The road less travelled
25th November 2021
Many are surprised, and some inspired, by the fact that I chose to start a company like Yodda. People around me generally wonder (sometimes openly and sometimes behind closed doors) about why a very successful tech executive did not take up another CEO position in the prime of his career? Or not do another tech startup? Tech is booming, and I could capitalize on that boom.
The answer to that is not simple. Matters of the heart rarely are. In all honesty, I dug deeply into many areas that would do well as businesses. I spent months researching areas that would make good tech startups - from pivoting customer support using AI, to vernacular social media platforms for the blue collared, and many more. The spreadsheets built a compelling argument for the opportunities that lay ahead.
But none of those ideas touched my soul. They only appealed to the logical and analytical part of my brain. But there comes a time in your life, when you start asking the dreaded question - what’s my purpose in life? Is it just to build wealth? Is the wealth created for me or has it been created for my children? My very wise grand mother used to say, "Poot sapoot, to kyon dhan sanchet. Poot kapoot, to kyon dhan sanchet". It translates to, "If you have talented kids, then why do you need to build wealth for them. If you have foolish kids, then why do you need to build wealth for them". A talented person would be able to build their own wealth whereas a fool would squander whatever was handed to him.
I struggled with the question - Is there something more meaningful in my destiny?
The passing of my mother made my purpose crystal clear. I had to do something where the rewards were not only money, but the heaps of blessings from aging parents, and their children for enabling their karma. I started viewing myself and my team as karma yoddhas. With a single noble purpose; ensuring the safety and improving the quality of life of the aging parents in India. This idea spoke to my soul, not as much to the logical/analytical brain that kept reminding me of the business risks of going down a road less travelled.
Being a social entrepreneur is the hardest thing one can do. It’s riddled with risks:
There is no clear go-to-market strategy that ensures customer adoption.
There is no leader in the market segment to learn from or emulate.
Social startups have to continuously fight the mindset that all noble causes must be funded like social welfare states and that the benefits must be distributed free like entitlements.
There are very few institutional investors who can ensure funding of the operation till critical mass kicks in and the business turns profitable.
I had no experience in elder care. After all, I am a tech executive, not a geriatric expert.
But there are advantages too:
I am a tech executive, not a geriatric expert. It meant I had no biases and am willing to learn and experiment.
I can use technology to aid in exceptional service delivery and proactive measures to provide safety & security to the parents.
I have met too many people who care for this cause, and are willing to help me take this offering to market, with no expectations. They are not only willing to offer their time, counsel and network, but are also willing to raise funds for Yodda through unconventional means.
I turned 50 in February this year. As statistics suggest, most successful entrepreneurs start their venture at 50. So time is on my side. I am still young enough to put in the long hours needed to make a social enterprise successful, but old enough to have credibility & experience to pull it off. Most people wait to retire before pursuing matters of the heart, but their body cannot support the drudgery of building an enterprise at that stage.
I have the appetite for risk, because the reward is so much bigger than wealth creation.
In a social cause, there are no competitors. There are only co-workers, putting their heart and soul into solving the problem. While we might compete on the field, but behind the scenes, we collaborate. We share best practices. We encourage each other to stay motivated through the ups and downs. We share leads, because at the end, we care about the parents who need help - not just our revenues, profitability or market capitalization.
Like I said - matters of the heart are complex. The decisions are hardly pragmatic. We are driven by a deep sense of purpose. And at the end, we know, that we all have our destiny… and fate. And if we try and pursue a purpose, we will find it. I wanted to end my career on a high note - and just being the CEO of a company wasn’t going to cut it for me.