Interview: Purnank Prakash (CSE – 2010)
Please state your current profile and explain your profile. If possible help us understand any previous profiles you’ve worked for.
Currently, I am working as the Product & Strategy Head at Tacnik. I am responsible for product planning and execution throughout the life-cycle, working closely with Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Customer Support, Content Team, and External ecosystem to define and deliver subsequent releases of the product. Other than that I also take care of communicating and implementing a strategy internally and externally so that all employees, partners, suppliers, and contractors understand the company-wide strategic plan and how it carries out the company’s overall goals. But that’s just my profile description, being a co-founder means one has to wear a lot of hats, so basically I breath Tacnik in and out.
Tacnik was launched in Nov of 2015, before that I had worked in SAP Labs as Software Engineer and also had a startup named Lichee in my college days.
What are the soft skills to be acquired if one wants to be an entrepreneur?
Though having a few soft skills helps one to accelerate Startup’s growth, but it’s not a necessity, because learning soft skills is an ongoing process when you begin your startup. If you don’t have any already then it definitely shouldn’t be something holding you back, because sooner or later, you will have to learn other skills which your start-up needs to be relevant in the market.
The only soft skill I think one needs to have to be an entrepreneur is that of being aware of oneself (shortcomings, talents etc.) and a strong belief in the idea. But if you have enough time before you startup then web development, graphic designing, MS Excel, decent knowledge of how programming works and good communication skill will definitely help you take-off your startup from the ground more professionally.
What software skills would you claim to have picked up form SAP Labs? How valuable were they when you went on to find your own company later?
On a broader basis, SAP Labs was a crucial phase in my life, my experience there turned my dreams from big to bigger. I got to see how a 46-year-old company having over 90,000 employees functions across 130+ countries.
Through my time at SAP Labs, I learned how such a huge organization is managed efficiently; I learned about the different types of people needed to run a company, about their roles, about the hierarchy and last but not the least, the teamwork involved in an organizational structure.
Talking about the things I learned from my work as a software engineer, ABAP, FIORI/UI5, SAP HANA were the platforms I used to work on, though I don’t use them anymore, but while working on them, I learned about project planning, JIRA, code reviews, product development cycle, production server, test server, development server, delivering products on a strict deadline, and building a live product ready to be used by millions of people (99% of Companies use SAP Enterprise Solution). These learnings gave me the confidence to head the product department at Tacnik.
You have been associated with ideologically different startups. Can you explain how you progressed from Lichee to ESportsvilla and then to Tacnik?
I have two passions – design and technology, all of my startups have been driven by the combination of them.
I started Lichee in the third year of college (2012). It was a t-shirt portal where we used to provide customized t-shirts in bulk quantity to colleges, our target consumers included NIT-Trichy and nearby college students including SRM, VIT etc.
Lichee was my first introduction to the startup ecosystem. I learned the basics of business from it. I made a few mistakes in the early days of Lichee, which formed a part of my learning curve, giving me a competitive advantage while starting Tacnik later.
Lichee became tough to run due to inadequate infrastructure along with demographic challenges. After leaving college, working a 9 to 5 job made it impossible, but it gave me the learnings which would have taken years in a regular job. While working, I tried to meet friends who were interested in starting up a company, who shared a similar entrepreneurial mindset and passion. That is when I met Mayank (NIT-T Batch 2014), Jeevan (NIT-T Batch 2014) and Skandha (BITS Pilani Batch 2014), who later went on to become Tacnik’s co-founders.
We started Tacnik in November 2015 as a gaming rental portal. The idea was to introduce the masses with technology in a fun way, and nothing could be better than gaming. We started with renting gaming consoles, discs, and accessories in Bangalore, and got incubated into Axilor Ventures 4 months after the launch of Tacnik.
Our idea was getting refined at Axilor and we found out that gaming, being a niche market currently, is going to be tough to scale up. Meanwhile, we started getting corporate orders for gaming events and that is when we planned for our first pivot, changing Tacnik’s core business model from B2C to B2B.
The pivot was a successful one, as we started working with the likes of Facebook, Adobe, JP Morgan etc. and became operationally profitable. However, we did not want to lose touch with our gamer audience which had propelled us here. Hence we launched Esportsvilla an Esports platform, where we conduct online and venue based gaming tournaments.
Currently, in Tacnik we have started providing technology-based solutions for Corporate Events, Brand Activations and Industrial Problems. Our offerings include motion-based solutions, gesture-based solutions, simulation-based solutions, embedded systems solutions, RFID solutions, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.
Where does Esportsvilla stand in the gaming market at present? How do you wish to take this forward?
Esportsvilla’s main aim was to create a strong gaming community, that we have been able to go through it. Our PlayStation4, XBOX One and Origin Groups are very active since EsportsVilla’s launch in June 2017.
EsportsVilla shares a close relationship with the Sony PlayStation and has conducted the PSVR launch & FIFA Tournament in association with the Sony PlayStation.
Though Tacnik’s technology solutions for Businesses is the core model of our business, EsportsVilla’s FIFA Tournaments still create a buzz among Indian Gamers and will continue to do so.
How do you find like-minded people in college to build a startup?
I don’t think you can go in search of like-minded people. You need to be just yourself and see what type of people you attract, what kind of friendships you form, slowly you will form a close circle which will eventually become so mature that among them, the people who have the same mindset and passion towards a particular goal are the best to begin a startup with.
All the co-founders of Tacnik have been my friends first. Friendship plays a very important role in forming a strong understanding & bond among each other which is the most important quality you should look for in your co-founder(s).
We see companies,(start-ups in particular) emphasizing a lot on the location of the workplace. Where have you set up your companies? How important is choosing the location of a company?
Tacnik and EsportsVilla both are Bangalore based because of the talent pool, networking opportunities and target customers Bangalore has to offer. Although now we have offices in Delhi and Mumbai as well, deciding the first office location is always crucial.
I think when you are choosing the location, primarily the sector you are venturing into matters a lot. But on a broader level, workforce and target customers’ availability plays a vital role.
What are your views on the current environment of entrepreneurship in India?
In recent years, India has become a centre of disruptive innovation. Indian entrepreneurs who were previously compelled to migrate to the western world to seek investment and world-leading technology now have access to both at home, with global industry and academia both looking very seriously at India for opportunities to collaborate.
Entrepreneurs fundamentally see opportunities where challenges exist and what Indian entrepreneurs have to do to take an edge over their western counterparts is to find solutions to emerging economic challenges that are visible all around them!
With a population in excess of 1.2 Bn, it will be impossible for the government to provide for the basic needs of all citizens and therein lies the opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators – particularly in areas of education & healthcare.
The Indian startup ecosystem is rapidly driven by an extremely young, diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial landscape.
There are more than 3,100 startups (Source: NASSCOM 2016) and the number is expected to reach 10,000 by 2020 making India the largest incubator(after the US and China) of emerging startups. Disruptive innovation is the key and Indian enterprise is perfectly poised to produce solutions to the challenges faced by the developing world.
What are the difficulties associated with managing one’s own start-up and what are the important things one should remember?
There are many, that’s the most fun part in my perspective, there is a new challenge every day. And to be honest, startup life teaches you things which others never learn in their lifetime and I am not talking about technical skills, I am talking about social skills.
Below are the top three of many challenges, associated with managing one’s own startup:
1. Finding the right team – This goes at the top of my list because if I would have not met my current founders, I don’t think Tacnik would have reached the point, where it is today.
2. Know Yourself – When you are a start-up, everyone has different ideas about how to run your business and how you should grow. This is especially true when you’re in the early fundraising stage and your investors are telling you to adopt a certain business model or product.
Take time to find – at times even form – your own identity and your vision for the business, the best business model and product-market fit.
Without being firm in your identity and vision, you may get swayed by investors and partners to take on directions that may not be the best fit for the company. The key is to give the founding team enough time to test the market and experiment different business models to identify the best path for the start-up and share that vision with investors.
3. Money Management – Knowing the regular profit and loss statement of the business is not enough. Although it may appear that you are breaking even on paper, it doesn’t mean that the business will survive the following month. The key to a thriving company is to ensure that you understand your receivables, payables, and the net position at all times in order for you to plan ahead. The profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow statement are the foundations for monitoring a business turnover and making decisions.
Do you think one should stick to a particular field or keep changing and experimenting as they grow in the industry?
I have never believed in a career growth which can be measured by Money. I think your passion for a particular thing should be the driving factor to stick to one field or change it. If you don’t feel passionate enough to do something, don’t do it just because it offers you a better designation or money.
Would you advocate for students to drop out of college to invest full time in their start-up ideas?
No, I don’t think so. Some successful entrepreneurs have dropped out, like Bill Gates, who claimed it was a wise decision since he didn’t think he missed out on any important knowledge. Many others though haven’t been as fortunate, this often doesn’t get publicized. To dismantle the stereotype- “only those who drop out can run successful companies”- here are the major advantages of being an entrepreneur while still in college, which you may want to consider if you’re contemplating “The Decision”.
1. Growing an early-stage business is incredibly stressful in itself, so not having the added worry of “surviving” makes a huge difference.
Not only does college offer the resources needed to live, but it also helps students connect with alumni who kindly offer their support. Alumni networks can strongly impact the success of college student entrepreneurs, as they can assist in the creation of revenue-generating partnerships and become great mentors.
2. Entrepreneurs are forced to persevere through many emotionally exhausting times, and during such instances, it’s always nice to have friends nearby. They’ll make life much less lonely. In addition, good friends can help entrepreneurs realize that life isn’t all about work, forcing them to take short breaks and preventing them from burning out. Life outside of college isn’t the same. Since most startups are extremely time-consuming, an entrepreneur might go weeks without sharing a meal or having a laugh with a friend, which can be mentally unhealthy.
There, definitely, are some drawbacks to staying in school and running an early stage company – like having fewer hours each day to grow your business, but what decision doesn’t have some drawbacks? It’s important to weigh the pros and cons as a whole, which any college entrepreneur should do before deciding to drop out.
Statistics tell us that startups have low conversion rates and only a small proportion of them go on to establish themselves in the industry. How do you think budding entrepreneurs should look at this and how should they choose their path?
Only a small proportion of them go on to establish themselves because of two things :
1. An Idea which solves a real-world problem.
2. Proper planning and tons of determination to make things work.
I may be wrong, but I think people who go through failures in startups are the ones who either run out of gas (Emotionally and Physically) or their Idea wasn’t actually solving a problem.
My advice to the budding Entrepreneurs is to work on an idea which they are passionate about and just give your 1000% to it. You might face problems, you might go through some of the worst times of your life, but trust me, if you fight till the end, it’s all worth it.
Is there something the T and P cell can do which does not even come under its umbrella currently, but is important?
We have an awesome T n P cell, Bhaktavatsalam Sir and Gururaj Sir are my favourites (I hope they remember me), and they are doing an amazing job. I am not actually aware of how things work currently in T n P cell but below are the things I would like to see incorporated in T n P Cell :
1. Finding the right talent is a tough nut to crack for any startup, T n P Cell can give first preference to NITT Alumni Startups for talent hiring.
2. Startups might not have a big package to offer at their early stage, but the projects and learnings one get from working with them are immense. T n P Cell should emphasise on work culture and learning opportunities of a company coming to hire, along with their pay package.
What are some things about your entrepreneurship you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?
There are many. I am just thankful that I started discovering them while I was in college itself through Lichee. But to name few, which current aspirants can take advantage of are :
1. Company finances are more than just profit and loss.
2. No Marketing, No Profit.
3. It’s not a One Man Show, you need to have a passionate team in place.
Is there any advice you’d give to engineering students?
More than advice, I have a humble request for all of my juniors. I will write them in points :
1. Don’t bother about marks, but have command over whatever you are learning (It doesn’t matter if you had a solid command over web programming only in 4 years at college, you still can be the top 1% of Talent NITT has to offer)
2. The most fun time anyone has in their entire life are College days so don’t miss out on it by mugging books in your closed room.
3. Fall in love; starting a company from scratch needs a similar amount of dedication.
Is there anything students can take away from college genuinely on a qualitative basis?
I will say relationships and experiences which one forms in college with friends, with teachers, with juniors/seniors are the best takeaways.