Please elaborate on your current profile and previous profiles, if any.
capSwipe is a consultancy company. We give financial consultancy to banks and such companies. Currently, we have clients ranging from small companies to big ones, who mostly outsource their work to us, because other consultancy companies like McKinsey, charge a lot for package deals that they don’t exactly know about. So, what happened to me was different when I was a senior manager at RBL bank. I started observing the work around me and looked for projects. At that time, Demonetisation had also occurred – there was a lot of pressure on me and the entire banking system in general. There were many reports to be generated for each company like money laundering reports, and these were not centralised. Big banks like ICICI have their own tech team; SBI has collaborations with companies like TCS, which works really well. So, I came out as a person experienced on the technical side and into the commerce field. My experience was very different from that of anyone else in the field and this actually played a role in getting this project. I eventually resigned from RBL and took a project for myself, and I created different projects and outsourced it to different tech teams. So, I kind of outsourced the project to myself and came out of the company and started making it a start-up. That is my strategy and a very safe way of doing a start-up because here from Day 1 you are making a profit.
Could you tell us more about a typical workday at capSwipe?
I currently have eight people working under me, all based out of Mumbai, and the company is registered in Bangalore. The strategy I had in mind was that while pitching anything, Bangalore seems to grasp attention, and adds a technical hue to it, but our presence should also be at the financial capital of India, i.e. Mumbai. So, apparently we are in Bangalore, but really we are in Mumbai. We have a little more than 8 employees, 8 are the PoCs for 8 projects, like consultants. Summing up, I would be checking the status of these projects, how much we have achieved and the difficulties that we are facing. For the employees, it is basically about managing the projects.
What avenues did a postgraduate diploma in liberal arts open up for you and how?
I was a highly technical guy in Texas Instruments (TI). But my interest was more towards customer websites, and I wanted to see that side of things. At TI, I did try a few non-profit start-ups that were almost like charity, like creating websites for NGOs. With the help of three of my friends, we created a platform for these people in NGOs wanting to contact people. We did create a platform, but it didn’t last long, because we didn’t have enough money to promote our platform. That is when I realised the need for non-technical skills. Liberal arts was something that opened me up, made me understand dealing with people of different backgrounds. It gives you the right balance to express yourself where people perceive you. One other good thing about YIF was the peers, from different backgrounds, creating good group dynamics, and that was what motivated me to keep going.
You were a recipient of the Young India Fellowship (YIF). What are some of the main qualities that applicants of YIF are screened for? What were your main takeaways and the skills you picked from YIF that helped you in your eventual career?
I will tell you one thing that I tell anyone who asks me, and it’s significant. You will have to have something unique. Every person comes in with their own punch saying, “This is me, and this is what makes me unique, like nobody else.” So what I did was that I presented myself as a highly technical guy who knows how things are done, handpicking experiences from my technical background. Whatever you might do, you will need that one punch that sets you apart because they want to create diversity in the crowd.
Having worked at both TI and RBL, what do you find similar and different about the work experience in both organisations?
They are very different. First of all, no one from NIT Trichy will be able to work at RBL because the people I was working with had a commerce background, and I ended up choosing the finance sector. The idea though is that the field and the conversations are altogether different. TI is an R&D company, while RBL is a management company in a broad sense. At TI, I had flexible timings, could work from home and was all about you doing your project with complete ownership of it. But on the management side, everything starts to matter, like the way you dress, because every crease in your shirt will matter to the client. Another thing is that in TI, the senior-junior border is clear, but in RBL people who were much older than me were working under me, which was odd. I also feel that the culture in RBL is, honestly, a little hostile.
Can you elaborate on your future plans for capSwipe?
We come up with different solutions for inhouse projects, and I’m focusing right now on chatbots. If you go to the capSwipe website, it will have chatbots now. Banking is all about conversation with new people, and we have to emphasise on these points, and whatever you would see is B2B (Business to Business). I wanted to focus on the B2C (Business to Client) part of it, where you see the customers and create their platform instead of the B2B platform. I want to bring about the B2C platform for investments, like mutual funds and so on because these are issues that are not addressed, which is something that can be solved using chatbots
What are the major hurdles that you’ve faced while starting a start-up? How does the scenario change later, after the start-up is established?
An entrepreneurial venture requires a very strong foundation, you could easily build a website similar to the giants like Oyo in a few hours, but the foundation of your company decides its monetary success. The idea might be secondary, but the execution is what matters the most. Anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset should have a clear idea about their start-up from the very rudimentary stage. And that’s what I did, I believed in my product and mapped out a path to make it a start-up. I kind of run this start-up with due help from my friends, truthfully. The good thing about start-ups is that you need to network and make friends with people from other start-ups. Although capSwipe started in January 2017, it was registered in July 2017. So, I still count it from January because that is when I quit my previous job and pursued it full-time. It began with me doing chatbots during elections in Punjab for a party. We moved on from elections later because I found it to be a messy business.
How difficult was the transition from engineering to finance? And how did you go about the process, and what was your motivation behind founding Counselling Mantra and Zouk Loans? Can you elaborate upon your journey in both?
To be truthful, I don’t see it as engineering or finance; I see it as Math. You see, even in Texas Instruments, I was doing Mathematics in a way, calculating things. So, Mathematics has been a constant throughout my life, whether you take finance or YIF. YIF is where I worked with Counselling Mantra wherein I created an algorithm to match career profiles, and I didn’t pursue it for long because it was completely non-profit and though we did have 2000 users per day my partner and I broke off. In Zouk Loans, I wasn’t a founder per se, I was a founding member but the stakes weren’t given to me. I still took the opportunity to get exposure in finance, because I lacked it. So, then I finally moved out and started working in finance. What motivated me was the opportunity to learn something new. It is like in the first year of college where we were told that we would learn to make a self-autonomous robot, and that was new and we did it. Things got mundane and repetitive in my second year at Texas Instruments and I thought, “I know this stuff, let’s do something else.” And that’s how it all started.
What culture are you aiming to establish in your ventures?
To be honest, this start-up came from a productive experience in TI, and I want to create a unique and proper culture in my company; however I cannot micromanage these things. One thing that I’ve made sure of in my company is to make the salary payments on time, and a very open approach as far as money is concerned, to show that there is no varying composition and clarity about the equity. I try to be very transparent with money in my start-up, and this is what I can deliver. As far as culture is concerned, I don’t want the environment to be hostile and I’m not going to micromanage things. My company might die in 3-4 years if I keep micromanaging.
What would you suggest/advise current students who would like to build their career as an entrepreneur?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to get experience. It may be an issue, even if you start well and get carried away by initial success without learning much. So, it is better to gain some experience like I had at TI and RBL, knowing about the culture of each place. And the second thing is networking. The idea is that once you are in a good company, it’s not all about the package it’s also about passion. If you want to work on something, look for a company that is focussed on it, even if it’s small. If you want to just code and get money, you can do that, but that is not the right approach towards entrepreneurship. So, even if the work is for free, do it if you gain the right experience. I started with Zouk Loans, and I learned about the nuances of start-ups. I’ve seen a lot of my friends with whom I used to network quit their jobs to begin a start-up and soon get demotivated. But I jumped with a safety net which was the fact that it was another person’s start-up and learned how things worked. One more thing I want to talk about is an MBA. MBA has taken a lot of toll on the youth. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you don’t need an MBA. You can do an MBA if you want to earn a lot of money and work with a lot of engineers where you need to enhance your profile. So, my personal opinion is that an MBA is unnecessary for an entrepreneur.
What would you, as a recruiter, look for candidates in an interview?
I don’t go for freshers anymore. I did that when I was in Zouk Loans. I used to hire many freshers and interns from other companies. But whenever I hire a fresher, they have no clue about what they need to do. They know Math and Science, but they don’t know how to apply it on their own. If I say that I need a chatbot, I expect them to know to figure things on their own instead of asking me basic questions all along. So, one more piece of advice I would give is to work for big companies first, where it is easy to gain experience. Then you can move to smaller start-ups, and then you can build your own.
What skills did you pick up in your undergraduate programme, away from the technical side, to help you in your eventual career?
Nothing. In college, all I gained was technical knowledge. And for that, Spider was a beneficial aid. But now, there is a new club called ProfNITT, which is something I probably would have utilised if it were available during my time in college.
What are some things about your career path you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?
The non-technical skills, to be honest, and that is why I took the YIF. I would also say that all engineers, in general, lack non-technical skills. Every coder who thinks he can manage a start-up, generally is not able to.
Is there something more the T&P Cell should be doing for students?
T&P cell is quite good at NITT. I don’t know about others, because I was in EEE. But the fourth years had a lot of exams and procedures for placements, which is not something one sees in a lot of colleges. There is a lot of exposure in this process, and that’s how I got placed in TI. Another thing I think T&P could do is something about higher education because many people were not aware of how to go about GRE, GMAT, etc. There were a lot of colleges offering direct PhDs at that time and it would be nice if our institute makes more collaborations with institutes like that. I remember there was a ROTGAD, talking about the realisation of the American dream, which I think is still there on the website, and that is really good.