As recently as last week, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, speaking as the Chief Guest at the 3rd convocation of the National Law University, averred that india’s days of brain drain were over, for we have today become the world’s brain bank. Gone are the days of ‘grey eminence’, he said, where people needed to persevere till they were 60 to achieve excellence: “There was a time when old age meant excellence … [today] people in their 30s reach the acme of their careers … CEOs, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Editors … . Most of the developed world is today short of skilled people … [and] we have a surplus of human [capital] … .”
What he said is indeed evident, as Indians and people of Indian origin in the diaspora scale new heights – be it to head large multinational technology firms, or helm global megaliths offering financial services and banking. Not merely that, a whole bunch of young, second generation indian diaspora are busy building some of the most interesting startups in that mecca of entrepreneurship, the fabled Silicon Valley of the US. But what clinches the deal and proves Jaitley’s point is the home-truth that hordes of senior level Indian engineers, executives and managers are making a beeline back to India, to set up businesses and become our new-age tycoons. Bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, leaving cushy and comfortable jobs in the West to explore wealth creation in India, these returning prodigals are attracted by the innovative ways in which indian startups are trying to solve some of the biggest challenges facing India and the world. Ghar Wapsi of a different kind ? NRI Achievers compiles a brief dossier on our gen-X returnees.
PEEYUSH RANJAN |41| HEAD OF ENGINEERING – FLIPKART
Was Abroad For: 18 years | Experience: HP, Microsoft, Google | Returned: 2015
Peeyush Ranjan made news when he quit Google’s engineering team in Silicon Valley and moved to Bangalore to become Head of engineering at India’s top online retailer, Flipkart. Ranjan previously headed engineering for Google’s Android One, the project to conceive low-cost phones for emerging markets. Before that, he drove engineering for the Google-owned Value Devices division of Motorola. Ranjan returned to India after nine years at Google and two decades in the United States. He was among the first technologists to make the move but since then many known Silicon Valley names have quit top jobs in the US to join India’s booming e-commerce and start-ups sector. Peeyush saw in e-commerce the capability to dramatically improve the quality of life in India. Having grown up in the small and not-so-prosperous town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, the transformational potential of e-commerce – its ability to give remote consumers access to the best of products and small sellers a global reach – was particularly alluring. So when Flipkart reached out to him, it did not take him long to decide to chuck his job at Google and move to India. Ranjan graduated in computer science from IIT-Kharagpur in 1995 and went to Purdue University, US, for an MS. He has worked at Microsoft, HP and three startups, including one that he co-founded. In 2006, he joined Google, where he worked on mobile devices, search and apps, and was India R&D head for two years when he was posted in Bengaluru. “My parents and brother are in the US. So family was not what brought us back. It was the quality of the opportunity and the fact that Flipkart is so well-positioned to take that opportunity forward,” he says.
NAMITA GUPTA |36| CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER – ZOMATO
Was Abroad For: 13 Years | Experience: Facebook, Microsoft | Returned: 2014
Namita Gupta, an IIT Delhi alumnus, returned to India in September 2014 to take up a new assignment as Chief Product Officer at Zomato, a restaurant aggregator and advisory company based out of Gurgaon. By then, Namita had already spent six years at Facebook, starting as product manager working on ads, pages, developer tools and the mobile platform. She later became head of global games partner engineering at the social networking giant. Prior to that, she had worked at Microsoft on the Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight, Microsoft’s next-generation platform for writing rich content and webbased applications. Her career began as a research intern at IBM in 1999, working on recognition algorithms and computer vision. Namita has 17 US patents to her credit in the fields of social networks, developer platforms and search. After about a year at Zomato, she has quit recently, presumably to start-up her own venture. Gupta, a mother of two, is among the top talent from Silicon Valley moving to India. “One of the things I was really worried about when moving from the US was about bigger Indian tech firms that were primarily into services and not a lot of original products coming from them. But after seeing Zomato, I was just blown away – it’s a real product,” Gupta had said. “It was very similar to how it’s in the Valley – a bunch of young guys thinking of changing a global industry, it was the same sense of being a small company attempting to go global,” she had added. We will update you with more inputs after hearing from her about her plans.
PUNIT SONI |38| CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER – FLIPKART
Was Abroad For: 17 Years | Experience: Google, Motorola | Returned: 2015
For Punit, shifting back to India from the Bay Area was not a decision based on emotion alone. “It was an interesting opportunity and that is a testament to where India stands today,“ he says. Punit was born in Mumbai and went to the US for his master’s in 1998, after completing his B.Tech from NIT Kurukshetra. It was the time of the internet boom in Silicon Valley. The Wharton business school graduate joined Google in 2007 and his association with Flipkart started while he was product head of Motorola. India seemed new to him after being away for close to two decades. “Initially, I had my WHY prejudices about working in India, but later I realised they were the same pool of people.“ Flipkart did not seem very different from companies in Bay Area. “My goal and mandate will be to help build the world’s best product company with a global ambition. Over time, we will build programs to attract the best talent to Bangalore and also establish a significant presence back home in the Valley. The overwhelming scope of the task feels like the right next step in my journey, and its success will depend on a lot of things including your support. The startup ecosystem in India, apropos, is here to stay,“ he says. The situation in India today reminds him of what the Bay Area was in 1999. Although he expects thoughtfulness to come with the current valuations of startups, he expects India to change in the next 10 years.
ANAND CHANDRASEKARAN |36| CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER – SNAPDEAL
Was Abroad For: 14 Years | Experience: Yahoo, Bharti Airtel | Returned: 2014
As Snapdeal aggressively bids to create a products and services ecosystem similar to that created by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba Group, it will have a lot riding on its new product chief Anand Chandrasekaran. Anand Chandrasekaran has worn many hats – entrepreneur, product leader and advisor. In his new role as CPO at Snapdeal, Anand calls himself the steward of the end-user, building products for a billion users. That seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. “India has started to have the same energy that I felt in the Valley when I moved to study at Stanford. I can’t imagine a better time in the past decade to be building product-driven businesses in India. That, and the chance to be in India. That, and the chance to gorge on fantastic street food all the time, not just when I’m back on vacation,” says Anand of his return to India. He studied engineering at PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore before going to Stanford. He worked with several companies, including Yahoo. “I look forward to working towards building a highly scalable, sustainable, innovative and future ready technology platform,” he says, while averring that the Valley’s fail-fast culture is the biggest thing India’s startup scene is picking up. Chandrasekaran, a Stanford university alum who was till recently chief product officer at Airtel, where he led product strategy for music streaming service Wynk and Airtel Money, also played a key role in the launch of the highly criticised Airtel Zero, which drew flak from net neutrality supporters who said it violated the concept of a free internet. Chandrasekaran’s appointment at Snapdeal followed soon after Flipkart onboarded former Google executive Punit Soni.
SONIA PARANDEKAR |37| DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING – URBAN LADDER
Was Abroad For: 14 Years | Experience: Microsoft, Groupon | Returned: 2014
Sonia Parandekar’s interest in working with smaller organisations began during the time she worked for Microsoft between 2003 and 2011. When she joined the software giant, it was on a smaller campus with just 1,500 people, a very different atmosphere from the Redmond campus. After doing her masters at the University of Washington, the Pune-bred Parandekar joined Microsoft where she worked on Windows, Bing and Office, both in Redmond and in Silicon Valley. In 2011, she moved to Groupon in Palo Alto, where her love for ecommerce platforms began. Within a year, she moved to Bengaluru to head a new team, an experience she describes as “crazy“. She returned to the US a year later but realized she missed the diversity of the workplace as well as of the city, and looked for options that would bring her back. In 2014, she joined online furniture store Urban Ladder as its director of engineering. “The work environment may be chaotic in India but people are far friendlier,” she says. “Working in this industry is an exciting challenge.“
TANMAY SAKSENA |35| HEAD – ONLINE ORDERING, ZOMATO
Was Abroad For: 8 Years | Experience: Disney Social Games | Returned: 2015
After completing his engineering from IIT-Kanpur in 2002 and working at Unilever for a few years, Tanmay Saksena took the usual route to the US and got a MBA from Stanford University followed by a job in the Bay Area. He was director of operations at Playdom, a startup that developed games for Facebook and iPhone, when it was acquired by Disney in 2010. That’s when the company started changing and Tanmay wasn’t having so much fun at work. Though the games came under big banners like Marvel and Disney, climbing the corporate ladder was not enough. “It was not exciting at all,“ he says. With friends and family in India, it seemed only natural to look east. “I wanted to be closer to my family. I saw them only on a computer screen.“ That’s when Zomato came calling. To him, the online restaurant search service seemed “bold, ambitious and, in a true sense, a global startup. India is smelling very much like Silicon Valley today, where Indian industry is providing the needed independence while basing decisions on what is optimal for growth of the business.”
KRISHNAN KASTURIRANGAN |38| COO – KNOWLARITY
Was Abroad For: 10 Years | Experience: Mckinsey | Returned: 2010
After completing a master’s degree and a Ph.D in transportation engineering from the US, Krishnan Kasturirangan’s need for speed drove him into the world of business. He joined McKinsey & Co in 2006 and provided financial consulting services to various countries, including Nigeria. “Nigeria was exciting as the market was developing,” he says. It was an experience that whetted his appetite for working in growing economies. Solving problems in already mature markets like the US did not present him with “transformational problems“ to solve. The decision to move to India was taken in a month with his wife Suman. “India was home. We knew we would be happier here,“ he says. They moved to Bengaluru in 2010, where Kasturirangan set up as an independent consultant. He joined cloud telephony company Knowlarity as Chief Operating Officer in 2013, soon after it received an INR 34 crore funding from Sequoia Capital. There is untapped growth in B2B companies as most of the attention is on B2C, he says. Although he says the professional environment here is a challenge, he believes that the excitement is greater and opportunities for growth abound.