• Hello, we're back again with part 2 of our final, final supercut where we’ve spliced together one interesting bit of conversation from the last 21 guests I interviewed on First Principles.

    And like the last episode where we covered founders 1 to 20, you’ll hear super sharp slices of a few minutes each which are reflections on their approach to organization building, risk taking, decision making and life living.

    Here are the guests you’ll get listen to in this episode:

    Krish Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Chargebee; Varun Dua, founder of Acko; Yashish Dahiya, co-founder and Group CEO of Policybazaar; Archit Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Clear; M N Srinivasu, co-founder and Director of Billdesk; Radhika Gupta, MD and CEO of Edelweiss Asset Management; Lalit Keshre, co-founder and CEO of Groww; Niraj Singh, founder and CEO of Spinny; Karthik Jayaraman, Managing Director of Waycool; Ritesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of Oyo; Soumya Rajan, founder and CEO of Waterfield Advisors; Viren Shetty, Executive Vice Chairman of Narayana Health; Aneesh Reddy, Founder and MD of Capillary Technologies; Vaibhav Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Udaan; Girish Mathrubootham, Founder and Executive Chairman of Freshworks; Harsh Mariwala, Chairman of Marico; Chetan Maini, co-founder and chairman of SUN Mobility; Jaydeep Barman, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Foods; Alok Mittal, co-founder and MD of Indifi Technologies; Kapil Chopra, Founder of The Postcard Hotels; and Manav Garg, founder of Eka.

    This is not the end of the road for me as a podcast host as you’ll soon find out. Actually, very soon.

    I'm Rohin Dharmakumar, your host. And here's part 2 of the final, final supercut.


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  • I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t the First Principles podcast draw its curtains? Yes we did.

    But then we decided to do a final super-splice of every single episode we did. There were 41 founders. A bit too many for a single supercut episode, don’t you think?

    So, here’s the first 20.

    We went through all the episodes and picked a few minutes from each that we felt captured the essence of the specific founder and their approach to entrepreneurship, leadership, and well, life.

    You’ll listen to Kabeer Biswas, co-founder and CEO of Dunzo; Baskar Subramamian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi; Nithin Kamath, co-founder and CEO of Zerodha; Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO at InMobi; Ananth Narayanan, founder and CEO of Mensa Brands; Harshil Mathur, co-founder and CEO of Razorpay; Vineeta Singh, co-founder and CEO of Sugar Cosmetics; Amrish Rau, CEO of Pine Labs; Amit Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of NoBroker; Tarun Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Ather Energy; Deep Kalra, founder and chairman of MakeMyTrip; Ruchi Kalra, co-founder and CEO of Oxyzo; Kamal Sagar, co-founder and CEO of Total Environment; Srikanth Iyer, co-founder and CEO of Homelane; Shan Kadavil, founder and CEO of Fresh to Home; Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of CRED; Srikanth Velamakanni, co-founder and CEO of Fractal; Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder and chairperson of UpGrad; Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and CEO of Unacademy; and Smita Deorah, co-founder and co-CEO of LEAD.

    Even if you’ve listened to many of these episodes, I think you might enjoy this intense supercut.

    Meanwhile, we’re working hard at our next podcast. Which I should be able to introduce to you very shortly. I’m excited!

    I’m Rohin Dharmakumar, your host. And here’s part 1 of final, final supercut.


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  • First Principles is coming to an end. But it's not the end of the road for you as listeners.

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    We'd love to know your thoughts and you can let us know here.

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  • Becoming an entrepreneur is a leap of faith. Regardless of when or even if your business sees the light of day, starting up is still a tremendously hard thing for someone to take up, work on and say out loud to the world.

    The leap of faith still exists when you're a woman founder, but with a bunch of other variables you didn't ask for also thrown in.

    But I'll tell you what doesn't change. It still takes the same amount of passion, the joy of building, stress, frustration and the ability to manage fires that might go off anytime to keep the ship steady, and eventually succeed in the long run.

    Being a woman founder does present its own challenges and hurdles that are often unexpected or even patronising. Because if you've decided to jump into the world of terrible and exciting, then these are just additional hoops that you have to jump through.

    That's why role models matter. I must confess we - I - have been disappointed at not being able to get a lot more woman founders and their stories on First Principles. You can be sure we're trying to change that over time.

    But in today's supercut episode, we bring together five women founders from earlier episodes.

    This episode features Vineeta Singh of SUGAR Cosmetics, Smita Deorah of LEAD School, Ruchi Kalra of Oxyzo, Radhika Gupta of Edelweiss Asset Management and Soumya Rajan of Waterfield Advisors.

    Welcome to First Principles—The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let's get started.


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    And throughout the two years they will learn virtually all key aspects of building, innovating and scaling a modern "journalism as a product" organization, well, from first principles.

    If you want to understand the "why" of why we're doing this, you'll find the details to that here, but if you're just excited about the opportunity from the little I have told you and you're just thinking about "how" do I apply, here's the link for that.


    Also, have you listened to the latest episode of The First Two Years(or TFTY)—The Early Careers podcast from The Ken?

    In the latest episode of TFTY, host Akshaya Chandrasekaran goes on a quest to explore how to solicit feedback as requested by a listener of the podcast. Akshaya directed the listener's question to guests on the episode who shared surprising tips and pragmatic ways to ask for feedback. What exactly did they have to say?

    Listen to the episode here to find out.


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  • In the first part of my conversation with Manav Garg, I introduced him as the founder of Eka Software. This week, I would like to reintroduce Manav as a venture capitalist and the co-founder of Together Fund, a VC firm. Well, you know how I feel about having venture capitalists on First Principles if you've listened to my conversation with Alok Mittal.

    I had said in that conversation that venture capitalists are facilitators or enablers, not builders or doers.

    Manav, too, like Alok Mittal earlier, has been at both ends, being a facilitator and also being in the thick of building an organisation. A few months ago, he fully transitioned into being a venture capitalist and has raised almost $150 million for Together Fund's Fund II(Fund Two), which is almost double the $85 million they raised for their first fund. Manav terms Together as a founder and 'operator-led' firm, and that distinguishes it from other VC funds.

    Manav explained it as, "So we are the people who can, you know, roll our sleeves with them and really help them where they can really think like founders. And our concept was repetition over returns. We want to really think for the founders with empathy and really help them build a global company."

    If Alok Mittal's story was about turning from a VC to a founder, Manav's is about turning from a founder to a VC. Well, he is sort of both as a co-founder of Together Fund. But the question is, can a founder be a better VC than, well, a VC?

    Welcome to First Principles—The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let's get started.


    Have you listened to The Ken's early careers podcast, The First Two Years, yet? If you haven't, we've got the perfect episode to start you off. In the latest episode, host Akshaya Chandrasekaran went about exploring how to do networking without making it feel forced and cringe. Check out the episode here!


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  • "This notion of a startup should be centered around the founder is a mindset. It makes for great stories. It makes for great heroes. And that's the reason why that sustains But, you know, there are great organizations that have been built where founders did not believe in that. And the organizations sustain even after the founder leaves."

    That's what Alok Mittal, founder and MD of Indifi, an online lending platform, had to say about startups getting caught up in the founder-worshipping trap.

    I hope you have heard my first episode with him. I often ask founders if they believe in the concept of a founder-led organization. Or how they're planning for a post-founder future for their organization. Because like Alok, I do believe that just like a parent's role is to eventually step back and let go of their child, so it is for founders.

    But that's not easy when we're living in the golden age of founders. Where co-founder tags are coveted much more than CEO titles. It's not easy for many founders to let go.

    But that was just one of the things that Alok and I discussed in our conversation. Alok, if you didn't know already, is involved in a lot of things. His day job might be MD of Indifi, but he is also the founding board member of Indian Angel Network and co-founder of Plaksha University.

    Plaksha is a project he has been working on for quite some time and the way it is structured was interesting and something a lot of centers of education should be aiming to build in India as Alok explained:

    "The notion of departments that exist in educational institutions is not the right architecture. Especially for a country like India, more and more of technology skills have to get expressed as entrepreneurship for it to be relevant to society. I don't think we have another answer for the jobs we need to create or the growth that we need to build.

    Now, you take all of that, and the question that we are asking is, what does that mean for the university system? And so, for example, at Plaksha, there are no departments. There are these integrated centers of research which are oriented towards a particular problem like climate. But there is no computer science department, there is no mechanical engineering department. There is no mechanical engineering major because we don't think that students will need to be experts at mechanical engineering in a silo to be able to build.

    So there is a major in autonomous systems, which means robotics, which means drones, which means all of that. But there's a major in biological systems, which means genetic engineering, which means personalized medicine, things of that nature. So that is the new architecture that we are putting in place for how technology education should be done."

    If you haven't already checked out the first part of my conversation with Alok Mittal, now would be the perfect time to give it a listen. You'll find in that conversation when and how Alok fell in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur.

    Welcome to First Principles—The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let's get started.


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  • “As I said, I am from a middle-class family. I was earning $10,000/month, which is a large sum in those days. And sitting in Singapore, Bangkok, travelling around the world. So my the larger question in my mind is that how do I take the decision?” says Manav Garg.

    Manav Garg, founder and former CEO of Eka Software, a SaaS company that operates in the global commodities trading space. "Former CEO" because Manav started Eka in 2004 and just sold it earlier this year.

    Since Manav was earning $10K a month back in the early 2000s, we talked about golden handcuffs. You know, when people earn so much that they become risk averse? A lot of people are attracted to the lure of startups but not necessarily the grind that comes with them. Including much, much lower pay.

    “So, my competition was TriplePoint, Openlink, SAP. Large companies, at that time. $100 million plus companies. So, I started calling them. Cold calling. And few of them didn't pick up my phone.

    One person luckily picked up my phone saying, ‘Please don't call me again and again. It's not nice. I'm never going to work for Indian company.’

    I said, ‘Fine. Since I have you on phone, can I meet you?’

    He said, ‘No.’

    He said, ‘No. What will you do by meeting me?’

    I said, ‘Let's have coffee. What I will do is, tell me your travel schedule.’

    He said, ‘I am flying to London tomorrow, so I am going to be very busy.’

    I said, ‘Okay, let me do one thing. I will travel to London next day and I will meet you at Heathrow. Just have a coffee. You anyway will take a shower.’

    Most of the people from New York travel to London that red-eye flight, take a shower in the arrival launch. I knew that. I said, ‘I will meet in the arrival launch. Half an hour coffee and then you are free to go.’

    He said, ‘Fine.’

    Luckily, he said, ‘Fine.’”

    It takes a LOT of courage to fly to London to meet someone who said he doesn’t want to work for an Indian company. And a LOT of vision to convince that person to join you. That’s what happened at the end of that 30-minute meeting that stretched to 2 hours.

    Today, after 20 years as founder, Manav has jumped right back into the ring as the co-founder of venture capital firm TogetherFund, along with Girish Mathrubootham of Freshworks and others. When I asked him about something most potential founders overlooked, his answer was easy: Co-founder selection.

    “See, in India also, still we have in that cultural mix, where you start up with your college friends because you spend time in dorms together, in college, you went through life's ups and downs together, right?

    So, therefore, you're very attuned to start up with your friends from college, most likely, that's the most likely case, or from your workplace. You work with somebody in Amazon, Flipkart, Freshworks, Eka, Zoho, so therefore you end up starting up.

    I personally think that there is also a way to manufacture your co-founders.”

    Manav advises founders to set aside at least 6 months to “manufacture” their co-founders by just meeting a LOT of people.

    My conversation with Manav uncovers a lot of insight on how young founders should think about building for the long haul. He did it for 20 years.

    There’s a lot of very counterintuitive builder wisdom to unpack in today’s conversation.

    Welcome to First Principles–The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.


    Daybreak is now a daily podcast.

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  • Kapil Chopra, the founder and CEO of Postcard Hotels told me the following statistics.

    Of the 10 million foreign tourists who visit India each year, roughly 10% - one million - are classified as luxury.

    “So we've kind of made entire Rajasthan and Kerala as two big sectors for one million tourists,” he said.

    In comparison domestic trips made by Indians was around 2.3 billion a year, a few years ago.

    Even if just 1% of those could be upgraded to luxury travel, that’s 23 million.

    Chopra wants to make that happen with Postcard Hotels, his luxury boutique hotel chain. Launched in 2018 with 3 hotels, it has 9 today, and 23 in the works.

    He wants them all to be in what he calls the “transformational” category. What’s that you ask?

    The first level is commodity. A bed, an air conditioner and a bathroom.

    The second level represent hotels that offer differentiated “products”.

    The third level are the luxury hotels come, differentiated by exceptional service.

    The fourth level is experiential. It’s what Airbnb does when it offers you the ability to stay in Paris at a place that overlooks the Eiffel Tower.

    The fifth level is for “transformative experiences”.

    “When you combine all of them. If you're able to give a good product, great world class service, great experiential experiences, soak in the destination. If you add all of this together, it becomes transformational,” says Chopra.

    He lists three luxury hotel brands in the fifth category – Aman Resorts, Six Senses and One & Only.

    “And I looked at them and said, what is common? They were all founder-led. And the founders were amazing. But the founders all lost control of the brands they had built,” he says.

    Kapil Chopra doesn’t want to join that group.

    Kapil also has strong opinions on why he believes the luxury hotel business has become sterile and unexciting over the years, and how Postcard is changing that image. Apart from Postcard, Kapil Chopra is also the founder of the table reservation service, discovery and payment platform, EazyDiner.

    Over the course of our conversation he also talks about:

    How luxury travel and travelers are evolving in IndiaWhy did he choose to leave the Oberoi Group at the height of his careerHow he’s become calmer after starting Postcard HotelsHow he’s doing fundraising, investments and expansion in way that doesn’t endanger the parent companyWhy ESOPs and wealth creation needs to be more prevalent in the hospitality and travel industries

    Welcome to First Principles–The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.


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  • Jaydeep Barman has settled into his role of being a CEO for quite some time now. He admits he was not always the nicest of people when they restarted or ‘actually started’ Faasos, which later became Rebel Foods, as a QSR chain in 2011. He would be unreasonable and brash with the people he worked with and in his own words “must have rubbed people the wrong way”.

    But with time he has gained perspective, as one does when they go through all those experiences. Now, he’s thankful for all those who remained despite him not being the best boss.

    Today Jaydeep believes Rebel has found its way but he resists to rest in this fast changing world even though he stands by one belief: People’s love for good quality food will always be there and till the day that doesn’t change Rebel will be very much in business.

    In the first part of our conversation with Jaydeep he recounted the journey of Rebel Foods, a lot of anecdotes about the restaurant industry at large, how he hires people with founder’s mentality and not LinkedIn mentality and a whole lot more…

    We strongly recommend listening to the first part of our conversation with Jaydeep to get the full picture or if you wish you could read the full transcript of that conversation here.

    In this second part of our conversation too, Jaydeep was full of insights about the internet restaurant empire he has built and how they arrived at its current version not with clear, set ideas but a lot of experimentation and realising what works and what doesn’t on the way.

    Jaydeep also touched upon a lot of other things including:

    The role his co-founder, Kallol Banerjee plays at RebelHow they arrived at Rebel OS and the possibilities it holdsHow, at Rebel written reports are the norm and not the exception

    Welcome to First Principles–The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken

    Let’s get started.


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    In fact, listen to the Summer Playlist we shared in our latest edition. It’s eclectic, vibe-y and a must listen.

  • Alok Mittal has been on both ends of the startup ecosystem. He’s been a founder and a VC. These days he’s back in the founder’s seat but still enabling businesses but through his lending platform Indifi which lends money to Small and Medium Enterprises or SMEs.

    He has very strong thoughts about org building even though he admits Indifi is only 9 years old. He speaks from his observations and his strong beliefs. In Alok’s mind it’s the mid-management which holds together the organization and not necessarily the leadership team.

    Alok also has the history of setting up three ventures, which includes the part he played in setting up Canaan Partners, a VC firm in India. Then of course there is JobsAhead which was his first startup and now he’s busy lending to the sector which contributes to 30% of the country’s GDP, and yet finds credit hard to come by.

    Alok hung up his VC shoes in 2015 to solve this problem and take on the problem of lending to SMEs, the ones who were being given a pass by traditional banks and NBFCs. But they’re not leaning on solving for every SME out there. Indifi have found the sectors they want to lend to and are working towards making these businesses get access to credit.

    He also talked about:

    Failures and the learnings it bringsHow he assesses risks as a VC and a founderThe bible of raising moneyAdvice to Young entrepreneurs

    Listen to all of that and a whole lot more in this Part 1 episode of our conversation with Alok Mittal.

    Welcome to First Principles – The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.

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  • Rebel Foods was incorporated in 2015. Before that it was Faasos and Faasos has been around since 2004. But co-founder and CEO Jaydeep Barman says back in 2004 when he and his co-founder Kallol Banerjee started it, they didn’t look at it as a means of living. It existed to some extent, primarily, to fulfil their own craving for good Calcutta rolls as Pune, where both of them were living at the time, didn't have any nice joints for the same.

    A few years after starting it both of them left it behind to go and do their second MBAs from INSEAD and after completing it Jaydeep went on to work for McKinsey in London and Kallol headed to Bosch in Singapore.

    But the dream of having their own company brought them back to Pune in 2011 and this time they were serious about making Faasos huge. They wanted to make it a QSR chain in the image of McDonald’s and Dominos of the world, but catering to the Indian taste buds. They raised some venture capital and got a few angel investors and decided to fire up their journey to growing their store numbers and serving great food.

    But this journey hit a roadblock when they grew too fast and revenue didn’t match up growth on a per store basis. This is when they had the first of their ‘lightbulb moments or epiphanies’ as Jaydeep calls them.

    Infrastructure or setting up a restaurant on the high street was a fixed cost that made it hard for Rebel Foods to scale beyond a point. So they decided to enforce a change in how they do business by taking away this fixed cost component and just investing in making food in a kitchen ideally in a location where rent is low.

    This decision was aided by customer insight as well. When they ran a survey nearly 74% customers said they had never been to a Faasos outlet or they had been to it once. So they piloted the cloud kitchen or ghost kitchen concept, which meant you just have a kitchen which fulfils orders and no storefront or dine-in area, in Mumbai and it worked and they haven’t turned back from there.

    There were two more lightbulb moments which have made Rebel Foods what it is today. What were those?

    Find out that and a lot more in this episode full of a lot of 2x2 matrix examples, possibly one of the most fun brand origin stories, how Rebel Foods became the world’s largest Internet restaurant and priceless insights into the world of serving food without a restaurant that you and I can dine-in.

    Welcome to First Principles – The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.

    The Ken completed the training of 100 senior leaders from high-growth Indian companies last month. Read more about our learning programs for leaders here. Sign up by filling out this form. We have a few slots available this year.

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  • When Chetan Maini – co-founder and chairman of SUN Mobility – stepped down as Mahindra Reva CEO in 2015, he wasn’t thinking what was the next venture to start. In fact even though he stepped down he was still involved in the space.

    His time was still spent in understanding the possibilities electric mobility could unlock for the world and how these possibilities were being explored around the world. He was still involved in setting up and innovating the Formula E division at Mahindra, he still helped Anand Mahindra every now and then on strategic matters in Mahindra’s electric division, he was working with the government, he also helped the BMTC take a part of its fleet electric and the list goes on.

    One could say he stepped down to get a better view of the possibilities in electric mobility. He was not looking for opportunities actively during this period, he was merely synthesising what possibilities were feasible.

    He did travel across the world during this break but even during that time he was looking at the electric mobility solutions and innovations that were present in the places he visited.

    He realised the possibilities in battery swapping as an alternative to charging and filed patents long before he became part of what is SUN Mobility today.

    In the first part of our conversation with Chetan we discussed broadly how the sector has evolved, what SUN Mobility has set out to achieve, how their BaaS or Battery as a Service model is an alternative to charging your vehicle and a whole lot more.

    In this episode we discuss how Chetan figured out what was next for him, the mental models he applies at SUN Mobility, how he’s built a team that speaks its mind and a lot more.

    Welcome to First Principles – The weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.

  • What does your company do?

    There are many ways to answer this question.

    Most founders have a really good answer, some have a meandering one.

    Well, let’s just say it’s always a compelling answer.

    This week we have five founders to answer that question on a broader range. They function in very competitive sectors and are successfully making their mark in their respective sectors by innovating and more appropriately reinventing the wheel.

    First up, we have newly inducted Shark, Radhika Gupta of Edelweiss Asset Management telling us what her company does for its customers, and what she doesn’t want her customers to not do through a great example.

    Next up, we have Lalit Keshre of Groww, who is very clear who the target consumer for his company is. Starting off as robo-advisory and then pivoting into the mutual fund sector and now on their way to become a complete financial services platform.

    We have another Shark from the Shark Tank panel featured in this episode. Ritesh Agarwal of Oyo Rooms has built Oyo in his own words into a leading global hotel brand. But that’s not all it is as he went on to add further.

    Next up, we have Kartik Jayaraman, who founded Waycool, a food and agritech company at the age of 40. He started off with the simple explanation: We’re a supply chain company. At our heart that’s what we do. After that he got into the nitty gritty of what Waycool does.

    Lastly, we have Niraj Singh of Spinny, who is busy building in a space that has many competitors, old and new, and he explained how he’s servicing the aspirational class of the country by delivering something the competitors couldn’t.

    The Ken completed the training of 100 senior leaders from high-growth Indian companies last month. Read more about our learning programs for leaders here. Sign up by filling out this form. We have a few slots available this year.

    Welcome to First Principles—the weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

    Let’s get started.

  • Our guest for this episode has a very specific weekly routine.

    Pilates - once a week.

    Strength training - once a week.

    Aqua therapy - once a week

    Functional training, swimming, breathing exercises, meditating daily with just a little trouble

    Golfing three times a week followed up with posture exercises

    And very recently, experimenting with intermittent fasting.

    Maybe you’re imagining a very specific type of person. A really fit, disciplined person – perhaps, a fitness influencer?

    Well, you ‘re kind of right. You could say the person I’m talking about is very much an influencer. And he’s fit too.

    He’s huge on LinkedIn, where he is part of the Top Voice program. On Twitter or X, he has close to a million followers. He’s very popular online.

    So, really, if you think about it, he could turn into a fitness influencer if he wanted to.

    But, here’s the thing. We're not talking about a young, health obsessed fitness influencer.

    This is the routine of a 72-year-old, health obsessed, and I must add restless founder and Chairman of Marico, Harsh Mariwala.

    Welcome to First Principles, the weekly leadership podcast from The Ken. I’m your host Rohin Dharmakumar and this is part 2 of my conversation with Harsh Mariwala.

    This is episode 45 of First Principles–The Ken’s weekly leadership podcast. Let’s get started. Let’s begin.

  • Chetan Maini, the co-founder and Chairman of Sun Mobility has done a whole lot in his life. He’s been forever a tinkerer as you’re bound to find out if you read his father Dr.S.K.Maini’s book REVA: India’s Green Gift to the World.

    Chetan’s raced solar cars, built his own car company REVA and is now building a pay-as-you-go energy infrastructure for a greener future with Sun Mobility. You’ll see in this a proper evolution of owning the chain of control as well.

    Well, it has to be said this is not fully intentional. Because in a world where REVAs are speeding down the road left and right you’re not gonna see Chetan going out and building a BaaS, battery as a service business. But it was 2001, and India, and most of the world, was not ready for electric cars.

    Chetan, however, persevered even under the shadow of the Mahindra Group and made strides in their electric mobility aspirations before leaving in 2015.

    He took a break of two years, observed the EV market across the globe and when he saw the opportunity back home, came back with his expertise and took charge to create what we know today as Sun Mobility. The vision is bigger this time around and time is on his side as well.

    The only thing left to see out: Execution.

    And they are not pulling any punches on that front either.

    Additional reading: this edition of Green Margins published way back in late 2022 to understand how, here.

    Welcome to Season 2, episode 44 of First Principles - A weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

  • Girish Mathrubootham – founder and CEO of Freshworks – feels strongly about having the authority to take one’s own decisions, from a young age.

    He made a very apt example in our conversation with him earlier this month at his office in Chennai: a kid never gets to make his own decisions, even if it is to just order food of their liking. This in turn translates into their adulthood as an inability to make decisions.

    Girish has been out there making most of his decisions for himself from a young age, including which school he would go to, which college he’ll enrol in and having a say in most of his major life decisions.

    The biggest learning he got out of this: understanding the consequences of your actions and reflecting on them to see the untapped opportunities that lay ahead. And once he got good at that, he became adept at learning so that he could do something about the untapped opportunities.

    Girish isn’t just the CEO of a NASDAQ-listed SaaS company, he’s also deeply involved in SaaSBoomi, a community that calls itself The World’s Largest Pay-it-forward Community of SaaS Founders.

    As one of SaaSboomi’s founding members, Girish played a big role in shaping its culture of openness and paying it forward. He did it by sharing in detail the methods and tactics that got a young Freshworks to $1M in annual revenue.

    Then, a few years later – as he explained – he took Freshworks from $1M to $5M.

    How often do you see a company explain their growth playbook to a possible future competitor and enable them?

    It’s rare.

    Girish also doesn’t limit his wish to pay-it-back just within the SaaS universe. He’s also out there with a mission to build world class champions from the football academy he set up, FC Madras.

    He’s infused 100 crores into his academy for the game he loves because he knows the talent is there and it needs to be nurtured properly and in the future we might have a shot at the world stage.

    Welcome to part 2 of our conversation with Girish. This episode too, like the first part, is filled with colorful quotes and examples ranging from Steve Jobs to Rajnikanth movies!

    This is episode 43 of First Principles–The Ken’s weekly leadership podcast. Let’s get started.

  • Sometime in the early 1970s a young Harsh Mariwala joined Bombay Oil Industries, a company set up by his grandfather in 1948, just a year after India’s independence. The company would trade in spices, oils and chemicals.

    Over the next two decades Harsh learnt the ropes of the family business. Till in 1991 - two decades after he had joined Bombay Oil - he left it to start his own company, Marico.

    He had already seen the power of quality and brand in a category that was still almost entirely commoditized and unbranded. For instance, the huge 15 liter tin cans of Parachute coconut oil Bombay Oil sold to shopkeepers were resold in smaller quantities at much higher prices. Harsh rightly wondered, why should someone else capture the margin and premium for my product?

    The company that Harsh founded - Marico - had two powerful brands at its core - Parachute Coconut Oil and Saffola cooking oil. That is true even today, 33 years later. Nearly 1 in 3 Indians use Parachute oil, our research tells us.

    Of course, a lot else has changed since then.

    Marico, which went public just 5 years after being founded in 1991, today boasts a turnover of over 1.2 billion dollars.

    And Harsh is 72, but still learning, exploring, experimenting and unable to take it easy.

    Earlier this week, I had the chance to speak to Harsh about his entire (and might I add still evolving) professional journey!

    It’s a long time, but Harsh talks about the day Marico was separated from Bombay Oil just like it was yesterday. He talked about how in 1991 they attracted talent by positioning themselves as the disruptive outsiders. Sample one of the headlines from Marico’s ads: 200 employees walk out of Bombay Oil.

    Harsh had a lot of stories for me – from creating differentiation in consumer products even when the market is crowded, to how he fought back and won against the much larger Hindustan Unilever when it wanted to acquire Marico. And then he switched back to the present – and how he’s focussing all his learnings, experience, attention into cultivating innovation in India.

    This is an episode packed with anecdotes and lessons – you’ll hear Harsh talking about a ‘right to win’ in the market, strategizing acquisitions, and making ‘a difference without expectations’ to the shareholders. All in the context of Harsh’s years at Marico, the Mariwala Health Initiative, Ascent foundation and Marico Innovation Foundation!

    Let’s go!

    This is episode 42 of First Principles–a weekly leadership podcast from The Ken.

  • If you're here to find out more about our brand new early careers podcast, check out The First Two Years and how you can join the TFTY community here! You can also listen to our trailer on Spotify and Apple.

    Welcome to Episode 41 of First Principles.

    When asked, Girish Mathrubootham* – the CEO and Co-Founder of Freshworks, says that there’s one thing most of his direct reports would agree about him – that he leads from the heart.

    Many Freshworks employees have a different way of describing Girish. He’s a product manager first, and then a CEO.

    Product and People are thus two words to describe Girish.

    One of them - Product - was something he got into accidentally. But both of them are areas where he’s built organisational strengths and culture very intentionally.

    The news headlines when Freshworks went public on NASDAQ was that Girish had created 500 crorepatis within his organization. That is, employees whose Freshworks shares made them worth over 1 crore rupees.

    Freshworks was the first Indian SaaS company to become a unicorn. It was also the first Indian SaaS company to be listed on the US markets. Last year it clocked revenues of nearly 600 million dollars. All before its 15th birthday.

    Across this episode, Girish the product manager is front and centre. It was evident in the way that he rattled off sharp and fun analogies to explain how he views Freshworks and his role at the organization as a CEO. It was almost as if Freshworks the company itself were an organically evolving product, with its CEO also its lead product manager.

    And to think that Girish’s entry into product management came over two decades ago when his then manager told him to build a product he had pitched – and essentially become a “product manager.” That day, he went back home and googled what a product manager is.

    He has very sharp and distinct views on leadership and organization building. As a leader, he’s opposed to measuring performance by numbers or execution alone.

    His metric for “winning” – as in, winning as an organization – is shaped by energy and vibes.

    He isn’t just hiring the best talent for a role. He’s giving the right role to the best talent.

    In this episode, you’ll understand this curious mix of people and product that keeps the lights on at Freshworks. Girish talks about why a company like Freshworks – which entered and continues to play in a crowded and competitive market – succeeds. Why and how he’s made peace with growing at close to 20% annually, so long as he’s also aiming for around the same percentage in profits.

    And what the best way is to chart a path to entrepreneurship in this day and age.

    And, also – why he loves Chennai so much!

    This is episode 41 of First Principles—The Ken's weekly leadership podcast.

    *Girish Mathrubootham is an investor in The Ken.

  • There is a cliche often associated with hyper growth startups.

    That running one is like learning how to fly a plane while you’re already up in the air. Or perhaps it's like learning to change an engine while you’re driving a car.

    There is another version of this analogy: it's like learning how to build a plane and learning how to fly it and also mastering how to change an engine mid-air, even as you’re hurtling at hundreds of kilometers per hour through the air.

    A great example of such a startup is Udaan, which in 2019 became India’s fastest unicorn within just 3 years of starting up.

    What does it take to build and scale a company in that manner?

    A few weeks ago, you heard Vaibhav Gupta – Udaan’s co-founder and CEO – answer this question in granular detail.

    Right down to how Udaan looked at the trade cycle of a small mobile accessories shopkeeper in Mysore, who got his supply from Bangalore every 15 days.

    Or the exact changes Udaan has made to their warehouses, so that they’re more efficient.

    He even broke down Udaan’s execution playbooks and what makes them reliable and repeatable.

    But…what happens when you zoom out a little?

    The more high-level decisions. Which bets to take, which to let go. Which patterns to follow. What the B2B retail space in India will look like, in 10 years. And what is Udaan doing to prepare for it?

    This is the episode where Vaibhav zooms out and reflects on some of these questions.

    He’s still very sharp and detail-oriented, of course. In fact, you’ll hear him say “retail is detail” with an unshakable conviction very soon, in the episode.

    But this time, you’ll notice that the larger decisions that Vaibhav makes for his organizations stems from his own strong beliefs and learnings.

    He’s an introvert, but he has learnt to discuss even his half-formed, unbaked ideas with his team. He’s driven by solving big problems, and so is Udaan.

    He’s become comfortable with being wrong, and that’s a feeling that his employees are encouraged to embrace at every stage.

    We talk about all the mental models, habits and frameworks that drive Vaibhav – and the culture at Udaan. And, of course – how First Principles thinking is very crucial to all of these!

    This is episode 40 of First Principles with Vaibhav Gupta—The Ken’s weekly leadership podcast.

  • Welcome back to First Principles. I’m your host, Rohin Dharmakumar.

    Thank you for listening to us. We’re thankful that you choose to spend a few hours with us each week!

    Today we have a “supercut” episode. Normally our conversations go deep with one specific guest, but every now and then we zoom out and go broad by stitching together a multi-guest conversation. And the invisible thread that connects the conversations with 5 founders we picked for today is company culture.

    What’s the best way to empower your talent? What do founders expect from employees? And how do they build their company culture?

    This is where it gets interesting. In most cases, our guests have differing opinions on these subjects. But while putting this episode together, we kept encountering one word – or a substitute for it, in some cases.

    And that was, patience.

    Patience in the way that they give feedback to their employees. Patience in investing in your employees. Building this patience not just within themselves, but the entire organization.

    There are some very interesting perspectives in this episode on how these founders approach and practice patience, among other principles of leadership and management.

    Here’s a rundown of our guests in this episode:

    First up, we have Krish Subramanian of Chargebee, who has a simple and powerful dictum, “Move the chairs and get out of the way of good people.” At Chargebee, you wouldn’t fit in if you limit yourself to a strict hierarchy – he sees employees more as his peer group.

    Next, we have Varun Dua of Acko Insurance, who spoke about growing in a company from an employee’s point of view. One of the things he told me was that when you find something you love, you should be at it for 10-15 years. Because it is the payoff of years of perseverance that is fruitful – and not the short term gains you make along the way.

    Yashish Dahiya, the co-founder of PolicyBazaar, was quite candid in our chat. He spoke about why an employee who spent five years at PolicyBazaar is considered a new employee. He also went on to explain why he distances himself from making hiring decisions.

    Next, you’ll hear Archit Gupta of Clear. When talking about employees, Archit was very specific. He told us why investing into the ‘sincere’,‘earnest’ people in the organization is necessary, and why uplifting them is important.

    Lastly, MN Srinivasu or Vasu, as he’s often called, spoke to me how he built BillDesk by essentially teaching the first set of employees to be well-versed in the line of business BillDesk was creating. This is a part of BillDesk’s culture. There is a broad belief in patience, at Billdesk. Why does patience matter? What allows his employees to be patient? And how do you find meaning in practicing it?

    This is First Principles—The Ken’s weekly leadership podcast.

    The Ken is India's first subscriber-only business journalism platform. Check out our deeply reported long-form stories, insightful newsletters, original podcasts and much more here.