Interviewed by Nisha Ramanathan
Nisha Ramanathan is a sophomore at Lynbrook High School. She is involved with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) Club and hopes to major in Business.
The following is an interview with a successful technology leader, Anand Ramanathan. Anand is currently a Vice President of Product Management at McAfee. His recent startup SkyHigh Networks was acquired by McAfee and he leads all of SkyHigh cloud security products.
The following is an interview with a successful technology leader, Arun Rajagopalan. Arun is currently the co-founder and CEO at Motorq, a connected-car data, and analytics company.
We interviewed Arun to understand his career journey, next-generation opportunities for today’s youth, and focus areas for high school and college students. We also talked about success and failures and how one should turn failures into opportunities.
My biggest takeaways from the interview include…
- One should dream big, work hard, and think smart, have patience and push forward with anything they choose to do
- Do not be discouraged by the no’s and believe in yourself
- The tech/startup business world moves incredibly fast and is challenging to navigate, and thus it is important to stay strong
- In most businesses, it is important to hire the best team possible
Below is a transcript of my interview with Arun Rajagopalan
Nisha: I am here with Arun Rajagopalan, CEO at Motorq. Arun did his education in Chennai, India in engineering, and later moved to business and started his own company: Motorq.
So welcome Arun, thank you for your time today.
Arun: No problem Nisha, I’m glad to be here.
Nisha: So I understand that you started your own business, but, how did you come up with the idea for your company?
Arun: Well first off, I’ve always been curious about automobile electronics, business decisions, and management consulting. When starting my business, I looked at the potential of connected-car data, ( the data coming out of cars) and thought about what products were needed to realize the data’s full potential. I then noticed that these types of products were not built yet. I then decided to start a company which made it easy to understand the data from cars. (“connected car data”).
Nisha: Now that we know what made you start your business, what steps did you take to get started? Also, what is your planning process and what tools do you use?
Arun: The first step to starting a company is validating the idea with potential customers. This includes making sure the idea was meaningful. The second step is “lean testing” or validation. It is necessary to ensure that the product is addressing the customer’s needs And the final step is to put together an executive team, such as a CEO, COO, CTO, and CMO. When finding a team, it was necessary to find people with the following skills - I needed engineers to help with cloud-based systems, product managers who know the automotive industry, and people who would be able to sell the product. Regarding the planning process, I used a business plan which contains objectives, KPI’s (key performance indicators), and milestones. Also, I realized that to win in the market, Motorq needs to have data on half a million vehicles by 1 year. This information was put in the business plan which was created in the process of starting my business.
Nisha: There are a lot of steps involved in starting your own company, but what are some ways to reach out to get funding? What were the various funding sources that you tapped into?
Arun: Yes, finding potential investors for my company was crucial. I reached out to venture capital firms and professional networks. Some examples of strong networks include prior employees and business school classmates.
Nisha: From the interview so far, I can see that finding the appropriate team is key for you. However, what is the challenges of working alone and what are the challenges of having a team?
Arun: That is a very interesting question, Nisha. We need teams to get a lot of work done. Working well with teams requires many things - common goals, good culture, interpersonal skills, etc. Debates between the team are good, and cohesive teams motivate each person to do their best. Additionally, it is super important to build a team that is high functioning and has a good culture. For example, high functioning means people who understand their space, take feedback from others, and act quickly.
Nisha: That sounds cool! Moving back to the main focus of this interview, your company, and product, how long did it take to create your product (or solution or service)?
Arun: In estimate, it took about one year to get the product on the market.
Nisha: Wow, that must have taken a lot of time and energy. Speaking of time and energy, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you keep yourself motivated to overcome them and not quit?
Arun: I had to understand that starting my own company will not be easy. Throughout the process, I heard hundreds and hundreds of no’s from customers and investors, but I learned from them and continued with my idea to share the vision. Another challenge I faced was figuring out how the product will help my customers. I needed to imagine the problem in the shoes of the customer. And lastly, the main motivation I had for myself was to stay strong. I knew that in the end, all my hard work would pay off, but as I mentioned earlier, it would not be easy during the journey.
Nisha: Throughout this process, what lessons did you learn and what would you do differently?
Arun: As I mentioned before, don't be discouraged by the no’s and it is key to believe in yourself and your idea. Additionally, it is important to recognize that startups move incredibly fast. It is definitely faster than in a huge company, so one needs to take quick decisions and move on. And the last lesson I learned is that, although it may not seem very important, hiring the best team that you can is very critical. Learning during the journey, I believe, is key to building a successful company.
Nisha: Going back to creating a team, I wanted to know when you hire someone, what characteristics do you look for?
Arun: When appointing people to join Motorq, I look for the following attributes. I look for a desire to succeed, how resourceful they are (more specifically, if they can figure out problem solutions and how much help do they need versus how much can they help themselves), their horsepower (for example, given a tough task, how quickly can they understand and solve it), and attitude (how well they work in teams). And lastly, the most important quality is positivity. I strongly believe these are some key aspects that an employee should bring to work every day.
Nisha: Since you have been very successful, I wanted to know what advice do you give to today’s youth who may like to pursue an idea?
Arun: My 2 cents for today’s youth is to dream big, work hard & smart, be patient and keep pushing forward. I think that if you believe in yourself and your idea, you can definitely make it happen.
Nisha: That is great advice for young entrepreneurs. As a final question, is your venture related to your college major? What do you recommend in terms of High School or College courses to take to become an entrepreneur?
Arun: My venture is related to engineering and business, which was also my college major. In terms of High School or College courses, I think the following courses would be helpful to take: Computer Applications, Economics and Virtual Enterprise, and Principles of Business. Finally, I strongly believe that students should start working at companies (large or small) to learn about entrepreneurship. Working is the most helpful way to understand the life and role of an entrepreneur since nothing beats work experience.
Nisha: Thank you so much for your time today. I definitely learned a lot about starting a business, from the steps needed to the character traits to hire employees to create a strong team. I wish great success in your current and future endeavors, Arun. Thank you for your time.
Arun: No problem Nisha. I hope this information was helpful for you.