[WATCH] The week that was - from an interview with Accel India co-founders to Infosys’ Narayana Murthy’s take on startups, entrepreneurship, and more
This week, YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma caught up with Accel India co-founders to find out their ethos of co-creating with entrepreneurs whom they fund, the evolution in the venture capital space in India, and more
Ashish Airon was an average student throughout his school. But he failed in the Probability exam while pursuing his undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Delhi University (DU). “It was a jolt for me and the silent treatment at home from my parents, who were extremely disappointed in me, shook me up even more,” says 28-year-old Ashish.
But, failing the exam turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Ashish got his act together and even aced all his papers in the final year, graduating with first-class honours.
He also applied for his Master's at Oxford University. After completing his Master’s from Oxford, Ashish moved to Frankfurt as a research associate. During this time, Ashish was itching to start his own AI startup. Although he was “learning a lot”, seven months in and he decided to move back to the UK to set up his firm in January 2016.
The startup, then called MetaTensor, was formed with the idea to connect researchers on its proprietary platform, DeepOptics, for solving data science problems with the help of AI. After running it for two years, Ashish moved back to India in January 2018 and co-founded CogniTensor with industry veterans Pankaj Mathur and Arun Aggarwal.
In 2016, when India woke up to demonetisation, one thing was crystal clear – the dire need for technology systems that made financial inclusion and payments simpler. Despite the mushrooming of different fintech players, the need for disruption persists as core systems have still not been transformed by technology. This was one of the reasons that made Bhavin Turakhia and Ramki Gaddipatta start Zeta in Bengaluru in 2015.
The umbrella platform, which began operations only by 2018, provides full-stack, cloud-native, API first offerings that include a digital core and a payment engine for issuance of credit, debit, and prepaid products. This enables legacy banks and new-age fintech companies to launch modern retail and corporate fintech products.
Speaking on the need for a seamless payments platform, Bhavin says, “I have always believed that frustration is the genesis of entrepreneurship. In payments, that has been the case for some time now. If you talk to anyone – CFOs, HR payments department, employee reimbursement claims, – nobody loves payments. In fact, every single person in the corporate world hates payments, and it is pervasive across the world. This was the problem with communication before WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook. New modes of communication made it fun and exciting, and nobody has done that for payments. Zeta stands for payments with purpose.”
From these mega entrepreneurs, let us focus on technology experts.
At his first job, Ananth Nagaraj learned an important lesson that has held him in good stead throughout his career and entrepreneurial journey so far:, “One needs to have the perseverance to solve complex things, and keep the learning curve going to be in the game.”
The 33-year-old, after working over a decade in the networks and communications space across multiple organisations, co-founded Gnani.ai, a deep learning and speech recognition AI startup, along with former colleague Ganesh Gopalan.
Ananth has a simple mantra as an engineer – technology should make a user’s life easier. To this end, he strongly believes that voice is the future, and that voice interfaces will reshape customer support, marketing, and sales operations in the coming years.
In a conversation with YourStory, Ananth takes us through his career highlights and what inspired him to build Gnani.ai.
The techie’s first real tryst with the computer happened when he was in Class 6. He recalls the day he learned to build smaller applications that take inputs from the user and then prints them across the screens. From learning the basics to falling in love with programming languages, computer science had the youngster in raptures, making it his favourite subject in school.
“I personally believe I had started building that deep tech company back then. I was always fascinated by how the computer works,” Ananth laughs. While pursuing engineering in Electronics and Communication at Visvesvaraya Technological University, Bengaluru, Ananth was intrigued by the engineering aspects of a computer. “I was curious to understand how people could handle technology. This is why I joined a telecom company to help them set up the 4G networks,” he explains.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that he had never expected the ecommerce major to become as big as it did. He added, had the company failed to take off, he “would be an extremely happy software programmer somewhere”. This was during a fireside chat with Amazon India Head and Senior Vice President Amit Agarwal at the first edition of Amazon Sambhav – a summit for small, micro and medium business (SMBs), in New Delhi.
Amit first asked Jeff, “Did you think Amazon would be so successful?”
To this, the Amazon Chief responded that the global ecommerce giant has come “way beyond” his expectations. He also predicted that India is going to own the 21st century. Speaking of Amazon’s early days, the entrepreneur described the beginnings of the Seattle-based company as an SMB.
He reminisced, “I was an SMB myself. Twenty-five years ago, Amazon was a tiny, little company. I was driving the packages to the post office myself. I was also wrapping the packages." When asked about his views on failure, Jeff responded, “Amazon is the best place in the world to fail." This was met with thunderous applause from the audience in the packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the national capital, mostly filled with SMB entrepreneurs.
This week, YourStory caught up with Infosys Founder and Chairman Emeritus, NR Narayana Murthy, to talk about India's tryst with fundamental science, as well as the role of startups.
He says, "Startups are about entrepreneurs coming up with an idea whose proposition is very different from any existing idea in the market. Startups are about a set of people whose collective experience can test an idea’s market fit and scale it up. It is the job of the founder to ensure that the team members have a common value system because entrepreneurship is a long and hard journey. It takes a lot of sacrifices, discipline, and hard work. The founder must understand that a company with common value systems will endure."
Further, Accel India announced that it had closed its sixth India fund to the tune of $550 million. With this new capital, the VC firm continues placing bets in seed and early-stage startups across India, despite the reigning sentiments of a slowdown.
Started in 2005 in India, Accel India is credited with placing some early bets on more than 100 early-stage Indian startups,, including Flipkart, Swiggy, and Freshworks. Some of these early bets, which Accel terms as its ‘Originals’, have given the firm happy dividends and a reputation of a ‘kingmaker’ in the Indian startup ecosystem.
In an insightful conversation, Subrata and Prashanth told YourStory's Founder Shradha Sharma, how in 2004 when they were trying to build their own company, they found themselves on the other side through a few twists of fate. (Please crosslink the Accel copy)
(Edited by Suman Singh)
[Watch] Accel India Founders on the right way to invest: 'You need to have an open mind, but also a prepared mind'