Interview

Ashwin Ramesh - Irreverent Entrepreneurship

Team YS
5th Mar 2012
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A young calf does not understand fear. So goes a Tamil proverb. At 15, he was an entrepreneur wanting to “play” and would do many things to play. A newspaper report took him to instant stardom. At 18, his company made a million dollars in revenue. Now at 21, he is building tools, “bored with services.” He wears disruption in his attitude and candidly says, “I want to bring in disruptive development in an industry.” Meet Ashwin Ramesh, who was called the youngest CEO when he was first a CEO, which he dismisses with a satirical note, “Every three months newspapers report on a youngest CEO. What’s the big deal?

His first e-business initiative was born out of the need to fund his gaming server project. He bought a domain name for three dollars and sold it for twelve dollars. Cool, isn’t it? He cleaned up his uncle’s godown to house the gaming server and taught his maid how to use a computer. (Which is that ad that shows the sweeping maid pronouncing English lyrics quite effortlessly startling the young guy at home?) His first employee—home maid—is now with Infosys. Ever since, his hiring philosophy is “If you have two eyes, two hands, and two legs, we hire you.” His father sat all day fanning his gaming server and kept insisting Ashwin finish a degree and find a job, as he himself was a failed entrepreneur. His mother prepared lunch for employees, served them tea when they complained they didn’t have a cafeteria and gave into all of Ashwin’s unreasonable demands. He says with mischief, “They were sure if they didn’t listen to me, I will get out of the house.” At 21, mischief cannot escape you.

OrganicApex, founded in 2008, making Ashwin the “youngest” CEO, is a multimillion dollar digital marketing company. The company has created a product for online advertisers. “I already have two failed products and working on one more,” points out Ashwin, for whom the word “education” and “failure” are alien. Born in a city that rests on academic laurels and into a community that stresses upon academic excellence as the only way to rise in life, Ashwin irreverently side stepped a university degree despite compulsive parents insisting on one and dropped out of Vivekananda College. As a reverse progression, he has now completed BBA in one year from the University of Madras. I asked him, “One year?” surprised, to which he says, “Yes. I cleared all the exams in one year.”

He went into IIM-Kozhikode wearing shorts for a talk. This is surely a teen prank. You want to imitate someone famous just for the fun of it. But Ashwin’s clarity on his vision and strategy are beyond his age. How else can you run a multimillion dollar business? But he too has problems: “I hired a doc who wanted to write code. He did well and I paid double of what MNCs would pay him. Now he wants to join Infosys as he wants to get married.” Oh, boy! This bride ecosystem and fathers who secured their government jobs with pensions should surely change to accommodate startup entrepreneurs and employees as “good” bridegrooms.

View from the sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy

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