Jogging on the beaches of Goa, Ashwani Rawat, Co-founder of Transerve technologies, a geospatial technology based startup, finds the morning time the most productive of all. Oozing enthusiasm right from the start of the interview, Ashwani embodies the charge a young entrepreneur must have. “What is not good for your body, must not be done as it affects mental health as well. An entrepreneur does a lot of things, especially in the initial days of the startup. One must sound positive all the time, no matter how difficult it gets. You being the leader of the team, despite difficulties in personal and professional life, you have to create a positive environment. We need to give a productive atmosphere to our team members all the time,” Ashwani shares.
Desire To Change
Having had an early interest in modelling during his childhood, Ashwani confesses how it would have been difficult to pursue given his humble background. He eventually and luckily so, chooses the route of engineering which leads him on the path of an entrepreneurial journey.
His journey started with the corporate world where he made up his mind to learn every aspect of the business to get to know the core of how the business is run. “There are many things when you start a business from HR, Finance to Compliances. So my focus was on that. My time as an employee, at my previous profiles, gave me the idea of dealing with people from different strata. In the next one, I was maintaining distribution to client fetching. I got the chance to travel a lot and my vision for starting something of my one day required me to be out travelling to understand the country. This is a very important part of setting up something new.” he adds.
Most of the success stories of great entrepreneurs started from days of hardships, financial struggle and a desire to bring change to these circumstances. Here Ashwani shares his own experience, “It is a different kind of drive when you are coming from such conditions. We used to live in a village in Western Uttar Pradesh and my village did not have a road till 2004. That gave me some sort of aspiration that we are living in the 21st Century but we don’t even have basic necessities.”
Startup In Goa
During one of his business-related tours to Goa, something strikes Ashwani about the place. He discovers that it has potential other than leisurely benefits. “It is well connected to the rest of the country. Low cost of living and the chance to attract skilled people to work from here was big. Places like Mumbai, Delhi bring a lot of uncertainty in an entrepreneur’s life. For entrepreneurs, Goa gives a lot of me-time. It increases our efficiency as a professional and helps us refresh. You see the similarity with Silicon Valley, there are people from all the backgrounds just like in Valley, quite diverse. Weather is good. For the seeds to grow and turn into a plant, business-wise, Goa gives you that conducive environment. I did not want to lose out on that opportunity,” he remarks.
Speaking of challenges in the initial days, Ashwani asserts how motherhood with your startup is not the attachment one should have, “Lot of entrepreneurs have that motherhood feeling towards the company. For example, when they have to bring a new team member or a co-founder, even when they don’t have money, they don’t want to dilute their own role in the company! This feeling that I was the one who put the sweat in starting this company should not be a road-block in the creation of a team which will eventually be creating products and services.” He further adds how the chase for money right from the start will kill the notion of ‘sense of creation’ for the entrepreneur. “Once you become too money-minded, you don’t go for the pride that comes with building something useful. With a good team in place, the money will always follow.”
Once you become too money-minded, you don’t go for the pride that comes with building something useful. With a good team in place, the money will always follow.
- Ashwani Rawat, Co-Founder Transerve Technologies
The Transerve Story
Transerve’s data analytics is a unique proposition in the world of data analytics as it puts the result of large data on a map. Visualisation of data on an arithmetic map helps Transerve’s clients realise the power of data in realtime to assess the geography in a more complete (mapped) sense. Ashwani explains how the larger goal remains to utilise data for business, “Like managing territory for the sales team, understanding consumer behaviour on top of a map, marking zones for targeting customers and other demographic information has become necessary for larger businesses who are still struggling to penetrate the market. At one point in time, no matter how much you are spending on marketing, you don’t generate revenues and there is a need to reach out to each and every potential customer and that is where mapping technologies can take you.”
Ashwani, despite Transerve’s healthy growth, isn’t satisfied with the lookout of investors towards niche markets, “Without the validation model, investors don’t get much confidence. Awareness is one issue. Secondly, there are not many companies in this space. If an investor is investing in every country on the globe, they might catch a global trend and extrapolate it in India. Though, for an Indian investor who has not seen such businesses, it becomes difficult for an entrepreneur to validate his prospect. India being a highly volatile market, investors are already low on confidence and, economically, India hasn’t shown promising results. This is why there are not many SaaS based startups that have succeeded in the last decade,” he remarks. Have things changed, I ask him back and Ashwani answers, “Yeah! As far as the Geospatial industry is concerned, people have realised it is going to be a game-changer. Thanks to Covid19, companies have understood that they have to deploy Geospatial engines or Geospatilaly enabled IT solutions in the company. This is because all of them have a large market base, customers are spread everywhere, their presence is in all parts of the country and they want to penetrate even more. So they are more open to us.”
Instability Of Ecosystem and Leadership
A stable ecosystem from both financial and policy-making side is important for startup culture to thrive and sustain in a country. Almost every time there has been a knee-jerk reactionary type decision making from the government, Ashwani as the Founder of a company, shares how it has acted like almost a professional setback every time. “The lowest I must have been, was 2012, then 2014, then demonetisation, then GST and now this draconian lockdown which came in place. Back when the dollar started strengthening and the rupee’s value depreciating, we lost a lot of contracts. Then the demonetisation and a badly implemented GST followed. We being at the bottom of the pyramid, it affected us a lot. My opinion is, when you have such a huge structure of the base on which everything is standing for the last 60 years, you can augment it but not suddenly change the whole foundation. Startups generally function hand-to-mouth, we are not sitting on a pile of cash. In such tough situations, we can barely sustain three to six months with some planning.”
How do you handle such rough patches as the guy on top of the vertical? Ashwani answers by exemplifying absolute acumen of a leader. “During such phases, I get into the mode of being a father to everyone. I imagine the company as my family. So if something happens to a family, the father takes the hit. He takes the pain and brunt but never reveals it. I think one has to really behave like that. It is very difficult, I know. You get lonely and you cannot share things with anyone, but it is the need in such times. In such scenarios, leadership will develop naturally in you. This also includes listening to great people, your family and taking all kinds of pieces of advice. That is how leadership will slowly develop in you, naturally.”
Previously many inspiring leaders have spoken with Dutch Uncles while discussing the idea of networking. Some have called it an irreplaceable part of the business to some shunning it as an overhyped concept. The discourse keeps on moving while taking different routes and perspectives. Ashwani Rawat adds his cogent opinion to it, “Irrespective of differences, I go out and network with everyone. I’ve done many beautiful deals with almost strangers whom I met, like by an accident.
Networking is important but it takes time and effort to build a relationship for a longer-term. Also, you will meet people who will give you great feedback, they’ll ask you brutal questions and you’ll get to learn a lot of your shortcomings that way. It will make you uncomfortable but trust me, we all need that devil’s advocate in our lives.”
Don’t Dare To Give Up
Sharing the turning points of his life, Ashwani mentions his selection in IIT was a humbling experience where he learnt an important lesson, “You meet all these people who are smarter than you and you realise, you need to learn a lot. It is a great experience. You then know that you need to start learning afresh.”
“The second turning point for me was these Covid days. There was a lot of uncertainty. I realised this that okay surprises can come at any point of time. In business, personally, I hate surprises, be it good or bad.” He further admits how awareness could have saved him even more and that he has learnt from it. “Had we been clearly aware of everything happening around us in November or December, we could have been better prepared to tackle this challenge of Covid. We need to come out of our silos. You can’t be an Ostrich! You have to look around. It is a great learning for all of us, especially for me.”
Ashwani calls out young fellow entrepreneurs to not, at any point, give up despite chaos around. “Giving up is not a solution at all. In India, business is chaotic. Every day there will be some fight, money problems, every day you’ll be chasing customers, this is just the nature of the business, so embrace it. You might fail but you have to try and learn from it.”
Generally asked at the start of Inspire interviews, Ashwani is asked right at the end, what kind of a person he is, to which he replies succinctly, “I’m absolutely a tough nut to crack. No matter how much you try to beat me, I’ll never give up. I hate to give up!”
Counting more goof-ups in his personal life than professional, in his youthful voice, Ashwani says he is going to bed peacefully. “I don’t have any regrets in life. Goof-ups happen but that is part of life. An entrepreneur is always going to be lonely, I tell all fellow wannapreneurs the same. However, the thrill you get is just yours. That is also something others are never going to get. So yes, I’m sleeping well.”
Co-founder of Transerve, Ashwani Rawat continues to make the most of his time in the serenity of Goa. As he concludes by sharing his love for nature and related photography with a promising smile which conveys that his modelling ambition in a parallel universe still stands a chance somewhere.