The Chennai chapter of TiE (a global body for encouraging Entrepreneurship) organizes an annual conference called TiECON. TiECON Chennai 2014 happened for last two days at ITC Grand Chola.

Day 1

In parallel to breakouts there was “Pitchfest”, which was speed dating for investors and start-ups. I got the opportunity to listen to about 8-9 start-up pitches, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many in my “conservative” Chennai. Pitchfest included ideas like Integrated Farming, Water purification, Recruitment (Overseas jobs), Drones, Life Sciences (Analytics), Education (Examination solutions) and Technology (Contextual Mobility, Customer Retention, Real estate management, IOT, Energy Analytics). Best wishes to all of them. Chennai and India has come a long way in terms of encouraging entrepreneurs and having an ecosystem for them from the time I started business nearly two decades back.

Kritik Abiram ( & Venkatarangan TNC (

With Kritik Abiram of

Day 2

Lakshmi Narayanan (President of TiE Chennai) began the day by quoting my good friend Pravin Shekar on how Entrepreneurs need to be shameless. Knowing Pravin well I am not surprised on he being shameless, he is the best show man in business world I know. He introduced the next speaker V.Vaidyanathan of Capital First, by recalling an incident in an Aircraft, where Vaidyanathan blocking the aisle for few minutes delivering his elevator pitch (a sky pitch?) to Raghuram Rajan, Governor of RBI.

Pravin Shekar,

Pravin Shekar,

V.Vaidyanathan, CEO of Capital First

Vaidyanathan was working in ICICI Bank when the opportunity came to take over a sick lending firm, which eventually transformed into Capital First (CF) of today. To enlarge its loan books, the firm borrowed at 14.5%, making its lending rates higher. The first task was to identify a “legal” segment which will be willing to pay such high lending rates. Capital First identified the under served market of loans to Entrepreneurs, taking property as collateral and giving them in packets of Rs.20,000 to Rs.20 Lakhs.  When CF wanted Rs.800 Crores funding to expand, which was a big transaction in 2011 they had few choices. Vaidyanathan says he was moonlighting 3 different PEs (Private Equity) on the same day to get one of them interested to fund. Vaidyanathan believes that ideas are not unique but bringing professionalism in executing them are, and global businesses today place a huge premium on corporate governance. He had following advice for Entrepreneurs:

  1. Richest people are not necessarily the happiest
  2. When thinking ideas remember that no one will fund a commodified business
  3. If you have an unique idea, it may time, so give in your long term commitment for it
  4. Welcome even a small investment from a big brand, the rub-off advantage is huge

Vaidyanathan closed his speech by repeating what I have been saying, there is no better time in History than 2014 to be an Entrepreneur in India. The upside opportunity to overall business climate in India today is huge!

Billion Dollar Babies

TiECON this year had organized a theme of identifying Businesses that can become Billion Dollars (in Market cap or Revenues) shortly. These are businesses that in the words of Anup Bagchi (CEO, ICICI Securities) have lot of Intellectual capital to solve problems when they come, when you work in large organization you get fear of heights but these firms don’t have it. There were about four of them showcased on stage.

VATECH WABAG: Subramanian Varadarajan (Group CFO) talked on the Indian Management bought the Indian subsidiary from the parent firm in 2005, eventually buying the parent division in 2007. What was 6 People business in India around 1995/96 growing to 1700  people with Rs.2000 CR turnover today. When they listed in 2010, Rs.5 Share was traded at around Rs.1300!!. How they are innovating around water purification, proving themselves in demanding markets like in Switzerland before democratizing the technology to emerging markets like India. It costs them around 5 Paise to desalinate 1 litre of water with 80% of the energy recaptured and reused in the process. They have implemented a sewage treatment plant in Kenya for nearly 2 decades, which could be one possible solution for water needs of mankind in future.

MAGZTER: Girish Ramdas (Co-Founder & CEO) talked on why he feels Digital Publishing is in its nascent state today. Globally it is $100B business made out of Paper based publishing. Magzter was started in 2011 with less than 50 People and Rs.2CR revenue, today has over 10 Million readers for its mobile apps. They raised $2-3 Million in 2012 with $0.5 Million of founders own money. Early on they identified that New York is the nerve centre of magazines and setup their presence there. He proudly says there motto is to have Magzter App to be  “Made in Chennai, touching globally (everyone)”.

CONGRUENT SOLUTIONS: Raju (Co-Founder) talked on how they transformed from an IT Services firm to a products firm, identifying a niche in Retirement Pension Fund management market in USA. Their product focuses on retirement segment. It’s an enterprise class product build as modules that can fit together, taking them 3.5 years to build, . You need to understand that enterprises especially BFSI hesitate to Rip ‘n’ Replace, instead they will tip their toes on one module at a time and go from there. You need to slowly increase your footprint. There is a huge opportunity to replace existing products in market place which are designed several decades ago.

FSS: Nagaraj (Founder) talked about how his 25 year old company had its big jump occurring only in the last 5 years, showing how much patience is important. They had installed the first ATM in India in 1991, growing into 200,000 ATMs today.  They transformed themselves from a simple financial switching company to a payments company, continuously investing 18 months ahead of an upcoming trend. Today they are #1 Digital payment company in India and hoping to have more than half a million ATMs in next 3 years.

Billion Dollar Babies

Billion Dollar Babies

Ramesh Srinivasan

The talk by Ramesh Srinivasan (Former CEO of Bally Technologies, Las Vegas) was one of the highlights of this year TiECON. The man was energizing and a dynamite on stage, inspiring with ease all the 1000 odd attendees of TiECON. Ramesh started his career with Tata group, helped in turnaround of a Chennai based industry (VISPRO Foundries) around 1987, one of the early employees of INFOSYS went to USA and worked on variety of software consulting assignments including Mattel Toys till 1998. Then joining Manhattan Associates (Atlanta) as Director of Technical Services and growing the business several fold in 7 years, and for last 9 years in Bally Technologies. He had turned around Bally Technologies (Las Vegas) to a dominating position of making the business nearly $1.2B and hugely profitable when Ramesh losing his job to erstwhile CEO on a boardroom tussle.

His pearls of wisdom learned from his years of corporate life were:

  • Enjoy work, never bother on end goals, success takes time and have patience (read the book Good to Great), someone will notice you someday – the magic moment will happen on its own
  • As a business leader Recruitment is your #1 task, don’t democratize it. You need to be involved in hiring, hire self motivated people as no amount of motivational training can do it and hire “A” players because A players select A+ players
  • Culture of a company is everything, its built not by reading corporate dossiers, but when new by asking the next person the question on how things are done here
  • Always worry/focus on the process, not on the results
  • Be a selective micro manager – be selective on the issues you get involved on and keep you team guessing on which one it will be
  • Institute a simple report that’s shared between all in the leadership team – a set of simple UP/DOWN/STARTS of past week
  • You need to both be innovative & execute well, to be Ambidextrous, there is no choice on this
  • SELL SOLUTIONS, BUILD PRODUCTS – don’t mix them up
  • Don’t care how good some is, look for their ability to learn & grow; the rate of improvement is what matters
  • Finally for any task, prepare well
Answering a question on what he found different in USA of 80s coming from India. Ramesh answered “that the difference between Indians (especially Tamilians) to other races he had opportunity to work with in USA, was that we are Impatient listeners. We have a uncontrollable natural urge to voice our opinion on everything spoken. Instead we should shut up and let other person finish, show genuine interest on what they are talking. Successful people occupying the corner office has enviable ability to wipe their mind clean like a slate before they start listening to you, they absorb what you say as a sponge before they react”.

In the last 6 months when he had time to look back on his life, these are what he has been observing and learning:

  • Importance of networking, don’t be a sand ostrich in your work
  • Generating funds and selling to customers are two different activities, approach them accordingly. Founders are making the same pitch/presentation for both, don’t do that

He closed the talk by recalling a poem (which I couldn’t find in Internet attributed to any one in particular)


Dr.Ronnie Chan

Dr.Ronnie Chan is a Hong Kong Entrepreneur, one of the largest real-estate developer in HK as the Chairman of Hang Lung Group and Hang Lung Properties. He serves on advisory boards of many think-tanks, University of Southern California, World Economic Forum and others. The demur looking man took the audience by storm once he was behind the podium. Dr.Chan’s group manages over $12Billion worth of projects in suburbs of Shanghai alone, his group is without any debt (truly, a great achievement!!!) for last 8 years, nearly $13-20B market cap. He was one of the earliest backers of Xiaomi and their largest non-management shareholder. Dr.Chan says his job nowadays is to take 1 or 2 critical decisions a year and leave the rest to experts. He started by talking on how Chinese names (Anglican) are small but Indian names are long and hard for him.

Dr.Chan’s shared his 5 pearls of wisdom:

  1. Was a dreamer, be one throughout your life. Remember the quote by fellow Indian Azim Premji of Wipro, “If your goal is not laughable then its not bold”
  2. Be little foolish; don’t calculate everything to last penny. Two countries whose DNA is ingrained with Six Sigma is Japan & Germany but they are not world leaders. Dr.Chan was the first Asian Businessman to serve (speak) in World Economic Forum , preparing for 20 hours for the 5 minutes talk in Davos, which impressed the organizers to enlist him in their advisory board. Some succeed in life because they are smart but most because they are stupid – luck favours only those who really really try hard.
  3. Try to have a big HEART, be generous. History shows that self-centered people succeed but not make it big. If you do all the good work, if will find a way back to you. If you help and it doesn’t find a way back to you, its Okay.
  4. Hang with people who are lot smarter than you. Osmosis really works here, making you smarter. The British are always pragmatic, they were fine as long as their exit from Hong Kong was Honorable. Dr.Chan says when he stepped out after his graduation in US, he found Hong Kong was at cross roads – British handover to Chinese, he didn’t then know much Washington DC (US Business/Politics) or China (Mainland Business/Politics) and neither did each other. So he became a conduit between smart people in either country by being the smarter than the next guy.
  5. Have a proper World view. It impacts on how you look others to everything you do. Elevate from your own culture, experience, history to look into larger issues but without it clouding your opinion. Remember every person reads the history differently.

Dr.Chan says he revers three great people who are alive today he has interacted closely, he learns from as they all think and look at the world differently from all others he knew. Dr.Chan jokingly called all three of them Jews and sent the audience on guess 3 Jewish thinkers. They are Henry KissingerHelmut Schmidt and Lee Kuan Yew (every Chinese is a Jew says Dr.Chan). In Dr.Chan’s view the reason for the 3 to be different is that they all read the world (world view) in light of human nature. They analyze the issues based on human nature.  I noticed all three of them are in their 90s, which means it will be 50 years before I can hope to be in their league!.

Dr.Chan continued on what he considers opposite to the above 3, it is Jimmy Carter. He is a Christian, being one he thinks everyone is good. Good takes over Bad he thinks. But remember Human nature is same everywhere.

The entire audience at TiECON Chennai 2014 gave Dr.Chan a standing ovation, brilliant and inspiring speech.

Murugavel Janakiraman

The last talk I listened to was by Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder & CEO of Bharat Matrimony. Murugavel talked about his journey from working as a software engineer abroad to starting Bharat Matrimony to, today having hundreds of niche matrimony sites. His firm is now expanding offline too to slowly cover the entire gamut of services around Indian Wedding. His strategy in business is to develop the disruption, the competition himself and not letting it come from outside. A strategy not so different from Facebook buying Instagram and WhatsApp for billions of dollars, and at the same time investing heavily on FB Messenger as well.

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