Saturday, September 29, 2012

Successful executives are like pedigree dogs: Mindtree’s Bagchi

Mindtree Ltd executive chairman and co-founderSubroto Bagchi set up his first company in 1985 in Kolkata when he was 30 years old. The company, Project 21 Ltd an information technology (IT) consulting firm, folded up after three years, forcing Bagchi to seek a job in India’s then-nascent IT industry with Wipro Ltd. Years later, in 1999, just before the dot-com bust, Bagchi and nine others, including then Wipro president Ashok Soota, founded Mindtree. In an interview, Bagchi talks about his learnings from the failed start-up and elaborates on the emotional trauma when Soota quit the computer services company. Edited excerpts:

What is it like to start a company now compared with the time when you founded your first company?
When I started my first company Project 21, I was 30 years old. The issues were related to social backwardness.
What has happened is while the stigma (of being an entrepreneur) has gone, if you want to start a business, there are many hindrances. Today, social stigma is replaced by spermicidal social behaviour that preys on new and small businesses.
All of them (the venture capitalists and other investors) want you to have a great business plan, they want a marquee customer, they want the product to be ready, and the patents to be filed.
In India, we don’t want to engineer success, we want to inherit success. We still don’t understand what it takes to build. So, on one hand you have banks, venture capitalists, but the most crucial part for a start-up is the period when it’s born to the time that you are ready to scale. This interim period when you are testing an idea is very difficult because you still need an office, a customer and other resources, and the money does not back it then. We all know that corruption is high. The moment somebody opens a shop, that guy becomes easy prey. If you are opening a restaurant, the food inspector will come, cop will come and the first thing he will do is put up a ‘no parking’ sign in front of your shop. There is a quid pro quo there to remove that sign.
The young entrepreneurs are innocent, they want to succeed, put all their energy to create something good. If half of your time is focused on managing the petty intruders, how will you do it?
It’s distressing because here’s a country that could take on the world with its immense intellectual capital and even that social stigma is gone. Entrepreneurship requires freedom of the mind.
In many ways things have changed from the time I built the first start-up and in many ways, we still have made it much more difficult.

What did you learn from the first start-up, which was a failure?
I think it was a failure because the business folded up and I realized that it could not go any further and came back to join the industry, joined Wipro. There are many lessons learnt from that.
The first lesson was in terms of what makes a start-up fail usually is not market opportunity. Businesses don’t fail because of lack of opportunity; start-ups usually fail in their first year because the founders part ways.
Another critical lesson I learnt from my first start-up was the issue of undercapitalization. It came to a stage where we couldn’t fund growth. An undercapitalized start-up is a very difficult situation.
It can lead to a lot of heartburn; you suddenly realize that the business is not competing with market forces, but with its founders itself.

How can entrepreneurs build a stable founding team?
Even before you start, you need to have a threadbare conversation with fellow founders on what price will you pay, how long do we stick together, what do we really want.

How did you apply these learnings at Mindtree?
So when Mindtree took shape, we applied these learnings. We took a good one year to reach a common vision and values. We actually pooled our resources, drove down to Vizag from Bangalore and holed ourselves in a hotel for seven days. I don’t know why we chose Vizag—entrepreneurs are crazy people... We drove in two cars, took 24 hours to reach there. We spent a lot of time asking who we are, what we want from life, etc. We took it very seriously, wrote everything down.

How did it feel to see Ashok Soota quit Mindtree?
First of all, there is never a good time to say goodbye to a good man. The rational way of looking at it is 13 years is a long time. Even under the Indian Penal Code, lifetime (sentence) is 14 years. And I have told you earlier that most start-ups fail in their first year when the founders separate, so in that sense the 13 years we’re together is a long time. And independent of the vision of the founders, a company has its own destiny and it will play itself.
If you take a long view of time, and look at year 2020 when you will look back, you’ll say it’s a good thing that happened because when a certain amount of churn happens, a company comes back in touch with what’s really important. When that happens, it also means making way for the new, it’s able to look ahead and think by shedding the past.
But having said all that, I would say there’s no good time to say goodbye to a good man. In that moment, it hurts a lot, it’s difficult. Emotions get mixed up. The problem with professional organization like ours is different from those family-owned. You can’t suddenly split up like the Reliance group did between the two brothers. We couldn’t split Mindtree up between father and sons. It brings its own complexities, which makes parting difficult.

So, what it’s like being an entrepreneur?
The No. 1 job of an entrepreneur is to keep the faith during difficult times. You can’t have a cynical entrepreneur.
It’s a distressing statistic as to how many of them come out of large companies to start on their own. You become numb in big companies.
When Infosys’s first round of stock options happened, people speculated about the new millionaires and what will they do next. You know what happened—people took vacations, bought expensive watches, bought a second house, a second car, nobody started a company.
In order to be an entrepreneur, you have to burn your past, have to kiss your corporate success goodbye and be OK with living the life of a stray dog. If you look at highly successful corporate executives, they are like pedigree dogs—well groomed, well fed and with a collar around their neck. Who will walk them and at what time is predetermined by management.
When you start a company, you are like a mongrel—not sure about the next meal, life revolves around ducking the municipal dog-catchers, fighting with other street dogs. But when you are an entrepreneur, you know like a street dog that you can get up next morning and go anywhere you want to.

Entrepreneurs are mongrels!

Saturday, March 03, 2012


I have just read an article on the internet that the percentage of viewers watching porn is increasing tremendously day by day. According to a senior executive from the mobile industry, out of 70 million global mobile users who watch adult content, 13 per cent or 9 million are from India. Even there was recent news that three ministers of Karnataka have resigned after they were caught watching porn in the Vidhan Sabha. Over the years adult content has been the most searched on the web, but now mobiles are also witnessing the same phenomenon. The executive further said, "On an average, these 9 million Indians who watch porn or adult content on mobile spend around Rs 5,500 (70 pounds) per annum to get good quality adult videos on their phone."
After reading the article, suddenly a thought got struck in my mind and I asked myself why this is happening? Why are we so fascinated by pornography? Is this something we need to see furtively? Why can’t we accept it as the way it is? Why do we feel so embarrassed in case of getting caught? Why is it considered illegal? Why? Why? Why? Sometimes I really get mad thinking about all these issues. Centuries have passed and we have always been repressed from everything which seems so natural. We have always been distracted from our originality as well as our individuality and this process starts from the very birth. Every possible effort has been made by our societies and our so called religious people to make us nothing less than a slave. And the beauty of the thing is this- they do it so perfectly that nobody would have even an idea of this fraud by the time he\she grows up. Strange but true…
I have read an article by OSHO so I just thought of sharing his views about pornography. See what he says-
There is no need to be interested in pornography. When you are against the real, you start imagining. The day religious upbringing disappears from earth, pornography will die. It cannot die before it. This looks very paradoxical. Magazines like Playboy exist only with the support of the Vatican. Without the Pope, there will be no Playboy magazine; it cannot exist. It will not have any reason to exist. The priest is behind it.
Why should you become interested in pornography when alive people are there? And it is so beautiful to look at alive people. You don’t become interested in the picture of a naked tree, do you? Because all trees are naked! Just do one thing: cover all the trees, and sooner or later you will find magazines circulating underground – naked trees! And people will be reading them, putting them inside their Bibles and looking at them and enjoying. Try it and you will see.
Pornography can disappear only when people accept their nudity naturally. You don’t want to see cats and dogs and lions and tigers naked in pictures – they are naked! In fact, when a dog passes you, you don’t even recognise the fact; you don’t take note of it that he is naked. There are few ladies in England, I have heard, who cover their dogs with clothes. They are afraid that the nudity of the dog may disturb some religious, spiritual soul. I have heard, Bertrand Russell has written in his autobiography that in his childhood days those were the days, Victorian days – that even the legs of the chairs were covered, because they are legs.
Let man be natural and pornography disappears. Let people be nude….not that they have to sit nude in their offices; there is no need to go that far. But on the beaches, on the rivers, or when they are at ease, relaxing in their homes, resting under the sun in their gardens, they should be nude! Let children play around nude, around their nude mother and father. Pornography will disappear! Who will look at the playboy magazine? For what? Something is being deprived, some natural curiosity is being deprived, hence pornography.
Get rid of the priest within you, say goodbye. And then suddenly you will see that pornography has disappeared. Kill the priest in your unconscious and you will see a great change happening in your being. You will be more together.
Priests go on repressing; and there are anti-priests, Hugh Hefners and others- they go on creating more and more pornography. So, on one side, there are priests who go on repressing, and then there are others, anti-priests who go on making sexuality more and more glamorous. They both exist together- aspects of the same coin. When churches disappear, only then Playboy magazines will disappear, not before that. They are partners in the same business. They look enemies, but don’t be deceived by that. They talk against each other, but that’s how things work.
I have heard an anecdote:
There were two men who were out of business, had gone broke, so they decided on a business, a very simple business. They started journeying, touring from one town to another town. First one would enter, and in the night he would throw coal tar’s on people windows and doors. After two or three days, the other would come to clean. He would say that he could clean any coal tar, or anything that had gone wrong, and he would clean the windows. In that time, the other would be doing half of the business in another town. This way, they started earning much money.
This is what is happening between the church and Hugh Hefners and people who are continuously creating pornography.