The man with many hats - Entrepreneur, Investor & Mentor

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Rajesh Sawhney, Harvard

Hi Rajesh sir!

It’s a pleasure to speak with you! You have been a member of IvyPlus since the beginning and we’d love to know a bit more about your professional journey.


1.   Our first question to you is what drives you? You’re someone who has set up several successful businesses. Rather than enjoying your success, you continue to hustle. Why?

I seek change. If you don't change, you become old and stale. Change is the only constant in my life. Change requires re-inventing and letting go. It requires making sacrifices. Future excites me. Startups, especially the tech startups, are shaping our future. I feel purposeful investing in startups and building startups of my own.

 

2.   Tell us more about your current venture, Innerchef? Why did you choose to set up a food business when you could have selected another problem to solve?

Food business is on the cusp of a few megatrends

a)   There is a great opening of human palette. People are experimenting and accepting new tastes and flavors from far and wide.

b)   There is a massive awareness about good food, how it is made, how the ingredients are sourced etc. Healthy eating is a mega trend that is accelerating across the world.

c)   Technology is changing the way we interact with food. Be it social networks like Instagram, or delivery platforms; there is technology to make food available to us with an arm’s reach of desire.

I believe InnerChef embodies these three mega-trends, and I believe that it will emerge as the new-age food platform for India and beyond.

 

3.   Tell us more about your GSF Accelerator?

In 2012, I set-up GSF Accelerator, a platform to mentor technology startups. In the 5 years since its inception, we have funded 50 startups. GSF’s motto is “Founders for founders.” Some of the leading tech founders (VSS of PayTM, Naveen of Inmobi, Phani of Redbus, Dinesh of Indiamart, Anupam of Shaadi.com, Roshan Abbas of Encompass, etc.) have supported and funded GSF platform since its inception.

We have a network of 300 mentors across the world, 100+ founders and 50 EIRs. Our program is unique. Not only do we give Rs 1 crore in funding (largest that any accelerator gives in the world) but also a unique multi-country exposure to our startups. GSF startups spend three months in India, one month in the Silicon Valley and one month in Japan/China during acceleration.


4.  Tell us your learning’s from this experience, especially about founders?

I have learnt a lot from working with such a large pool of talented folks. Two lessons I would like to share: 

a) Most successful founders are one step ahead of the game. Unsuccessful ones are either behind the game or too far ahead of the game.

b) Talent is important and wins battles. But teams that stick around win the war. There is no such thing as overnight success.

 

5.   You’re an active and engaged angel investor, having made 50 angel investments including Little Eye Labs, which was acquired by Facebook. Tell us how you decide which startups to bet on.

I bet on people. At the stage where I invest, I count on founders. I look for exceptional founders. Please see more on what I look at in the founders at www.gsfindia.com

 

6.   You brought Times FM to India in the early 90s, built Indiatimes.com in 2005 and were the Founding President of Reliance Entertainment. Do learnings from these experiences help you now?

I think the most important thing is to unlearn. Before I start a new stint, I go into a zone of unlearning. What I learnt at Reliance Entertainment isn’t useful in the building of GSF Accelerator. We must live our lives lightly and with less burden of experience and expectations. I try to travel light and live in the moment.

 

7.   You studied at the Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics. What are some of the most valuable things you learnt during your time at these universities?

Rigor and hard work are the two most important things I learnt at these institutions. Most often, people underestimate the value of such simple things. I don't know a single successful person who doesn’t work hard. Another value that HBS taught me was to be humble and not live in hubris.

 

8.   Why did you not consider staying abroad and getting a corporate job? What excites you about continuing to be here?

India is exciting and full of promise. For the next 20 years, it will be the land of opportunity. It’s our time and our best people should work here.

 

9.   You have had many careers in one life. What’s your advice to young people across India, on how to make decisions about their careers including whether and how to startup?

I think young people of today are extremely savvy and smart. Unlike earlier generations, they have 3 unprecedented advantages:

a)   Starting a new venture (even global) has never been easier in the history of mankind. Money is available to talented people with vision. Smart people understand it. Why would you work for someone else if you can do it yourself?

b)   They have access to quality education unlike ever before. For example, you can learn all about self-driving cars from the best professors in Stanford from your home. The nature of education has totally changed.

c)   Careers are built by building deep knowledge and networks. Don't chase easy money and superficiality.

 

10.   What has been your experience with the IvyPlus Network? Do you have a message for entrepreneurs within our network?

IvyPlus is a great community. I am pleasantly surprised on how fast it has grown. Diversity and quality of talent in IvyPlus Network is simply amazing. I have just one message for the entrepreneurs within this network and outside: Be Bold

 

Rajesh Sawhney is the Co-founder of Innerchef and GSF Accelerator. He is based in New Delhi, India

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