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  • One of the recurring themes when it comes to entrepreneurship is “valuation”. How much a company is “worth” is in many ways the tail that wags the enterprise dog in our times.

    I’ve asked this question to every single one of the guests on First Principles. But the answer from Kamal Sagar, the co-founder and CEO of Bangalore-headquartered real estate and design company Total Environment, still came as a bit of surprise. (Last year the company did around $250M in sales.) “I don't know what the valuation is,” said Sagar. “We didn't build it with the idea of selling it, so we haven’t ever looked at that option.” And this is nearly 27 years after he started Total Environment.

    During that time, the company has charted a distinctly contrarian path for itself. At every stage of its evolution, it chose to do things that took more time, more money and more effort. It built its own design software. It vertically integrated its operations, down to the bricks, tiles and furniture that went into its homes. It stuck trees and lawns into balconies and roofs. It turned apartment designs into versioned products, much like productized software.

    In a candid and reflective conversation that spans his three decade career as an architect and entrepreneur, Sagar shows us an alternate view of building a company. A word that comes up multiple time in the conversation is “authenticity”.
    Starting with the “C” he got at IIT for being obstinate, to the many times he chose to take Total Environment down paths that traded rapid growth for slower design, Sagar gives us a glimpse into the incredibly inefficient, frustrating and lucrative sector that is real estate.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    As usual, a big thanks to my colleague Rahul Choudhary who diligently helps me with the transcripts each fortnight.

    If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them but we do read every single one of them.


  • In 2015 Ruchi Kalra was a partner with McKinsey in their Financial Services practices.

    In 2016 she, along with four co-founders, started OfBusiness, a business that saw the world in raw materials like plastic, steel, almonds where everyone else saw products like bottles, bridges and cookies. By using tech to disintermediate the various buyers and sellers in the raw material supply chain, OfBusiness wanted to make purchases cheaper and faster.

    In 2017 Kalra, again with her four co-founders, one of who also happens to be her husband and former colleague, started another business, Oxyzo. What would it do? It would provide credit to businesses that wanted to buy raw materials.

    Cut to 2023. OfBusiness and Oxyzo are both unicorns. They’re also growing at an incredibly fast rate. Kalra is the CEO of Oxyzo, while also doubling up as the CFO of OfBusiness.

    Last year OfBusiness drove around Rs.7,500 crore of sales, says Kalra. Which is slated to jump to over Rs.20,000 crore this year. In the same period Oxyzo’s balance sheet size as a lender will swell from Rs.3,500 crore to Rs.5,000 crore.


    For these numbers, the two sibling unicorns employ just about 1000 professionals between them.


    “If I were to do a rough employee-to-valuation calculation, that would place you in, I'm guessing, one of the highest...”

    Kalra cuts me off.

    “I think more than the employee-to-valuation, it's more an employee-to-profit calculation.”

    That’s because the B2B siblings also both profitable. Together they are slated to grow their profit after tax (a phrase that’s quite rare in the unicorn space) 150% over the last year, to Rs500 crore.

    Kalra starting at McKinsey after an engineering degree from IIT Delhi and an MBA from ISB is a pattern easy to understand. What’s not so easy is how and why she decided to quit after making partner, and start a business in a very different and “uncool” sector.

    In a candid and reflective conversation, Kalra talks about career choices, business building, market sizing, operational discipline, and her own transformation from an executive to a founder, and finally, leader. It’s a masterclass on how starting up later in life often brings perspectives and experiences that are hard for others to replicate.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    We normally record First Principles episodes inside a professional studio, but this episode was recorded inside one of the meeting rooms at Oxyzo’s buzzing Gurugram offices in December. Which is why, in spite of our best efforts, the audio will sound a bit different.

    A big shout out to my colleague Rahul Choudhary who diligently helps me with the transcripts each fortnight.

    Lastly, if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them but we do read every single one of them.

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  • The year was 2004. MakeMyTrip was a struggling 4-year old company and Deep Kalra, its founder, hadn’t taken a salary for nearly 18 months and had exhausted all of his financial savings. His co-founders had already taken salary cuts ranging from 50-70%. That’s when they got an offer from a much larger company to buy MakeMyTrip out. After discussing between themselves, they decided that they’d sell if the offer was $10 million. The first offer from the potential buyer was $5 million. Which Kalra refused, of course. Then the haggling started. Over a few hours and price inched up bit by bit to around $7 million. “And the meeting ended. And I was actually very relieved,” says Deep in episode 11 of First Principles.

    He says his single biggest advice to young founders is to “just hang in there and don't give up too early because so many businesses haven't seen the light of day because someone gave up too early.”

    MakeMyTrip went through long periods of struggle, often existential, before it became the online travel giant that it is today. And Kalra has been part of it all through.

    In a reflective and wide-ranging conversation, Kalra covers a two decade span of evolution of India’s internet and startup space, including his own journey as an entrepreneur. It’s a masterclass on not giving up, staying in the game, and building to last.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    And if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them but we do read every single one of them.

  • Serendipity usually plays a huge role in entrepreneurship. It played an outsized role in Tarun Mehta’s journey to founding Ather Energy, easily India’s best-known electric scooter maker.

    When Mehta graduated from IIT Madras, he wanted badly to become a consultant because it was where the money and aura was. But he didn’t get a job as a consultant. Then he tried to get into Harvard Business School for an MBA, but that didn’t pan out either.

    Instead, he ended up at Ashok Leyland, a maker of buses and trucks. It took four months after he joined for Mehta to be allocated a computer of his own. During that time, he’d walk around and find a computer belonging to someone who hadn’t come to office. Or he’d walk through its sprawling Chennai campus and read books in its library. Of course, his salary wasn’t high by any standards.

    The low salary and lack of any meaningful work allowed Mehta to drift back to the IIT Madras campus he’d graduated from. After convincing a professor of their desire to build battery packs, Mehta and his co-founder Swapnil Jain, moved to an empty hostel room to start building things.

    Building hard things.

    That’s the origin story of Ather Energy, the company that started out wanting to build battery packs, but ended up doing multi-year deep dives to re-imagine virtually every part of an electric scooter. This stubbornness would bring Ather Energy to the brink of death five times.

    Today, Ather sells over 10,000 electric scooters in India. Next year, it wants to double that number. And then some more.

    Tarun speaks at length about his journey to convince investors of his vision; doing hard things that defied common sense; building an organisation over decades; and why it takes at least three years to make a true impact at work.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them, but we do read every single one of them.

  • Few companies define themselves so sharply on the basis of what they’re opposed to like NoBroker, the 8-year-old Bengaluru-headquartered real estate platform. Opposition to brokerage is baked into its name, its business model, and even its ambitions.

    US$19 billion is the amount Indians shell out as brokerage fees on real estate rentals.That’s the market NoBroker wants to disrupt. Flip the mirror and that is also, thus, the total addressable market that NoBroker is targeting for itself.

    “At the end of the day, all a broker does is introduce people. You want to pay him one month's rent for an introduction? Really?”—that was Amit Agarwal, the co-founder and CEO of NoBroker, speaking to The Ken back in 2017 for a story.

    It’s almost 2023 and Agarwal is still sticking to his guns. (Which is why he can’t reveal the exact locations of his offices).

    In this episode, the “IIT-IIM” founder speaks candidly over an hour and a half on a range of topics. From entering management consulting as a young MBA because it paid the most, to starting a business that almost no investor wanted to fund, to convincing notoriously value-minded Indians to pay a subscription fee before finding a rental apartment, to running a frugal organisation with a cockroach mentality.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it. And if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them, but we do read every single one of them.

    Daybreak—a brand new podcast from The Ken (https://the-ken.com/podcasts/daybreak/)Business news is complex and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. Thrice a week, Daybreak tells one business story that’s significant, simple, and powerful. All in fifteen minutes or less. Hosted from The Ken’s newsroom by Snigdha Sharma, Daybreak relies on years of original reporting and analysis by some of India’s most experienced and talented business journalists. Episodes drop on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

  • In a career spanning 25 years, Amrish Rau has been on multiple sides of the leadership equation. He’s been a corporate leader, founder, professional CEO and angel investor. As the CEO of Pine Labs, the payments solution provider whose point of sale terminals can be seen in most Indian shops and stores, Rau says his ambition is to “make money from every transaction”.
    In 2016, Citrus Pay, an online payments provider Rau co-founded, was acquired by rival PayU for $130 million in cash. It was one of the biggest acquisitions back then.

    But Rau says it is also one of his biggest regrets. As a first-time founder, he made the decision to sell his company too quickly. As an entrepreneur, he says, “at the end of the day, you need your own horse and your own carriage. And you need to be able to hug it every day and saying, this is mine.”

    In this wide-ranging conversation Rau touches upon a range of topics. From creating corporate cultures to “FU money” to risk-taking to the evolution of fintech, there’s interesting themes every few minutes.

    If you’d rather (or perhaps also) read than listen, we have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    And if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or tips, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them but we do read every single one of them.

  • SUGAR Cosmetics, though now amongst the most popular and fastest growing cosmetics brand in India, wasn't the first choice when Vineeta was asked to name her new cosmetics company, and neither was cosmetics the first business that Vineeta undertook when she set out to be an entrepreneur.

    Getting SUGAR to it's users was a tumultuous journey and as Vineeta sits down with Rohin to recount some of the most important points in the journey, we get a peek at the lenses she uses to look at the world around her.

    We have also published the full transcript for this interview on our website. You can click here and read through it.

    If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or rants, please email them to [email protected] We might not be able to reply to all of them but we do read every single one of them.

  • Today’s guest on First Principles is Harshil Mathur, CEO and co-founder of Razorpay.

    Razorpay claims to be India’s first full-stack financial solutions company. And if that sounds very much like how a coder would describe a company, it’s because that’s exactly what’s happening.

    When Harshil Mathur and Shashank Kumar, two coding enthusiasts fresh into their first jobs, started working on what would later become Razorpay, they never really set out to build a company or be entrepreneurs. They just wanted to solve a problem.

    But in doing so, they were compelled to create Razorpay.

    Today’s episode is a delightful mix of first principles thinking, thoughts on product development, and the importance of deliberately driving company culture. Earlier in August, The Ken’s journalist Shashwat Mohanty did a story on the challenges Razorpay faces in realising its neo-banking dream. The story is now behind a paywall but you can find it here.

    Feedback? Write to us on [email protected]

  • Mensa Brands is India’s fastest unicorn. It took them only six months to zoom past the one-billion-dollar valuation mark. Having raised over US$300 million in debt and equity so far, Ananth Narayanan, the founder and CEO of Mensa Brands and the former CEO of Myntra, seems to be on to something.

    In this episode, we tap into all of it. From his time at McKinsey as a consultant and his stint as Myntra's CEO, to leading MedLife and its sale to PharmEasy, and eventually founding Mensa Brands, Ananth shares everything good and some things that weren't. We touch upon his thoughts on ploughing through the tough times, the ability to bounce back after major lows, and the value of learnability and curiosity.

    As always, we’re happy to hear your feedback. Please share it with us at [email protected] You can write to us with feedback, questions you want us to ask future guests, or even guests you would like to see on the show!

    The free story mentioned in the episode can still be found here albeit behind a paywall: Mensa, Evenflow pitch e-comm brand aggregation to rigid Indian sellers

  • The InMobi Group is a curious giant. Not only is it comprised of India's very first tech unicorn, the mobile advertising platform InMobi, it also houses another unicorn within which is one of India's youngest and fastest. That's the lock screen service Glance that's on hundreds of millions of smartphones globally. There's also live video app Roposo, which is pressing down the accelerator on its live commerce offerings.

    All of these are linked together by Naveen Tewari, the co-founder and CEO of InMobi., His entrepreneurial journey has seen numerous pivots, innovations and failures. And an abiding survival instinct honed through first-hand learnings around business and creativity.

    We begin all the way from mKhoj, Naveen's first tech start up, and trace his journey down to the current day behemoth that InMobi is. Through this journey, there are stories, anecdotes, notes on culture, and in each of them, some first principles. These are the principles that help Naveen look at the world a little differently than the rest of us.

    We're thankful for the feedback and suggestions you keep sending us with each episode. Please don't stop. If you have thoughts, suggestions, questions we could ask our guests, or even guests you wish to see on the show, please write to us on [email protected] We read every single email that comes in there.

  • This time around First Principles makes its way to possibly one of the most fascinating success stories to come out of the Indian start-up space. Zerodha's cofounder Nithin Kamath joins Rohin Dharmakumar in this free wheeling chat about what makes him tick, why he is thankful no one ever invested in his idea early on, thoughts on their early success, and a lot more around building relationships, identifying risks, and seeking opportunities.

    First Principles is a show where Rohin Dharmakumar, founder and CEO of The Ken, interviews some of the most successful business leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time on the lenses they use to look at the world around them. Lenses that help them see things that most of us don't.

    You can look at all the other Ken Podcasts here

  • In this episode of First Principles we speak to Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, a profitable unicorn you probably haven't heard about. Yet. Valued at almost 1.5 billion dollars, and a leader in the broadcast-technology domain, Amagi's road to the top wasn't easy, but it definitely makes for a fun listen. Listen to that and more about how Baskar built the company, how he leads life, his thoughts on leadership, parenting, and more.

    First Principles is a show where Rohin Dharmakumar, founder and CEO of The Ken, interviews some of the most successful business leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time on the lenses they use to look at the world around them. Lenses that help them see things that most of us don't.

    You can look at all the other Ken Podcasts here

  • This pilot episode of First Principles features Kabeer Biswas, founder and CEO at Dunzo, one of India's fastest growing quick commerce companies. Kabeer talks about how he navigates failure, accepts feedback, and makes sure that Dunzo is always focused on the things that matter.

    First Principles is a show where Rohin Dharmakumar, founder and CEO of The Ken, interviews some of the most successful business leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time on the lenses they use to look at the world around them. Lenses that help them see things that most of us don't.

    You can look at all the other Ken Podcasts here