Vijay Shekhar Sharma on the life of a founder

So who is Vijay Shekhar Sharma?

Depending who you ask in India’s technology and startup ecosystem, the answers will range from “that crazy guy” to “overly obsessed entrepreneur”, “trying to fight too many battles at the same time”, “a desi entrepreneur”, “rags to riches story” and so on.

If you ask us at FactorDaily, we’ll perhaps point you to our Code of Conduct that names him as one of the three investors backing our media startup.

But this podcast isn’t about what we think of him; it’s about who he really is.

And as I sat down with him for this special episode Outliers Podcast Season 1, I realised he’s no different from many important entrepreneurs in these times — at the core, they all want to make it big, are inspired by Elon Musk or such, and are very, very lonely.

“When I lost my father few weeks ago, I also lost the only one who understood what I really do. Now, I have no one who understands me, and that will remain a gap forever,” he says.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on handling criticism and trolls

With over a million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands on other social platforms, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw keeps a really visible and busy profile. This fan following also brings trolls and critics who can get really personal at times.

As I sat down with Shaw, the founder of India’s biggest biotech company, Biocon, to record the last Outliers podcast of 2017, I asked her how she manages criticism and trolls.

“From the very start I’ve faced criticism…..being a woman entrepreneur, and trying to build a startup in an area not understood by many,” she told me. “More recently, some retail investors even asked me to step aside and hand over the reins to someone else who understands the business better. There’s even been criticism about my gender, and so on.”

“I believe if you’re honest about your beliefs then you’ll be able to take criticism. I don’t hesitate in apologising or retracting what I said if someone points to factual inaccuracies etc..”

In this age of extreme and polarized opinions, it doesn’t matter if you have one follower or a million. Keeping a balanced view and asking for fact/evidence-based debates on Twitter and elsewhere is scoffed upon.

How does Shaw manage all that? How can she critique and praise the government at different times?

These are among the questions I asked. Do listen in for some bold insights from one of the most important business leaders in the country.

How Rohith Bhat built an app development powerhouse from small town India

“When Steve Jobs went on the stage in 2008 to announce the App Store, he showed the first 500 apps, and the five of them were built in this building, in Udupi,” Rohith Bhat, founder of Robosoft tells me as I sat down to record this episode of Outliers in Udupi, a small temple town located some 400 kilometres from Bangalore.

What’s really exciting about Bhat’s journey is not just having Apple as an old, loyal customer, but how he is transforming Robosoft into a next-generation company that’s now building new gaming apps too. The Star Chef game, for instance, has been downloaded over 20 million times and has earned revenues of nearly $20 million in three years.

But it’s been a long, slow and at times frustrating entrepreneurial journey too. And that’s where Bhat is inspired by the Japanese culture and its companies. If you remember the Outliers Podcast with Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu, even he talked about why Indian startups need to emulate the likes of Honda, and not get starry-eyed by looking at the Silicon Valley all the time.

This recent interview of Bhat with Sramana Mitra captures some more details, and is a must read if you’re looking to learn more.

Listen in.

Santhanalakshmi Arvind on what it takes to be the family of a startup founder

Much before startup ideas find their way to colourful pitch decks, the founders, at least the ones with families, seek some kind of emotional, social approval. That approval is not make or break, but important.

Who gives that approval? More often than not: the founder’s family: parents or/and spouses. They, of course, almost instantly give their approval because they see the startup dream painted all over the founder’s face — the starry-eyed look of a wannabe founder wanting to change the world.

And that’s where it all starts: the long, slow, painful and lonely journey of entrepreneurship.

The life of a startup and its founder(s) gets mostly captured through stories of funding, management changes, mergers and acquisitions, and so on. What gets lost is the human aspect of entrepreneurship involving the families who sacrifice their time and emotions, friends and colleagues. Conflicted at times as they are with the founders’ own dreams, bordering on the ethereal, of making a dent in the universe.

My story “Death of a startup founder” in September last year was the life story of Arvindkumar Alagarswamy, co-founder and CEO of Attune Technologies, a healthcare startup. Arvind, a quintessential entrepreneur, was diagnosed of pancreatic cancer towards the end of January 2016 and was gone in about three months. Just when he and his colleagues had built it up to the crucial $10 million revenues-threshold with ambitions to grow it 10x in three-four years.

As I sat down with Santhanalakshmi, the late Arvind’s wife, for this episode of Outliers Podcast, I realized how often we as entrepreneurs, overlook the sacrifices made by our loved ones. And how important it is to steal tiny moments from all the running around, to ensure we create special memories. Perhaps this is why Naval Ravikant told me why he’s ruthless about time in the sixth episode of Outliers Podcast.

Lakshmi, as she is called by those close to her, has some advice to founders. What matters, she says, isn’t the amount of time a founder is able to take out for his or her family—it’s how you spend it and the quality of that time. “Because that’s what you remember the most when they aren’t around. In Arvind’s case, we remember his energy the most and that never lets us feel low,” she tells me.

And, she has a contrarian tip. “It’s not a bad idea to hold back and not share the ups and downs of the startup with your family,” she says, especially “if you’ve a friend who you (can) share everything with.

This podcast is about the most important investment any startup founder receives—the invaluable love and support from family.

Here’s to the unsung magicians who make startups happen.

Viral B. Shah on why engineers need empathy about users

The American civil aviation regulator’s next-generation collision avoidance system is built on a relatively new programing language called Julia.

You can thank Viral, who along with Alan Edelman, Jeff Bezanson, Stefan Karpinski, Keno Fischer and Deepak Vinchhi, built the language the next time you have a safe flight in the U.S. airspace.

Like every profession, engineering is also defined by some awesome coders and architects who are known for the battles they pick and the ones they ignore.

Shah, who was one of the key architects behind Aadhaar payments system, prefers to stay away from the controversies surrounding India’s biometric-based citizen identity program, as I record this episode of Outliers podcast.

If you are someone who believes our future will be shaped by next-generation software and machine learning, listen to this conversation. And here’s a video story my colleague Jayadevan PK had done last year on Julia.