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of the Month
|SUCCESSFUL INDIAN OF THE
||Rooma Nanda is currently in
the finance industry, working as a residential mortgage consultant. She has
over 10 years work experience with various corporates, such as, IBM and Yellow
Pages. Rooma has done her MBA from Sydney, and is passionate about learning on
a constant basis. This column is to highlight the achievements of
certain individuals who could be a source of inspiration for others. Email
It is on rare occasions that we come across people like Dilip Rao - our next column guest - because for most of us it is not only hard to find what we are looking for but it's even harder to carve out a life as per our convictions once we do find out what we want in life. This is mostly because we are not willing to pay the price set against fulfilling that dream or some of us give up so soon without trying harder.
Nevertheless there are a handful inspiring people in this world who have not only lived a life of their convictions but also have set up an example to be a role model for aspiring individuals simply by following a path of persistence against life's tools of resistance.
Our column guest for this month is not only a highly successful entrepreneur but is also an inspirational leader who did not stop in the face of adversity. We feel highly privileged to introduce him to you because if there is a real inspirational story for a budding entrepreneur then this is it.
Mr Dilip Rao, has founded and run highly successful ventures since he first tried his hands on a management consulting company. In this venture of ten years, he has been advising three of the four major Australian banks and several corporates and government enterprises.
Dilip had made a strong foundation in consultancy before starting up his own ventures, holding general management positions in sales, marketing and technical management with a multinational computer Company, working in Australia, South East Asia, the Middle East and the USA combined with a strong academic grounding with degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering as well as an MBA from the leading management school (IIMA) in India.
Dilip has nearly 30 years of commercial experience with diverse expertise in areas including Entrepreneurship; Retail Banking and Payments; Information Technology, Systems and Solutions; Management Consulting especially process re-engineering; and Sales, Marketing and Technical Management.
His track record in innovation includes the design, development and production of an Australian Cash Dispenser (winning an IEEE design award); re-engineering of critical business processes at major banks and Brisbane City Council; winning a Federal COMET grant and implementing an Electronic BAS Lodgement and Payment service for the Australian Tax Office; winning a Federal IT Online grant with Austrade and DHL to implement a cross-border payment and shipping portal.
Today, Dilip runs a successful online payment company, Paymate, which he founded in July 2000. He is married with two children and has lived in Sydney since 1984. He is keen on startups and has been a Director of Mentoring for the Sydney Chapter of the global TIE organisation.
An interview below is worth reading for anyone committed in following their dreams.
1. What inspired you to start your business?
In my corporate career over 12 years, I found myself changing roles (within the same company) every 18 months on average. So I knew I liked challenges, where I could learn something new and achieve concrete results soon after.
Working at a multinational computer vendor, I had an opportunity to be a country manager at an Asian subsidiary. But I knew I did not want to turn 40 at the same company and work my way up playing corporate politics.
My first startup, in 1990, was a management consulting practice. I wanted to use my MBA, have the excitement of varied consulting engagements at different companies and make a difference.
I had seen the glamour of high-end management consulting (McKinsey, Booz, etc) from afar but felt setting up my own boutique firm would be more fun and exciting.
2. What difficulties did you find in setting it up and most importantly how did you overcome those obstacles?
I had two friends who had said they would also join me and we could start this consulting business together. They had different skills and had more experience than me, so I felt it would lower risk. At the crunch, they backed out and stuck with their corporate jobs!
So I made up a business plan on my own and decided to leave my employer anyway, but with a mix of fear and excitement!
I had started a family (our first daughter was then 4 years old) and had a mortgage, so I had to be sure I could support our family as well. This is often a show-stopper for people wanting to start up - the risk of making no money at all to pay the bills, which keep coming! I had earned a large bonus from a sales role, so I saved most of it to tide us over for a year, then made the leap.
The next problem was focus - since I was not bound by corporate policies I could do any kind of consulting, so it was quite difficult to decide what exactly to do. Since I had no market research or statistics, I simply went with what I thought my MBA and experience in banking systems would help me do - high end management consulting to banks. It is quite common for people to leverage their own natural strengths, so this was a reasonable gamble to take.
I had spoken with one banking client and felt comfortable that he would give me my very first engagement - as you know, this is the hardest to get for a new business because you have no references. But the client came good and I was off and running. Getting paid on that very first engagement was a milestone!
But surprisingly, all of the business I was confident of getting from my other contacts, simply did not happen. I was amazed but found that friends had difficulty giving me business because they felt compromised in some way or could simply not see me as a management consultant. So I had to get new business from people I really did not know at all - this 'cold calling' is also the toughest way to get sales.
Since I was focused on the banking industry, I used referrals from my first client to get the next one. Since banks are conservative, I made my one-man company look like a very professional, large consultancy! I had a good-looking logo, letterhead, folders and all my proposals, presentations and contracts looked top-notch.
The trick in consulting is that companies hire you because they want some intellectual horsepower, but they pay higher prices to 'companies' for fixed price engagements than daily rates to individual 'contractors'. So by presenting as a 'company' I was able to charge much higher prices - of course I then had to deliver accordingly. So I achieved a high-level brand and positioning as an expensive boutique that could deliver results.
3. How did you motivate yourself on a daily basis in the initial years when going could have gone tough?
In management consulting the nature of business is called 'feast or famine', because when you are working on an engagement you are not developing any new business, so you then have to sell for a while with no income until you get the next engagement. This was not a big deal when I was on my own, but once I hired people to work for me the payroll had to be made whether we had business or not - that is scary!
I liked one funny line a collegue used: 'when one door closes, another door closes!'
Even very good consultants are not often very good at getting new business, so I was the main 'rainmaker' as they say, i.e. getting new business for everyone on staff. This is a big pressure and there were times I thought we'd have to fire someone because of the dwindling bank balance during a 'famine'. But somehow a deal would happen at the last minute and we would continue into the next 'feast'.
Survival is a basic instinct of people and companies, so that was a big driver of effort in tough times. We had a reputation to maintain as well, so pride would stop you from throwing in the towel. But fundamentally we knew we were making a difference for our clients, with some really great results they valued, so achievement remained the main driver.
After ten years I thought the management consulting business was getting repetitive and while there was demand, we could not get enough bright people to work for us as a small firm. It is also very difficult to sell a consulting practice since revenues are driven by individuals.
So I decided on a new startup, my current company Paymate. This was a different beast, because I had to build a prototype service first with my own money, get contracts and then raise money from investors. Since I started in July 2000, right after the dot com crash, this was a nightmare - not one VC in Australia made a new investment in all of 2001.
So I raised some angel funds and to their credit eBay allowed us to launch on their site as a payment service on October 30, 2001. This was right after 9/11, so it remained very hard to raise more money even after a successful launch.
A lack of funds remained our biggest challenge until April 2005 when we managed to get some money from angel investors. Till then we survived on the 'smell of an oily rag' and government grants to let us continue to build innovative payment services. Several times I thought we would have to close down, but persistence or perhaps sheer bloody-mindedness got us through! I wouldn't want anyone to go through that experience.
4. What basic principles did you follow in order to continue on this road less travelled?
I did have a great job offer from a major consulting firm and several of our very large corporate clients would have hired me, but once you are used to working for yourself, it is very hard to work for anyone else.
I knew that I valued integrity, insight and innovation. So anything I did had to have these three elements. Being an entrepreneur allows you the freedom to 'make a difference' in any chosen field, which is my basic motivation, I guess.
You do have to enjoy what you do on a day to day basis. Family support is critical and I was fortunate though we went through some really tough times at home. Having a good team and positive feedback from clients and business partners keeps you motivated and powering on.
5. Did you have a mentor all along?
I wish I had had one when I started. There was often no one to talk things over with or to use as a sounding board for strategic decisions. There were some clients who became personal friends (though you normally do not want to do this in consulting) and I turned to a couple of them for guidance.
With my current business I have an experienced Board and they are my mentors, providing guidance without taking over control. I'm very lucky in that respect. I am not necessarily the world's best manager either (many entrepreneurs are not great at day to day operations) so I rely on my very experienced management team to sort me out! Let me tell you, they do!
I am Director of Mentoring at an organisation called TiE that you know, and enjoy helping out budding entrepreneurs and wannabe's so they don't make the same mistakes I made. But I also call upon more experienced and successful entrepreneurs at TiE to get ideas for my own journey. Last week I met a very experienced VC to get some advice on how we could grow faster.
6. What is your vision for your company?
Our focus is helping small companies and individuals sell to the world and right now we are restricted to sellers in Australia and NZ. I would like to expand into other parts of Asia, especially where ecommerce could make a big impact on the ability of people to sell to global markets and improve their lives. There is already a lot of excitement around microfinance and if we could play a part in that we would have really 'made a difference' to the world we live in - that would be fantastic.
7. Any particular advice you would like to give to budding entrepreneurs?
Have a go if you can feel the passion and do it sooner rather than later. There will always be 100 reasons NOT to go out on your own, but only one reason to do it - it could be to create something of value where none existed, to solve a big problem with a small idea, to change the world, whatever turns you on!
|In the Previous Issues:
Vikrant Kapoor - Zaaffran Restaurant
Dr. Jagnnath Mazumdar
Naville Roach - Fujitsu
Dr Arapaut Sivaprasad -
Jeet Bindra - Caltex
Dr. Bhuvan Unhelkar
Safina Uberoi - My Mother India