Be original, focus on doing good work, and stay curious – Dhiraj Rajaram’s mantra for success

31st Oct 2015
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Dhiraj Rajaram, Founder and CEO of Mu Sigma, has rarely been one for convention, and on the final day of TechSparks 2015, he chose to talk about how to build a successful global company in his own unique style. Dhiraj has a three-pronged mantra for entrepreneurs. It’s based on his own journey in founding Mu Sigma and making it a hugely profitable firm. Here’s a quick recap:

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  1. Place a heavy premium on being original

“Being original has a lot of value,” Dhiraj stated. “Young people want to do good things, but they’re not placing enough of a premium on being original. I truly believe that if there’s one thing that India needs, it is being original. Otherwise, we won’t gain the respect we need.” Further elaborating, he said that a company’s product or service may not sustain, but its culture will because it’s rooted in the founders’ beliefs, and that can’t be replicated.

Competitors can copy your strategy and execution, but they can’t copy your belief.

We live in a world of accelerating change and in such a world, “Learning is going to be more important than knowing,” added Dhiraj. And in that world, the people who will learn are the ones who have a child-like curiosity and who engage in extreme experimentation. It is important to create an ecosystem where ideas make love to other ideas and create new ideas, because, “The new IP won’t be intellectual property, it is inter-disciplinary perspective.” He pointed out that in the past 500 years, the biggest innovations came through an interplay between many different things. “Being original while respecting the interplay between disciplines is crucial,” he reiterated.

  1. Are you a performer or a producer?

According to Dhiraj, there is a huge difference between being a producer and a performer. Performers show people all the seemingly interesting things they’re doing, and place a huge premium on looking good. In contrast, a producer doesn’t care about looking good and is instead focused on doing good. Mu Sigma, he said, has always been focused on doing good work, which is why they’re very profitable.

He cautioned entrepreneurs against thinking that obtaining funding meant they had arrived:

Funding does not equal success. Funding is just the start, and maybe even a dangerous one.

Mu Sigma, he recounted, mostly raised secondary capital. “We knew it was our idea that was going to make money, not the funds we raised,” he said, adding that it was extremely important to realise this aspect of life and not feel threatened into becoming an unprofitable, boring unicorn.”

  1. Achieve a high level of clarity by staying curious and focused
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Dhiraj likened long-term success to a rocket – one that burns slowly before taking off, but when it does, junks things it doesn’t need, and goes a long distance. “When you’re pitching all the time, you think about everything you’re doing right. So you need to be slightly bi-polar and have the ability to ask yourself what you’re doing wrong,” he explained. “And you can do that if you’re intrinsically curious. It will help you gain a rare clarity to see a lot of things but also be able to focus on what’s important. If you have both of those things, that’s when your journey starts.”

And that’s when you need be grateful. “Acknowledge where you were lucky, acknowledge your family, because you’ll need it to keep it going, because somebody’s going to pay you a lot of money to keep it up,” he advised.

On a lighter note, Dhiraj said it was important to be grateful especially if you’re a first-generation entrepreneur because if you’re successful, it’s going to become lonely very quickly, when you make a truckload of money. “Many of the people you identified with because of shared problems, you won’t be able to identify with anymore. And you won’t blend in with those who’ve always had money either,” he said pointedly, tongue-in-cheek!

A big shoutout to TechSparks 2015 sponsors – Sequoia Capital, ICICI Bank, Money on Mobile, Microsoft, Signal Hill, IBM Bluemix, PwC, Atom Tech, Teamchat, Govt. of Karnataka, Intel, Rabbler, Dailyhunt, Reverie, Loginext and PayUBiz; Partners – Duff&Phelps, Taxmantra, Dineout, Exotel, 360ride, Yoga Bar, Chai Point, GWC; and our Media Partners – TV9, Fortune India, RedFM and Deccan Herald.

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