For quite a few years now, especially in this decade, it is the twenty something next-gen entrepreneurs who have been getting all the media attention both in the US as well as in India. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ben Milne, creator of two successful companies in his 20s, including the mobile payment darling Dwolla. Ben Silbermann, who 10 years after graduating from High School helped launch Pinterest, one of the fastest growing websites ever. In India, you have Ola, Snapdeal, Flipcart, Paytm, redBus – all started by entrepreneurs under thirty. So it would indeed seem that the 20-40 age group is the key engine that is fuelling the great Indian start-up story. But if we look deeper, we’re more likely to find oldies launching new business. NRI Achievers takes a look …
Over the past decade, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity is ascribable to the 55 to 64 age group, according to a study by a US-based entrepreneurship institute. The 20 to 34 age bracket has in fact the lowest rate. The study shows that about 23% of new entrepreneurs in 2010 were in the 55 to 64 age group, compared with 15% in 1996. So what characterises the 55-64 age groups that are in fact starting more businesses than our gen-next crowd? This other kind of 60-something entrepreneur is equally energetic and passionate, just over the age of 60 and draws on a lifetime of experience to take a second shot at the working life.
ASHOK SOOTA, 73
Founder & Vice Chairman, Happiest Minds (US$ 45 million funding from Canaan partners, Intel Capital)
Ashok Soota began his career with the Shriram Group and moved to Wipro as its president in 1984. Leaving Wipro in 1999, he co-founded Mindtree, a bengaluru based multinational IT services company that has now grown to over 14,000 employees, with a presence across the US, Europe and Asia.
Soota’s startup story is as unique as it has shaped out to be. Being something of a serial entrepreneur, Soota started Mindtree in 1999 at the age of 58 and is now at it again, this time with a new start up called Happiest Minds, a next-generation IT company. After some three decades already in the IT sector, Soota believes that a late-stage entrepreneur like himself has several advantages. “If you have a good track record, it becomes easier to get funding at good valuations. I had a good plan to scale the company and I have a better network. Mindtree works in a crowded space. There are people out there who are doing similar things. So my biggest apprehension was always why a customer would come to us. But after the first four or five customers, I overcame that as well,” says Soota.
Ashok Soota has no plans to retire. “Hard work makes you smarter and it is important to keep working hard,” he asserts. “You have to keep your mind and intellect sharp. Up to my 50s I used to put in some 50 hours a week. Now in my 70s I am putting in 60 hours. Hard work makes you smarter,” he adds
RADHA DAGA, 74
Founder, Triguni Foods (Product – Ready-to-eat meals, Clients – IndiGo Airlines, retail customers)
Radha Daga’s only exposure to commercial ventures was the setting up of a garment business two decades ago as a social venture, to employ, empower and generate income for underprivileged women. After set-up though, she was fortunate enough to end up bagging large export orders.
Though she was already running a successful garments business, she kept going back to her passion – food. So she went and spent a year in Italy, studying food processing. Coming back, she decided to create a product that will focus on quality and meet her own high standards of perfection, hygiene and nutritional value. “With other products, you have the option to apologise and do a call-back. Not so with food,” says Daga. She zeroed in on the ready-to-eat market in 2009, travelled to different countries to learn more about preparation techniques, packaging and marketing of quick-fix meals. 2011 saw her first range of products launch in Chennai. Today she is producing some 160,000 tubs a month, with sales at INR 1 crore, growth is almost 100% year-on-year. However, Daga is unable to meet demand, and plans to double production over six months.
Her management style is hands-off once she has delegated responsibility. “If you have the passion and the clarity, you should not shirk,” says Daga. “Take up the challenge – if you fail, keep at it, and do not give up on your dream,” is her recipe for success.
LR SRIDHAR, 60
Founder, Connect India (Last mile delivery service for e-commerce, funded INR 32 crore by Aavishkaar)
Sridhar had entered the logistics business with Skypak Couriers in the year 1977, working for 9 years before he moved on, to build institutions like Overnight Express and Corporate Couriers, a JV of TNT Express Worldwide and AFL. And starting with 2006 until last year, he was also the Group Managing Director of South Asian cargo conglomerate Sical.
Sridhar’s startup story began when Cafe Coffee Day’s V G Sidhartha acquired Sical, presenting Sridhar with two options – to continue with Sical or start something new on his own. “I chose the latter. I saw opportunity in e-commerce, where there was a dearth of quality last-mile distribution,” he averred. Connect India, incorporated August 2015 in Bengaluru to serve as a common distribution platform for e-tail and ecommerce portal services. Connect India ties up with neighbourhood kirana stores and transforms them into courier outlets, with deliveries done by the shop-staff. Within just a few months, Sridhar has succeeded to rope-in 2,000+ outlets in 250 towns into his network.
Sridhar says, “It is very important to have networks when you are in start-up stage. My entire team, for instance, consists of people I have worked with before.”