'I was an entrepreneur and I didn't know it'- Takeaways from the life of an accidental entrepreneur
Varadharajan Kumaravelu’s story began in Chennai. Born in a 'business family', as it was referred to back then, Varad was 12 when his father lost everything with the sudden closing down of their business. "When I look back I realise that my entrepreneurial journey actually started and I was 13 years old when I was selling soaps for my grandmother's newly acquired agency, so that I could pay for my next year schooling", he says.
Many a milestones later, Varad now has a startup, Terra Tech, which provides solutions for the private transport industry in Chennai and Gujarat.
Varad’s entrepreneurial journey is as fascinating as his introduction to entrepreneurship. Through our email exchanges and meeting, Varad said many things about his drive to succeed, his failures and successes. Romanticism aside, this is a story that offers much learning.
A snapshot of his journey and what you can take back from it:
- “I literally grew up very hungry”, this statement pretty much sums up Varad's drive to achieve what he sets out to and the urgency and the passion he puts into his work.
No doubt perseverance is an important trait for a startup, things don't always happen at a breakneck speed. But urgency to do things need not be construed as an antonym to patience. The trick is to find the right balance. Have the urgency to achieve and the perseverance to see things unfold.
- After class 10, Varad went on to do a diploma in computer technology (a degree was an expense he didn't have the luxury to afford). For the next couple of years, he worked as a data entry operator and later, went on to teach computers. His work pedigree also boasts of impressive stints with the Indian Army and Indian Space Research Foundation, in the technology backend team. He has since worked in the technology team of IBM (Bangalore and UK), Merill Lynch (UK and US) and Credit Suisse (Singapore).
A professional qualification is a strength, but lack of one is not a weakness. Success (in education and profession) depends largely on drawing on your competency. A fact which Varad corroborates later, when after a few failed attempts of entrepreneurship in the F&B sector, he started Terra Tech, drawing on his core competency (Technology Solutions).
It’s also good to remember that everyone doesn't start on the same footing. It’s important that you don’t get bogged down by others and stay focussed on your goal.
- In 2008, Varad rebooted his Entrepreneurial journey when he bought a 33% stake in an Indian Restaurant in Singapore, with an aspiration to turn around the business. He failed, learnt from the mistakes and with the core team backing him, he bought a smaller restaurant in a different part of Singapore. He failed again.
We cannot emphasise this enough. Failure is just another word for 'learning curve'. Make it your training ground, and you stand a big chance of gaining a lot from it.
- In February 2012, he start Terra Tech Solutions Pte Ltd. Terra Tech is trying to build an Eco-system for the private transport industry, through their app (so far on Android only) which assists in calculating the fare using GPS, live tracking of taxis, has an inbuilt CCTV, enables online booking of vehicles, and plays video entertainment on the go without buffering. The tariff, video content is all controlled via the server. “Having lived in Chennai, I know the problem people face with taxis and autos there. And I’ve known several of these drivers over the years to understand the other side of the story. My idea is to build a product that finds a solution to the problem as a whole”, he says. The product also opens up the possibility of location based video advertising.
Focus on your strength. Sure enough, as an entrepreneur you play multiple roles in your startup. But there are a few things that you can do better than the rest. Invest in that and it can make up for what is lacking somewhere else.
- The product went live in June 2012 with 25 taxis to began with and soon enough, Varad brought in a CEO to oversee operations, who, Varad says has ‘changed the positioning of the company’. “The original product I had worked on required us to provide the Hardware too. Scalability would have been a big challenge with that. We have now moved the whole system on cloud and the product is available in SaaS format, which makes it limitlessly scalable”, he says.
Having the right team is one of the most important ingredients of success. Remember it is your team’s job to be honest in their opinions, and while they may be challenging your thoughts, they are still backing you - by helping you create the best.
More about Terra Tech
The startup has partnered with taxi companies in Chennai including Welcome Call Taxi and Friends Track. and with g-auto in Gujarat, which is looking at expanding into New Delhi, Mumbai and Indore. Currently there are 75 vehicles across India with Terra Tech Systems and the company charges a fee of INR 250 per vehicle, per month. The product is also being piloted in cities like Preston (United Kingdom), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Batam (Indonesia) and Manila (Philippines). “By the end of the year, we expect to scale to 500+ vehicles in India and another 500+ in the Philippines. Our ultimate aim is to have 1 million screens across the globe making private transport both convenient and safe, while providing rich content on the move and creating a new platform for the advertisers”, says Varad ambitiously.
As part of the project, the company has also developed a proprietary video format, to enable distribution of personal videos without the fear of having unauthorised viewers. The product is currently being evaluated a crowdfunding site for short filmmakers.
Varad has so far raised 150K SGD in Angel funding primarily from two Senior American IT leaders in Investment Banking and is looking at fund raising from the National Research Foundation, Singapore. Until last year, I always thought that ‘funds’ came from family or salaries. I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was. I have only now started calling myself ‘an Entrepreneur’ and my company ‘a Start-up’”, he says, candidly.
Varad has been in a corporate job through this journey and currently, he works with an investment bank in Singapore as the Asst. Vice President in the Information Technology team. It must be difficult juggling a corporate role in a place like Singapore and simultaneously running a startup in India? I ask. “Not really, I am passionate about what I do and as far as dealing in India is concerned, it is in my DNA”, he laughs.
Company Website: Terra Tech