea is not to create another giant IT company (our capability apart!). The idea is to create a boutique shop that our clients want to work with and not only the other way round.
I am also aware of the fact that we get to work with a number of young people. How we work with them and shape them is going to be a key deciding factor for rest their career. We have the opportunity to help them grow multi-laterally. This is another aspect that motivates me.
We do need to make money as well but it’s not a key motivator.
We expect people to add value to the company. We do not want people who are “order takers”. We encourage people to ideate, discuss and speak openly. We try our best to be fair, open and transparent with people which is highly appreciated in a small company like ours.
Spotting Right Talent
Well, you choose the right partners and then everything falls in place! We have known each other for ages and that helps in a big way. There are no surprises.
In terms of employees we look for people who are experienced, passionate, have good ability to express themselves and are willing to add value rather than just take orders. We keep reminding our folks that their existence is not about doing the work allocated to them. They are supposed to think, discuss, suggest and if required, argue over the projects and products we work on.
Our first few clients came through a reference. Difficult to say we faced major challenges because all of them knew us and they had confidence in us. The real challenges were faced when we started looking beyond friends and friends of friends.
I don’t think the role has changed much with time. I need to be aware and alert on all the aspects of the company. At the same time, the focus kept changing as the company grew. At first, it was the grunt work of setting up the company including mundane work like setting up the office, then it changed to getting the right people on board, followed by focus on sales, focus on solutions and then quality and processes. Sometimes I focus on more than one aspect at the same time. The aspects keep moving in and out of the focus… the role does not change…
Company I Admire
There are couple of them. Google for its ability to innovate on a continuous basis and keeping it low cost for everyone. Apple for it’s ability to make black and white look so beautiful.
Advice to Entrepreneurs
- Start early – It’s best to start early as an entrepreneur. The later you start, the more baggage you carry in terms of responsibilities outside your work. The age also catches up.
- Be patient – It takes at least 3 years for a company to reach a certain level. If it takes less, well and good but be ready for 3 years at least. If you push things too hard, you might be exposing yourselves for unnecessary risks.
- Not everything succeeds – Of the 3 initiatives I started with, one failed, one is moderately successful and one is doing well. I happy about it. If I had everything going well, I would have been worried. You learn from your failures as well.
- Don’t do it for money – This goes with “be patient” tip. If you do well, money will follow. Don’t do it for money alone.
- Don’t do it alone – You must have at least one partner. He/she should be your friend and soul mate. You should be able to cry on his shoulder. Doing it alone is like being in a marriage alone!