"So one day you woke up and just decided to quit," I ask.
"Yes... that was it," he replies.
In hindsight, for a newly married guy from a strictly middle-class background, it was madness. And no, his wife wasn't working either.
But it was a time when dreams were more than enough to fill one's stomach.
- Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish by Rashmi Bansal (2008)
Last week, Lok Sabha passed The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016. The move will empower the Government of India to provide targeted services to beneficiaries by assigning them a unique 12-digit identity number, called Aadhaar, which is adding 500 – 700, 000 people to its system every day. According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, 97 percent of adult Indians have an Aadhaar card.
A fact worth delight is that,
In the entire world, Aadhaar was the first organisation to reach half a billion users, in less than five years (four and a half, to be precise). It wasn’t Facebook or a Silicon Valley company. It’s an initiative by our own Government
says Shankar Maruwada, ex-Head of UIDAI’s (Unique Identification Authority of India) Demand Generation and Marketing, or, in other words, the ‘brand builder’ who brought Aadhaar to India’s every nook and corner. The reach of Aadhaar is a stupendous success story in itself. In the age of the startups revolution, it’s indeed worth learning about Shankar’s journey and the lessons he has to offer to all entrepreneurs out there, both from Marketics and Aadhaar.
Shankar's journey started at the peak of the Internet boom (1999), with him co-founding Apnaguide.com, a customer reviews website (similar to the likes of Zomato and TripAdvisor). But the company shut in less than two years. The reasons, as Shankar says, were many,
For one, the model was ahead of its time. And, with not an enough audience base, there was no monetisation possibility.
For any company to thrive, it’s important to be cash-positive. And if one realises that the model isn’t working early on, it’s best to quickly revamp or fine-tune it. And that’s what Shankar did.
In his second innings, he founded Marketics in 2003, one of India's largest provider of marketing analytics services, which was bought over by WNS in 2007 for an estimated $65 million. Again, ahead of its time, it provides revenue-enhancing solutions to increase marketing effectiveness and return on marketing investment to some of the world’s leading marketers. At the time of buyout, Marketics was getting revenues of approximately $8 million and had 200 employees. Some lessons from Marketics were–
Shankar was roped in by Nandan Nilekani to head UIDAI’s demand generation, communication and awareness. His responsibility was to create demand for Aadhaar in the nation, rather than force people to apply for it. The rest, as they say, is history. But Shankar shares some valuable lessons and tips on working with the Government of India –
Aadhaar, no doubt, is a game-changer. Shankar left Aadhaar in February 2012. Recently, he teamed up with the Nilekanis again and this time, they have co-founded Ek Step – a non-profit that will leverage technology to deliver primary education at scale, to about 200 million children. Another giant leap.
On a parting note, Shankar says,
The entrepreneurship landscape has changed since I started. Society is so much more favourable to entrepreneurs now and they are keen on making an impact, rather than just following a straight corporate ladder. But it’s important to enjoy the journey, think deeper and long-term. One shouldn’t jump into it to become a millionaire. Because if it’s done well, it can be a life-altering experience.