Thejo Kote, Founder, and CEO, Airbase
Thejo Kote is the co-founder and CEO of Airbase, the leading spend management platform for small and midsize companies. Founded in 2017, Airbase raised over $30m from Bain Capital Ventures and First Round Capital.
Managing expenses is a big issue in individual life. It is an even bigger problem when it comes to companies. Thejo Kote, who is also our guest for today, helps the companies in this area. Thejo Kote is the Founder and CEO of Airbase. He is the former founder of Automatic which is now acquired by Sirius XM for 110 million USD.
Airbase is a leading spend management platform for small and medium companies. Airbase primarily focuses on US based companies. Thejo states that there are a lot of segments and systems in which a company spends its money like card systems, invoices, reimbursements etc. What Airbase does is to simplify the systems and make it easy to manage the payments by putting everything on one platform.
Challenges Thejo faced while building Airbase
Thejo tells us that building the Airbase was quite an enjoyable experience. It was less challenging than his previous startup. Currently the biggest challenge he is facing is keeping up with the growth of the startup which he believes to be a good problem to have.
Challenges and mistakes made by small companies and startups
Thejo tells us that in the initial days of the startup, the founders tend to focus more on finding the right product that fits in the market. The operations management is something they ignore very often, which he believes should not be done.
What is unique about Airbase
On being asked how Airbase differentiates itself from other similar platforms, Thejo replies that Airbase adds value to the market by providing a single platform for all payments. He says the payroll side in companies is largely organised, but the non-payroll side is not. They facilitate by managing the non-payroll payments.
Solo founder versus Multiple founders
We believe Thejo is the right person to be asked the above mentioned question as he has founded two successful startups and mentored many startups.
He tells us that in his previous startup, he had a co-founder who made up for his shortcomings. He had the skills which Thejo lacked so it was good to have a co-founder then. In Airbase, he is the solo founder as he feels he has the skills which are needed for the startup. However, he also feels that having a co-founder not just increases the skills, but also supports psychologically.
Qualities a startup founder should possess
The first requisite a startup founder should have is enjoying the work. He should keep working even if he is not getting paid initially. Secondly, since the journey would be long, the person should have resilience and persistence etc.
Common mistakes made by startup founders
Thejo tells with his experience that not having the difficult conversations with other people is a common mistake that many startup founders make. By difficult conversations he means many things. Generally the startup founder gets into a dilemma whether he should say this to the other person or not. Thejo believes that yet it is difficult but the founder should be practical and do whatever works best for his startup.
At what stage should a startup start to scale up?
Thejo says that if it is your own money you are relaxed and take your startup slow. But if you have other people’s money invested in your startup, you take it as a promise and you will try to acquire more growth quickly. However, he also believes that it depends upon the personal choice of the founder when he finds it right to scale up.
Founding and selling his first startup
Thejo tells us that he moved to the USA about eleven years ago as a student. He says that India’s business ecosystem was less developed than it is today, so he was planning to work in the US only and he was very passionate about it. As the opportunity came he founded a startup with his co-founder and worked there for six years. He saw many ups and downs there and later they felt right to sell it to Sirius XM. Ultimately everything went well.