How Anand Jain used frugality lessons from childhood to build CleverTap

Welcome to The Playbook. A brand new podcast from FactorDaily bringing conversations with the doers and inventors about how they build products of impact in India. The idea is to get under the hood, go behind the scenes, and offer deep insights from their playbooks of building products and ideas that matter.

Founded in May 2013 by Anand Jain, Sunil Thomas and Suresh Kondamudi, CleverTap has raised $41.6 million so far and is valued over $125 million.

But that’s not the story.

As a 12-year-old teen growing up in a lower middle class family in Ahmedabad, Anand watched and learned the value of frugality from his mother who stitched dresses to make ends meet in a small tailoring shop.

“Every time she would stitch a fall to a sari, we would make two rupees, and it would cost 50 rupees for every shirt I had to buy. So I knew it would take 25 saris to earn one shirt,” he says. “It would take an hour’s work by my mother to earn a shirt.”

“It’s very easy to spend money, but to earn money is really hard.”

“Can we be more resourceful instead of throwing resources at a problem.”

Anand became a self-taught entrepreneur when he was just 12 and had lost his father.

“I would get unused detergent powder from a popular factory, package it as soaps and sell them door to door.”

But this isn’t just a rags to riches story, either.

It’s more about applying the lessons in frugality, customer understanding and product building.

Listen in to learn more about what makes CleverTap among the fastest growing and most admired software products from India.

India’s first man in space, Rakesh Sharma, on how keeping a low profile has been liberating

Welcome to Season 3 of the Outliers Podcast.

We launched Outliers in December 2016 with Manish Sharma of Printo, who shared his life lessons in being an entrepreneur. Since then, we have produced 87 episodes over two seasons of Outliers. Outliers isn’t just a podcast for us. It’s a journey of conversations that has taken us from Leh, where we met Sonam Wangchuk, to Udupi with Robosoft’s Rohith Bhat, Dr Gullapalli Nageswara Rao in Hyderabad on shaping the future of eye care with compassion, to Mumbai with Uday Kotak and Harsh Mariwala, and so on.

Once again, thanks for being a part of this journey, and more importantly, sharing your feedback and helping us shape the product.

Now back to Season 3.

The first time I heard about Rakesh Sharma was in school, like most of us growing up during the 80s and listening to stories about India’s first man in space. More recently, while meeting Madan Padaki, a social impact entrepreneur, I discovered Sharma again.

How can someone who has traveled space keep such a low profile, I asked Padaki, who had just met him.

“He told me he hasn’t been able to recover from the overwhelming feeling of being in space, feeling so small,” Padaki told me.

That got me really interested in chasing Sharma for recording this episode of the Outliers Podcast. We finally met Sharma at his hill home in Coonoor near Tamil Nadu’s famous hill station Ooty to record this episode. If you hear the sounds of birds and air as background noise in the podcast, it’s unedited intentionally. I’m sure you will love it.

Throughout the conversation, Sharma not only avoids sharing the experience of being in space but tones it down every time we even touch the subject.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about it,” he tells us. “You could feel the same way (about being too small) standing on this hilltop too.”

We will be publishing the full transcript of this episode soon. Until then, I really hope you will enjoy listening to Squadron leader Rakesh Sharma on how keeping a low profile has been a liberating experience for him.
I also found this BBC story about Sharma titled “Rakesh Sharma: The making of a reluctant Indian space hero” — an interesting read to help set the context.

Girish Mathrubootham says investors are owners too

For Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshdesk, entrepreneurship is not a one-off fling, but more like a habit, or “a sport he dearly loves.”

“Being an entrepreneur gives an opportunity to dream and go after it. It’s about doing what I like doing,” he told me in this episode of The Outliers Podcast.

Nobody wins when a founder loses

After almost two years of a funding frenzy, and more money chasing fewer, scalable startup ideas, some entrepreneurs are now worried about investor activism. “India’s biggest startup has just seen founders move out of top executive roles, and an executive from their top investor is now at the helm — many of us are worried,” a startup founder struggling to make it big in the internet business told me recently.

With some of the top names including Sequoia, Accel and Google Capital backing Freshdesk, is Mathrubootham worried?

“A lot of us think that if Girish started this company, it’s his. And while that’s true, let’s not forget one thing — the moment you take investment and sell your share, somebody is part owner of the company. It’s as much as (the) investors’ company as it’s ours,” says Mathrubootham.

“For most of us who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, it’s prudent to understand that when we take money from external investors, we should be mature enough to understand that they are owners too. Now, the investors want founders to run the company because that’s the best bet. “

Don’t mix passion with emotions

“You shouldn’t mix the two. And it comes with maturity. Being passionate is a must, but not being emotionally involved is a great trait to practice,” says the founder-CEO. “My pet peeve has been that many founders in India aren’t building great customer experience and are taking shortcuts. They see demand going through the roof.”

Should founders aspire for financial freedom early?

“It’s important to understand that if you want to dream bigger, and go for the big swing, entrepreneurs need freedom in their mind and risk-taking ability,” says Mathrubootham. “So we started Freshdesk in October 2010 — if all I had was a home loan and salary and absolutely no liquidity, it would be very hard to keep going on, managing financial needs.” Early liquidity frees you from emotional burdens and take bigger risks. “If not, your natural tendency will be to protect and not take risks,” he says.

Will you sell if Google makes an offer?

I couldn’t resist asking Mathrubootham this question because of the stage Freshdesk is in.

“Obviously, we would take it to the board. It also depends on what’s the right thing to do,” he says.

“Let’s assume we spend the next five years working towards the liquidity goal and maybe, we reach $500 million or more in revenue. And that puts us in $4-5 billion (valuation) range.”

“Dreams can be continued, I don’t see acquisition as an end to the journey. And I’m talking as someone who’s acquired seven companies.”

Listen to Mathrubootham’s refreshing ideas on entrepreneurship in this podcast.

To listen to the previous episodes and subscribe to the Outliers podcast on SoundCloud click here. iTunes users can also click here to subscribe.