Sramana: Srikant, what is your background?
Srikant Sastri: When I was young I studied every possible subject in Hindi. Aside from math and science, which have an English influence, all of my other studies such as history, civics, and geography where all in Hindi. English is not a native language for me. I grew up in a small town, and when I was 10 years old I really started to have the desire to do something on my own. My father worked for a typical Indian company, which was a family-owned business. One of my earliest recollections was that of people like my father, who were highly qualified, were put in roles below family members and others who were far less qualified. That always intrigued me and puzzled me, and I instinctively knew that I would never follow that path. That led me to the conclusion that I would always work for myself and never anyone else. That is where my entrepreneurial desires come from.
After school I went to IIT, and after graduation I saw 90% of my class take off to the US. My parents put a lot of pressure on me because the US is where all the action is, and the standard of living is better. I had scholarship opportunities in India but I refused to go. I stayed in India because I had the desire to do something on my own. In the early 1980s the culture was different. There were not many things you could do on your own.
As an engineer, one of my few options was to set up a small manufacturing business. I went through the motions of trying to obtain the certification to set up a small-scale industry. My refusal to go to the US really set me on the next phase of my development. My interest in sales and marketing began at that time. I became convinced that whatever I would do for a business would be centered on marketing and sales. From the entire period of schooling, from IIT to IIM, it has been a story of the dots getting connected and my instincts being validated.
After IIM I knew I was took much of a rookie to go out and set up something on my own, plus I lacked the capital to do that. I thought it would take me five years to set up something, but it took me ten and even then it only happened because of some lucky breaks. I used to work for a lady who was nearing her retirement. She asked me to run one of her businesses and she gave me a 20% take. That is how I first became an entrepreneur. When she retired, I realized that I did not want to do that so I walked out with 30 people from my previous company, withdrew my entire family pool of savings, sold my car, withdrew my retirement fund and set out to open a business in six cities across India. I basically started with $30,000 and 30 employees. In hindsight it was foolish, but when I look back it was a burst of energy.