Deep networking through Cohorts 

Whether you are running a business or you’re the CEO of a company, it can often feel lonely at the top. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many organizations that run CEO peer groups to help leaders by providing them with support, guidance and advice. Some of the most successful organizations offering this peer-to-peer learning include Vistage (formerly known as TEC, for The Executive Committee), Renaissance Executive Forums, Inner Circle, EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and TAB (The Alternative Board).

Our Charter Members are a vibrant community of Entrepreneurs, but their engagement with TiE as an organization isn’t well structured in the current setting. They meet their fellow charter members only during some events or socials or maybe at AGMs etc, but how they experience TiE is not well organized. I wanted to create a structure where groups of charter members could meet on a regular basis in a structured environment and learn from each other.

We designed the COHORTs structure on the lines of the original Napoleon Hills idea of mastermind groups and at TiE we named it as COHORTs. I conceived and structured the idea of COHORTs and presented to the TiE Hyderabad board, the board deliberated it and they felt that it may be a great way of engaging the Charter members on a regular basis and reduce the charter member dropout rates. About a year ago we started off with two COHORTs simultaneously along with 25 charter members. These 2 COHORTs understood the importance and value they could reap form their COHORTs, the word spread across the charter member community and a lot of requests started coming. In the last few months we started 2 more COHORTs and currently we have 4 COHORTs in operation now.

We have now developed a complete COHORTs handbook which details the entire training for the new COHORTs members. Whenever any charter member wants to be a part of any COHORTs he/ she must undergo a detailed training program. We have now come up with a COHORTs charter, this will be a guidebook to train the new COHORTs members and will also act as a rule book to run it on a regular basis. With all these things in place we are bringing a lot of structure and uniformity on how these COHORTs must be run.

My expectation is that all the charter members in TiE Hyderabad will become a part of COHORTs and gain /see the incredible value created when you put a group of CEOs together in terms of the shared connections by being a part of such a group. Now that we already started 4 COHORTs, I am sure in the next year or, so we’ll form another 4-5 COHORTs. A peer group is a safe zone, where you get the chance to talk things through in a confidential way where you don’t have to look smart all the time.

The feedback so far has been extremely positive, and the COHORTs members have become very close and their bonding is extremely good, and they’ve become a group of friends. Each COHORTs member feels that rest of the members are his/ her personal board of advisers and swear by the COHORTs experience. In the future they’ll gain more such exp by being a part of COHORTs. And that’s encouraging for new charter members to want to become a part of COHORTs

And now that we have seen a good success of this program at TiE Hyderabad, I am hoping that the TiE chapters worldwide will also adopt this program and introduce it in their chapters so that they can provide a differential experience for their Charter Members globally.

One of the best values of joining a CEO peer group is that you get to learn from 8 or 9 other CEOs as they work through the issues in running their businesses. It gives you the chance to focus on how to improve your business by looking to the future and the long-term growth of your business. This multi-tracked experience will only help accelerate the pace of your own understanding, having a personal board of CEOs, accountability, fast track learning, clairvoyance, motivation, emotional support and ability to identify blind spots can help in running a business effectively.

Multi-tasking or Distraction?

“Multi-tasking is the ability to mess everything up simultaneously”. -Jeremy Clarkson
Are you frequently caught up in the web of heavy multitasking at work? You are not alone. Most of the Startup founders and even established entrepreneurs open several tabs in their brain. If not done right, multitasking drains the energies of the person and equally frustrates his stakeholders. Habitual multitaskers are very busy in running around, chasing things and juggling more. Sometimes they do it at the expense of others time. A good example would be when a startup founder pauses a meeting in the middle to receive a non-urgent call. It sends the wrong message that others’ time is not important. Even they frustrate their own family members as they listen, ignore and forget all at the same time.
Do you pride in heavy multitasking? Then you will mostly have issues with focus. You may say, “but my boss is part of many projects and several meetings. He does working lunches and logs in from home late night while putting his baby to sleep. He is gifted”. Since you pride in your boss’s ability to multitask, sooner or later you will emulate him. Multi-tasking becomes part of the company’s culture. On the surface, you may get many things done at once but if you dig deeper, you will know the most important tasks get affected.
“Well, after my call with the client, I have sent an email with the information sought. Then I had to send her a second email as I forgot to include the attachment. Finally, I sent her a third email with the right attachment. Frustrated with myself, I recalled what I was doing in parallel while I was on call with the client. I wish I chose to do one task at a time’. -A multi-tasking professional 
Habitual multi-tasking people miss to listen to the message completely, don’t remember the names of the people well, send emails without attachments, either apologize frequently or bluff their way out, do things in the last minute, miss to do the last mile of a chosen task, often miss the deadlines and lead a work life of inner chaos and make it hard for themselves and people around them.
As such, we have a serious limitation of our working memory even if we just focus on just one task at a time. Our short-term memory can only remember a maximum of seven syllables and our attention span is shrunk to seven seconds. I haven’t even talked about distraction due to devices. This is why prioritized to-do list keeps us focused better. While doing a single task, keeping the distracting thoughts away itself is a work for us, context switching our working memory into a parallel task would be quite demanding and highly error prone.
One might say single-tasking is highly inefficient as she can’t get many things done in less time. The answer lies in our ability to say No, our commitment to scheduling our priorities as against prioritizing what’s on our schedule, and most importantly delegation of the tasks to others. When you decline, delegate or even automate majority of the volume tasks, you can put your focus on value tasks, one at a time. Happy single tasking!

Power of Giving

A giver in principle, Srini devotes lion’s share of his time to educational institutions of India. He is a governing board member of Indian School of Business, India’s top ranked business school, founding member of IIIT Hyderabad, India’s best deep tech institute, and board member of T-HUB, India’s largest Startup incubator. He a was part of the team that brought the ISB selection team to this site back in 2000.

He was never a gold medallist in college and he switched from civil to computer science. He took courses in Stanford and never waited for an opportunity. In 1990, he was suggested not to return to India. But he took a chance and became the first CEO of the Dun Broad street Satyam Services. It later became the world’s largest IT services company. With this money and he started Satyam Enterprise, a JV with Satyam. In three years of its operations, Satyam had become India’s largest ERP company. He left Satyam when it was the best on the day Bill Clinton came to India.

Srini joined hands with luminaries such as former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and former chairman of Tata group Ratan Tata to build Krea University in his Sri City, a private university centred around interwoven learning and preparedness for the 21st century. Based on his experience in guiding India’s top institutions, Srini is working with MHRD to put together a model that makes educational institutions truly autonomous.

Srini’s empire: Peepul Capital with $600 Mn in investments, iLabs Capital, Sri City – an integrated Smart City with 150 MNCs from 25 countries, TV9 – South India’s leading news channel and IIIT in Sri City.

Srini’s Family: Srini’s wife Jyothi builds family properties. His son Karthik is a partner at iLabs Capital. Kartik is married to Akhila and they have a new born baby girl. Srini’s daughter Vaishnavi has a degree in marketing and is into consumer funding.

Bhat) You are well known for the smart city you have built. Talk about it.
Srini) Sri City is 75km away from Chennai and is in 100 sq. kms area bounded by hills, Pullicat lake and ISRO. Out of the 25,000 acres only 10,000 acres is assigned for development. We have a workforce of 35,000 now and the rest of them will come from the neighbouring villages. City can accommodate up to half a million people.

Take any city in India. We consume more than what we produce. We are net-net consumers. Sri City is changing this paradigm. It is all about new sustainable living through renewable energy. We designed the city in such a way that the farthest place to work is just a kilometre away. That eliminates pollution due to transportation. Companies located in Sri City are makers of metro trains, cars, phones and even earthmoving equipment. Big brands such as Pepsi, Colgate, Hero. and Kellogg

I started a fund called iLabs Capital. We funded 50 companies till now. Tech, media, consumer services and all. I am an investor in TV9, India’s largest network. We are creating a smart city. It is a sustainable city.

Each of you will be presented a different opportunity. Grab the opportunity that comes your way with both the hands. We played in a market space if $100 billion and you may play in $100 trillion in size. As a fellow ISB alumni, I am very happy you chose to be with ISB. A day will come you will be proud to say in the same lines of Harvard, we are from ISB.

Bhat) Why did you name it Sri City?
Srini) Most of the cities in that region either start with Sri or Tiru. We started with Sri Puram and changed it to Sri City to make it sound modern.

Bhat) How do you attract companies there?
Srini) If India is ranked 100 in the world in ease of doing business, I would say Sri City is ranked 25. 80% of the companies are foreign companies from 27 countries. In that sense, Sri City is the largest international city in Andhra Pradesh. We take away their pain points of getting approvals, working with local government and meeting the international standards of eco-friendly work and living. This is our competitive advantage as we know how to navigate the challenges of ease of doing business.

Bhat) How did TiE Hyderabad happen?
Srini) I was in Silicon Valley before coming here. Kanwal Rekhi started TiE. We used to go to TiE for networking. After I sold Satyam Enterprise Solutions in 2000, I started doing investments in valley. Around that time, they decided to start local chapters. They appointed Saurabh Srivastav, Nandan Neelekanki and few others to start chapters in India. C K Prahlad was the moderator at that time when we met in an island. Even Rajat Gupta was very active. We had our first meeting in Cyber Towers in 2000. Around a dozen TiE chapters started within the same year.

Mentors, customers and money are the three things people sought in those times. We never had family business guys come to us as they are part of groups like YPO.

Rapid fire

Bhat) Describe yourself in three words
Srini) Calmanalytical, owning it up. No complaints. Just start solving.

Bhat) What would be your lifelong dream?
Srini) Be part of institutional development. IIIT in Sri City is closer to my heart. I can’t be a nobel prize winner but one of these institutions can produce one.

Bhat) If you are stranded in an island, what two things would you want with you?
Srini) Let me give an example of how I think. One day we were on 34th floor of a building in Tokyo. I got a 40-second heads up about an earthquake. My wife tucked herself underneath a nearby table. I was just standing away from the windows. Later, she asked me why I didn’t do anything. I told her 34th floor means if something must go wrong, we got no chances of survival. When the building shakes, glass may break and hence I stayed away from the windows.
I will take life as it comes. Knowing that I get stranded in island, I choose to take nothing with me. I am like that protagonist of the movie ‘Castaway’.

Bhat) What compliments do people give you most?
Srini) People say I stand on my word. Even if I don’t stand on my word at times, I will try my best to keep my word.

Bhat) What have you done that you are most proud of?
Srini) Sri City. I pick this because I carried it despite many challenges on the ground. It is dependent on me. Other initiatives that I am part of may not be heavily dependent on me. But Sri City does.

Bhat) Leader or follower?
Srini) Leader. I don’t mind working with a team and follow someone. If they leave me alone I won’t bother. I can work with equals.
Kali) Srini is a great team player.

Bhat) Define happiness?
Srini) I will define it with an equation.
What you want – what you have = unhappiness.
If the difference is small, you try to improve. If it is too much, you are very unhappy. If there is no difference, then you have nothing to chase.

We can get same happiness and same experience without materialistic things. We may not know. We keep doing this orbital shift. We are born in a smaller orbit. Many of us die there. Each orbit of life gives different happiness.

You can get the same happiness of eating biriyani without eating biriyani. In Bhimavaram, we used to plan a week in advance to go to a place and eat biriyani. That one-week planning gave happiness. The real act of consuming Biriyani may be limited to the taste buds and after eating it may even cause troubles such as indigestion.

Only for a very few things have I gone out of the first orbit. I have never celebrated my birthday in my life. I was born in farmers’ family. I never know my birthday. When I was 30 years old, my wife somehow derived my birthday. I don’t even feel the need to celebrate my birthday and I miss wishing people on their birthdays. Same is the case with anniversaries. Small celebrations won’t give me happiness.

How do I get happiness then? I trained myself in few things. I don’t keep materialistic things. I have some liking for off road vehicles but not any cars. When I go into the crowd and when people don’t identify me, I don’t feel bad. The meaning of wealth is the ego that you satisfied in doing something. Building the institutions give me happiness and wealth is the means to achieve it.

I believe in service to humans is service to God. I don’t think if God expects people to be subservient to him, He is a bigger version of these big emperors. Is that what it is? If God is benevolent, He sees your deeds.

Bhat) When was the last time you laughed out loud?
Srini) A friend of mine called SV Reddy makes me laugh. Even Dr. Ravi Penumatsa too. When we were in investor summit in Vizag, we laughed to death when a non-Telugu friend shared non-telugu jokes in telugu. Even Dr. Somaraju of Care is witty.

Bhat) Four things you would change about yourself?
Srini) I would like to bring some more discipline. At times, I spend more time for a smaller problem and leave a bigger opportunity behind.

Bhat) What is the first thing you think about in the morning?
Srini) Institutions that I am part of and how I can make them big before I go.
Among the sports persons, I revere Gopichand, Dhoni and Rahul David. Even Virat. I wish there are more people like them in the world. They lifted many people surrounding them.

Bhat) What will you never do?
Srini) Forgive others not because you want to but you want to have inner peace. I don’t want to hold grudge against people as it holds huge space and time. That may make people see me as weak i choose not to punch back.

Bhat) What did instil in “going big” in you
Srini) If it is not unique, I lose interest very quickly.

Bhat) The next big thing?
Srini) I don’t want to see humans becoming machines. Sooner or later, drug research becomes highly predictable as against trial and error research that we do in drug development at the compound level.

Bhat) What do you fear the most?
Srini) The day you are getting served by someone in the bed, it is time to go.

Bhat) What frustrates you?
Srini) Many gifted and lucky people still don’t want to give something back. It is about time. There is money that government can spend. It got to be spent carefully. Time is more important than money.

Bhat) What do you do off work?
Srini) Nothing. I mix things up. But it gives me a lot of flexibility.

Bhat) One final advice for the readers?
Srini) You may choose to retire from making money but never take retirement in life. Give back. Time. Money. Or both. If not, at least time.

 Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI interviews Srini Raju of Peepul Capital along with Kali Prasad Gadiraju of E&Y (President of TiE Hyderabad) on 18th May 2018 as part of TiE Today Series 



Always be Learning

I recently met this young real-estate entrepreneur. The way he walked into the meeting was ordinary and unimpressive. But as the session progressed, I realized he was making me talk a lot more than usual. In fact, there were a couple of instances where I had to check myself from getting into a preach mode. The unique quality of this young man was his innate need to learn. His curiosity, to non-intrusively probe into the details of what we spoke, was insatiable.  He made me talk about topics like business strategy, the world economy, technology and what not.  It suddenly hit me that there was a lot to learn from this guy.

I understood the reason behind his thriving business. For him, every customer meeting was in-depth learning session to appreciate his clientele and map the marketplace. Learning is the only way one becomes smarter and wiser.  We can be learning from reading books, watching TV or YouTube videos, analyzing our own life experiences and listening to other’s experiences. Our education system does not emphasize enough on this aspect of lifelong learning.

Left to me, I say one should follow the general rule 2/3rd of working time should be spent on learning and 1/3rd on doing, talking or selling. Does sound extreme for sure, I am only going by how nature has structured our sensory organs. We have two ears and one mouth; maybe there is more to it than meets the eye. This rule applies to almost all roles in an organization, be it front desk executive, salesperson, engineer or the CEO. Especially the CEO.

Successful people spend 2 to 3 hours every day on reading books. They work for organizations that encourage learning and being on top of the happenings around the world.

I was exploring the web on how learning can be broadly classified.  I understand, there are three types: maintenance learning, growth learning, and shock learning.

1) Maintenance Learning
Maintenance learning keeps you up to speed to get by in life and helps you from lagging behind. This is essential and is like light workout in the world of physical exercises. It only enables you to stay in shape and does not improve your level of fitness or conditioning by any means.

2) Growth Learning
Growth learning enables you to expand your mind and help you do things that you did not know how to. Some of the smartest people in the world are putting lessons online. You can discover great ideas by listening to TEDtalks, podcasts, reading blogs, and books.

3) Shock Learning
Shock learning usually happens accidentally and most cases when we run across arguments or insights that are 180 degrees apart from our thought process. It can be super valuable if one can act on this.  The insight derived from a ‘shock learning experience’ can save you from a severe market reversal or crash.

In general, we are reluctant to change points of view and in most cases for a good reason. However, if we are open enough to explore the contrary view, we might save ourselves in a big way. The only way to take advantage of this is to carry an attitude of ‘Always be learning’ like the famous movie line ‘ABC: Always be closing.’

Rajesh Pagdala returned from Silicon Valley to join the real estate sector in Hyderabad as a Promoter with Aditya Constructions. Rajesh wanted to do something for everybody. That’s when he exited Aditya Constructions and started Pagadala construction dedicated towards affordable living spaces. BuildersMart is another company he formed, it’s a platform for buying all kinds of building/ construction materials online.

Customer Acquisition
The reason we cannot gain customers because we perceive market and target differently and prefer to throw arrows in the dark instead of a strategy to foster conversions. Young Entrepreneurs talk about the size of the market and believe that having a small share in the whole market would guarantee their success, the truth is that market is not the size, but having customers with needs is.

There are a few myths that distract an entrepreneur from gaining paying customers. Phrases like, ‘everybody is a potential client’, ‘if the product is great customers will come’, ‘we should wait to be discovered’ are nothing but myths masquerading as popular beliefs.

Failing to create a set of goals and going forward without a plan, wrong brand positioning and staying firmly inside the box and away from change do not do good on the long run. Other mistakes which entrepreneurs make is focusing only on new customers and over doing their creative message and expecting immediate gratification.

Following is a solution to address and overcome such challenges.

Market segmentation allows company to break the market into small chunks a la their geography, spending ability, gender, age, delivery time frame, distribution channels, media, occasion based, lifestyle et al. The idea here is to segment market to gain customer focus and be not worried by distractions. This customer focus allows effective acquisitions, identify less served segments, enhances customer retention, provides better profitability by focusing on a segment, aids in market expansion and delivering a better communication.

Targeting is the process of evaluating market segments based on relevant measure to find the target market for your segment. This allows the company to craft specific message for specific audiences, focus on potential and prioritize, reach the right audience who are willing to buy your product. Don’t try and reach everyone and unnecessarily burn your energy and finances. This conservation of energy and finances reflects on your ROI and you can compete effectively by fine tuning product/ service on every level.

Positioning is the plan that marketeers use to give their products the greatest advantage in the selected markets. This where we decide the value proposition we are serving, the USP of product or service is being lower than the competition, the quality being better etc. With more market orientation comes clarity to deliver message. This leads to meet customer expectation and fosters loyalist and goodwill which leads to gaining not just customer attention but also a competitive advantage.

These will be possible only if an entrepreneur is focused enough to identify their competitive advantage and stick to choose only one or two of them to communicate that advantage easily. To master customers and ROI, the entrepreneur must focus and understand the market first and build the product later.


Leadership – Dream Big Invest in the Best

Ajit Isaac, the chairman behind the block buster listing of Quess Corp, with his 26.4% post-IPO stake in the firm translates to a value of nearly Rs 1,700 crore.

In 2000, he started PeopleOne Consulting – A human capital solutions company with a focus on recruitment and training services to client organisations, with funding from JP Morgan Chase and successfully grew the company to $70 Million in revenue. In 2004 Swiss staffing company Adecco acquired PeopleOne Consulting and Ajith joined the board at Zurich. It was a dream come true with Adecco acquiring PeopleOne, this is where he learnt the nuances of having the right structure and processes.

Read More…

TiE Grad finalists going places.

Investor Pitch Preparation Workshop – Investor Connect 2018 – Season 1
Shubhankar Bhattacharya is a VC Investor with Kae capital, Author and an ex-Entrepreneur himself. His session dealt with what the investors look for in a stratup and what they would not like to see. His session was a lens into the world of an Investors perspective. He spoke about a non-existent secret sauce/ checklist of the investors.

What early stage investors look for
Founders, Market, Suitability of model, Traction/Product-market fit, 

TiE Grad Finalists WCB Robots win half a Million @ RBPC Houston.

Dinner Dialogue with Xavier Augustin, Founder & CEO, Y-Axis Overseas Careers

This Saturday (21st April) evening after our Cohort (2) meeting, our host Suresh Reddy, Chairman, LYCOS invited Mr. Xavier Augustin, Chairman of YAxis, one of the largest immigration consulting company in the world, employing close to 1000 people across the globe, for an interactive session over dinner.

All of us were really impressed with Xavier’s outlook and business and life lessons he shared. His thoughts and learning are so interesting and compelled me to recollect and write an article for the wider distribution among our CMs. I did not make any notes during the meeting and whatever i am writing is based on my memory of the discussion. I am able to recollect most of them because they made me to think about them.

As a person you must be big even at the beginning of entrepreneurship journey with limited resources. The entrepreneur does not become bigger with the enterprise. It is not difficult to attract talented people to work for you if you are big with what you are capable of achieving.

Constantly learning to stay relevant is a must. Learning from the best in the world keeps your vision and purpose clear. You must spend time regularly to learn from the best professors in the world, particularly from your industry or field. Xavier attends courses conducted by world class professors from the Ivy League institutions such as Harvard where he recently graduated from the Owner/President Program (OPM). Among the most important lessons it taught was:  how a business must make a decent profit, decently. How ordinary people (like us) can do extraordinary work (through collaboration and continuous improvement).

Top two percent of the staff are critical for the success of the organisation. It is very important to invest in their development and continuously monitor their learning. Xavier got Professor Ram Charan, globally renowned consultant to conduct workshops for his top leadership team. Professor Ram Charan is known to charge upwards of USD 20000 per day.
As the business starts making money, investing in brand, people and organisation building gives far superior results than investing in land and buildings. Xavier spent huge amounts of money to build his brand, train people and use latest technology and never got tempted to invest in tangibles.

Not taking the money from the outside gives lot of freedom to take decisions which sometimes do not look rational for anyone other than the entrepreneur himself.
But at a certain stage, it is also important to go public for the benefit of all the employees. It looks very selfish to keep all the wealth created with the promoter himself and probably pass it on to his children. Need to share the wealth with the people who helped creating the wealth. Xavier is thinking of going public even though the company does not need external money to support its growth plans.

Work life balance is important. Coming home early to spend quality time with family and friends, reading and learning, and taking time out for holidaying are important activities needed for enjoying the life. For an entrepreneur the work, family and self easily blends into one.

When you travel around the world, experience the nature and don’t restrict yourself to city structures, shopping destinations and entertainment avenues. Do the adventure tourism and experience the nature as it is. It can teach lot of lessons. Xavier travels with National Geographic Expeditions with NatGeo photographers and authors. He has completed 10 Trip and a 100 days with Nat Geo. He loves to travel because travels teaches you so many lessons.

Xavier climbed Mt.Kilimanjaro where he learnt lessons from acclimatisation – that to climb to the top, you can do it only one slow step at a time.  You cannot run the hills and reaching the peak is not an instinctive act. It is an arduous task and you need to maintain the pace of journey. You need lot of planning, understand the risks involved, plan the breaks, equip yourself and carry just enough food and other trekking gear. If you carry more, it will strain you. Same is the case with entrepreneurship. You cannot do it in a hurry and reaching the top requires lot of determination and perseverance. You should know how to manage with frugal resources and maintain the pace.

Horse riding in in the grasslands of Mongolia taught him that the horses want their masters to have the confidence and command them. This is why your teams want their leaders to have the confidence, take decisions and command them. Xavier explains that his close friend who is a famous hero always wants his director to tell him what to do. He does not like his directors keep asking for his opinion on how this scene should be enacted.

He realised that the real heroes look ordinary when he went on a Dog Sledding trip in Sweden’s Artic Circle. Handsome huskies provide only brute force but the real thinking and leading is done by the ordinary looking dogs. In the real life also, real thinkers and strategists are introverts, quite unassuming and look very ordinary.

Cycling across the Europe taught him a new way of travel – to be transported by your own power – that is the most intimate form of travel. Similarly, walking from one coast to the other in England showed a new form of travel. To know England one must walk it – live in its inns along the way and walk through its well-tended countryside. He does a long trek of 10-12 days every day with this wife which is a wonderful way to bond.

Staying the course, sticking to the knitting – not getting distracted by the unrelated opportunities, building a loyal team of apostles, setting targets and empowering staff the freedom to operate are some of his success factors for being able to build a great organisation.

Written by:

Kali Prasad G
President TiE Hyderabad
Office Managing Partner, EY Hyderabad