YourStory.in met Ganesh Krishnan, serial entrepreneur and a man who wears many hats — founder & CEO at TutorVista Global being the current one. In a free-wheeling chat, Krishnan discussed place of emotions in doing business, investing in 100 startups and more. Excerpts.
YourStory: You pride yourself on being a serial entrepreneur, so how do you know when its time to move on?
Ganesh K : I don’t think there is ‘a’ specific time! It is like a nursery or a gardener. From taking a seed to growing it into a sapling, to a plant and then a tree. Similarly each company grows through each phase with different challenge stages. There is certain level of value as well as returns at each stage.
At what stage you sell depends on what object you start the company with. It can be determined by your own object or by what is best for the stakeholders. Some businesses require an ability to run an orchard. For example the size of the balance sheet, the strength of the balance sheet and the big brand name under which it shall flourish rather than being independent. Sometimes it happens that the value is getting maxed out as an independant company and then I would like to sell. What is important is not to overdo it. Also, there is no right decision, lot of people ask me do you regret selling early, etc. In any entrepreneurs’ mind regret doesn’t come in as long as the outcome has been positive. I have 4 exits so far, does it mean that I don’t wake up sometime in the night and say I would have done it differently, definitely yes!
YS: Is it difficult to cut off emotionally from the companies you have build and sold?
GK: You can never be an entrepreneur without passion and emotional attachment. Most times there are only 5% chances of success as an entrepreneur. But, the reason why everybody does entrepreneurship is that they passionately believe they will be in that successful 5%. So emotion is very important part of entrepreneurship. In my case, I see entrepreneurship as a product life-cycle. So I invest my time, passion and money in building those products. At some point of time, the product will be best in some other hands. Analogous is like your daughter getting married, when a girl gets married she changes her name, in Tamil brahmin stuff she changes her gotra, goes to a different household, does it mean she becomes less of your daughter? The answer is no! So you cry about it and are all emotional about it sometimes. It is the same sadness that you have when your daughter leaves!
YS: When do you set your objective whether to sell/not? Do you do it way in advance?
GK: Not in advance. For me it is very important to build monetization of value in whatever you are doing. It is not like a lifestyle business or a small hobby business that I am building. But when you are talking about scalable business, you need capital and the moment you take capital, you need to talk exit because VCs need to exit. It could be an IPO, it could be a strategic sale, or a PE round, but there will be an exit. For anyone who raises money, there has to be an exit, otherwise it will be a lifestyle business. Lot of entrepreneurs are happy to build lifestyle businesses. For my own perspective, I like large scalable businesses, which has all the elements of funding, investors, scale, exit and then scale!
YS: TutorVista has had good success in a short span of time. What does it take to build a good company in education and what are the opportunities in this space?
GK: I am not an educationalist all the way, I have been an educationist only in my 4th venture. I became an educationist by opportunity and accident. TutorVista has the largest number of teachers and the largest number of courses in the world online — there is no metric to compare TutorVista to others. And, that gives you a lot of space to make mistakes as an early mover! Because there is no comparison to this from Day 1, you are not under pressure. Hence there is more time to learn while making mistakes. But say we start an IT services company today, you will be beaten to death by analysts, media etc while they compare your work to Wipro and Infosys. When I started CustomerAsset it was one of the first 4 call centers started in the company. We were the first 4 call centers to define the industry in India. TutorVista is the one of its kind in the country, even today we have no comparison. One of the things that has helped us to scale, besides luck is the fact that we were the first ones to move in this industry. So that is very important!
YS: What next?
GK : What Meena(my wife) & I have done is incubated companies in internet and e-commerce space addressing Indian consumer and Indian challenges. In India there is a huge opportunity because of the size of the population, and internet penetration but the infrastructure is trembling. So we use this as an opportunity to create solutions for India where we are able to push the technology and solve the problems. For example, BigBasket which is India’s largest online store that recently launched in Hyderabad this week and Bombay last month. So, we already have largest presence across these cities. That solves the problem for India and lack of time for shopping, lack of infrastructure etc. We also invested in a company called Delyver which is into last mile delivery. Through, MustSeeindia we do packages for India — its Trip Advisor only for India. So the common sense thing to do is large problems that can be solved with scalable solutions.
YS: What would you say on niche commerce as an opportunity?
GK: There are areas in niche e-commerce, but the space is constrained by how scalable it is. Let us say you are in e-commerce selling high end furniture — how many people are going to buy high end furniture online? While scalability is a challenge, there is a potential opportunity. What we are looking at is problems that Indian consumers are facing, and how can we find solutions to those problems. Another problem that Indian consumer is facing is healthcare that is affordable for all.
YS: How is it being a husband wife team?
GK: What has worked really well for me and Meena is that our skills are extremely complimentary as well as different. We have a healthy respect for each others’ skill sets and what we bring to the table. My belief is whether it is husband wife working together / two co-founders not married working together if both the people have same skill-sets then that can lead to more clashes. But, we have been very fortunate to have extremely complimentary skill-sets, we have done two ventures together and it’s never been an issue. Also, it matters that both of us studied at IIM Calcutta together, we are equally qualified. Professionally she is more accomplished than I am, CEO of Tesco, No.2 at Microsoft. So it is not that this is a family business and that we are not looking outside.
YS: Are you going to go back to entrepreneur mode soon?
GK: I don’t know. Right now, I have a lock in with Pearson that is ending in a year. I am still thinking whether to do something on my own again or do 3-4 ventures wherein we spend our one day a week in 5 ventures, and help them build those ventures — and this is not incubating but actually spending time with companies and building them — what I call parallel entrepreneurship.
YS: You spoke about investing in 100 startups in India. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
GK: The first 6 investments made so far are in internet and e-commerce related ventures. There is no time-frame to this project. Essential themes that we like are for the Indian consumer and Indian problems leveraging technology and internet in areas that are potentially huge. Healthcare is one such area. Because 1.2 billion Indians would need healthcare services at one point in time or other. I am talking about tablet applications and games and all of that stuff, they are still very nascent, not that I am not looking at it, but it is still to be proven. We are looking at large addressable problems using tech/internet. Currently we spend like 8 hours a week with these companies — weekends goes in meeting these companies.
YS: What advice would you give to early stage entrepreneurs.
1. Think BIG - Address large problems that customers are willing to pay to get solved
2. Do it with co-founders and partners. Entrepreneurship is extremely hard, better to have partners. Ideally people with complementary skill-sets.
3. You must enjoy what you are doing. If you are not enjoying, then there is no point to anything!
If you liked this, you'd surely like our interview with Meena Ganesh, CEO Pearson Education Services.