“Hobson’s choice of saving lives versus livelihoods.”

Ravi Venkatesan

“Mass extinction of enterprises and jobs.”

“Hobson’s choice of saving lives versus livelihoods.”

When I asked Ravi Venkatesan to describe what’s going around us today, and what it means for us, this is how he painted the picture. He’s known to never mince his words. 

This series of Outliers is about resilience, not necessarily false hopes. 

Welcome back to Outliers, a podcast about the ones who chose to take the road not normally taken. After over 100 episodes and the last episode with AR Rahman, it feels great to be back. It also feels sad and sobering to be looking around us with the Corona virus situation worsening each passing day. In its sweep are startup dreams getting snuffed out in uncertainty and hopelessness.  

As a conversationalist, I have been wondering what I can do to be useful in these uncertain times. I looked back at the 100 episodes of Outliers and realised that there are masterclasses available from many of them in resilience and in managing the future. These include the podcasts with India’s first man in space, Rakesh Sharma, Uday Kotak, Sonam Wangchuk, Naval Ravikant and so on. 

Over the next few weeks, I intend going back to some of these Outliers (and some new voices), sit down with them for deeper conversations about how they managed different cycles of disruptions and crossed the valleys of death in their lives and careers — basically, look how their experiences in the past can help us navigate the coming few months or quarters.

The first in this series is a conversation with Ravi Venkatesan, the former chairman of Microsoft India, who has worked across the sectors of manufacturing, technology and now social over the past few decades. 

In this podcast, Ravi shared a really inspiring story about a Rwandan refugee woman who survived the genocide and other horrifying experiences before becoming a Rhodes Scholar

“I don’t think there was any choice. The will to live and survive was so strong that I kept going. I just put one foot in front of another, and the horror ended,” Ravi recalls her reply when he asked the woman how she did it. 

So why should you care about this series of Outliers podcast?

Nearly a decade ago, Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz wrote this agenda-setting blog titled “Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO” describing the traits of the founders/CEOs in different situations.  

We’re clearly living in ‘war times’ now. I am sure you as a founder are locked in some kind of a war room, battling to keep the lights on, exploring ways to keep the culture intact, or inventing a new business model — even as you iterate a new product idea or worry about the next version release.

Whatever you’re doing, Godspeed. and kudos for fighting the battles you do.   

Outliers 100: Life lessons from AR Rahman

So what’s the big deal about the 100th episode of the Outliers podcast? What’s the big deal about the 100th of anything? Not much, if you ask me personally.

Milestones can be lifeless. But, milestones can be a big deal, too. 

It all comes down to the events surrounding any milestones, or an outcome. Sometimes the events make a milestone. 

This episode, the 100th episode of the Outliers, could well have been the first, third, or 63rd. But it would still be special. And here’s why. 

A.R. Rahman — A.R. as he prefers to be addressed — is one of those Outliers who, having charted a unique path of their own and spread their magic along the way, hardly need an introduction. His genius lies not just in his creative melodies — ranging from the enchanting Roja to the soulful Kun Faya Kun to the peppy, Oscar-winning Jai Ho — but in seeking out all that is ‘good’. In music, in life, in other human beings. Never the one to talk too much or without reason, A.R. just about managed to give us, in this 100th episode of Outliers, a glimpse into his extraordinary mind and method.

“You learn much more from observing than talking,” he tells me in this podcast. 

Do tune in. 

P.S. We will be publishing the full transcript of this podcast later this month.

Meet former entrepreneur Raju Reddy, now a startup ecosystem builder

So what makes a startup ecosystem work? Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and perhaps even the regulators. 

Apart from the above, there are these low profile, faceless ecosystem builders who back the founders not just with monies, but with the emotional energy required in navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurial journeys. 

After selling his software services startup Sierra Atlantic in 2011, Raju Reddy started backing founders such as Phanindra Sama of Redbus. Much later, he also became one of the first backers of Grey Orange Robotics. 

Listen to this podcast to learn from Raju’s own entrepreneurial journey, and how the underground nerve center of BITS Pilani network  – he’s an alumnus and currently the chairman of BITSA – works.

CavinKare founder on building a culture that lasts

C.K. Ranganathan quit home and family nearly three decades ago to start CavinKare, a Chennai-based consumer goods startup that once gave the likes of Hindustan Lever sleepless nights. I am not sure how many of you remember the Chik shampoo that came in single-use sachets. The brainchild of Ranganathan’s father, R. Chinnikrishnan, the sachets reimagined distribution of expensive products for India’s middle-class consumers.

While CavinKare is still growing through its ups and downs, its founder’s journey is worth learning from. 

As a schoolboy, Ranganathan used to keep over 500 pigeons at one time, visualising which ones to cross-breed for newer varieties of the bird. Much later, after founding CavinKare, Ranganathan used his power of visualisation to create new product lines. 

“I started as a copycat,” he tells me in this episode of Outliers.

Tune in to learn more from the journey of one of India’s best homegrown retail brands.

Suchita Salwan of LBB on building a discovery platform for Indian millennials

Helping India’s over 500 million internet users find what they are looking for is the Holy Grail for everyone from Facebook and Google to Flipkart and Amazon.

Little Black Book (LBB), an online discovery and shopping platform cofounded by Suchita Salwan, a 29-year-old former marketing executive with BBC India, is fast becoming the go-to place for its close to 4.5 million users.

Listen in to this podcast with Suchita and learn from LBB’s playbook of building great communities, curating discoveries with integrity and, most importantly, doing all that without throwing monies to acquire users.

Kausshal Dugarr of Teabox on disrupting a legacy biz with a billion cups of tea

Welcome back to the second episode of The PlayBook – a brand new podcast from FactorDaily bringing conversations with the doers and inventors about how they build products of impact in India. In the first episode, we discussed “How Anand Jain used frugality lessons from childhood to build CleverTap.”

In this episode, I sat down with Kausshal Dugarr, founder of Teabox, an online tea retailing startup. I have tracked Teabox’s journey for five years now, since I wrote this story for TechCrunch.

Teabox has now shipped over one billion cups worth of its speciality tea, and there’s a lot to learn from Dugarr’s playbook of disrupting an age-old business using technology and imagination.

Tune in to listen and learn more.

How Ritesh Arora learned from failures to bootstrap, then turn BrowserStack into a $60m rocket ship

If you’ve been following the mainstream startup movement in India, it’s likely you’ve never heard of BrowserStack, or its low profile founder Ritesh Arora.

But if there’s one startup playbook you must learn from, it’s the BrowserStack journey.

By the time BrowserStack earned its first million-dollar revenue in the year 2012-13, the founders Arora and Nakul Aggarwal were still working out of coffee shops.

Bootstrapping can be lonely, sometimes frustrating and even mean slow growth rates.

However, with two startup failures before building BrowserStack, Arora was not new to challenges.

“We had over 50 investors saying no when we tried raising funds,” Arora tells me.

BrowserStack’s current annual revenues are estimated to be around $60 million

Listen to this podcast with Ritesh and learn the BrowserStack journey.

William Bissell of Fabindia on building brand, lessons from the journey

“Giving just returns to your investors and shareholders is a restrictive model for business. Business is such a powerful force, it needs to stand for a higher purpose,” Bissell tells me in this episode of Outliers.

Bissell, who took over the business in 1999, is now the vice chairman of Fabindia.

If you want to learn from William’s journey of creating a “built to last” brand, listen in.

Why Environment, Sustainability are hot for Amuleek Singh of Chai Point

Amuleek Singh Bijral, the founder of Chai Point, is an outlier for many reasons. For me, Amuleek is an outlier because of his undying focus to ensure Chai Point is sensitive towards the environment. And he believes being environment-friendly makes business sense too. Also, he’s in my list of Indian founders who I believe are building institutions that will last.

In this conversation, there are some never-told, amazing back stories about Chai Point’s innovative packaging, business strategy, and organization culture.

Listen in.

How Vinoth Chandar of ChuChu TV made it a top global brand on YouTube

With over 24.5 Billion views and more than 38 Million subscribers across its channels, ChuChu TV is one of the top video creators on YouTube from India.

Vinoth Chandar, founder and CEO of ChuChu TV, began the channel in 2013 with a nursery rhyme video titled ‘Chubby Cheeks’ sung by his daughter, which went viral and received over three hundred thousand views in two weeks. Today the company has grown both in India and globally and boasts multiple channels creating content for kids — even catering to an international audience through ChuChu TV Canções Infantis (Brazilian Portuguese) and ChuChu TV Canciones Infantiles (Spanish).

In this episode of Outliers podcast, Chandar talks about his journey from working in the IT sector to building a successful global YouTube company from India.