Interview: Vaibhav Lodha (ICE-2007)

Mr. Vaibhav Lodha is the Cofounder of ftcash, a fintech venture and was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award at NITT in 2017.

What are some things about your career path which you feel you should’ve known in college?
If I introspect a little more, I believe that one should find a job after college which suits their skill sets better. People should look beyond the compensation and actually look for what work they’ll do in their job – this would be a good criterion to make better decisions. When I joined ZS associates directly out of college, incidentally my manager helped me improve my soft skills incredibly during that period. These skills have helped me progress in my professional career and these are some things which I hadn’t learnt during engineering. These may even be trivial like learning to send emails professionally or presenting my thoughts in a structured manner but these have helped me scale up.
Basically, knowing what your skill sets are and analysing the learning you’ll get from the organization are the two most important factors one should consider while looking for jobs.

Having worked at various organizations, was there ever a point where you considered doing an MBA and having a more stable career? What was your mindset since graduation?
During college, the mindset of people is such that you’ll always be questioned if you’re thinking outside the box or doing something that is unconventional, and there isn’t a great support system. Hence most people continue with a conventional mindset and it carries along. When I worked at ZS, I learnt a lot but I also realized that my skill sets would suit better when there’s a lot of client facing work whereas in ZS the work was mostly office based. At this point I considered getting an MBA and seeing how things turn out. However, there’s also the fact that an MBA costs a lot in India and even more abroad. I felt there are two better ways to substitute that – one that you can start an enterprise yourself. However, at that point, start-ups weren’t really the ‘thing’ and weren’t really picking up as much as they are today. I didn’t have the courage to take it up then with the mindset blockage which I mentioned earlier. So, instead the direction I took was what is called ‘Experiential Learning’. I decide I’ll do something experiential for the next few years. Even if I didn’t earn as much during this period, I felt that the learning would compensate for me not having an MBA degree. The value that these experiences added to my career were definitely very rewarding in terms of growth.

Were you always on the lookout for opportunities?
Yes, I was. When we were in college, we didn’t really have much apart from the Octa lab. We weren’t really tech-savvy and didn’t have as many opportunities as there are today. If we had such resources, I’d have definitely looked out for better internships, better programs and learning experiences etc. These resources are available today and it’s all about proactively finding opportunities.

Are there any particular management related internships or courses you’d recommend to students as engineering institute don’t really foster management learning?
I feel management is a very misunderstood concept. The reason I say that is that management is considered as organizing things. In college, what people consider is that organizing an event is management. It isn’t exactly like that. Management comes a lot with handling people, handling emotions, handling motivations for people and that is where management also borders leadership to an extent.
If you take up any role which isn’t even predefined in a start-up, I think that can really shape up in your learning at an internship. If you focus on good work instead of compensation in your early years, that will build your case more than anything else.

Could you tell us the story behind becoming an iCATs Fellow and how you came across it? Are there any other such opportunities available that one should be aware of?
I have done almost about more than 10 fellowships until now. I always chose to do almost 1 or 2 fellowships a year primarily because it was an experiential learning program for me. I hadn’t done an MBA and these kept helping me in learning constantly and not just typically for 2 years and it helped me in building a network or group of friends. When you cross an age say 30, it isn’t as easy to make friends like you did back in college. These experiences helped me in getting to know great people along with the immense learning. iCATs was one such experience. I was looking for opportunities just outside the corporate scenario. I had given several interviews for jobs but these jobs didn’t really excite me. A question that I always asked myself was – would I be happy with this corporate job 10 years down the line? Most of the time the answer was no. The fellowships excited me because there was a sense of unknown to it.

As a founder of a company in itself, is there any advice you’d give to students?
As an engineer, in retrospect I feel that I should’ve taken up coding and technology a little more seriously than I did. I believe that this skill is very important to learn in today’s scenario.

Suppose one wants to pursue a managerial role. Is learning to code still important in this case?
Yes, I believe. The skill sets that you require at different companies is different but at the same time where the difference is whether you want to become a manager or a leader. Leaders always have the same skill sets as everyone else whether you’re in a manufacturing firm or a tech firm. Hence knowing every functionality and being in a position to help out anywhere is important.

Is there anything students can take away from college genuinely on a qualitative basis?
College is all about every experience that you gain. I wasn’t typically great at academics during college yet I was given the Distinguished Alumni Award this year and I’m thankful for that. I believe what helped a lot was that I took up initiatives even in college. I made most of every opportunity or role that I had. We started social initiatives back then which were really successful. We framed problem statements and came up with really creative solutions to them. We were the founders of SPIRITED – Student Participatory Initiative for Rural IT Education which has scaled up very well now. These experiences of coming up with programs and sustaining them well is something students can seek to learn well from college.
Is there any advice you’d give to engineering students?
My opinion is that in India, people don’t choose engineering or opt for it out of choice. People do it and then figure out what they do. So, the best you can get out of it in this position is to figure out the skill sets you have and can develop on. Even learning soft skills is something I feel which students should focus on. One should also work on their passion outside academics or work and college is the best time to explore.

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