I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, says Varun Khaitan, co-founder, Urban Clap
My dad is very proud of what I have done and shares what he reads about the company in the media and from friends and family.
Success Quotient is a weekly feature on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
Varun Khaitan, co-founder, Urban Clap ( mobile services marketplace that connects local service providers with the community), had one dream he was pursuing since he thought of having a career – to become an entrepreneur. To that end, the 28 year-old made his academic choices and built on his work experience abroad just enough to get going as an entrepreneur in a short span. He talks with Firstpost on how his focus led him to like-minded folks and his second entrepreneurial journey.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Did you chart your career early on?
I did what I wanted to with a little bit of planning. I was a good student and also was a keen participant in sports. I was an all-rounder in school and college. My studies never took a backseat because I indulged in sports. My parents were happy. When it was time to make a decision about higher studies, I decided on engineering and IIT. The choice of IIT was because I noticed that many successful Indians had been IITians. I realized that there is something about IIT that helps these success stories and their creators to make bold career decisions. I wanted to emulate that.
Tell us your experience of studying at IIT?
Going to IIT was never a goal. It was to enable me to do something for myself and my career and be successful at it. I remember my parents were a bit disconcerted at almost everyone in the family had taken up the commerce stream and there was no one who had gone for engineering. I went to IIT Kanpur and studied electrical engineering. For some time after I was at IIT and came home during my breaks, my parents would worry about my career prospects. It took a lot of convincing to allay their fears.
I was surrounded by people who came from different social strata and geographies. Almost all of them were over performers and excelled in a wide variety of subjects that went beyond academia. IIT gives you an exposure to a wide set of experiences which help you to realise what you want to do and be good at it for a lifetime. It also helps one to build and learn from networks and relationships. I was part of various committees, organised college fests and was into groups that built robots, etc. As a result of all this, I got the all round graduating school award in 2009.
And then you went abroad to work like most IIT-ians
Yes, I did. It was a rich experience. I worked with BCG and Qualcomm. My stint in the US made me realise that work exposure and opportunities had to be cutting edge. After four years, I returned to India and soon launched Cinemabox, an in-flight entertainment business that enabled users to use WiFi networks in buses and trains with my batch mate at IIT, Abhiraj Bhal. It was an idea far ahead of its time. We shut it down six months later.
Then came Urban Clap
Abhiraj and me met up with Raghav Chandra and launched Urban Clap. The start-up was born out of our own experiences with local service providers be it getting a music teacher or the right caterers, a problem I faced during my sister’s marriage. None of these issues had solution providers from the time we were growing up to even after we had graduated and returned to the country after working abroad. We decided to focus on solving this issue and first met up with professionals across different service categories. We found that they too were facing the same issues and had problems finding consumers and if they found them, there were trust issues too. That is when we were convinced we had a good business idea and decided to go for it. We decided to call the venture Urban Clap as we promise to provide professional service providers in the city every time you clap for their services.
Raghav, Abhiraj and me each put in Rs 10 lakh as seed money and set up Urban Clap in October 2014. We have had three rounds of funding since then totalling $37 million.
How do your parents react to the success of Urban Clap?
They are happy. My dad is very proud of what I have done and shares what he reads about the company in the media and from friends and family. He also uses the platform and takes pride in helping us find professionals for local teams in the cities we are present in. Earlier, too, he has been very supportive. When Cinemabox was shut down, he told me to carry on with my dream of being an entrepreneur. He said he had shut down as many as 10 businesses he had started!
In a short span, you also got noticed by Ratan Tata
We got introduced to Ratan Tata and we reached out to him. We realised he looks at companies that are cutting edge. We met him and in two meeting he decided to invest in the company. My earlier impression of Mr Tata was that of an astute businessman who is successful and well-known globally. But it was heartening to see how humble and genuine he was as a human being in his interactions with us, how sharp he was about what India’s problems. He asked us to focus on quality of network.
What are your future plans for Urban Clap?
Urban Clap is less than two years old. We have a long way to go. I feel good about myself, Abiraj and Raghav, and the company at this stage. There is a lot to be done in the next few years and make it a brand and a service that people would use across the country. Currently, we are available in seven cities and will be present in three more very soon – Kolkata, Jaipur, Chandigarh.
You are a work-out enthusiast.
I find time for it in the weekends. I spend weekends with close friends and we have started a crossfit community. We have a workout regime. I also occasionally play squash.
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I have done things differently. It has not been easy. I am happy with what we have achieved.