We all have great ambitions, perfect ideals and preconceived goals. However, how many of us can reach those goals and yet give back to society all that we have taken from it. It takes great courage and a brilliant mind to do so effortlessly. Meet Abhishek Shankar who made this possible with his unfaltering will power and dedication.
Highlights of the Episode
- The prevailing world scenario that fired up the passion in Abhishek.
- The three month journey, of planning and finalising his blue print and finally pitching it to Google.
- How in the current times the acceptability of an entrepreneur is at par with any other job in India.
- For those who are wondering, organization culture is absolutely synonymous with freedom.
Quotes and Takeaways
- “All of us are ‘entrepreneuring’ in our own ways in this world with different goals and results.”
- “Augmented Reality has that magical touch and it has extreme potential of making life easier for people.”
- “Innovation however remains a fundamental goal of business.”
- “When it comes to consumer centric products, which people adorn with praises, it’s an ethereal experience.”
While studying in IIT Madras did you identify any specific experience which motivated you to pursue entrepreneurship? What was your initial inclination towards entrepreneurship?
Our company Adstuck stands today at a whopping 355 crores (50 m USD) and we started with just 20 lakhs of savings. The four years has everything which learned at college. College is that sacred environment where taking risks and experimenting with things first begins. I was a part of the Entrepreneurship Cell at IIT Madras and learned a lot of great things from the smart company I had around me. As that journey of entrepreneurship continued , I simultaneously began analysing the state of the world. Dissecting the larger cases that were playing out on a global scale. While I was doing this research, analysis and reflection, I was also thinking about what had me fired up. As knowledge and experience prevailed, I could see the economic comfort of people who had access to education and those who didn’t. The digital divide was widening and even the knowledge-based economy was becoming predatory for people who hardly had economic resources.
I pitched my solution for an education bus to Google and IIT Madras. The whole journey to finalize the blue print, finish the budgetary proposal, design the features and plan the operations and that too in 3 months graduated me from a thinker to a doer. Our attempt to put a bus on the roads of Tamil Nadu touched many lives. I felt successful and privileged to have created such an impact.
Entrepreneurship is a very broad word. All of us are entrepreneuring in our own ways in this world with different goals and results. Problems occur and we always solve them. Some people take up those problems, which are real and imminent, and impact a lot of lives. The rewards are co-related and in process they build a hack or a product which has potential of becoming a strong business. If the leaders driving the hack or product are finally serious and influential enough to transform it into a strong brand, it creates wealth for a lot of people. This must happen in same order , repetitively and in perpetuity. This has always been my idea of entrepreneurship.
What motivated you to build an app based on augmented reality?
Every artisan of a specific trade has the same desire. A painter wants to paint his own Monalisa, a batsman wants to become Sachin and an engineer wants to build something which technically is so advanced that it feels like magic. Augmented Reality has that magical touch and it has extreme potential of making life easier for people. Look at Alive, it can connect live events to newspaper content and in future would translate English into any regional languages and read it out loud for you.
Would you suggest that innovation and commercialization are opposite polarities of business?
We build ReverseData on the central concept that people in 3rd world countries need Internet to raise their lives. Brands also want to reach out to them through internet but end up spending on channels which are not as effective. So they will need to account for the emancipation of this vibrant 4.2 billion population. We were innovative and became the gatekeeper of this internet subsidy. This innovation immediately brought commercialization and revenues at operating profit of 50 %. But to make this happen ReverseData improved user data consumption by 2 times and gave brands a channel quality improvement of over 321 %. Businesses have different rationale for existence. At one point they exist to change the way the world works through the efficiency and features of their product and on the other hand they also exist to multiply wealth for their backers. Innovation however remains a fundamental and probably the most important goal of business. Innovation is important to keep the competitive advantage which if lost can lead to extinction. See Kodak, Nokia. Very few companies are good at commercializing their innovation well. They lose track of fit, lack of market, adaptation and go to market are major issues which they face. This means even commercialization needs lots of innovation these days. So rather than being at 180 degrees they are at 90 degrees complimentary. Today each innovation needs commercialization and each attempt of commercialization is forced to be innovative.
You started your journey in 2006. A decade after, what changes do you find in the startup industry?
The access to risk capital has become easy. We are now seeing India solving its own issues and people coming in to help us do the same. The acceptability of an entrepreneur is at par with any other job in India. It has distinguished itself from joblessness and lifestyle business. People are talking about problems and then mention the opportunity. You have access to bigger and better pool of talent. We have a lot of people who have failed in many of their first and second enterprise, which is absolutely a great time to be in. People talk about vesting and tranches and an interviewed person talks about cash flow of the company before joining. On the flip side the cost of doing anything has increased.
Do you have any moment of your journey which you recall as a low charge moment? How did you debacle it?
You always love your first product. Especially when it comes to consumer centric products, which people adorn with praises, it’s an ethereal experience. Alive was our first product and all the successes it enjoyed made it our brand. When Times of India acquired in 2014, it was a tough decision. Something, which you made with love and passion, is hard to let go. However the financial security it brought, the brand it built and platform it gave to solve a bigger problem outweighed the loss.
We decided to build something, which will touch a billion lives. The commitment for ReverseData gave us a lot of relief from the heartburn.
Which are the metrics you would identify while scaling the growth of a company?
ReverseData is like the country’s CPI index. The growth of mobile data consumption by 10% leads to increase in GDP by 1.36 %. This means that every MB of data we give for free there will be a certain improvement for families crossing the poverty barrier. We call it the Emerging Mobile Data Improvement. EMDI index.
Apart from this EMDI , we track Users signed daily, Average Data Consumed per User, LTV, MAU/DAU.
How important is it to build an organizational culture in the company?
Organization culture is absolutely synonymous with freedom. With Freedom, these shared feeling, values and discipline get humanly accepted. The day a person joins Adstuck he sees how great ideas have been converted into excellent products with perfect processes in a smooth series of shared activities. Some clear litmus tests of great culture is load balance and sharing of residual responsibility which we review all the time. It makes us move effortlessly in scaling as well. I’m proud of what we are because of our fellow Adstuckians, it is a great culture to share and even our ex-employees believe in the same.
What is your message for entrepreneurs?
Keep solving the problems one at a time. Always plan rigorously for all types of consequences and make the culture of planning permeate to every dot in the company.