Interview: Ashish Khan (Mech – 2014)

Please state your current profile and explain your profile. If possible, help us understand any previous profiles you’ve worked for.
I work as a Data Science Engineer at an ML/AI based firm. We use our skills in Machine Learning to build products for our clients who are mostly Fortune 500 companies. It has been only 2 months and my experience in programming is limited to my current job. Prior to this I worked at an Oil and Gas industry as a Design Engineer and I co-founded Crofters, a company that I and a few friends from NITT started. These two were more inline to my graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.


What are the soft skills to be acquired in work culture?
I’m an introvert but also very curious and filled with ideas. To execute those ideas, it was important for me to acquire the social and leadership skills. This is also one of the main reasons for me to start-up by quitting work. I wanted to put myself out in the open and test my limits. Now I can definitely say that I’m a much better person, leader than I was a few years ago.


You have worked in several different companies ranging from supply chain management to manufacturing to product development roles. What kind of skills did it equip you with? How did it ultimately help you in your current employment?
I didn’t plan these shifts. It just happened. I liked all the roles that I had to do previously. I still like Mechanical Engineering and at Crofters I had to do a bit of Electronics and Biology as well. At present, I love programming and with each skill I acquire along the way I only feel more complete and ready for a bigger challenge.


What inspired you to co-found Crofters?
I always wanted to grow food. Or just gardening. But I did not have the time, place or expertise for growing plants. Plants are delicate things that are affected by so many factors. Experiments to figure out a standard for these factors using technology led to Crofters.


How do you find like-minded people to build a startup?
When I have an idea that feels worth it to keep thinking it over, I share it with all of my close friends to get their opinion. The majority has to like it. Along the way you find people who want to contribute to idea with their own skills. And I found two.


We see companies, (start-ups in particular) emphasizing a lot on the location of the workplace. Where did you set up your company? How important is choosing the location of a company?
This depends. But for me the first thing is that the core team has to be at one place. So, all three co-founders were from Chennai. We setup a small space that was close enough to commute for all three of us. The second main reason is the type of work. Ours being manufacturing, we setup our office close to an industrial area.


What is your view on the current environment of entrepreneurship in India?
Almost all major investors go with high risk, high reward model. And services based startups come under this category. Other small investments for ideas catering niche markets are difficult but things are improving day by day.


What were the difficulties you faced while managing your own start-up and what are the important things one should remember?
When you have bad moments (any startup will have them), keeping the team and yourself inspired is an important skill. But one should also not believe in the idea blindly and should be ready to make the hard decisions when it becomes necessary.


Statistics tell us that start-ups 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?
Ideas are infinite. Time and money are not. Spending these finite resources is the key.


How permanent is any choice of career? Do you think one should stick to a particular field or keep changing and experimenting as they grow in the industry?
I can be a little biased. I’m a mechanical engineer who shifted to electronics, Biology and now programming. It only affected me in a positive way. But you must improve yourself as a person, irrespective of the field. Everything else can be acquired at work.


How can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?
Live the moment. I now feel like I’m destined to do programming. But you can never be sure.


How do you think one should utilise their time in final year, after one is placed?
I wish I got that time back. There are so many things you can do. Develop your profile. There is not one thing that you can’t learn on the internet. Think of ideas, form a team. It need not even become something substantial but get the feel of starting something on your own.


What are some things about your career you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?
For a first job, any job is good enough. The differences in salaries, profiles etc will not matter. You have your whole life ahead of you to shape it the way you want to.


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