For Ketan Hajarnavis, Director and Business Head, Thought Works (India), a probing visit in 1997 to the Ribandar campus of GIM, and talks with professors over chai on the banks of Mandovi sealed the deal of a lifetime!
Is Ketan Hajarnavis a better employee or a better entrepreneur?
It’s a tough question since his life is an open challenge to the maxim 'Nobody can please everybody'. Ketan Hajarnavis, quite simply put, has the Midas touch, and is amongst those really special ones who seem to be able to please all.
Ketan Hajarnavis, Director and Business Head, Thought Works (India), joined the 1997 batch of Goa Institute of Management, strongly believing that two years at a B-school are meant to widen horizon, explore and learn about different aspects of organization building, and provide triggers for character building. So when his B-school admits started coming in, Ketan decided to visit the institutes that had accepted his candidature.
“The visit to GIM and the day spent with the Director, Fr. D’Souza, some of the Founding Faculty like Professors CM Ramesh, UdayDamodaran, Suma Damodaran, TrishitBandopadhyay and RanjiniSwamy, helped me decide on GIM. It was a team passionately committed to building a generational institution on the foundations of strong moral and ethical values, deep character building, breadth of academic excellence and entrepreneurial spirit. That day at the Ribandar campus, and talks over chai on the banks of Mandovi with the Profs sealed the deal.”
Ketan’s life has been more or less an extension of his grooming at GIM. Yet his finest learning at GIM was as a Placement Committe representative. After all, 1999 was a tough year, with a major financial slowdown, Y2K transitions, and the rise of the dot.coms. It was as a placement committee representative at GIM that he consciously realized that the batch of ‘99 would ride and lead a lot of industry changes in years to come.
“We did not hard sell; we banked on GIM's value-based credentials, and the good work done by our seniors. We would present what we stood for; we would focus on finding the right companies, not fill up placement numbers. If I recall correctly, we placed about 70+ from our batch of 104. Of the remaining lot, 10-12 opted out of the process and secured their own placements, and the remaining were placed off-campus over the next couple of months.”
Ketan was placed On-campus with Satyam Consulting, but opted out to join ConnectSoft – a mobile & messaging computing start-up - as part of their first Sales & Business Development team which pretty much set the tone for his life. Barely 5 years after passing out from GIM, Ketan Hajarnavis Co-founded CalibreMindware Programming.
“Calibre was founded in 2004, and continues to be in operations today. Nothing glamorous, we weren’t looking to change the world. Three of us, the co-founders, were chatting up at one of those regular family and friends get togethers. I Think it was the monsoon of 2003. As with such conversations, we spent a lot of time talking about building “Made in India” products, inefficiencies in the way organizations ran, and drew up a mindmap of which sectors might have the largest impact. Education and healthcare were the obvious areas. All of us came from technology background, and we believed then – as we do even now - that technology could be a great enabler to change and bring about impact.”
The trio struck a deal over a handshake - and possibly over some single malt - jumped off their cushy jobs and started CalibreMindware Programming; all in a year’s time. But within that year, Ketan and his two partners built the first version of the product, validated it in the market, and had our marquee client onboard. Every conscious hour was consumed in thinking about the product, the market, the customers etc. Two of them went from full pay to reduced pay and finally none.
Soon CalibreMindware Programming began to grow in strength - winning clients, scaling to a 40-member team, and securing venture funding worth 2.5 million USD. Calibre was so operationally profitable in 16 months flat!
“Looking back and beyond, people are the core to making the start-up successful… not the technology, not the sector, not the product. We pivoted a fair amount with our proposition, offerings. We spent time with our clients to understand their core issues; we talked with people in the sector to understand the macro shifts and underlying levers. Technology related issues were the easy ones to resolve. People related - little difficult, as always. But the real big challenge always remained the future direction – to scale or not to scale, to have venture capital or be as bootstrapped as possible, equity holdings etc.”
Ketan and his two co-founders were very clear that the Series A funding should come from a private equity/venture capital firm that was looking at growth investment, and for scaling up operations. They closed Series A round with 2.5 million USD, at a valuation of 22 million USD with Brand Capital, the private equity group of Bennett Coleman & Co.
In 2007, Ketan decided to divest along with another co-founder, while one of them continued to run Calibre. Fortunately, they had a Founder’s Agreement at the inception of the company. All that was left was to exit at the right value and do the accounting as per compliance and terms and conditions. Brand Capital was quite helpful in that activity. Ketan remains as advisor and on the board, and the three founders are best of friends till date.
“I wasn’t looking to start-up immediately after the Exit. Four years of entrepreneurship were quite hectic and had left me fatigued… happily fatigued if I may add. I had offers from Google and ThoughtWorks. I chose ThoughtWorks for similar reasons as those for opting GIM, plus the need to be in an entrepreneurial setup.”
Ketan had an undefined role when he started at TW India - except that he was part of the senior leadership. The entrepreneurial, performance driven, flat organization at TW - heavily purpose & people led – helped him settle immediately. In the first few months he constantly reminded himself that he didn’t own the company. He unlearnt everything, and relearnt in the new set-up for 5-and-half years, before he found the energy – and a compelling enough idea to go back to the startup drawing board.
“ScaleFactor Consulting Labs is a long term “project” - a learning lab for multiple aspects that are of interest to me. I felt I was one-step away from the core problem space of design-lean-systems thinking led enterprise creation. So I stepped out to start ScaleFactor in late 2013. Fair amount of that thought process was built over time while at ThoughtWorks. As of now, there’s no end game and final destination for ScaleFactor. It will emerge.”
In the meanwhile?
Back to ThoughtWorks; but while he left as a General Manager, Ketan’s re-entry has catapulted him a couple of notches above to Director & Business Head – India.
“It seemed like TW wanted to introduce some of the aspects of what I was doing at ScaleFactor as part of its growth story. In addition, TW is going through its own transitions of scaling up. Stars seemed aligned, and in April 2014 I rejoined TW as part of it Executive Leadership team to help drive strategic initiatives, growth engines and emerging and new businesses.”
So, back to the big question - Is Ketan Hajarnavis a better employee or a better entrepreneur?
Guess it really doesn’t matter to him; for Ketan works in the same mode.
“That’s the only way to work and deliver,” he shrugs matter-of-factly.“No shortcuts, just take ownership and deliver. It’s the core I have from GIM.”