Pavan Vaish, Head of Central Operations (Rides) for India and SA, Uber

Ashutosh Garg speaks to Pavan Vaish, an exceptionally talented corporate bigwig and an erstwhile entrepreneur who has worn many hats in his lifetime. Currently he is heading Central Operations for Uber’s Rides business in India and South Asia. He shares his experiences from his days at boarding school to being a teacher at Doon to his tryst with life as a professional and an entrepreneur.

Watch on YouTube

Audio Podcast

Essence/ Shorts < 120 seconds

Top Quotes

In life you come across adversity and it transforms you in some way for the better.

Pavan Vaish

If you can put in a lot of hard work and be open to learning from others, it is possible to do well in life.

Pavan Vaish

The biggest reward I get is not monetary in nature but it is when people come back to me and tell me that I have made some positive impact in their life or career. To make people achieve their own potential is a big high for me

Pavan Vaish

No one will remember you for your company’s valuation but they will remember you for the impact that you have had on their lives

Pavan Vaish

If your company does well, you can dictate to your investors what your perspective is versus the other way round.

Pavan Vaish

Hard work and perseverance can help shape the course of one’s life even when one does not have much to start with. Before taking a plunge into the world of entrepreneurship, it is vital to first define your purpose. While doing so, assume you are dead and gone. People are at your funeral, paying their tributes to you. How would you like them to remember you. Once you have a view of what direction you want to go in, then it is crucial to ensure that your current journey is going in that direction.

Do not be short-sighted by only focusing on valuation and wealth creation. No one will remember you because you had a big valuation but they will remember you for the impact you created. Valuation may be an outcome of impact. Moreover, when you start with valuation in mind, you are more focused on short term decision making versus what is right for the business. Such a mindset can be disastrous for your business.

Essence

Are you a believer in the boarding school system?

In life you come across adversity and it transforms you in some way for the better. In grade 8 one of my teacher’s accused me of stealing a book. To change his opinion of me I began studying hard and ended up doing really well in my grade 10 exams. I went on to top the science stream at Doon in class 12th too. Even though I had not started out as a believer of the boarding school system, over time my experiences changed my opinion and now I believe that boarding schools can do wonders when it comes to building character.

Why did you opt to go to IIT Kharagpur? The primary reason behind going to IIT Kharagpur as that I was good in science and related subjects. As a family tradition, if one was good in these subjects, one went to an IIT because those were the best institutions to master such fields. I didn’t know any better and so I prepared for the exam. Thankfully, I did not know the statistics of how many students sat for the exam and how many got through otherwise I would have been a little circumspect about it. Fortunately, I got through IIT Kharagpur and moved to a small, non-descript town whose only claim to fame was that it had the longest railway platform. Being away from a big city nurtured me and groomed me in interesting ways. I was surrounded by extremely bright people and was somewhat of an underdog. I worked very hard and ended up topping my department. If you can put in a lot of hard work and be open to learning from others, it is possible to do well in life.

Why did you go to the US and then decide to come back? I specialised in solar energy engineering but at that time oil was very cheap and so the solar energy business was not as booming as it is now. Since I didn’t know what else to do after I graduated as an engineer, I decided to pursue higher studies and went to Stanford University on a scholarship. My mother had all along brainwashed me into believing that it was ethically wrong to go to a premier government-funded institute like IIT and then use all the skills that I had learnt there to make a difference in another country. Perhaps I was scared of being on her wrong side, and so, after my postgraduation I came back.

What was your early career like?

Before I officially began my corporate career in India, I taught Physics at Doon school for a little over a year and was fascinated by the profound impact that a teacher could have on young minds. I joined my father’s electronic components business after this stint at Doon. After dabbling in that business for a few years, I went to Pune and joined an organisation known as Forbes Marshall. I was not doing core engineering tasks at this company but was a technical trainer for their 7 different companies. After a few years I went back to my father’s business and stayed there till I ventured out on my own and set up Daksh.

How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?

When I was working with my father, we had a business that was into offshore data entry. We serviced lawyers by helping them key in all their case logs into CD ROMs. Once that business began to plateau we were looking for growth opportunities. That’s when the idea of Daksh was born. The internet was booming rapidly in 1999 and it was a common belief that if you are not an internet company you will perish. The target client base for Daksh was an expanding posse of internet companies that were scaling rapidly and had no time to focus on customer service. The plan was to train young, unemployed graduates to become customer service executives. Our first client was BigStep which allowed small companies and entrepreneurs to set up their websites. Then came Amazon. It took us 3 months to respond to their RFP, a task that we eventually began doing in 3 days. We made a whole hearted pitch and the Amazon team was impressed enough to give us their business. Later we were told that they were looking for a fresh team that could be taught how to handle customer service the Amazon way instead of one that had been in the business for too long and that’s why we made the cut.

What were the key challenges you faced when you were scaling up Daksh?

The first mistake we made while scaling up was that we did not hire sufficient senior level talent. Such an error occurs often in Indian start-ups simply because we have a mindset of scarcity. When you come from a middle class background, you are trained to believe that resources are limited. And so, even when someone gave us the money, we ended up conserving it.

What were the reasons behind selling Daksh to IBM?

We never built Daksh with the intention of selling it. It was built with an idea that it would become an iconic organisation where people aspired to work. For most of us it was our first entrepreneurial venture. Our biggest client at Daksh was Sprint, an American telecom company. Over a period of time, it represented50% of our revenue and a higher percentage of our profits. At some point, Sprint decided to exit Daksh because India wasn’t working out for them. The American customers associated more with other destinations like the Philippines. The burden that a client that was a disproportionate part of your revenue and profits was going to go away and you had 6000 employees you were supporting made us start looking at buyers. IBM came knocking as they got some fantastic feedback from our clients in the US. The decision made a phenomenal impact on the long-term careers of many people who were part of the Daksh team.

How did the IBM acquisition affect you personally?

It was a natural maturing process for me. My partner had quite a bit of experience working in big companies like Motorola, but I had no such experience. The entrepreneurial environment within the umbrella of IBM was a great learning experience for me. I learnt how to fight the system and not have them push me. I also learnt how to learn from them. Over a period of time, IBM selected me to be a part of their global leadership team which used to be called the Integration and Values team. This helped me overcome the bureaucracy at IBM.

What are your people philosophies?

I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur because when compared to my father who is a successful eternal entrepreneur I am completely risk averse. I do well in teams within an organisation which wants to leverage my entrepreneurial capabilities. I have always had a deep desire to groom people and learn from them. The biggest reward I get is not monetary in nature but it is when people come back to me and tell me that I have made some positive impact in their life or career. To make people achieve their own potential is a big high for me.

What advise will you give young entrepreneurs?

Your college education is not the end of your education in life. Treat your first and second jobs as part of the education process. Your decision regarding which companies you work with should not be based on how much you are being paid but the learning experiences that they can offer. Youngsters today do not have enough patience. They get into a role with an expectation that they will move to another role or get promoted within nine months. If you move that frequently you will not mature. In the grand scheme of things it is important to develop in each role rather than hop, skip and jump very quickly. Once you have a view of what direction you want to go in then make sure your current journey is going in that direction. Unfortunately many young entrepreneurs are short-sighted as they value wealth creation more than the impact. Valuation can be an outcome of impact.

What is your learning from your biggest failure.

It is imperative to realise what your weaknesses are and complement yourself. In my case, my emotional nature has sometimes deterred me from taking difficult yet crucial decisions. As a result, some situations snowballed into large problems that could have been averted by taking tough decisions on time without letting emotion cloud my judgement.

You may also like