Not many would recognize the name ‘Gururaj’ but when you mention ‘Desh Deshpande‘ it sparks an association with the Billionaire founder of Cascade and Sycamore networks.
The simple and unassuming Desh addressed the members of TiE Chennai this evening and took everyone by surprise by talking about himself for about 5 minutes and then throwing the floor open for questions. I shall share some of the wide-ranging questions and his responses (in my own words) in this post.
Q: Technology is seen as a Frankenstein. What do you think about it?
DD: About 100 years back, 90% of the people in the US were in agriculture and when machines came in, there was a hue and cry about what will happen to those people. Now 2% of the population is engaged in agriculture. Likewise, when there was a huge shift from manufacturing to technology-based services there was quite a concern about loss of jobs but the situation has been well managed. If Technology comes with ‘compassion’ then there is no need to fear. (Incidentally, he used the word ‘compassion’ a few times during the session)
Q: What do you think about Mentoring?
DD: Nowadays when an entrepreneur looks for a mentor, it is either for a Purchase Order (PO) or an investment but he is unlikely to get either. (There was a sudden burst of appreciation for this remark). I see Mentoring as a means of creating Winners and US has an abundance of Mentors who have been there and done that and are willing to share their expertise to contribute to entrepreneurs. In fact, Mentoring is a National Asset of US.
Q. In what way did your failure in Coral Systems help you in your subsequent ventures? (This question was asked by yours truly!)
DD: It was quite a difficult decision because financially it was a trying period when I left Coral systems after disagreeing with my co-founder on the strategic direction. But I am happy I did that because continuing in that relationship would have severely hampered both of us and the company. Further it helped me get out of my comfort zone.
Q: Why do you think that US continues to be a leader in Innovation?
DD: The foundation of innovation is willingness to accept failures. As a nation, US does not ridicule failures but on the contrary encourages it. VCs tend to reward entrepreneurs who have failed by supporting them in the next venture. It is not so much in India where there is a tendency to avoid failures.
Q: What do you think about ideas driving entrepreneurs?
DD: More than Ideas, I think ‘problems’ motivate entrepreneurs because they see them as opportunities. Further they are also quite optimistic.
Q: Your experience with Akshayapatra?
DD: Askhayapatra as you would know is a social project that provides nutritious meals for school going children. the kitchen at Hubli is quite a massive operation and it is an excellent example of solving the big problem of feeding school children through a combination of Compassion and execution excellence. I am involved in a similar exercise called ‘Agastya’ where rural students are exposed to scientific experiments through mobile vans. This has produced remarkable results.
Q: What do you think should be the role of the Government in addressing social problems?
DD: Currently, Government policies are divorced from reality because those who formulate the policies are clueless about the villages and their problems. It will be great if Government comes clean with the challenges and works closely with NGOs who can come out with innovative solutions.
Q: What do you think will be the key technology breakthroughs by 2020?
DD: I think that the era of increasing computing power has ended. We will now see the application of the technology power to solve real problems like healthcare, energy, education, drinking water etc
Q: The Government has mandated that corporates spend 2% of their net profit on CSR. Do you think this will be effective?
DD: Rather than just throw the money at projects, if Corporates can bring in humility and compassion in their projects by deploying their organizational and executional brilliance, then most of the problems can be really solved.
I have attempted to give a snapshot of the questions and Desh’s responses. He had talked at length about his Social and Technological Innovation Sandboxes in India, USA and Canada. His answers were clear and bang on target and there was no hesitation at any point of time.
Thank you TiE Chennai for organizing this interaction with Desh and thank you Desh for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.