Phanindra Sama, otherwise known as Phani, is the co-founder and CEO of redBus. redBus is India’s largest bus ticketing company and a Forbes Top 5 Startup in 2010. Phani has a BE in electrical engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science. Prior to founding redBus, he worked as a design engineer at ST Microelectronics and as a senior design engineer at Texas Instruments in Bangalore.
Sramana: Phani, let’s start with your personal story.
Phanindra Sama: I was always good with technical studies and was especially good mechanically. I got into BITS Pilani (Birla Institute of Technology and Science), and I studied electronics because I always wanted to be an electronics engineer. I was always fascinated with electrons flowing through a wire and making a light glow or a fan turn. It was fascinating to me. I used to have a tool kit and repair small electronics.
I graduated from BITS and got a campus placement with ST Microelectronics. I worked there from May 2002 through April 2004. While I was with ST, I worked with FGPAs. The job there did not satisfy me. First, it was in Dehli, where everyone is laid-back. Second, in a full year there I really did not do anything. Our managers gave us some books to read and some architecture to study. Every week we had to present what we had studied. We never actually did any designing.
We did not have any mentorship. You would imagine that you would be given a task and that the managers would then review your work and tell you what was right and how to do the parts that you did not do right. None of that was happening.
It was employee friendly with very few targets. It was not an aggressive company. I decided to apply to Texas Instruments in Bangalore.
Sramana: That is a really good company.
Phanindra Sama: Some of my friends from BITS had joined TI, and I kept in touch with them. They were telling me that they were already designing and they kept talking about their designs. I decided to apply there because that is what I wanted to be doing. On my resume, I stated that I wanted to design a chip that would actually be manufactured. I wanted to have a microchip that I designed in my wallet a year from now. That caught the attention of my hiring manager.
When the manager interviewed me, the entire interview revolved around that statement: what I wanted to make, how I was going to make it, and why it was the right decision. I passed the interview and was placed in the ASIC division. There is a subdivision under ASIC for test chips. They make test chips which are very small and built on nanotechnology. They are used to test fabrication accuracy. They have very sharp turnaround times, and it was a good opportunity for me. I could see the complete cycle of my work, and it was fascinating. I was doing very well there. Within two years of starting at TI, I was made a lead.