He is a successful serial entrepreneur who founded two start-ups in Internet of Things or IoT and has been part of two more in the US and India. Thrive Global India met CEO of T-Hub, one of India’s largest start-up incubator, Jay Krishnan to know more about his road to success, how he handles failure, his daily routine and more.
Krishnan has a BE in electrical engineering from RV college, India, an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Hartford, Connecticut and a general management from IIMB, India. Excerpts from the interview:
Thrive Global India: Tell us about your biggest inspiration.
Jay Krishnan: My biggest inspiration is two folds: First, it’s looking at the experiences that I have had—that is a combination of a high amount of professionalism from the US—a country where I spent over 10 years working in organisations—and intense energy levels in India as a whole—not just as an entrepreneur. And I think it is the combination of the two which you need to succeed as an entrepreneur. You need to have an insane amount of energy all the time. And you need to have a fair amount of professionalism and a well-rounded personality to succeed.
Balancing the two is reasonably difficult.
The second is embracing the notion of bouncing back from a failure. If you look at entrepreneurs, we are a breed of people who live their lives through failure, 90 per cent of entrepreneurs fail across the world. I look at entrepreneurs as a breed that looks past failures.
These are my two sources of inspiration to be a successful entrepreneur.
TGI: Failure can be the toughest teacher, how do you approach setbacks in life, both professionally and personally.
JK: Having been an entrepreneur allows me to understand that failures are okay as opposed to the other way round. But having failed in the entrepreneurial world, allows one to embrace the notion of failure in two ways:
It’s ok to fail: I think in India a lot of people think of failure as an impediment. Most of it comes from cultural taboo. The second one is the ability to learn from those failures and bounce back much quicker.
Another way to articulate that is the measure of one’s success, according to me, is the time between different failures. If that time period keeps shrinking over a period of time and the period between those obstacles keep shrinking, you get to a point where you are striving for perfection. I think that’s the parameter I want to use as a compass to learn from failure, and to get better and better and better. You get to a point where you are so well refined—be it go-to-market, be it customer traction, be it sales or ability to hire.
TGI: What is your relationship with technology?
JK: Having been an engineer, as a stepping stone into my professional career, I think of myself as one of the few thousands who literally transformed the internet as a platform that makes everything available to the common man today. An example of that is in the early days of my professional career—in the 90s—I worked on technologies such as Voice Over IP and built very complex pieces of hardware, that enabled the internet.
Today, if you look at how very quickly, technology has transformed to our lives—you can use the device in your pocket to do everything from monitoring location to ordering food, and to learn about anything. I want to look at the fact that the technology today is no longer something abstract, but it’s an extended part of our existence. It’s like almost having a limb and you cannot live without it. Therefore, I feel extremely blessed to have been not just a consumer of technology, but a contributor of technology.
The second part of it is the kind of work that I do for a living. I feel extremely privileged that the next wave of innovation, be it AI or healthcare, or technology from blockchain which reduces opaqueness and brings transparency to the world, will potentially bridge the gap between haves and have-nots. I think that’s been the driver of technology in all these years.
Those are the two positives that I can think of.
The negative is from a world where we were really conscious, where we held most of our data private and secure. From that, we have gone to a world, where we put everything out there. The concept of personal privacy just doesn’t exist anymore. Everybody lives their life on social media, it has many side-effects, it has many blessings to it.
One challenge I see is the inability of the society to decouple themselves from staring at the screens, it’s like an addictive piece of tech where people started to live their life on digital avatar instead of their own. I am personally not on any social media network, except LinkedIn. I think that’s an obstacle where technology has taken off at a pace, where both the regulators/governments as well the public has been left behind. In terms of being able to judge the pros and cons and then take a decision, I think we are at that point.
TGI: How do you disconnect and recharge?
JK: So I consciously do these things:
I am not on social media and that helps. I don’t have the urge to post anything, in fact, I do not post anything.
Consciously, I don’t use my phone when I wake up nor when I go to bed. The first two hours of the day and the last two hours of the day I don’t look at anything.
I try to stay conscious in terms of using any other forms of technology only if it’s required. For example, if I need to commute, I use apps to book Uber/Ola. I stay away from tech until I have my personal ethics in place that is waking up at 7 to do yoga, going to breakfast at 8 and getting to the office before 9, things like that. Till that point, I don’t use any form of technology as much as I can.
In terms of recharging, I tend to gravitate towards books—I love reading.
All that said, I am a technologist at heart.
TGI: As an early shaper of the internet in late 90s, did you envision an internet landscape like the one we have currently?
JK: Broad answer to that is absolutely not. I did not have any clue what we are going to end up in 2018 back in 2000, I wouldn’t have thought of the world that we live in now.
I thought it’s going to be far more simplistic in terms of utilisations of tools to make life easier, as opposed to people trying to post selfies of the kind of food that they eat.
As opposed to being conscious of what one does as human beings, if we look at the world now, people seem to be more interested in telling the world what they do by posting every single thing about their lives on these platforms. I would never have anticipated that to be the foreseeable future back in the day.
That being said, if you look at a country like India, we have 100 million people below the poverty line and another 150 million people trying to get into the middle class. These are sizes of a country in itself. Giving them access to the internet at an affordable price would potentially give them access to things they wouldn’t have even dreamt off—healthcare, education and more. It’s not something you shut or shy away from, we do need technology.
I think the governments need to play a slightly better role in policing the utilisation of technology and regulating it.
TGI: How do you incorporate well-being into your life? What benefit do these habits have on your ability to perform
JK: Lately I have been embracing the notion of looking inwards far more than I have in the past.cI don’t know if it’s a function of the age and you may call it mid-life crises. But being aware of where you are, what you do and how you react and being completely self-aware of these two notions have tremendously helped. Otherwise, you end up living in a world where everything is fast-paced. You give knee-jerk reactions to the stimuli from the external environment.
Secondly, I feel blessed I have a wonderful family. In fact my wife supported me financially when I decided to turn an entrepreneur. She keeps me on even cue when it comes to decision making, mostly on the personal front and on the professional front it always helps to have a shoulder to lean on.
Thirdly, I grew up in a middle-class home, so embracing your roots truly helps.
When you think of the land of opportunities, people tend to think of the US as the first destination. If you look at India, I don’t think it’s too far behind as far as opportunities are concerned, I think I tend to stay optimistic along those lines.
TGI: When was the last time you felt burned out? How did you cope with it
JK: I sleep very little as an individual, one of the biggest fears I have is not knowing it all. It could be science, math, astrophysics, philosophy, poetry, movies, etc. I love to read a lot which keeps me going. There aren’t too many times that I feel burned out and when it does indeed happen in transient moments, when I spend far too many hours working. I take a break to recharge myself, by going to places which are less travelled. When I do that, I completely disconnect from e-mail, internet, and phone. That’s what I do on personally front to recharge my batteries.
TGI: Which personal quality has helped you become successful?
JK: One is humility. Entrepreneurs often get into a state of affairs, where they feel entitled when they feel they are the next big thing. A reasonable amount of recalibration once in a while can help you stay grounded.
There doesn’t exist another realm where over 90 per cent of people who do a certain thing continuously fail and yet continue to allow that to foster and fester. I think embracing failure has allowed me to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Every entrepreneur needs a fair amount of energy. Maintaining high levels of energy is extremely important.
And lastly, as you scale your venture you need a high level of ethics and etiquette and both those I have had from early childhood.
TGI: What are some of the interesting things you see happening in the entrepreneurial landscape in India
JK: I’ll share a few positives and one area of improvement.
1. For the first time, we now have a massive amount of societal change, where people are okay to take risks and become entrepreneurs. I think 10 years ago, 20-year-olds seeking confirmation from parents to start a venture would have been frowned upon. Now, we have a societal shift, at least in the urban context.
2. Changing market dynamics within India allows for us to think of India as a market wherein you can build something and reshape India as opposed to the IT services industry where India was a hot bed developing solutions mostly for the western world. Having India as a market allows the entrepreneurs an opportunity to build stuff for India. The country being fraught with troubles and challenges, the way to look at from an entrepreneurial perspective is that India is a land of opportunities to solve these problems and challenges.
3. Access to the capital, which India did not have for the longest time. Today it allows entrepreneurs to first build and scale their ventures and they need not focus on raising funds at the outset.
The ingredient missing for Indians is the inability to think out of the box when it comes to entrepreneurs. That starts with the need to have a change in education system. Our education system is still rote and it does not allow us to think out of the box. It tells people in schools and colleges what to do, as opposed to getting them to imagine and think big. That’s the last piece missing as far as ingredients for the start-up ecosystem is concerned.
TGI: What is your advice on thriving in life?
JK: One of the greater quotes by Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
I think that is a testament of how one should measure success, that is: embrace failures.
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