From Co-founding Cinepolis in India to Investing in Startups

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Deepak Marda

Hi Deepak! Thanks for speaking with us. We are excited to learn all about your adventures in entrepreneurship 

1. Our first question to you is what drives you? You’ve set up several successful businesses, yet you continue to hustle. Why?

Compared to our previous generations, we have it easy. Because of the hard work of our forefathers, we enjoy happier, safer, and healthier lives today than the kings of yesterday. They rode camels through deserts for days to go from one city to another. We cross continents in a few hours through air-conditioned planes! It is only incumbent upon us that we work hard today to make it a better world for future generations.

I’m an opportunist, and it is my life’s purpose to create and seize opportunities to unlock value.

As long as the basic economic problem of scarcity—finite resources and infinite needs persists, there is an opportunity. As long as there is an opportunity for me to make a difference, my work isn’t done.

2. Cinema, medical imaging, CAD/CAM, textile design - What drove you to set up businesses across such a diverse range of sectors?

One thing that is common among the seemingly disparate ventures that I have worked on is that in each case technology innovation had created a new business opportunity. Digital projection changed film distribution and programming. GPU computing made the real-time rendering of large medical images possible. Computational analysis and design revolutionised how electro-mechanical products are manufactured. Computer graphics made it possible see how the fabric would look even before it’s woven on a sample loom.

Each venture I have worked on began with an idea to leverage technology advancements to solve problems and enable scenarios that weren’t possible before.

I’m driven by the possibilities to make a difference, and rapidly changing technology landscape keeps me on the lookout for new ideas and opportunities.

3. Tell us what keeps you busy at the moment?

Every five to eight years, I’ve hit refresh in my career. Since my exit from Cinépolis India, I’ve been on the lookout for ideas and opportunities to make a difference. I work with organisations, ranging from a for-profit large corporation to an NGO, to unlock large-scale opportunities. From where I stand, I see that technology transformation is happening at an unprecedented pace and its impact on the lives of people is deeper than ever before. I’ve made a few investments in very early stage startups that seem to show promise and that reduce friction in the system. Whenever I can steal time from my for-profit and non-profit work, I hike up a mountain or explore a new town. 😊

4. When investing in early-stage startups, how do you decide who to bet on?

I follow the advice of a b-school professor: when A-grade team meets A-grade idea, magic happens. An A-grade team is made of talented, confident, and high-energy individuals with learning mindset. An A-grade idea consists of a clear understanding of the market, solid value proposition, and agile path of execution.

5. You co-founded Cinépolis India. Tell us about your learnings from that experience?

Home-viewing (VCR/DVD) disrupted the Cinema theatre business in the 80s. Old, dilapidated cinema theatres were disrupted by multiplexes around the world. In India, the transformation was imminent, albeit in its early stage then. It was an opportunity to combine the multiplex transformation with the technology advances of digital projection and data science to develop an innovative business model. In the early days of Cinépolis India, industry experts questioned our feasibility and dismissed us. With each question, we would return to the drawing board, revise our business model, refine the strategy, and go back to the market. Our persistence paid off.

Maintaining a high degree of transparency and empathy helped me win the trust of the mall developers, suppliers, and intermediaries, who slowly started favouring us. Before long, we were winning major markets. The journey taught me the importance of being patient yet agile, and building long-lasting relationships.

6. You studied at IIT Bombay. Tell us more about that experience?

If I could, I would remain a student at these awesome institutions forever! IIT Bombay experience was about the competition. We had to compete fiercely for admission, grades, computer resources, and almost everything. While competing, we also became great friends. Not a day has gone by since my IIT days when I didn’t hear from a classmate or a hostel-mate. 

7. How about your experience of studying Business at Stanford?

At Stanford GSB, it was about thinking big - questioning convention and changing the world. I learned how to develop an idea, test it, scale it, and take it from inception to execution, responsibly and successfully. My classmates were amazingly talented individuals who had taken breaks from their successful careers to follow their passions to do bigger and better things. The Stanford GSB is not only an excellent academic institution but also a close community of thought-leaders that continue to inspire me constantly.

8. What made you move to India after Stanford and what excites you about India?

India heavily subsidised my education, and it’s a debt I can never repay. I can only pay it forward. At Stanford, my classmates and I explored a number of India market entry business ideas before zooming in on the cinema industry. It was a big opportunity to transform an industry, and as an amazing byproduct, it would bring much needed foreign investment into the country, create jobs, and stimulate the domestic film industry. It was too cool and too big to pass! What excites me about India is that there is still a lot of friction in the system. It will get better, and as the society undergoes the inevitable transformation, there is enormous opportunity to unlock value.

9. Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs part of our community?

Many young professionals want to become entrepreneurs because they don’t want to be in a job or because they fall prey to the fallacy that entrepreneurs don’t work for anybody but themselves. Don’t become an entrepreneur because you hate a job. If you don’t want a full-time job, become an independent contractor or a flex worker or a freelance consultant. In a typical job, you have one boss. As an entrepreneur, you will have many bosses. Each customer, investor, or “stakeholder” is your boss. Become an entrepreneur only if you see an opportunity and love the idea of seizing the opportunity and advancing a cause.

Many ideas work when you have millions of customers. Spend more time on figuring out how you’ll reach that point.

10. Do you have a message for entrepreneurs on our network?

The IvyPlus Network is an active and engaged community of young professionals with diverse backgrounds and interests. You guys have created magic! I have met some amazing people and have made great friends. Entrepreneurs can leverage the IvyPlus Network to make useful connections, test ideas, recruit people, and even reach out to early adopters.

Deepak Marda is a serial entrepreneur and an investor. He is an alum of Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-founded Cinépolis India. He lives in Seattle, USA and frequently visits New Delhi, India

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